Come chat with me, Killer, Phil, Schottey, and everyone else over at Mlive.com . . . RIGHT NOW.
Come chat with me, Killer, Phil, Schottey, and everyone else over at Mlive.com . . . RIGHT NOW.
On my way to Ford Field, stuck in traffic on I-96, my finding/parking/walking/set-up time melting away before my eyes. The radio’s pumping pre-draft hype, my heart is pumping Taurine and B-vitamins where my blood used to be, and my mind is racing trying to figure out how I'm going to get there, get set up, and join the Mlive.com NFL Draft live blog before the Lions draft Ndamukong Suh. I hope.
Passing the accident, racing my GPS, hastening the ETA minute by minute as I make time faster than Sprint Navigation thinks I can, thanking God for Detroit drivers as I hurtle down a "55 mph" road at 75 while getting passed on both sides.
Racing through the parking garage, approaching the entrance, praying word got from the Lions’ staff to the security people that I was coming with a laptop. As I enter, a security staffer asks to see my bag. I hold by breath, open the bag . . . and she says, “Are you Ty?” I avoid the temptation to answer, “ . . . YES I AM,” and instead just say yes. I’m directed to someone who tells me to head to the fifty-yard line, and someone will meet me with WiFi credentials. As I race down to the field, the commissioner appears, and tells us the St. Louis Rams are on the clock.
As I see the setup, I desperately want to be small again. Bouncing on the bouncy things, jumping on the jumpy things, running around like a maniac on the Lions’ home turf, it all looks like so much fun. Instead, I sit down at the fifty-yard line, take out my laptop, and get to work. Double-fisting the Internet with my cell phone and laptop, I try to deliver my Twitter followers and Mlive friends a full dose of the happenings. Within seconds, Commissioner Goodell took the podium:
The excitement is electric, the buzz spine-tingling, the thrill unanimous. Despite annual bluster about needing to take a left tackle because OMG Jeff Sackus, as the Lions went on the clock, we all hoped for one player, the best player in the draft, one of the best defensive line prospects ever: Ndamukong Suh. A little of my excitement started to turn to fear.
The vibe I’d been catching from Tom Kowalski, and others, was that if the Lions could find a deal to move down, save money, and add picks in one of the deepest drafts in years, they would. In the middle of this crowd, if the Lions traded down—or worse yet, didn’t take Suh—I would want to be anywhere but where I was. Suh is shown on the phone, and a cheer goes up . . . but then, the commissioner takes the podium, and we hold our breath:
Jubilation. Exultation, adoration, grown men and women acting like children; children also acting like children. Hugs, high fives, clapping, cheering—and SUUUUUUUUUUH. Lots and lots and lots of SUUUUUUUUUUH.
I’ve never been tempted to take up photography; I have no eye, no instincts, no talent for the art whatsoever. I’ve always preferred to be the center of attention, rather than the chronicler of it. But, that moment of anticipation was magical, and I’m glad I was there as much to observe as to participate.
Thousands of men, women, children, from all walks of life, from all races, creeds and colors, from miles around, were all decked out in Honolulu Blue, and all gathered together, united completely in that moment. Every eye focused skyward, every ear straining to hear, every fan’s heart desperately wanting the same thing: hope.
In that moment the commissioner spoke, those timeless few seconds, the blue flame flickered and stirred, like a puff of breath on the flame of a candle. When the name of Ndamukong Suh rang out, the fire ROARED. For a few seconds, we beheld the glorious joy that is still yet to come. That day when every Lions fan wears their gear with pride. When every casual fan, former fan, or not even really a fan picks up a Lions hat or T-shirt while they’re at the mall, because it’s cool. When every empty suit, talking head, and pillar of hair on TV sings the praises of the Lions and their management, and when winning is not a faint and distant someday but a weekly expectation.
On the field, It’s hard to explain exactly how much Ndamukong Suh means to this franchise. After a decade of swinging and missing on high draft picks in an attempt to build a high-powered offense, building instead the worst NFL defense of all time, Suh is something different entirely.
