mock lion soup: please don't send it back!

>> 2.06.2009

So . . . I made my pick over at the Next Season Sports interblog mock draft.

Whoo boy, did it not go as I planned.  As I explained over there, I believe strongly that the Lions are going to look to get bigger up front and through the middle of their defense.  DT and ILB are the two biggest needs--you cannot stop the run with Cory Redding and Landon Cohen in front of Paris Lenon.  It's just not going to happen.  Unfortunately the DT everyone can't get enough of, B.J. Raji, went at 1.10.  The next best DT is Peria Jerry, and not only is he a undersized three-technique DT, he went at 1.19!  There are no other DT's I'd consider.  ALL of the ILBs were gone: Curry, Maualuga, Cushing if you shift him over, and Laurenitis--who I actually think will be the 1.20 if he's there, BTW.  Since Steve from drafted 6'-7", 260# LB/DE Michael Johnson with the first pick, I decided he could flex pretty much anywhere in the front seven except NT in a 3-4 or OLB in a 4-3, and moved on to the next biggest need: Cornerback.  Unfortunately, the top two corners were both gone, including Vontae Davis to the Bears at 18.  I felt that one of the next two corners, Alphonso Smith and D.J. Moore, would be there at the 2.1, so . . . damn.  What next?  I really feel like this is the doomsday scenario for the Lions--there's a bunch of offensive skill position guys here, but nothing the Lions really need--and considering how much they need, that's saying something!  I went with the next most pressing need . . . quarterback of the future:

(photo by Getty Images)

That's right, I took KSU quarterback Josh Freeman, all 6'-6" and 250 pounds of him.  I went into my reasoning quite a bit over at NSS, but basically it's like this: Freeman is the next Culpepper.  He's huge, he's mobile, he's athletic, he's got a gun, he's got a fumbling problem.

Why, if I am such a rabid anti-Cpep guy, would I pick Freeman?  Well, I kind of see "Culpepper" as his downside.  Culpepper never really had to learn to "play QB", since streetball was so effective in both college and the pros.  Culpepper merely shredded I-AA compeition with raw talent, but Freeman was battle-tested against superior Big 12 teams.  Often, Freeman was the only thing going for his Wildcats, leading them in rushing and throwing all over everywhere.  Further, he ran a pro-style offense at KSU--which also featured a significant no-huddle package, proving he can diagnose defenses and run an offense on the field.  Freeman possesses a lot of the indicators for quick success in the NFL (in the mold of Flacco, Ryan, and Roethlisberger).  Yet with no expectations for the Lions in 2009, he can sit and be groomed for a year or two.  Freeman, as a late-first-rounder--as opposed to Stafford as a #1 overall--could easily be billed as a project.  Linehan can teach him to play like he taught Culpepper, maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses.  Freeman shouldn't get the kind of "start him now" pressure that Stafford at 1.1 would recieve--and I'd hope the Lions front office and staff would be on the same page about being patient with him.

You know, when it comes to football blogs, a YouTube clip is worth ten thousand words:



. . . and so it goes

>> 2.05.2009

Detroit News writer John Niyo, amongst others, is reporting that CB Leigh Bodden won't be retained.'s Tom Kowalski has an excellent piece on it here.

Group A: Cory Redding, Kalimba Edwards, Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola. 

Group B: Roy Williams, Shaun Rogers, Jeff Hartings . . . Leigh Bodden?

Group C: Kevin Jones, Johnnie Morton, Luther Eliss . . . Leigh Bodden?

