NSS Interblog Mock Draft

>> 3.10.2009

The Next Season Sports Interblog Mock Draft is getting ready for its second-go round--which means we're starting at the top once again. This time, Steve from Detroit Lions Weblog and I will flip spots--I'll take the 1.1, and he'll handle the 1.20.  It hasn't been posted yet, because Aaron over at NSS is trying to corral all the picks up front, but I assure you it's underway.  With the entire field of prospects available to me, I selected this guy:


It was a really difficult choice. For me, if I am in Mayhew's chair, I am looking at making a guaranteed MINIMUM of a five-year, thirty-five million-dollar investment in a dude who may or may not be able to legally buy beer. This is absolutely walking the tightrope as a GM; getting this pick right means a you add a perennial Pro Bowler to a team desperate for playmakers. Getting it wrong means you probably seal the fate of the team, the coaches, the franchise, and yourself for the next five years. It seems a little early and often in the Mayhew Era to be calling for do-or-die moments, but this pick is just as crucial to the Lions' future as the head coach hire.  

What is the "safe" pick? Well, if you look at the recent history of top ten QB picks . . . it's disastrous. Basically once you get beyond Matt Ryan, Eli Manning, and Philip Rivers, every top ten QB pick of the past ten years has been an abject failure. If you look at the LTs selected, there have been a mix of "good" ones and "bad" ones--but even the "bad" ones (D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Robert Gallery) have developed into solid contributors. So, of the two positions most commonly selected at 1.1, QB or LT, there is an overwhelming case to be made that the LT is the safer pick.

Moreover, while great QBs can and do come from all over the first round, and some times even later, elite LTs pretty much only come from the top ten picks in the draft. LTs who have the potential to be the next Orlando Pace or Johnathan Ogden always go in the top five or ten--and once they are drafted they either hit, and retire with the team that drafted them, or miss, and get shifted to guard--and maybe eventually released after the second contract.  

There are several excellent LTs to choose from at this #1 overall spot, and ideally, the Lions won't be sitting at 1.1 next year. So why would I pass up the (I hope) last-for-a-long-time opportunity to take a franchise LT? Well, let me present a few reality checks:

* the Lions' starting linebackers are, of this moment:

SLB - Alex Lewis, career special teamer, 6'-0", 228#
MLB - Jordon Dizon, 2nd year guy, lost rookie year to injury, 6'-0", 229#
WLB - Ernie Sims, Pro Bowl potential but pedestrian reality, 5'-11", 220#

That would be an unacceptably small LB corps for a Big Ten school, let alone a NFL team.

* The Lions allowed 32.3 points per game last year, by far the worst in the NFL.

* The Lions allowed 2,754 yards rushing to opponents last year, on 536 carries--that's an average of 5.1 ypc.

* The Lions were passed against fewer times than any team in the NFL, yet allowed the 27th most yardage.

* Opposing passers' average QB rating was 110.9. No, that's not a typo, one hundred and ten point nine.


Okay, so, get it? The defense was beyond atrocious last year; it was historically bad. Statistically speaking, the defense was dead last in nearly every category. On top of that, the Lions let starting MLB Paris Lenon, and starting SLB Ryan Nece walk out the door as free agents. So, basically, the LB position was a lethal weakness in 2008, and it is significantly worse now.

It's true that the OL has been a sore spot with Lions fans since the freak paralysis of G Mike Utley in 1991, and the tragic accidental death of G Eric Andolsek in the ensuing offseason. However, there are multiple ways to address the issue. This draft has several excellent interior line prospects in the late-first, early-second round window. If we were to draft, say, Cal's Alex Mack with the 2.1, he would be able to immediately compete for a starting guard spot, as well as back up Dominic Raiola for now--and of course he could eventually replace Raiola once he develops. Further, given the run on tackles in the 2008 draft, and the bumper crop of tackles in the 2009 draft, there are going to be 9 or 10 teams that just blew a first-rounder on a tackle when the 2010 draft rolls around. Assuming the Lions don't pull a miraculous worst-to-first (a safe assumption), they should be drafting in the 5-15 range next season, which is a perfectly fine spot to find a tackle, or trade up to get one. Assuming I'm right that there is an unusal lack of demand, the Lions could well take care of the interior OL directly this year, and get their LT of the future next season.