Suh, the breathtakingly powerful keystone of a rebuilt defensive line, gives us hope that the Lions will no longer bleed to death in the fourth quarter, surrendering game-winning drives when pluck and effort crumble at the hands of power and strength. He gives us hope that the Lions will not be Kleenex on third down—no more containing an offense twice, only to helplessly allow their march to the end zone to continue. He gives us hope that finally, finally, the Lions defense has a player that can disrupt an offense, and force them to adjust to us.
After the rapturous joy had subsided into thousands of permanent grins, I decided it was time to stop observing and start experiencing. I'd already had the pleasure of seeing several people come stand and pose on the leaping Lion. But these two dudes, in Cory Schlesinger and Chris Spielman jerseys, arrived and started WORKING IT. Seriously, these guys were naturals. After they took turns doing pose after pose, I asked them if they wanted to be e-famous. They said, “Sure!” and went to work:
They just did this, I didn’t direct them or anything. Amazing work, fellas; drop me a line if this was you. Next up, I attempted a field goal. I debated about using the straight-ahead style, or soccer style . . . I dimly recalled an old Jason Hanson interview where he said that novices should always use straight-on, but I decided to attempt it soccer-style. It went up, and straight, and end-over-end, but not very far. I’d put my plant foot short of the ball, and so my kicking foot bounced off the turf before going up into the ball. Ah well. Next up . . . heading into the tunnel.
This was kind of unreal. I couldn’t believe the Lions opened up the tunnel and the locker room for fans—but, as the fellow guiding the tour, Don, pointed out, the Lions are actually only in Ford Field twelve times a year. It’s not as though any deeply personal stuff is kept in the locker room; the vast majority of the Lions’ working time is spent at the Allen Park facility. Apparently, you can rent out any space in the Ford Field building . . . even the locker rooms . . . even for weddings.
It's impressive. It’s also about five times the size of the visitors’ locker rooms—and, according to Don, this room’s showers work. By the way, in case you doubt the NFL’s commitment to cracking down on blowing up ‘defenseless’ players, check it out:
There are posters and signage like this all over the locker rooms, like the full uniform code and a graphic detailing what is appropriate and what will be fined. But this one jumped out at me:
The NFL takes the sanctity of the game very, very seriously. Finally, the brief tour ended, and I headed back out onto the field. With the event nearly over, people were streaming out, and the field was nearly empty. The draft was approaching pick #20, and I had to get my laptop packed up. I realized the moment would be wasted if I didn’t strike my own pose:
. . . and with that, I left. The fine folks at Ford Field put on an excellent event. The fans went home pleased and fulfilled. A couple of guys were hollering, “SUUUUUUUUUH” in the parking garage and letting it echo and echo and echo . . .
Good night, Leaping Lion. Good night, FieldTurf. Good night, goal posts, and good night, signs. Good night, jumpy things, and good night, bouncy things. Good night video boards, and good night Commissioner. Good night Ford Field, and good night staff. Good night Lions fans everywhere.
Yeah and then while I was driving home they traded back up into the first and took Jahvid Best. @#$%#*@$@%#*$#@$*&@^^#&#**!^^$*$((&$^#&^$&*#(#&$*$(#@&#(#*&&!!!!
Some are complaining about the trade up; the Lions surely could have waited to see if he fell? But the Lions were waiting on the best available runningback or cornerback, and every other RB or CB with a first-round grade was gone. The dropoff from Jahvid Best to Toby Gerhart or Chris Cook is really, really significant—and with a whole night to sleep on it, the risk that a team could trade up and leapfrog them was extreme. No, Best was the only way the Lions get two instant-impact starters out of this draft, and I commend them for putting those seventh-rounders to work.
The Lions got much, much better last night; the offense now looks truly dangerous. The amount of talent at each position is orders of magnitude above where it was two years ago, and much greater than at this time last season. I am pleased; Best will be a good feature back until Kevin Smith is ready, and they’ll be a tremendous combination once he’s full speed again. Ndamukong Suh, along with Sammie Hill and Corey Williams, will form one of the biggest and most athletic defensive tackle rotations in the NFL.
I wonder if the Lions don’t have more up their sleeve; they desperately need a corner who can compete for a starting job. Chris Cook is still out there, but likely won’t last to the third round, and the pickings get even slimmer after him. I’d like to see the Lions dip in to next years’ picks; this draft is one of the deepest I’ve ever seen, and there are still players with excellent grades still on the board. If they could move back up into the second, without sacrificing their third, I think it’d be a truly outstanding draft.