Much has been made of the Lions' consistently poor drafting.  After all, it seems evident: so few of the many high Lions draft picks are still with the team!  Yet, as bad as the Lions' drafting has occasionally been, I actually don't think the Lions' pattern of first-day failure has been extraordinary.  Go look back through NFL Draft history: every first round, from every year, has some stars, some decent players, quite a few disappointments, and several laugh-out-loud busts.  What slot in the first round you're talking about doesn't matter--I believe the figure most often quoted is that 50% of all first-round picks are busts.  And when you consider that first-rounders are both theoretically the most talented of all draftees, and definitely command the greatest financial commitment from the franchise that drafted them, that means that the other rounds probably have similar--if not higher--percentages of failure.  Think about it, folks: every team invites 80 players to training camp; 2,560 guys enter July with a shot at an NFL job.  By mid-August, that number has gradually shrunk to the 53-man active roster--that's 1,696 real jobs to go around.  The NFL draft is seven rounds long, times 32 teams, plus compensatory picks; let's call it 250 rookies drafted every year.  Plus, most teams bring in 5-15 undrafted free agents.  That means that every year, ~350 kids come looking for one of 1,696 jobs--and many keep coming year after year, bouncing around the CFL, Arena League (now defunct), NFLE (now defunct), XFL (now defunct), UFL (supposedly starting up), and AAFL (supposedly starting up) . . . the vast majority of new hopefuls will spend years trying to break onto an NFL roster.

The question becomes, when will they let the incumbent go?

The Lions' biggest problem, to me, hasn't been the multiple high-profile misses at the top of the first; it's been the inability to identify and retain the talent it does develop.  Look at Group A up above: Cory Redding, Kalimba Edwards, Jeff Backus, and Dominic Raiola.  All were high Lions draft picks.  All of their performances showed both downside and great upside through the duration of their rookie contracts--and for all, the Lions chose to retain them by paying them what they'd be worth at the peak of their upside.  Redding, Edwards, Backus, and Raiola all signed massive extensions, as if they were amongst the best in the league at their position.  And, the truth must be told, all of them had at least flashed that level of on-the-field play at that point.  Even the biggest disappointment of those four, "Kalimbust", had an overlooked-by-most sensational rookie year, highlighted by a game against Atlanta where none other than Mike Vick was unable to escape his relentless pursuit.  These are the players people think about when they assert that the Lions consistently "overpay to keep mediocre talent around".

Let's look at Group B: Roy Williams, Shaun Rogers, and Jeff Hartings.  Each of these three were obvious "hits" from the day they took the field as Lions.  Each reached the highest level of performance right away.  Each had some struggles with either injury, discipline, or inconsistency, and each was either traded or allowed to walk away.  Each has gone on to (or "will go on to"--I'm sorry, but Roy will be sweet in Dallas) great success elsewhere.  These are the players people think about when they assert that the Lions consistently "won't pay to keep good players".

Finally, Group C: Kevin Jones, Johnnie Morton, Luther Eliss.  All Lions first-round picks.  All acheived great success with the Lions, albeit for varying lengths of time.  At the time each was released (or allowed to walk away), Lions fans were stunned.  These were valuable contributors who had productive years in front of them!  Moroever, each individually had many rabid fans amongst the Lions faithful.  To send them packing--and get nothing in return--seemed ridiculous.  And yet . . . Eliss was nothing more than cheap depth in New England.  Johnnie Morton picked up his monstrous paychecks in KC with a mask and a gun.  KJ was a mostly-invisible backup to workhorse rookie Matt Forte in Chicago this year, and will be lucky to ever start again in the NFL.  These are the players nobody ever thinks about, because the Lions got it right.

Notice there's not a group D: players that the Lions took a chance on keeping, and got it right.  Obviously, Morton and Eliss each recieved multiple contracts with the Lions through their veteran careers, but each were clearly productive veterans who had a well-defined role on the team.  It didn't take much talent to decide to extend a perennial Pro Bowl DT in his prime.  Also, the Lions get no cookies for cutting obvious busts like Joey Harrington, Mike Williams, and Charles Rogers.  Instead, look at the way New England tap-dances around their roster:  Wes Welker gets extended, Deion Branch gets shipped off.  Mike Vrabel is kept, Roosevelt Colvin is released.  Production is rewarded, inconsistency punished.  Youth is not seen as a virtue of itself, yet veterans who are too old to produce are treated mercilessly (see: Brown, Troy).  Easy-peasy, right?

