Ndamukong the torpedoes

>> 12.23.2009

With the Lions’ loss last weekend, and the Browns’ win, the Lions are suddenly in a two-way tie for the #2 overall pick.  With only quarterback-starved St. Louis ahead of them, Lions fans everywhere are getting revved up for the possibility that Ndamukong Suh, the AP’s College Football Player of the Year, will soon don Honolulu Blue.

With Suh as the pass-rushing 3-technique tackle, and Hill as the run-stuffing 1-tech, the Lions would have their very own Williams Wall.  Several people emailed me (and have been emailing me!) about this exciting concept, and I discussed the notion at length in last week’s mailbag post.

That night, though, something was tickling at the back of my mind.  Fans, and talk show hosts, were already anointing Ndamukong Suh “the next Albert Haynesworth”.  Let’s be real for a minute: Haynesworth is currently listed at 6’-6”, 350 pounds.  Coming out of college, he was already 320.  As beastly as Suh looked against Texas, he sure didn’t look 320.

Here's the sobering reality: the Huskers list Suh at 6'-4", 300.  Wikipedia has him at 295.  GBN Report lists him at 300, and NFL Draft Scout weighs him out at 302.  Bottom line?  He ain’t no Haynesworth.  In fact, if we’re going to compare him to former Schwartz defensive linemen, he’s closer to Kevin Carter—a 6’-6”, 305-pound DE the Lions had extensive talks with this summer.

As a three-technique tackle in the Schwartz/Cunningham defense, I think Suh would be a little light in his loafers.  They want the DTs to hit gaps square and deny rushing lanes; that’s not Suh’s forte.  Frankly, Suh would be Rod Marinelli’s dream—he’s a prototypical Tampa 2 three-technique, a “skinny penetrator” who can burst past guards and get upfield fast.

Don’t get me wrong: Suh is an incredible player, and a dominating force.  But look at this dude:

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Check out how much of his bulk is in his arms, shoulders, and thighs.  He’s incredibly strong for his size, and possesses a huge amount of burst.  But this is not the type of body that drops anchor at the line of scrimmage, refuses to be moved, then casts off a double team to eat a running back.  This is a disruptor, a penetrator, a—dare I say it?—violator of offenses.  I wonder . . . could he play end?

Tom Kowalski has indicated in radio interviews, that if a massive, athletic, pass-rushing, run-stopping three-down defensive end had been available, the Lions might have drafted him over Matthew Stafford.

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I'm not saying . . . I'm just saying.

If Suh could drop five or ten pounds of fat, he'd be a virtual clone of Super Mario—especially if he got a little quicker as a result.  Further, of the few people who’ve been bold enough to admit that Suh’s game has any flaw at all, the consensus is that he plays a little too high, and uses his natural speed and upper body strength to go around blockers, rather than beat them at the point of attack.

Now, Big XII guards are not NFL right tackles; “going around” them is a lot harder.  Everyone will expect instant impact from “Kong”, but Suh will probably spend his first full season learning his craft.  As Mario Williams discovered, simply being bigger, faster, and stronger doesn’t cut it on Sundays. 

Unfortunately, this will probably be true whether he plays end or tackle for the Lions: he’s a little too big to play end, a little too small to play tackle, relies a little too much on his talent, and will need a little work on his technique before he can make an impact.  Sill, he IS the best DL prospect since Mario; I’m sure the Lions can, and will, find a use for him, should they be so lucky to draft him.


Nate,  December 23, 2009 at 12:47 PM  

I'm not sure I like the way that the discussion of the Lions' draft has evolved to the point where getting anyone else but Suh will be a disappointment. After all, St. Louis may still end up drafting in front of Detroit, and, though it may be unlikely, the Lions might yet beat SF or Chicago.

Suh left an indelible impression on the mind of anyone who watched the Big 12 title game. But how many of the people clamoring for him have watched enough of Oklahoma to evaluate the degree to which he is better than McCoy. At points in this season, the national commentariat still thought McCoy would go before Suh. And I imagine that a strong combine performance from McCoy or a weak one from Suh could reverse their rankings again.

Also, I don't think the Lions are strong enough at any other position besides QB or WR, that we fans should really feel disappointed if they drafted, say, Eric Berry or Russell Okung (or whatever o-tackle emerges closer to the draft as the consensus best).

I do like the idea of Suh as an end, though. McCoy is similarly sized, I think, and may end up there too.

David M,  December 23, 2009 at 12:56 PM  


I don't believe that Suh is anything like an Albert Haynesworth.

He actually compares more favorably to Kevin Williams (who is listed as 6'5, 310). And additionally, I think youre right about him being the instant impacter that some hope he will be. Seldom do DL make a huge splash in their rookie years.
However, I disagree that he will have trouble anchoring against the run. He had trouble with it in his junior year, but seems to have made great strides there this season. He should be ok in that department.

Ty,  December 23, 2009 at 1:13 PM  


Your comment rings incredibly true. I'll never forget the vociferous screams of Lions fans from December 2008 to March 2009: "THE LIONS MUST DRAFT ANDRE SMITH!!!! OR I'LL NEVER WATCH THEM AGAIN!!!!" Then, after the combine debacle: "THE LIONS BETTER NOT DRAFT THAT BUM OR I'LL NEVER WATCH THEM AGAIN!!!!!1".

This is why I've been telling everyone who'll listen that this is still way too early for draft stuff. A lot of prospects are still flying on college football preseason/postseason hype, and a LOT changes between the bowl games and the draft. Heck, just getting accurate heights and weights can move players up or down many slots . . .