Don't forget: tonight, join me, Killer, Phil, Schottey, and the rest of the crew over at Mlive.com for the live draft chat, part 2!
It took me longer than I meant to to get my draft plans figured out, but it’s now settled: I’ll be attending the creatively-named Draft Night Event at Ford Field. I’ll be seeing the sights and talking to people beforehand, and recording video live from the event. I’ll be trying to upload them and link to them as the night goes on. Hit me up on Twitter if you’re there—and if you aren’t camera shy, you might even get to be “famous”!
And by "famous", I mean you will get to be on the Internet. Which like, you probably already are. But you know, more on the Internet.
Also, if my laptop isn’t confiscated and the WiFi holds up, I’ll be part of the Mlive.com NFL Draft Live Blog, along with Phil, Killer, Schottey, and the rest of the gang. I’ll be posting up the video links there, too, so if you’re following along, you won’t miss out. Failing that, I will of course be Tweeting the everlovin’ love out of it @lionsinwinter.
The fourth round of my quasi-mock will be up before the afternoon is out, but I’m not going to do the seventh. Besides being a massive effort, with so many selections and too many players to scout, there’s nearly zero chance that the Lions stand pat throughout the fifth and six rounds while they have four seventh-rounders burning a hole in their pocket. I anticipate that those picks will be used as trade lubricant, and the draft board will start changing rapidly come Saturday.
I love making the pilgrimage to the stadium, there's really nothing like it. Connecting with the fans, hearing the cheers, feeling the excitement, spotting jersey fails, and spotting jersey wins—like the old guy in an authenic Lem Barney throwback I saw last year. Paying like $13 for a Labatt and a Kowalski, soaking in the tepid rays of the Detroit sun, even indoors . . . it’s awesome. I can’t wait to capture the moment when they draft Ndamukong Suh on video—and I can’t wait to share it all with you!
twenty-odd years later I still know EXACTLY what this kid was supposed to get
We have the Lions' 2010 draft shopping list:
So, let's go shopping. With each pick, I’ll give you the players who could fill the above needs, and then rank ‘em as I feel the Lions have them ranked, based wholly on my own ill-informed opinion.
Round 1, Pick 2 (#2 overall): Ndamukong Suh, Nebraska DT
2. Eric Berry, Tennesee S
3. Gerald McCoy, Oklahoma DT
4. Bryan Bulaga, Iowa LT
5. Russell Okung, Oklahoma State LT
I've been banging the Suh drum for quite a while, though not as long as some. The fact of the matter is, he's the best overall prospect in the draft, and--just like Calvin Johnson a few years ago, the Lions are going to be in position to get the best player in the draft, because the #1 overall team will take a quarterback. Don't stress if the Rams, as rumored, trade down--nobody's going to give up the necessary king's ransom to move up to 1.1, just so they can turn around and hand a defensive tackle eighty million dollars. Even if, through some ridiculous machinations, Suh goes #1 overall, the Lions will hold all the cards to trade down. So don't stress.
Berry, I'm not sold on. I haven't watched much of his play, but have heard rumblings from those who have that he's still more "jawdropping potential" than "actually a phenomenal safety". Besides, building the defense around two athletic, playmaking, gambling, hitting safeties seems like putting the cart before the horse, especially given the salaries involved. But, a not-insignificant school of thought holds that Berry is the best player in this draft, or the second-best behind Suh, and he inarguably fills a need on the shopping list. Ergo, I place him at 2, over my own objections.
McCoy, I still don't think is the right fit for the scheme--but Schwartz has said there isn't as much separation between Suh and McCoy as everyone thinks, and these two are clearly the two best non-QB prospects in the draft.
Okung, everyone knows my feelings about. When Mayhew was asked if Okung was clearly the best tackle in the draft, Mayhew said he thought there were "two best tackles in the draft," and refused to elaborate. Some have speculated the Lions would prefer Trent Williams, but from what I've read, Williams is a little stiff in pass protection, and needs a lot of technique work. No, I think the more complete LT is Bryan Bulaga. I know he's not the elite ÜBERTAKKEL that everyone has been screaming for since Lomas Brown, but to be brutally, brutally honest, folks, I think the Lions would be happy to Jeff Backus with Next Jeff Backus.
