niether rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor dark of night . . .

>> 4.09.2009

It's mailbag time again!  I have a couple of good questions to dig into.  From Zipactonal:

"I see where the 49ers are posturing about not wanting Matt Stafford with the 10th pick. Meanwhile, Detroit has been pimping Stafford like he's the next Peyton Manning.  

If the Lions and 49ers both get shut out of the Cutler sweepstakes, Alex Smith and his newly restructured contract may be heading to Detroit. He has a LONG history with Linehan and a change-of-scenery will definitely help.

Wild guess? ~ Lions swap the 1.1 (Stafford) to the 49ers for their 1.10, 3.10 and Alex Smith. From the 49ers perspective, they're only 'out-of-pocket' a 3rd and a backup QB.

This is a really interesting scenario.  I have often compared the Lions' situation this year to the Niners' situation in 2005: a franchise looking up from its nadir, a new coach, a new start, in desperate need of a quarterback, sitting at 1.1, in perfect position to draft the franchise QB they need, and . . . there are no quarterbacks worth the 1.1 there, just two mid-to-late first rounders.  From the beginning, it was assumed that Aaron Rodgers would be the guy--but the longer he stayed up at the top of the mocks, the more people picked his game apart.  Further, the more people picked Rodgers' game apart, the more people fell in love with Alex Smith's raw talent.  I've said before that teams looked at Rodgers and went, "Oh oh, this guy could be the next Joey Harrington"--but then they looked at Alex Smith and went, "Heeeeeey, this guy could be the next Ben Roethlisberger!"  The Niners went with Smith, Rodgers fell to about where his grade was, and history says they made the wrong choice.  Of course, Rodgers got three years to sit behind Brett Favre and be groomed--if he'd been installed as the day one starter in SF, and Alex Smith had gone to Green Bay, would the roles be reversed?  We'll never know, but I've never envied the Niners the choice they had to make on that day.

Now the Lions are staring at a similar choice.  I believe that in Stafford and Sanchez are both 1.10-1.15-level prospects, and both would be a reach at 1.1.  Sanchez is rising fast, just like Smith was.  Sanchez, a couple months ago, was considered a second-round prospect who should have stayed another year--now, people are floating rumors that he's being considered at 1.4, 1.3, 1.2--and maybe even 1.1.  The parallels are really kind of eerie--now you propose doing what the Niners probably should have done to begin with--trade down, and fight to live another day. [wow, that was a misstype but it's an awfully poetic subversion of the cliche; I'll have to use it on purpose sometime! I think the Lions would love to move down a few spots, and also would love to pick up an extra third.  I don't know if 1.10 is really where they want to be, though.  That's too low for Curry, and probably too low for Raji . . . would they then put together a package to move back up?  l also don't think that Alex Smith is the guy they're necessarily looking for.  I don't see Smith as being the 'veteran backup' that Mayhew was looking for, nor the 'franchise quarterback' Mayhew is apparently interested in drafting.  He sort of splits the difference between Culepper and Stanton--big and raw like Culpepper, but more experienced than Stanton, but still hasn't shown anything, yet still has some upside left, unlike Culpepper . . . we could go 'round and 'round on this all day.Mayhew has proven he's not afraid to play with fire, and thus there are no trade scenarios I'll dismiss out-of-hand unless the value is off.  This would be close to correct in terms of value, but even if you assume the Niners would love to take Stafford at 1.1, the likelihood hinges on Detroit being willing to drop that far, and Detroit's opinion of Alex Smith.Here's another good one, from Neal:
"What are your thoughts on this depth chart, do you feel its accurate?
Do you feel as if Loper, and Coston, and Ramirez all have a better shot of sticking around than Foster, and that other Lents guy, right? I sure hope so. I see potential in Loper. And, who is the Gandy fella?"
It looks to me like they took the official 2008 depth chart, and have then slotted guys in where they think they'll best fit.  The first thing that I see is Damion Cook starting at LG--Cook was a CFL street free agent in 2008, cut from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and waiting for a call.  Colletto called, because Cook had been signed as an undrafted free agent when Colletto was in Baltimore, was a good-sized fella, and could play guard or center.  He spent several weeks on the roster, and even started the last two games.  I don't see him as an 'entrenched starter' or even someone likely to make the team.  The next thing that stands out to me is Loper as a backup LT.  It's true that Loper is big enough (6'-6", 320)and fast enough to play all four guard and tackle spots--but I would think that if Backus got hurt, Cherilus would slide over to LT before they'd plug Loper in.  I see Loper as the presumptive starting LG, unless and until the Lions draft someone at LT or G.  If they do draft someone, and either the rook plays LG, or the rook plays LT and Backus slides over to LG, then Loper becomes the top backup at all four guard and tackle spots.  Coston was a free agent last year who never saw the field; I'll be surprised if he makes this roster.  Lentz is another big-bodied depth guy.  Manny Ramirez is a total enigma to me.  He's got the body of a road grader, played where they do nothing but pass protect, and was legendary leader and high-motor guy in college.  Yet, he can't even sniff the field after all this time.  He's got plenty of potential, I just don't know if it will ever be tapped. Honestly, I have no idea who Gandy is.  I think the Lions are just rounding up ten guys who weigh over 330 and letting them all duke it out for two starting spots and three backup spots.