Well, no.  Belicheck and Pioli ran circles around the rest of the league in this area for years--and with the billions being thrown around to chase those two, they'd have been caught if it were easy.  Yet, just last year, the Patriots were a dude catching a ball with his helmet away from going 19-0.  

This is the first of the real "crossroads" decisions the Lions' new brass have had to make: Bodden is a young veteran in his prime, and came to the Lions with all the indicators of success--physical tools, confidence, some real time starting, and some real production in that time.  However, it's indisputable that Marinelli's desire for "53 gym rats" didn't mesh with the acquisition of Bodden, that Bodden's skills weren't ideal for the Tampa 2, and that Marinelli's stick-and-bigger-stick approach to motivation did nothing but DE-motivate him.  So a talented, young-but-experienced player at position of desperate need is sent packing, more because of the Lions' mishandling of him than because of his failure to produce.  Make no mistake, though, Bodden DID fail to produce.  If he is half as skilled as he thinks he is, he should have been able to perform better than he did in 2008.  Putting 8.5 million dollars in his pocket, and committing to him for three more years--when he was already publicly dissillusioned with the franchise--certainly seems like a gamble.

So Lewand and Mayhew are put to the test.  Will Bodden be the next Jeff Hartings, a perennial standout for an elite franchise?  Or will he be the next Johnnie Morton--a bitter disappointment to a team that thinks they're getting a standout starter just entering his prime?  At this point, only time will tell.


mock lion soup

>> 2.03.2009

Whew!  With the first half of my roster breakdown completed, it's time for some quick site news: I will be one of two blogs representing the Lions in the Next Season Sports (a Seahawks blog with an awesome name) Interblog Mock Draft!

I was invited to participate by Steve at, who writes himself some mean Lions analysis, and the head honcho at NSS, Aaron.  I'll be handling the 20th pick--and let me tell you, the board is not shaping up the way I'd hoped!  I really fear this will play out like last year, where all the Lions' targets go just a little be earlier, and there will be no cookies left for our Lions when the clock strikes 1.20.

Steve bravely handled the 1.1 duties--and fell victim to the ever-fickle swirling winds of Internet draft info!  His selection of freak DE/OLB Michael Johnson of Georgia Tech--currently viewed as a late-first/early-second type by the footbal 'blog glitterati--with the first overall pick raised some eyebrows.  However, Steve was spot-on with his reasoning and thought process.  First, niether he nor I think that Matt Stafford grades out as a #1 Overall Pick kind of quarterback, nor does he possess the consistency, toughness, and leadership that I think Mayhew and Schwartz are looking for (over and above arm strength, 40 time, etc.).  Further, Steve correctly notes that all signs out of Allen Park indicate that they are just fine with Jeff Backus and Gosder the Gozarian at OT, and therefore probably have no desire to shell out cap-busting money for a third OT.  That leaves the Lions with an interesting mix of players to choose from, none standing out, few addressing needs.  I think the Lions' most pressing need is that of a physically dominant DT--however, there is no Big Daddy Wilkinson or Kevin Williams sitting there waiting to be taken.  IMO, the Lions' next most pressing need is that of a legitimate linebacker with size and speed, a big athletic tackler who could fit in either a 3-4 or a 4-3 (as the Lions' base alignment is still up in the air).  Johnson would be a DE/OLB, but I'd look hard at Wake Forest's Aaron Curry, 6'-3", 247, an incredibly fast, athletic, and aggressive linebacker, who could play inside or outside in a 4-3 or 3-4.  He'd be an instant upgrade over Paris Lenon in a 4-3, would be amazing pair with Ernie Sims, and would be a firey leader that could set the tone for the defense--I'm not saying he'll be just as good . . . but he could be the Patrick Willis we DID draft.


old mother hubbard: the safeties

>> 2.02.2009

Finally, we come the last installment of my roster evaluation--defensively speaking, anyway. The Safeties are supposed to be the last line of defense, yet far too often the Lions safeties were the only line of defense.

