The NFL Draft is something I’ve always paid a lot of attention to. Back before it became prime-time entertainment event, the NFL Draft was a weekend’s worth of football geek Nirvana. Throughout my formative football geek years, I’d spend the weekend glued to the TV, with notebook, newspaper, Sports Illustrated Draft Preview issue, and pencils at hand.
As the NFL has exploded in popularity, and as more teams have used the draft to bounce from the cellar to the penthouse—like the 2009 Falcons—interest in the Annual Player Selection Meeting has grown exponentially. Speculation and anticipation start building well before the NFL and NCAA regular seasons end, reach fever pitch during bowl season, and somehow keep climbing all the way up until late April.
I've fended off a lot of emails and Tweets over the past few months, declining to engage in the banter. Why? I don’t feel like it’s productive. Until the Combine is complete—and, to an extent, Pro Days are complete—it’s nearly impossible to place these guys in the very narrow value slot ranges they’ll occupy. “Top Three”, “Top Ten”, and “Mid-First-Round” are three very different value classes; the all-star games, Combine, Pro Days, and shifting team needs can swing one player through all of them between December and April.
Now, though, we have a pretty firm grip on who the Lions will have a crack at with that #2 overall pick, presuming they stay there. People have asked me who “my guy” is, and I’m proud to say I have an answer, if an obvious one:
There has been some talk about Oklahoma LT Russell Okung, or another, anonymous, left tackle—possibly Oklahoma LT Trent Williams. There were questions about whether the Lions would prefer Oklahoma DT Gerald McCoy, and even insinuations they’re looking at Clemson RB C.J. Spiller. But at the Combine, Suh proved himself exactly the man the Lions need to rebuild their defense.
Earlier on in this process, I wondered if Suh could play defensive end in the Lions’ system, shifting inside on passing downs, much as Kevin Carter did for Schwartz in Tennessee. Now that Suh dominated the combine drills at a lean 307 pounds, I don’t see that as his role. I consider Suh every bit the stud DT the Lions need to shore up their run defense, disrupt the pass, and—finally!—be able to force opposing offenses to adjust to the Lions’ defense.
That's the real value of Suh: more than just his sky-high ceiling, or likely production once he develops his technique, he’ll make every other player on the Lions’ defensive line more effective. You can bet that with Suh drawing double teams, Sammie Hill is going to be much harder to move around—and the Lions’ outside rushers should see a lot more one-on-one blocking as well.
Think about what the Lions love to do with their outside ‘backers on a blitz: Sims slicing in between Suh and Avril, Peterson coming up between Hill and Vanden Bosch, Levy and Foote both blitzing the B gap that Suh has blown open . . . the possibilities are intoxicating.
Theoretically, St. Louis could take Suh, but I find that a colossally unlikely proposition. Not only have the Rams burned first-round picks on 290-to-300-plus-pound defensive linemen in two of the last three years, but their quarterback situation is beyond alarming. With Sam Bradford killing it at his Pro Day, and Matthew Stafford’s jawdropping contract just the starting point for what St. Louis will have to pay the #1 overall pick, it makes zero sense to pass on a franchise quarterback and take Ndamukong Suh.
I get the sense that if the Lions had their druthers, they’d move back a few slots and take one of the other top ten draft prospects that fit a need—and sign him to a much smaller contract. But in terms of the impact he’d have, and the quality of person that he is, I absolutely believe the right decision is to stand pat, and take Suh at #2:
I feel as though I should get those T-shirts made. Apologies to Michael Conroy and the AP for desecrating this photo.