the sins of the father

>> 4.07.2009

Tom Kowalski of returned from a week-ish long hiatus to bring us this whopper of an admission:"

"I'll never forget the day that the Lions took Harrington with the third overall pick in 2002. Just minutes after they made the selection, I got a tip from someone who was in the Lions' war room that Mornhinweg was furious with the decision. After quickly getting it confirmed, I wrote about it and went on the radio with the information.

Within minutes of that happening, the Lions' public relations department set up a quick meeting with me and Mornhinweg - this is while the draft was still in its early stages. (I had never experienced anything like that before or since.) Mornhinweg spent 30 minutes trying to convince me that my sources were wrong and that he actually was on board with the pick. I knew it was total nonsense and Mornhinweg admitted years later that he never wanted Harrington - he wanted to trade the pick and, if that didn't work, he wanted cornerback Quentin Jammer."

Martin Mayhew, when (repeatedly) asked how he could be qualified to run a team when most of his real experience has come while working under Matt Millen, has said that he saw, from a very close range, how not to do it.  This example shows you exactly the kind of things he saw: egoes clashing, arm wrestling, territorial pissing matches.  The ownership dictating to management, management directing the front office, the management and front office running roughshod over the coaching staff, nobody working together, everyone pulling in different directions.  We saw it over and over and over during the Millen era: there was never a plan, there was never consistency, there was never a direction, but there WAS plenty of shouting and territory-marking.

At every step of the regime change: the hiring of Lewand and Mayhew, the firing of Marinelli, the steady-paced coaching search with multiple second interviews and multiple meet-the-pressers, the hiring of Jim Schwartz, his steady-paced coordinator search and hires, their slow filling out of the rest of the staff, and the long search for "the third football mind" and eventual hire of Shack Harris, there has been one message repeated over and over and over.  Mayhew and Lewand had a vision of the team they wanted the Lions to be, and they wanted a coach who shared that vision.  The coach's ideas of how to build a team was the same as the front office's, and he hired coordinators and assistants who understood and could execute those ideas.  Mayhew and Lewand wanted a credentialed personnel man to coordinate and oversee the scouts, and provide his own input and guidance--and they waited until they found the man with the right combination of experience and success.  All of the personnel moves made this season have precisely matched what the front office and coaching staff has said are the goals: run, stop the run, get bigger, get smarter, and get tougher.  There is a clear, stated plan, and all the available evidence says that the plan is being executed, from the highest levels on down.

This is not to say that there is, to borrow a phrase from my friend Steve at Detroit Lions Weblog, "hierarchical simpatico".  Everyone doesn't agree 100% all the time on every decision.  As an example, I get the sense that Mayhew never liked Drew Stanton as a pick, and DS doesn't figure into his medium- or long-term plans at all.  However, Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan have each seemed genuinely interested in working with Drew and seeing what they have in him.  However, it's my belief that if Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan came to Martin Mayhew and said, "We've evaluated Matt Stafford, and he's no good.  He can't be our quarterback", then Mayhew would not draft Stafford #1 overall.

Of course I have no idea what Schwartz or Linehan REALLY think about Stafford--maybe his workout really was "flawless" and they desperately want him under center.  But I do have an idea about what Mayhew thinks about Millen.  I do have an idea that Millen's greatest mistake was selecting Joey Harrington, knowing his coach didn't want him and couldn't use him.  The folly of acquiescing to the Ford's wishes over the pleas of  his scouts and personnel men, and the hubris of sticking it to his head coach by making Mornhinweg go out and spend thirty minutes lying through his teeth to Kowalski about how happy he is to have Harrington.  These are the greatest sins that Matt Millen committed, and they're ones I know Mayhew has committed to not making.

So, I've said it before and I'll say it again: if Matt Stafford is the pick--and at this point, I believe he will be--know that it is because Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan have every confidence that they can mold this young man into an excellent NFL quarterback.


the cavalry

>> 4.05.2009

I recently particpated in a three-round fan mock over at The Huddle, a fantasy football website I've frequented for ages.  The mock started several weeks ago, and picks were selected by either a diehard fan of that team, or a committee of such fans.  Things were VERY interesting, to say the least.  It's becoming apparent that the Lions are going to have a good solid look at many outstanding propsects with each of these five picks:

1.1 - What else is left for me to say about Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry?  He's the most extraordinarily gifted player in this draft class.  He's a freak of size, speed, strength, and agility.  He's an extremely intelligent young man, with impeccable character.  He's a born leader and motivator.  He would step in and be the heart and soul of a defense that hasn't had any of either for a decade.  I know it's increasingly looking like that won't be good enough to avoid the Lions rolling the dice on yet another quarterback, but damn it, it was my pick and I made it my way.

surprise risers: 1.11, Michael Johnson to Bills; 1.12, Peria Jerry to Broncos

surprise fallers: 1.15, Matt Stafford to Texans

1.20 - An embarassment of riches?  More like an avalanche!  With one of the big three QBs yet undrafted, one of top four LTs still there, and Aaron Curry still the only LB taken, I had several players available to me that I'd figured would be long gone.  I gleefully took Ole Miss OT Michael Oher.  A player I've been following as a possible Lion-to-be for two years, Oher could step in and absolutely maul people at the LG spot, until either he supercedes Backus at LT, or Backus' contract becomes edible.  Snagging a top-ten worthy franchise LT at the 1.20 spot would be an enormous coup.  Still, if we could go into the draft knowing the USC MLB Rey Maualuga would be here at this spot, as he was for me in this one, I wouldn't feel so bad if the Lions took Stafford over Curry.  I'd still feel bad, just not "reaching for the drain cleaner" bad (thanks, Neil!).

surprise risers: 1.29, Philip Loadholt to Giants

surprise fallers: 1.23, Rey Maualuga to Patriots (those jerks always get bargains like this!), 1.25, Aaron Maybin to Dolphins, 1.29

2.1 - As I'd hoped, the QB freeze-out continued, and Kansas State QB Josh Freeman--a player I've championed as a better medium- and long-term alternative to Matt Stafford and a possible pick at 1.20--slid all the way down to the first pick in the second round.  If he makes it this far, he would represent excellent value, and the Lions would have a Young Culpepper for Linehan to start from scratch with.  I hate Culpepper, but Freeman's natural gifts are absolutely undeniable.

surprise risers: 2.31, Herman Johnson (LSU OG) to Cardinals

surprise fallers: 2.27, Evander Hood to Panthers; 2.32, Duke Robinson to Steelers

3.1 - Unlike with the 2.1, I felt tugged in several different directions but wasn't really sold on any of them.  I could go DT, WR, or DB.  Ultimately, I took CB Coye Francies out of San Diego Jose State [thanks to Anonymous for the correction!].  He's got good size at 6'-0" 185, decent speed (4.56), and has an long frame with room to grow.  He's aggressive with bumping receivers at the line, and loves to tackle (the pic you see of him above his him upending Dwayne Jarrett at the goal line).  He's hard-nosed, a hard worker, and should develop into a great complement to a pure athletic cover guy like Buchanon.  Franices also had a 22.9 yard-per-return average as a kick returner.  The big knock on Francies was a 2007 incident where he was charged with possessing a loaded firearm.  The charges were dropped, but he was still dismissed from the Oregon State team.  He then went to San Diego State to finish out his college career.   Francies isn't jawdropping value here, but is definitely an okay pick.  I feel strongly that the Lions will come away with a CB out of their first four with a CB, and Francies was the best CB who could tackle and return available.

surprise risers: none really

surprise fallers: 3.15, SenDerrick Marks (Auburn DT) to Broncos; 3.17, Fili Moala (USC DT)

3.20: It was wild to watch those two DTs fall (I've seen Marks projected as a high second-round guy) . . . I was hoping one would slide to me.  Instead they both got snapped up right in front of me.  Then I was left with a somewhat decimated board.  I decided to go with the best player available, and that was UNC wideout Brandon Tate.  An incredible athlete who's a monster returner, Tate is the all-time NCAA D-I record holder for career return yardage.  Tate was used both from the WR and RB positions, but projects as a slot wideout in the NFL.  He's amazing in space and after the catch, and would be a outstanding addition to the Lions' WR corps.  Unfortunately, he tore his ACL and MCL just five games into his senior season, leaving most of his potential unfulfilled.  Despite the short time on the field, his incredible contributions as a wideout, RB (he was leading the team in rushing when he was injured), and kick returner still garnered him Honorable Mention All-ACC honors.  I think that depending on his knee, Tate might possibly be there for the Lions at 4.1, but they don't have the 4.1, or the 5.1 either for that matter.  The 3.20 will be the last chance the Lions have to draft an impact player, so why not draft a guy who would have been a high-second, low-first if he'd finished out his senior year?  I received many commendations for this selection.

This draft shows exactly how much talent the Lions will be adding to the roster.  I feel strongly that these are the positions they'll be addressing with their magical First Five: LB, OL, QB, CB, and WR.  They may well trade down to make it a magical First Six or First Seven, even.  We can't assume that all these guys will start and succeed right away-or even ever.  The odds say that three of these five talented players will never be significant contributors.   But, this draft will provide a desperately needed influx of skill at several positions of desperate need . . . it can only be a good thing.


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