Round 2, Pick 2 (#34 overall): Ryan Mathews, Fresno State RB
2a. Kareem Jackson, Alabama CB, 2b Devin McCourty, Rutgers CB
3. Jahvid Best, California RB
4. Everson Griffen, USC DE
5. Roger Saffold, Indiana OG/OT
While most have the Lions ready to take Jahvid Best if he's there, Mathews is the "power back with speed" the Lions truly covet, not the "speed back" that Best is. I Tweeted Sports Illustrated's Peter King about this, and he said the Lions brass would "do handsprings" if Mathews was there for them at 34.
Kareem Jackson didn't get the attention that his partner, Javier Arenas, did--but Jackson is the much more NFL-ready prospect, even if he isn't quite as head-turning of an athlete. He's a much headier, smarter, more polished cornerback--exactly the kind of Jackson, like Mathews, is about a 50/50 shot to be there for the Lions--essentially, if the Chargers take Mathews, Jackson should fall, and if the Chargers take Jackson or Rutgers CB Devin McCourty, Mathews should fall.
In the unfortunate scenario where Mathews, Jackson, and McCourty are all gone, it's hard to count out Jahvid Best. Best was an absolutely lethal tailback before his frightening neck injury; Scott Linehan's word "eraser" almost doesn't do him justice. Personally, I still question his size, and between-the-tackles mojo. I have a sneaking suspicion that the Lions aren't as high on Best as everyone thinks. That leads me to my next possibility . . .
Everson Griffen is cut right from the Schwartzian cloth: 6'-3", 273, technique, speed, great against the run and a gifted pass rusher. The only reason I hold back my prediction on him--the fourth(ish) option instead of the first or second--is that I don't think he possesses the high-motor, high-IQ psychological profile that Schwartz and Cunningham love. But it's undeniable that he, physically, is a perfect fit.
Roger Saffold is a very versatile guard, who's frame and skill set remind some of Branden Albert, the famed one-that-got-away-when-we-passed-on-him-and-got-Gosder-Cherilus-instead-even-though-Albert-hasn't-been-very-good-at-LT LT. Saffold would fill the swing guard/tackle role that Daniel Loper vacated, and might push Jon Jansen out the door.
Round 3, Pick 2 (#66 overall): Corey Wootton, Northwestern DE
2. Chris Cook, Virginia CB, 2b Brandon Ghee, Wake Forest CB
3. Ricky Sapp, Clemson LB
4. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Indiana CB
5. John Jerry, Mississippi OG
This pick is going to turn some heads, but everything I read about Corey Wootton just SCREAMS Jim Schwartz. He’s extremely smart, very driven, extremely high motor, perfectly framed at 6’-6”, 270, has first-round tools but fell due to an injury that hampered his senior year, a true three-down, two-way monster. The troubling thing is that the Lions would be turning down a step-in-and-start cornerback, and they need at least one, but remember what I said? There are too many needs. They’re not going to fill all the needs, they’re going to take the best player on their board.
#2 is kind of wishful thinking; most mocks I've seen have Cook going in the low second. But, his combination of physicality and football IQ are in the Schwartz mold, and his excellent size (6'-2") and speed (4.46) should help him make up for his lack of polished technique. He can also flex between corner and safety, so the Lions can use him as needed—and really, they need two of him! Ghee is a guy who could go anywhere from the late first to the mid-third, from what I’ve seen, but he’s also fast and loves to hit.
I've been trying and trying to figure out who Gunther's "nobody else thinks I can do what I think this guy can do" linebacker is, and I think I have it narrowed down to two: Clemson LB Ricky Sapp, and Washington's Donald Butler. Either would have the blend of size, speed and high-impact tackling that the Lions want. I'll put Sapp here . . .