Daniel Bullocks: Bullocks was a second-round pick in the 2006 draft; the 6'-0", 212-pounder had starred at Nebraska, manning the safety position his twin brother Josh. Bullocks came out hot his rookie year--in his first start (Week 2 @ GB), he racked up 12 tackles (8 solo) and two passes defensed. He finished the year with 74 tackles, a sack, and 3 passes defensed--this in 15 games and 7 starts! Bullocks looked like he was set to be a fixture at safety for the Lions for a long, long time. However, in the third preseason game of 2007, he blew out his knee, and was lost for the year. His intense rehab efforts and successful comeback for the 2008 preseason earned him the Lions' Ed Block Courage Award. Coming into the 2008 regular season, we didn't know how much Bullocks would or could contribute--well, the answer was "a lot". Despite the presence of free agent signee Dwight Smith, as well as (for a while) 2007 rookie standout Gerald Alexander, Bullocks had a great statistical year. Finishing third on the team with 121 tackles (74 solo), Bullocks established himself as an energetic force. He's althetic enough to play either spot--but he loves to hit, so he's a slightly more natural strong safety. However, due to the emergence of Kalvin Pearson, he finished the season starting at the free safety spot. Bullocks showed no signs of being slowed by the knee injury, even while playing more in coverage, and with his 2008 performance he solidified his position as one of the few defensive building blocks the Lions have. Bottom line: Bullocks is a talenteed young safety who plays with athleticism, but likes to get his nose in the pile. Should be an asset for years to come.

Gerald Alexander: The third of three 2007 Lions second-round picks, Gerald Alexander was one of the vaunted Boise State Broncos who took out Oklahoma in the '06-'07 Fiesta Bowl. A giant-killer, yes, but no dwarf at 6'-0", 204, Alexander was pressed into starting duty when Daniel Bullocks' knee imploded. Alexander quickly found confidence: in Week 2 against Minnesota, he garnered 5 solo tackles, two passes defensed, and a interception, which he returned for 34 yards. He started the rest of the way after that, ending up with 81 tackles (59 solo), 2 sacks, and two INTs. Alexander's precocious field awareness and obvious athletcism made it look like the Lions had their free safety of the future in hand. With the ancipated return of Daniel Bullocks, it seemed like the Lions were set for 2008 and beyond at the safety position. However, in the 2008 preseason, something was obviously wrong. Alexander looked tentative, hesitant. Instead of making plays, he was a step (or two, or three) late. He whiffed on tackles. He looked nothing like the star-in-the-making we'd seen in 2007. He started the first preseason game, but was benched in favor of the fully-healed Daniel Bullocks. He made some appearances in rotation, but had just seven tackles in five games. He suffered a neck injury in the 4th quarter against Minnesota which would require surgery. He was placed on IR, ending his season. Bottom Line: Alexander is either a talented young free safety who, along with Bullocks, will be be a feared element of the Lions defense--or not. Only time will tell.

Kalvin Pearson: Brought in as a special teams standout, and Tampa 2 "system" depth (as Bullocks was still recovering), Pearson almost immediately shamed himself, and the Lions organization, by getting arrested for choking a woman pregnant with his child. Many fans, including myself, wanted this guy immediately released from the team. He was released--on bond--and attended minicamps as if nothing had ever happened. The felony charges were eventually dropped (possible interpretation: the woman was paid enough money to shut up), and Pearson was instead indicted with misdemeanor charges of 'obstructing or resisting a police office without violence', the hearing for which he was not required to even attend.

. . . I'm sure that's all on the up-and-up.