Okay, so why Curry?  Curry's incredible size (6'-2", 254#), speed (4.56) and intelligence could make him the best Lion on the defensive side of the ball from day one.  Besides desperately needing Curry's production, the Lions' defense has even greater need of a leader.  Ernie Sims plays with lots of passion, but he doesn't have the gift of inspiring other men to play like he does.  Curry could immediately fill that role.  Finally, Schwartz has been saying all along that he doesn't want "the right position", he wants "the right person": a good kid, a hard worker, someone who's both athletically elite and a remarkable individual--and he's pointed at Megatron as the perfect example of that. Between his insightful blogging, (you really do have to click that link and read it!) his committment to supporting his family, and his jaw-dropping skill set, I really think that Curry is "the right person".

We went to a place called Palomino, across the street from the hotel, with the head coach, Jim Schwartz, and a couple of other coaches. Mostly, they just wanted to know what kind of person I am because they already know the type of player I am. They wanted to know if I could handle the pressure of being a number one pick. I told them I was willing and ready. Then they wanted to know if I was the person and player they could build a defense around. I told them I was ready to lead their defense next season. I don't know yet if I convinced them, but I think I did a pretty good job. We'll find out soon enough.
Indeed we will, Aaron.

14 comments:

jkc March 10, 2009 at 1:02 PM  

110.9 was the AVERAGE opposing passer rating???? wow. that's unfathomably bad...

Ty March 10, 2009 at 1:08 PM  

Oh, yes, my friend. All of the QBs who faced the Lions averaged out to Steve Young, and all the RBs the Lions faced averaged out to Jim Brown. What's worse, if you take a look at some of the crazy Football Outsiders stats (you know, the kind the Grandmaster himself uses) to capture how good the defense "really" is, instead of average yards allowed--the picture is just as grim. This is a defense that, on the face of it, is awful, but if you take a closer look, you realize it's REALLY AWFUL.

Peace
Ty

RIP March 10, 2009 at 5:47 PM  

Ty,
You hit on how bad our defense was. And to skew the stats, many teams let up not to embarass our team and the league. If Rod did not have the respect as a good person among his peers, stats wise we would have been the worst in league history.

Ty March 10, 2009 at 6:05 PM  

RIP--

I don't have access to Elias or any other major stats database, but I am willing to bet that the 2008 Lions' defense would place prominently among the all-time stinkiest. Like, I know there has to be a "worst" every year, but they really did some putrid things on the defensive side of the ball last season. In fact, it's impressive that they "almost won" as many games as they did . . .

Peace
Ty

Steve March 10, 2009 at 7:01 PM  

If they draft Curry, they have to go "all in" with their defense and make this a defense draft. Curry will thrive, with a good supporting cast. The defense could be dynamic with some more upgrades!

Anonymous,  March 10, 2009 at 9:05 PM  

Read this site daily, and usually there's nothing more I can add to the excellent analysis contained within it.

Sometime ago on DetroitFan79's site posted a study I did on the Lions defense last year. My data came from Yahoo's play-by-play description of each of the Lions games.

The survey while skewed slightly by special teams
scores and DanO running out of the back of the endzone, etc, .... but for the year 2008 the Lions defense yielded opposing points 48.8% of the time the defense took the field.

No team is going to win giving up points on almost 1/2 of the opponents's possessions. So to me glaring need is defense, specifically linebackers. I would go Curry at 1, and either Maruaga <--spelled wrong, or Laurentis at 20. I would go primarily to a 3-4 defense, and for the draft this year I would focus on the defense with every pick.

As an addendum: Killer now reports that Stafford was in for his 3rd of 5 sessions with the Lions. The fourth session will be Georgia's proday, and number 5 will be workout for Lions.