Awkasi Owusu is the consolation prize if neither Cook or Ghee fall. Another big (6’-0”, 207), fast (4.47) CB/S flex guy, Owusu has excellent ball skills—and is a great returner, both on special teams and after the interception. He’s a D2 guy, so he’ll need some time to develop. but as with Sammie Hill, the Lions aren’t afraid to take the guy from the small school.
Okay, Google disabled my account again, and I've run out of time. No round four, but keep an eye out for Donald Butler, Washington LB, Awkasi Owusu-Ansah, Indiana CB, Ciron Black LSU OT/OG, Mitch Petrus, Arkansas OG/OC, and John Connor, Kentucky FB.
I don’t know if you heard, but yesterday the Lions made a move that shook up the shopping list a little bit . . . but really, only a little bit.
Of course, all eyes are on the Defensive Tackle position. Last season, this was the team’s most desperate need. That draft netted Sammie Hill, an athletic big man out of tiny Stillman College; so raw he’d never attended an NFL game before he started his first. Throughout the season, the Lions got significant contributions from Grady Jackson (since released), Landon Cohen, Andre Fluellen, Joe Cohen, and Turk McBride.
Fluellen and McBride are both inside/outside guys who saw snaps at both DE and DT. Neither are long-term pieces of the puzzle at DT—in fact, I expect them to fight for a roster spot this summer. Same story, I predict, for the Cohen Brothers (they aren’t brothers). They’re similar players—but Landon’s youth, short-area quickness, and breathtaking physical development should give him the advantage.
Then, of course, there's the new guy: trade acquisition Corey Williams. A huge, gifted 4-3 pass rushing DT who blossomed into a franchise player in Green Bay, he went to Cleveland and struggled as a 3-4 end. It’s presumed that a change of scenery, and a return to his natural role, will allow him to pick up where he left off—but that’s just a presumption.
If Williams returns to the form that produced 69 tackles and 14 sacks in his 3rd and 4th years in the NFL, the Lions have a natural starting DT pair: a 320-pound pass rusher, and a 330-pound run stuffer. If he doesn't, the Lions are back to Sammie Hill stuffing the run on most downs—and rotating everyone else through both spots the rest of the way. Either way, Hill and Williams aren’t playing 60+ snaps each, and none of the rotational guys listed above currently pass muster. The Lions need a disruptive, starting pass-rushing 4-3 DT to rotate with Williams and Hill.
The Lions’ Defensive End depth chart is a mess right now, but summer should clear things up a bit. The way I believe this will work is this: Kyle Vanden Bosch will play right defensive end for all three downs, spelled by Cliff Avril as needed. Jason Hunter and Jared DeVries will battle in camp, and may ultimately platoon, at left end; Avril may also see snaps over there in passing situations. In running situations, McBride/Fluellen may rotate in at LE, as well.
KVB is the prototypical end for this defense; the Lions would start one of him on each side, if they could. Avril is slightly too small to play every down at LE, and Jason Hunter isn’t a polished enough pass rusher to play every down at LE either. Jared DeVries would have been a nice match to KVB a few years ago—but between age and injury, nobody knows how much he has left in the tank.
Obviously, with at least four players seeing time at left end, they don't currently have a long-term solution. If either Hunter or Avril takes a big step forward this season, it could be either of them—and if not, they could be gone after 2011. Further, KVB is no spring chicken; defensive ends rarely stay dominant deep into their thirties. The Lions need a starting, three-down, two-way defensive end in the mold of Kyle Vanden Bosch.
The Middle Linebacker spot is a blessed island of clarity in this muddled lagoon of a defense: DeAndre Levy will start, and play well, for a long time. Backing him up will be . . . holy crap! Nobody! The Lions have no other middle linebackers on the roster. The Lions need a developmental middle linebacker.
Now, we get to the spot that was made both clearer, and muddier, by yesterday's trade: Outside Linebacker. Julian Peterson is one starter—and, if my understanding of the defense is correct, the 6’-3”, 245-pound blitz specialist is the prototype for the defense. Just like KVB, they’d love to have two in-their-prime JPs on either side of Levy.