SomeChoi,  December 23, 2009 at 1:44 PM  

Thanks Ty for your excellent post.
I was thinking the same thing. McCoy also has the too-big-for-DE-too-small-for-DT problem. Given the Tampa 2 is no longer in vogue, coupled with Suh's injury history, I was wondering if McCoy and Suh might get pushed down.
And then I had nightmare: what if WR Dez Bryant became the consensus top talent for the Lions' slot? I still remember there was talk in 2007 of wishing we had won a couple more games so we could take Gaines Adams rather than Calvin (hard to believe WR was a solid position then even without Calvin). The last few top DL draft picks have been busts, or look like it - Gaines, Chris Long, Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson. I'm not saying Suh will bust, but... just saying.
Maybe December is too early for this kind of wondering.

Kris,  December 23, 2009 at 3:11 PM  

I think anyone would be naive to expect any rookie to come into the Lions and make a huge impact and turn our franchise around. We still must stay patient and treat this as a rebuilding process (some might say we've been rebuilding for a decade but I consider the Matt Millen era a 'destrying process'). Suh or McCoy (I don't expect we'll win another game and would be SHOCKED if we don't draft one of these guys) would hopefully come in, play the full year, and start showing some real progress.

And then maybe in 2011 we can start to win some games!

SportsGuy,  December 23, 2009 at 7:15 PM  

Am I the only reader who noticed the pun on Tom Petty's "Damn the Torpedoes" album which celebrates its 30th anniversary this month?

Nate,  December 23, 2009 at 9:09 PM  

Is there something that marks it as a Tom Petty reference rather than a David Farragut reference? If so, I missed it.

Ty,  December 23, 2009 at 9:28 PM  


Frankly, at this point I'm already willing to give Mayhew, Schwartz, Shack Harris, et al. the benefit of the doubt. Out of Stafford, Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy, Williams, and Hill, only Williams isn't a major contributor with an apparently bright future. If Mayhew has Suh, McCoy, Berry, Okung, and Bryant to choose from, and takes Bryant . . . Well, Bryant must be sweet.


Nate,  December 24, 2009 at 1:49 AM  

You're willing to take one step beyond where I am, Ty. I've defended Mayhew/Schwartz to a lot of people over the last year, but I've always added the caveat that I'll change my mind, if they fail to address the defense in the next draft.

I guess taking Bryant wouldn't preclude them addressing the defense with some of their following six picks, but I'd have a hard time swallowing it. I wouldn't have quite as hard a time with Spiller (or whoever the the top RB is post-combine), and (when I still thought the Lions would draft 4th) was pretty much resigned to Okung/top O-line prospect, but, man, would I have tough time if they chose a WR.

Honestly, if they decide to go for a WR, I'd like to see them explore trading for Anthony Gonzalez from the Colts and see if they can turn they're first pick into A-Gon plus a second and third (or something similar). Don't know for sure that A-Gon will be available, but the Colts have certainly discovered some cheaper alternatives in Garcon and Collie.

Anonymous,  December 24, 2009 at 7:17 PM  

Honestly, I don't get all the hype about being #1 or #2 because in the end I think it's going to limit the Lion's potential in a few years if/when they are anywhere near having a marginal impact in the NFL. In doing so you are basically guaranteeing yourself that you'll have two of the highest paid players in the league so unless both Stafford and Suh became two of the most dynamic players in the league at their respective positions...you lose. Now, take a look at the past 4 or 5 drafts and tell me how lucky you would need to be to hit on 2 consistent all-pro players (at QB and DE/DT no less!) who have been drafted in the top 5. You'd basically be playing russian rouellete with a team that has already been desimated by mismanagement as it is.

Really, the question shouldn't be who the Lions will target in the next draft but, can they handle it?

I myself will be rooting for them to get as far away from #1 as possible.


Baxter E.,  December 26, 2009 at 11:26 AM  

The two things that stand out when I read about G. McCoy is: His effort on every play and his frame that could easily adapt to 10-15 more lbs.

Who is the better fit for what we're trying to do in Detroit? Or is it another position that Mayhew/Schwartz are looking at?

Square,  December 28, 2009 at 4:54 PM  

Sup Policy,

Square from the huddle here and I think the Lions would be glad to have Suh no matter what spot they want to put him in. I believe once the bowl game is over, Suh (like every college player) will get with his people and start working out for the combine. Whether that puts on weight for mass or takes it off for speed will be an indicator where he sees himself. Nebraska native here and I've watched every snap he has played for the last few years. Of course he has had some games where he wasn't dominant but he has always stepped up in the biggest games and that says something to me. He hasn't missed a game this year so I don't know what injury history is a major concern. I think what surprises most people is his actual in game speed and motor. You'll see him run down QBs, RB screens, or random short routes from WRs at times. If you spend to much time trying to dance in the secondary, you should look out for a large man coming from the other direction if you are playing against Suh. I know people are concerned about the money, but how many years has Detroit been at/near the top of the draft? I mean I don't think we can point to that and say the money/contract is the largest reason the Lions have struggled. Suh just seems special in a different way for a lineman. He doesn't have to put too much weight on the front of his stance so he can keep his eyes up to watch the backfield and has the strength to get rid of blockers when he needs to. Personally, I think it'd be pretty awesome to see Schwartz coach Suh as everybody knows how well that TN defense played for him. Anyway, I still enjoy the site and stop by when I can. Nice work.

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