My guess is that J. Smith yesterday and Stafford today had some sort of psych test which Mayhew said would be re-established to help the Lions determine who they will draft.

Stafford cannot be ruled out as the first pick of the 2009 draft.

Go Lions
5Bakerstreet

Ty March 10, 2009 at 10:09 PM  

Steve--

I've been thinking lately that the Lions just may go Curry/Laurenitis and be done with it. the size, speed, strength, and explosiveness of Curry/Laurenitis/Sims would completely transform the defense. Plus, they'd be able to cover for each other a little bit as well. Even after going LB/LB, you could still get a Max Unger or an Alex Mack at 2.1 . . .

Peace
Ty

Ty March 10, 2009 at 10:41 PM  

5Bakerstreet--

Thanks for that stat, it's truly alarming . . . it's absolutely true that the Lions defense could not get off the field with a court order last season, of course, but 48.8%? It's apalling.

As far as the 3-4 goes, I bet Grady could hold down the point for a bit, but asking 50-60 snaps a game of him at age 36 is a little much. No other player on the Lions roster could even pretend to play NT on a 3-4 line. It's really too bad, because the Lions have five or six ideal 3-4 DEs. Assuming they draft Curry and Laurenitis, or some other combination of two LBs in the first two rounds, they could definitely run a pretty fierce 3-4. However, I am one of those who believes that systems have no merit in and of themselves, unless they are an organic response to the offensive attacks your team freqently faces (i.e., adjust to your divisional rivals' strengths). I don't think that a 3-4 gives us anything other than another look to go to, to keep offenses guessing. Everyone rides on the Tampa 2 defense as being unworkable, but it got two teams to the Super Bowl a couple years go. All those assistants wouldn't keep getting bigger and better gigs if their kung fu wasn't the best . . .

As far as Stafford goes, the Lions absolutely have a duty to find out if he is the real deal or not. If he really is the next Peyton Manning, you simply cannot pass on him, no matter who else you have or who else is available. Birkett made an insteresting point today on the Huge show, about how the Lions will have one minicamp before the draft and really thoroughly assess Drew Stanton. However, the decision on whether or not to draft Stafford 1.1 will have already been made--because if the Lions believe he's the next Peyton, then DS be damned. And if they DON'T think he's worth the pick, then no matter how badly DS does, they still won't draft Stafford.

I think this is the prudent course of action, even if I'll vehemently disagree if they take Stafford.

Peace
Ty

Alton McFail,  March 11, 2009 at 11:54 AM  

It would seem to be prudent to take an LT at 1.1. I do think that Aaron Curry is as safe a pick as they come, however, as you yourself said you cannot pick up a franchise LT in free agency.

It seems as though the bust rate for LT's is probably near as high as it is for QB's the results are nowhere near as disastrous. Further, it seems that most fans believe that their team should have a top 10 LT. Which means that 22 teams are going to be disappointed.

If the Lions draft Aaron Curry, and land at 1.9 next year they will not be able to get in on a potential Jake Long or Joe Thomas.

If the Lions draft Jason Smith or Eugene Monroe and land at 1.9 they could still land guys like Jerod Mayo, Patrick Willis or Ernie Sims.

It would seem that the wisest thing to do in this situation is take your LT and your set at the spot for 5-10 years even if neither Monroe or Smith turns out to be the next Joe Thomas or Jason Smith.

Quality Linebackers are there 1.9 future pro bowl LTs generally are not. I'll be happy if they pick up Curry, I really think he'll be a great addition to the defense, but if you want to win the franchise LT lottery, you have to take one early on.

Besides, can he really be worse than Backus?