Gunther Cunningham has said before that Jordon Dizon is like JP only a half-a-foot shorter; I’ve never quite believed him, but it’s possible. Cunningham now says that he expects Zack Follett to compete for, and win, that starting role—presuming the Lions don’t draft that anonymous linebacker they’ve all fallen in love with. The rest of the group: Landon Johnson, Vinny Ciruciu, and Ashlee Palmer are all special teams aces who may or may not be in the mix to play OLB. Again, like KVB, Peterson’s getting up there—even if Follett, or one of the others steps up, the Lions need a starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker in the mold of Julian Peterson.
Now we get to the really, really hair-raising position: Cornerback. Despite the trade for talented young veteran CB Chris Houston, the Lions still have zero established starters at this position. Houston has been wildly inconsistent in his brief career, and the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson to replace him. After him, the depth chart is a Hogan’s Alley of almost-cornerbacks: Eric King, Jack Williams, DeAngelo Smith, Dante Wesley, Jahi Word-Daniels, and Jonathan Wade.
Most of those guys are pretty young—some very young, and with some measure of upside. However, all of these guys are, at best, young nickel/dime guys with some measure of upside. None of them should be anywhere near the starting lineup. Even if Chris Houston works out just fine, the Lions need at least one starting cornerback; they like ‘em smart and tough.
Finally, we get to the end of this mess: Safety. Of course, last year’s second-rounder, Louis Delmas, exploded in his rookie year, making plays left and right against the pass and the run. unfortunately, the other safety spot was arguably the weakest position on the roster, with Marquand Manuel, Ko Simpson, Marvin White, and some others no longer on the roster saw snaps back there. Again, just like KVB and JP, with the symmetrical Schwartz/Cunningham defense, I think they’d like to clone Delmas and start two of him.
On the other hand, Delmas is so excellent in run support—and the cornerbacks so dire—that if I were the Lions, I’d be okay with taking a more pure free safety to pair with Delmas. Given the quarterbacks in the NFC North, and how badly the Lions struggled to cover the pass in 2009, it only makes sense to have the best possible coverage guys out there. The Lions need a starting safety, who’s very strong in coverage.
So, the complete shopping list:
What strikes you about this list? How about the fact that it is way too long to completely cross off in one draft. No matter what happens this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, there is no way that the Lions can “fill all the holes” or “get everything they need” or “address every question mark” or however you want to phrase the way drafts are normally graded. When this draft is over, I guarantee that you will look at the list of draftees and exclaim in horror, “THEY DIDN’T GET A ________?!?”
Let me assure you: they know. The Lions know where their roster holes are—maybe, believe it or not, even better than you do! All we can hope for is that their grades are right, and the players they choose actually DO fill those needs, instead of trap the Lions yes-no-maybe-so at that position for three years.
Next up: WHO.
While I was grabbing some lunch, news broke: Martin Mayhew had looked in the Wheeler Dealer and pulled himself off another swap—this time, trading Ernie Sims to the Eagles, a 5th-rounder from the Eagles to the Broncos, and TE Tony Scheffler from the Broncos to the Lions. The Lions also got yet another seventh-round pick, bringing the total up to four.
I haven’t been shy about reminding everyone that way back in January, I wrote an article for Mlive.com, proclaiming that Martin Mayhew must trade Sims while he still has value. My first proposed trade destination was Philadelphia, and I bugged poor Adam Caplan from Scout.com about that idea for weeks, because the fit just made too much sense. I’ve also been obnoxious in pointing out that I pointed out that the retirement of Casey FitzSimmons left an empty niche in the Lions’ offense.
My apologies to all of you for the insufferable self-promoting. I have no access to “insider” info; everything you read is coming from my own synthesis of what’s out there. When I stumble upon an acorn, as I rarely do, I enjoy planting it, watching it grow into a mighty oak, then hanging my hat upon it. My apologies if I've annoyed you; I rarely indulge in such own-horn-tooting, and I’m done now.
First impressions? This is practically identical to the Cory Redding-for-Julian Peterson trade. These two players, Sims and Scheffler, both had a foot out the door in their original cities. Neither were fits for their current systems, both had plenty of good football years left, and both are entering a contract year.
For me, it's a bittersweet goodbye to Sims. Check out my post from roughly this time last year, featuring a battered alt-color Ernie Sims jersey and dangerous levels of optimism:
Ernie Sims is primed to be an incredible force in 2009.
