Okay, Lions fans, here’s the problem.
Eric Berry is going to be a phenomenal player. There is very little doubt of this among fans, coaches, and draft experts alike.
Any team that picks him will be happy they did and enjoy an instant upgrade in their secondary. His scouting report reads like that of Ed Reed.
But the Detroit Lions can’t pick him. There’s no way.
It’s not because he won’t be available. The St. Louis Rams need help all over, but they’re not likely to take a safety with their first pick.
It’s also not because the Lions don’t need help in the secondary, because very few units in professional football got burned worse last season than the Lions’ secondary.
It’s simply because of the Lions’ draft position. It’s tough to take a safety at No. 2 overall.
It’s tougher when budding star Louis Delmas is already anchoring one of the safety positions after being picked 33rd overall in last year’s draft.
Most mock drafts right now feature either Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen or Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh going to the Rams with the first overall pick.
The drafts that feature Clausen to the Rams typically feature Suh to the Lions, and the ones that feature Suh to the Rams feature Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy, another defensive tackle, to the Lions.
In all cases, Berry goes right around fifth, give or take a spot or two. And that’s just about right.
He’s one of the most complete players in the draft, but doesn’t play a core position, so right in the middle of the top-10 is a perfect spot.
Fifth? Good. Second? A reach. Seems like a trivial difference, but that’s how NFL draft season works.
In addition, drafting Berry would give the Lions unquestionably the best young safety tandem in the game…and then make that irrelevant as the poor line and cornerback play force them to compensate for the lack of talent elsewhere.
In other words, it doesn’t make any sense to stack one position with talent when nearly every other position is starved for even one starting-quality player.
And yet, the allure of having a shutdown player in the secondary, a playmaker with deceptive closing speed, is tempting, regardless.
And that is why Eric Berry is a problem.
Under no circumstances would Berry be a bad pick by any team not already sporting a pair of All-Pro safeties. He will be as good at his position as Clausen, Suh, McCoy, or anyone else in the draft, if not better.
But despite a wide open position alongside Delmas, the Lions cannot afford to take the kind of reach necessary to pull in Berry with the No. 2 pick, even though it might be the best move they could make.
Not with Suh, McCoy, and Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung still on the board.
Okung poses another major issue for the Lions. Even with the top-heavy class of left tackles last year, and the Lions getting two first-round picks, they passed—twice—on replacing Jeff Backus.
Now, with the regular season over for only a few days, reports are coming out that the coaches in Detroit, particularly offensive line coach George Yarno, are happy after Backus’ 2009 performance, even going so far as to call him “upper echelon.”
Translation: The No. 2 pick will not be Okung to the Lions, even if it makes sense to everyone else.
So that makes two players, Berry and Okung, that will likely have phenomenal careers, and would fill a need for the Lions, but will not be donning Honolulu Blue in April.
And that’s okay. It has to be okay. This is part of the pain of rebuilding.
Every draft, you wonder what could have been. Or worse, you see it for real, as the guy your team almost drafted becomes a superstar with another team.
But really, the Eric Berry problem is a good problem to have. This problem means that the Lions have their pick of a number of top talents to fill existing team needs, none of which will be considered categorically bad picks.
This isn’t a situation where the Lions are picking between a can’t-miss player in a non-essential position and a less talented player in a position of major need. They’re all great players, all in positions of great need for the Lions.
And Eric Berry is one of them. He would become a fantastic player for the Lions.
Which will make it difficult—necessary, but difficult—when the Lions inevitably don’t draft him.