Ty March 11, 2009 at 12:41 PM  

Alton--

I do think that if I were in the Lions's shoes, I'd probably be leaning towards a tackle with the top spot. Not only would that avoid blowing out the cap on a position that doesn't typically demand it, but you'd also have a foundation set for your offense for years to come. Having a great offensive line just does so much for the offense; giving whatever QB we go with even a half-second more time to throw could mean the difference between a 20-yard gain and a throwaway or sack. Giving a rhythm runner like Kevin Smith some actual daylight to work with could really do wonders. Finally, the first step to getting the defense OFF the field is to keep the offense ON the field. If the Lions could control the ball and/or the clock significantly better this year, it would be a great first step for the defense as a whole. Having Grady Jackson out there for 30 snaps a game is a lot better when the defense only plays 50 snaps instead of 80!

However, in the mocks I'm trying to do what I think the Lions will do--and I think that Schwartz must wake up screaming twice a night thinking about that LB corps going into the season. Backus/Loper/Raiola/Peterman/Cherilus might not be too shabby--but Lewis/Dizon/Sims is going to be the worst LB corps in the NFL. Moreover, I really think that Schwartz is going to be drawn to Curry as the defensive Megatron, a physical freak with extraordinary character.

Believe me, if we take Smith or Monroe I will be absolutely FINE with the pick! I just have a suspicion that the Schwartz wants Curry to be the head, heart, and soul of his defense for the next howevermany years.

Peace
Ty

David M March 12, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

I saw your comment at MLive this morning. I like the simple interface you use, and the lion image reminds me of something from the Chronicles of Narnia.

With that said, Aaron Curry is a special person, and I find it very difficult finding anything bad to say about him. In fact, I think everyone has fallen in love with his story, but I hope that it doesn't cloud decision-making. I want us to pick him because he is the right guy for the team.
Although I hate to admit it, all of the top guys we are considering (Monroe, Curry, J Smith, and Stafford) are all excellent football players, and I'd be happy with any of them as long as Mayhew does his due dilligence.
Ty, I am completely with you on Curry being a prime candidate because of his leadership qualities. We need a player to lead this team, and to carry us in the tough times. Curry can be that guy.

www.NFLdraftblogger.com

Ty March 12, 2009 at 1:52 PM  

David M--

Thanks for the feedback! The decision to go minimal was both a function of my content (it's all text), and the theme: a franchise in the bleakest depths of winter--starkness, whiteness, high contrast, etc.

I like your approach to mock drafts, too--it seems like every team has A choices and B choices and Plan Cs, all of which vary depending on the picks that have gone before. Why not just get those all out in the open? Nice angle (and analysis!).

I do agree that Curry, Monroe, and Smith are all excellent football players, and I'd be happy with any of the three. However, I think Stafford is much more of a Aaron Rodgers project than a Matt Ryan 'step in and succeed' player, and the Lions do not have the luxury of drafting a project with the 1.1 and sitting him on the bench for a year or two. If they draft him that high, he must play sooner rather than later, and considering the state of the franchise that bodes ill for him. I think drafting Stafford would probably be a fatal mistake--though if they do draft him I will certainly support him, hope dearly that I am wrong, and cheer loudly if I prove to be so.

Peace
Ty

David M March 12, 2009 at 3:02 PM  

Awesome ty,
thanks for stopping by my blog and for the kind comments.

I frankly believe that the draft is a dynamic tool that changes constantly while it goes on. So I tried to create something that accounts for those changes. I am just tired of everyone thinking they know it all, when I honestly dont believe anyone does :)
(and I certainly don't know)

I also am in agreement on Stafford, having written several articles about his situation with the Lions. I think other pieces need to be in place for him to be successful.
Most analysts claim we need a QB, and yet this is correct, we simply cannot miss here.
We are in a totally unique situation, thus calling for a completely unique solution, perhaps?

Ty March 12, 2009 at 11:35 PM  

David M--

We are in a unique situation, but I don't think that we should think of it in terms of "drafting a linebacker #1 overall", but rather "drafting the young man we want to build our team around". Should an outside linebacker get paid like a quarterback? Maybe not, on first blush. But, can an outside linebacker be the heart and soul of a championship team? I would venture to guess that Bill Parcells would tell you yes.

Peace
Ty

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