Coming out of Florida State, I really thought that Sims would be what I later thought Aaron Curry could be: the explosive, badass linebacker who turns around the defense and the team. That the Lions would draft a chiseled little wrecking ball of an OLB, more noteworthy for his performance on tape than his freakish size or speed? Surely, I figured, it must be a harbinger of glory!
Prior to last season, I thought the Lions’ new scheme, and all of its OLB blitzing, would allow Sims to shut his brain off and unleash his inner Kraken. Unfortunately, the Lions’ defensive line wasn’t disruptive enough to allow Sims to safely ignore his lanes—and double-unfortunately, Sims shut his brain off anyway.
He still has all the talent to be a surpassing WLB if used properly. Philly’s hyperaggressive 4-3 is exactly the right kind of system, and it’s a lot closer to being fully realized than the Lions’ own implementation of a similar system. I wish Sims all the best, of course; I’m “glad” I never sank the cash into that jersey, but I’m sad I never repped him while he was here. For a little while, he was the only player really worth cheering for.
Tony Scheffler, for his part, is like Casey FitzSimmons, only up an order of magnitude. Midwestern football state? Instead of Montana, Michigan. Instead of Caroll College, Western Michigan. Instead of an undrafted free agent, a 2nd-round pick. Instead of a 23-catch, 160-yard, 2-TD rookie season, an 18-catch, 286-yard, 4-TD rookie season. Instead of a six more years that barely matched his rookie totals combined, three more years where he’s averaged double the catches and yards over that initial effort.
Scheffler really doesn't have much place in Denver's offense, and he had little-to-no chemistry with efficient-but-weak-armed Kyle Orton. Now, he’ll again play with the kind of rocket-armed quarterback who threw him 107 passes, for 1,480 yards & 12 TDs, in his first three NFL seasons.
Many are pointing to this trade as proof that Brandon Pettigrew’s recovery is going poorly, but I see them as completely different players. Pettigrew is a third tackle with cotton hands; a powerful inline blocker who’s quick enough to get open and make a crucial third-down catch. However, he’s not a field-stretcher, a walking mismatch like Gates or Clark. He’s not going to blow past an OLB on a skinny post, catch it in stride, smoke both safeties and take it to the house; that’s just not his skill set.
With Fitz gone, the Lions had four blocking TEs, with a spectrum of hands from “great” to “nonexistent”. Scheffler gives them that dangerous 2-TE combination that Linehan loves: he can again use a 2-WR, 2-TE, I-formation set as a base for five-option pass plays. It’s all about establishing the power running game, and then killing them through the air . . . and, Pettigrew or no, Tony Scheffler gives them that ability.
The best part of all of it, though, is what the Michigan native, Scheffler, told the Denver Post when they called him:
“Restore the Roar!”
But, with the draft upon us, I have to sum up the Lions’ needs. It only makes sense: if the Lions are restocking the cupboard, they need a shopping list, right?
Josh over at Roar of the Lions came up with the perfect description of how the Lions' front office drafts: "BATFAN," or Best Available That Fits A Need. The idea is that you're taking the best available player, but only if that player fits a perceived need. This doesn't involve RANKING said needs. If there are four available players that all fit a roster niche, the one getting drafted will be the best player, not the one fans might think is most needed.
This is why Brandon Pettigrew got taken over a middle linebacker at 1.20 last year: TE, though not a position most fans cared about, was manned solely by Casey FitzSimmons and Will Heller. A two-way TE, a sweet blocker with soft hands, was a definite need, and Brandon Pettigrew was graded by the Lions to be a better player than any MLB on the board.
Of course, nobody outside of Allen Park's innermost sanctum knows what the Lions' true draft grades are. With what we know of the schemes the coaches run, and the qualities they look for, and the performance of the players still on the roster from 2009, we can at least take a stab at what the Lions consider to be their needs.
When it comes to Quarterback, Matthew Stafford is the franchise quarterback, the alpha and the omega, the present and future king. The Lions brought in veteran Shaun Hill to serve as the primary backup, and he's a good fit. With Scott Linehan having coached the eight-season veteran during his formative years in Minnesota, Hill and his lifetime 23/11 TD/INT ratio should walk in the door a trustworthy backup. At 30 years of age, with only 16 career starts, Hill also has a lot of tread on the tires; if he does indeed work out, the Lions will be set at quarterback for years.
