Friday, April 8, 2011

Lions #13 Pick

No matter how you slice it, there are exactly eight elite prospects in the upcoming draft. Two cornerbacks, three pass rushers, two DTs and one wide receiver. There are also two quarterbacks who are expected to go in the top 10, and we can usually count on one WTF pick in the early first round. (Like when the Jags took Tyson Alualu last year, considered a third-round prospect, with the #10 pick). Unless the Lions trade up, which is extremely unlikely, they will not be landing one of these eight elite players. In case you're wondering, that list now includes Von Miller. But here's the deal. No draft ever works out how it's supposed to. Mel Kiper knows a lot, but he ends up being wrong every year. Anybody can tell you which prospects are supposed to be great NFL players, but nobody can really predict anything. Look at the last 10 NFL drafts - an elite player can be found somewhere in the pick #10 to #20 range each and every time. 2000 - John Abraham, pick #13; four-time Pro Bowler, 89 career sacks. 2001 - Steve Hutchinson, pick #17; seven-time Pro Bowler, one of the best offensive lineman ever. 2002 - Albert Haynesworth, pick #15; two-time All Pro, was one of the best overall players in the league in 2008. 2003 - Troy Polamalu, pick #16; six-time Pro Bowler, arguably the best overall player in the NFL right now. 2004 - Jonathon Vilma, pick #12; two-time Pro Bowler, was Rookie of the Year, now a stud middle linebacker. 2005 - DeMarcus Ware, pick #11; five consecutive Pro Bowls, probably the best OLB in the league right now. 2006 - Haloti Ngata, pick #12; best DT in the NFL right now, hands down. 2007 - Darelle Revis, pick #14; three straight Pro Bowls, and a top 5 overall player in the NFL in 2009. 2008 - Ryan Clady, pick #12; considered the best left tackle in the NFL during the 2009 season. 2009 - Brian Orakpo, pick #13; two Pro Bowls in two seasons; 20 sacks in his first two years. 2010 - Maurkice Pouncey, pick #18; became the best offensive lineman on Pittsburgh as a rookie and made the Pro Bowl. So as you can clearly see, drafting well between picks 10 and 20 is absolutely possible, and also vital to the rebuilding of a team. Of course you can't miss on your top 5 picks, which is why the Matt Millen era was so disastorous. But it's almost equally important to nail your middle-of-the-first-round picks. Imagine for a moment that back in 2003, Pittsburgh decided to pass on Polamalu, and instead shored up their offensive line with George Foster, who went 7 picks later. Or, what if the pick prior to Pittsburgh, Philadelphia decided that instead of DE Jerome McDougle, they would take a chance on the safety from USC with the mini-afro. What then? Would Pittsburgh have two Super Bowls in the past five years? Absolutely not. Would Ben Roethlisberger be thrown brashly into the conversation with Manning and Brady? Never. Would Philly have at least one, maybe two Super Bowls? Probably. Would McNabb be considered a sure-fire Hall of Famer? You betcha. One elite player, one super-amazing talent like Polamalu, changes the entire landscape of the league. Here's another example. What if Baltimore passes on Ngata in 2006 and instead take a different DT in Broderick Bunkley, who was considered a nearly equal prospect. Does Baltimore have a top 5 run defense five years in a row? They surely do not. Does the team that gets Ngata two picks later, which again happens to be the Eagles? Probably. When you look at this year's class of prospects, you hear scouts saying that there is virtually no difference between Marcell Dareus and Nick Fairley. But they said the same thing about Ngata and Bunkley. And there was a big, BIG difference. Even last year, they said Gerald McCoy was nearly as good as Ndamukong Suh. In five years, that sentence will make you laugh. McCoy is nobody, just a average starter on an average defense. Suh is a dominator, a franchise player, a superstar. In five years, Suh will be one of the best players in the entire NFL. But it's easy to find Suh with the #2 pick. Finding a similar star with the #13 pick is extremely difficult. It happens an average of about 1.5 times per draft. Nailing your first round picks is the best way to build a Super Bowl contender. Securing dependable starters is a must; whiffing completely takes years to recover from. Look at the recent Super Bowl champions. Green