Anyway, Pearson, as both a probable scumbag and another of Marinelli's mass import of Tampa castoffs, had a long way to go to endear himself to Lions fans. At first, behind Bullocks, Alexander, and Dwight Smith, Pearson rarely saw the field when there weren't kickers or punters out there with him. However, as the painfully thin Lions secondary got thinner with the injury to Keith Smith, Pearson started to play nickel corner. His stout build (5'-10", 200 lbs.), great tackling ability, and good short-zone coverage skills made him a better T2 nickel than any of the other corners. When Smith got hurt, Pearson became the starting strong safety, and Bullocks slid over to free. In Week 9, his second as the starter, Pearson had a monster game, posting 10 solo tackles. Much to my chagrin, Pearson continued to be a rare and valuable playmaker on the Lions'd D, finishing with 83 tackles, 1 sack, 4 forced fumbles and 4 passes defensed. This in just 10 starts as a strong safety. Pearson is limited athletically, but as a strong safety he's an undeniable asset to the roster. Bottom line: Pearson is a great special-teamer and was suprisingly effective as a strong safety. He's not a long-term top-flite starter, but on this roster he's no worse than a valuable rotational guy. Still, a nasty injury to, or the unexpected release of, this jerk wouldn't be the worst news I ever heard.

Dwight Smith: Smith was another Tampa 2 system guy, one who'd been an important cog in those early-aughts Bucs defenses. Most recently, however, Smith played for the franchise where the "Tampa" 2 actually originated--Minnesota. In 14 games (13 starts) in Mike Tomlin's Tampa 2 system, Smith did his ballhawking thing, intercepting four passes (returning one 93 yards for a TD), and defending 9 others. It was hoped that Smith could rotate in with Bullocks and Alexander, play some nickel corner, and generate some turnovers--as well as provide needed veteran depth and leadership. However, partly due to Alexander's failures at free safety, Smith ended up starting Week 1 at strong safety. He was fairly productive at first, but by the time he injured his foot against Houston, he wasn't making much impact. Kalvin Pearson took over, and by the time Smith came back he was relegated to the bench. Bottom line: Smith was expected to be a playmaker in rotation, but instead he was an unremarkable starter. Pearson made him irrelevant, and he will likely be released in the offseason.

Stuart Schweigert: One of the more interesting street free agents I've ever seen. Schweiger hails from Saginaw, and played college ball at Purdue. The Raiders drafted him in the third round of the 2004 draft, and he immediately saw time. By 2005, he was starting, and his 6'-2", 205 lb. frame got 87 tackles (70 solo), 2 INTs, and 7 passes defensed that year. He started all of 2006, racking up a career-high 107 tackles, and then in 2007 . . . he started off at his usual pace, and then got hurt. Schweigert played only part time the rest of the way. He went throught he offseason with the Raiders, only to see the writing on the wall when the Raiders drafted Michael Huff. Scheweigert sounds off about it here. I don't understand how a 27-year-old, former third-round-pick safety who's played at a high level gets cut, then gets no interest until the 0-10 Lions are desperate for a warm body. Schweigert was only got on the field for the Lions in Week 12, and then played only sparingly. At this point, we have no idea what he can do. Bottom line: Schweigert is a young veteran, a local boy, and a total enigma. If Smith and/or Pearson are cut loose, keep an eye on Schweigert as a rotational guy.

Lamarcus Hicks (bottom line): second-year guy who spent 2008 on and off the practice squad. Doesn't look to have much impact for 2009.

SUMMARY: Safety is another enigma position for the Lions. The ideal situation is that Gerald Alexander recovers his 2007 form, and he mans the free safety spot while Bullocks holds down the strong side. That would give the Lions two young, athletic, experienced safeties for years to come. However, if Alexander cannot return to that level of play, he'll be backing up Bullocks at the free spot instead. I have to assume that Dwight Smith and his $2.3M cap number will be hitting the road. That leaves Pearson and Schweigert to battle it out for the strongside spot--and while they each have some upside, I'd much rather see a healthy Schweigert play up to his potential. While there are some question marks here, this is the area of the defense that needs the least help. If the Lions drafted safety, I would want to see a Sunday pick (rounds 4-6) with some serious speed and kick return credentials.


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