Bay found Aaron Rodgers at pick 24, Clay Matthews at pick 26, and Greg Jennings in the second round. New England got Vince Wilfork at pick 21 and Logan Mankins (two-time All Pro) at pick 32. The Steelers found Polamalu (13), Roethlisberger (11), and Santonio Holmes (25) all after the first ten picks. What about New Orleans, who found two-time All Pro Jahri Evans in the fourth round in 2006. Champions are made in the Draft. So are cellar-dwellars. By the way.... did I mention that I hate Matt Millen? So while Mel Kiper will tell you that there are only eight elite prospects in this year's draft, don't listen to that nonsense. Because I guarantee you that between picks 10 and 20 there will be not only a future Pro Bowler, but a future Hall of Famer who leads his team to a Super Bowl. And why the heck shouldn't that guy be found at pick #13 by the Detoit Lions? The problem is, I don't have a freaking clue who it could be. Nobody does. But like everything else in football, drafting is about finding a balance. A great running back needs great speed, but to truly be elite they also need great strength, and it's the combination of the two that makes Adrian Peterson Adrian Peterson. A great quarterback needs a great arm, but he also needs great intangibles. It's a balance of many things. Same with drafting. There are many factors at play - the two most obvious being what position you need, and what players are available. What's their talent level? Obviously, you don't pass on a Michael Jordan-talent just because you need a center. Portland did that in 1984, and it's probably the biggest drafting mistake in the history of the world. Needs are relative. Yes, the Lions needed an offensive tackle last year, but if we had passed on Suh it would have been a huge mistake. Sometimes it's easy to spot. Sometimes it's not. An example is the 2003 Pistons, who didn't think they needed a small forward (because we had Tayshaun). Carmelo Anthony had just led Syracuse to a championship with arguably the best NCAA tournament performance since Danny Manning in the late 80s. But, we liked Tayshaun, so we chose a center instead. If we had picked Chris Bosh, okay. Not terrible. But we didn't. We chose the Serbian teenager who would score 1,525 points in his first six NBA seasons. Carmelo scored 1,725 points in his rookie season alone. Darko couldn't do anything; even when he tried to be rebellious and pearce his ears he got an infection and had to wear a big bandage. And remember when he broke his hand on a dunk and missed 6 weeks, including the Olympics. Sigh... In hindsight, what we needed wasn't a position, it was a player. Carmelo should have been the pick, and Joe Dumars will likely be fired this offseason, and those facts are related. Well, the Iverson trade and Villanueva signing and Stuckey stubborness are also factors. Clearly the Lions have plenty of needs, but what they really NEED is some elite freaking talent. What is the bigger need - a good cornerback, or a great defensive end? In the past, the Lions spent free agency addressing the positions that were perceived as needs, and then used the Draft to acquire pure talent. The Best Player Available (BPA) strategy has sometimes been effective (see: Pittsburgh), and sometimes been worthless (Millen). It's about good scouting, smart interviewing, and team chemistry. But this year is totally different, because of the stupid lockout. There basically is no free agency, or at least not for a while. Because of that, I think this draft is going to be more reactive than active for Lions' management. They have a terrible history of flopping on draft picks, chasing after the BPA and failing miserably. The fans are sick of it, and we realize that terrible drafting is the biggest reason for the 0-16 fiasco. Drafting the BPA is a luxury that crappy teams don't have. We left gaping holes completely open while trying to chase sexy skill position guys, and it resulted in a legendarily bad defense. It's a philosophy thing. Matt Millen had a BPA philosophy. Jim Schwartz has a practical philosophy. Both are acceptable. The problem with the BPA thing is if you suck at scouting talent in a BPA system (like Millen), you'll build a tragically terrible team. If you suck at scouting talent in a needs-based system, you'll be hovering around medicority for years (Jacksonville). It's better to be crappy and go unnoticed than be a laughing stock for decades. That's one of the few things I like about Schwartz - he at least doesn't draw attention to our crappiness. So on to the draft. A lot has changed in the last few weeks, since I started writing this post, and the reality of 8 elite prospects has probably changed too. We know that Carolina is taking a QB with the #1 pick, we know that Von Miller isn't escaping the Cardinals at pick 5, and we're fairly convinced that Dallas will take an offensive lineman. However, little of this affects the Lions. Unless Prince Amukamara magically falls to Detroit (a month ago I would have said 1% chance, now I'd say 10%), we're going to be choosing between filling a positional need or trying to find that Polamalu/Revis type superstar, and risking a swing-and-miss and possibly setting the franchise back a few years. But, maybe there's a way we can do both. What I mean is - a lot of the positions we need also happen to be the best remaining prospects, at least according to expert scouts. With the #13 pick, we 'need' either an outside linebacker, cornerback, or offensive tackle. Those are clearly the most pressing positions to address. Plenty of highly-touted prospects will be available at pick 13 who play those positions. There will also be plenty of stud defensive linemen, and we might be tempted to chase a interior offensive lineman. But chances are the #13 pick boils down to either a CB, a OLB, or an OT. There are a myriad of choices at each position, and I could break down each potential prospect in great detail. But this post is already much too long and has taken literally weeks to write because I've been so terrible at writing lately ... so I'll just give the short version. If Amukamara is available, he's the pick. If not, we won't take a CB until a later round. If any of the three elite pass rushers (Von Miller, D'Quan Bowers, Robert Quinn) are available, that player will be the pick. A few weeks ago Bowers was considered a unanimous top 3 pick. Now, he's got the best chance of sliding down to pick #13 thanks to some 'character issues' that have surfaced. Miller is a .1% chance to fall to us; Quinn is about a 5% chance; Bowers, maybe a 7% chance. It's very unlikely that Lions get any of those players. So that leaves us with the same question we've been asking all along: OLB or OT? And the problem is, there are about 5 choices at each position. At offensive tackle, USC's Tyson Smith is considered the best prospect, but I still think Wisconsin's Gabe Carimi will be a better pro. Nate Solder from Colorado is a first-round pick too, as is Anthony Castonzo from Boston College. Lastly there's Derek Sherrod from Mississippi State, who helped destroy Michigan in the bowl game. Most mock drafts have Smith going first of those 5 o-lineman, but no one denies that all 5 will be first-round picks. Personally, I think Smith will be the worst of the 4. I don't trust USC players. Fortunately, Dallas might take him at pick 9. Which would be double-awesome, because it means they would pass on Amukamara, which means Detroit only has to hope Houston also passes on him, which would only happen if Houston is completely retarted, and since they continue to employ Matt Schaub at quarterback, we have a chance! At outside linebacker, it's Von Miller a mile ahead of the pack, and then guys like Akeem Ayers from UCLA, Aldon Smith from Missouri, JJ Watt from Wisconsin, Ryan Kerrigan from Purdue, Cameron Heyward from Ohio State, Cameron Jordan from Cal, Justin Houston from Georgia, Adrian Clayborn from Iowa, Brooks Reid from Arizona ... and the list goes on. A month ago, Ayers was considered the top of these 9 outside-linebacker prospects. Now, he's dropped considerably, while Reid's stock has sky-rocketed, and no one frankly has any idea what order these 9 players will be taken. It's interesting that 4 of them (Watt, Kerrigan, Heyward, Clayborn) are Big Ten players. Wouldn't surprise me if that's the direction the Lions go, given the success they had with former Nebraska D-lineman last year (Suh, VandenBosch). My personal preference would be an outside linebacker ahead of an OT; however I've been kind of crazy about Gabe Carimi for a while. I'll be watching the Draft in delusional hopes of landing Bowers, Amukamara, or Quinn. OK, this post is too long. I'm done now. Peace.

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