I don't know if this is good news or bad news for perennial underdog Drew Stanton. One one hand, Drew is a second-round pick entering his fourth year, and most would be very surprised if he's any higher than third on the depth chart come Week 1. On the other, he has shown a few flashes here and there, and this will be his first time playing for the same OC two seasons in a row. The bottom line is that the Lions could use a developmental quarterback to push Stanton in camp.
At Runningback, the Lions have made it absolutely clear that they plan to upgrade over incumbent (but injured) starter Kevin Smith. They desire a back that has the explosion, deep speed, and big-play ability that Smith lacks. From my position on the couch, there'd be a natural fit: draft an explosive scatback with questions about his ability to run between the tackles, let him show what he can do all summer, and then when Smith comes back you have an effective tandem.
I don't think the Lions agree with me.
It's been said that the Lions were strongly considering drafting Beanie Wells if he'd fallen to them at the top of the second round. Given what we know of the Lions' approach; that they want to build a power-running team, it becomes clear: they’re not looking for a "lighting" to Kevin Smith's "thunder". They won’t be drafting a Reggie Bush-type jitterbug. No, they want Fast Kevin Smith: a power back with speed, not a speed back.
For what it's worth, I thought Maurice Morris ran very, very well last season--in fact, he was much more effective than Smith. If the Lions chose to roll with him, 2nd-year scatback Aaron Brown, and signee DeDe Dorsey, I think they’d get by fine until Smith returned—and the Lions would probably agree. The Lions’ intent with drafting a runningback isn’t to upgrade their backups—it’s to upgrade their starter. The Lions want to draft a starting power back with speed.
Wide Receiver, the bane of the Lions' drafts, may finally be set. Calvin Johnson is the most physically wideout in football. Free agent signee Nate Burleson is a favorite of OC Scott Linehan’s—and is extremely dangerous when working in the space created by a complementary deep threat. Last year’s #2, Bryant Johnson, #3, Dennis Northcutt, and 2009 third-round draftee Derrick Williams round out a very nice five-deep set. I don’t believe they’re thrilled with Johnson, Northcutt, or Williams as long-term solutions, so perhaps they draft a developmental player—but with the lack of 4- and 5-WR sets in Linehan’s offense, they won’t carry six receivers on the roster. The Lions may or may not be looking for a developmental wide receiver.
With 2009 first-round pick Brandon Pettigrew coming back, the Lions know who their #1 Tight End is. He’s a strong blocker, who was developing into one of Stafford’s favorite targets before he got hurt. After him, there’s Will Heller, who was brought in to be a pure blocker—but surprised with his soft, clutch hands. Dan Gronkowski and Jake Nordin are both young, strong, developmental blocking tight ends.
With the retirement of Casey FitzSimmons, the Lions no longer have a receiving tight end with speed. Given the way Linehan likes to use two-TE sets, the Lions could use a developmental athletic, pass-catching tight end.
At Offensive Tackle, the Lions have stalwart LT Jeff Backus, and 2008 first-round RT Gosder Cherilus. Backus, of course, has been a lightning rod for fan ire, with his outlandish contracts and inconsistent level of play. However, his durability, toughness, and intelligence have kept him in the starting lineup for 144 straight games—through four head coaches, a mess of offensive coordinators, and 111 losses. Coming off of his best season yet, with HC Jim Schwartz saying he was worthy of a Pro Bowl nomination, it’s clear that the Lions don’t see LT as a need—for 2010.
Cherilus has been even more inconsistent in his tumultuous two-year career. He’s been “starting” and “benched” and back again more times than I can count, and every time I’ve thought he looks like a star in the making, he’s immediately committed an idiotic mistake that kills the team. I have no idea whether the Lions see Cherilus as a long-term solution at RT, and neither do you (unless you are Martin Mayhew or Jim Schwartz in which case thanks for reading, and what are you doing reading blogs get back to work).
With the release of swing G/T Daniel Loper, the Lions are relying on veteran Jon Jansen to back up both LT and RT . . . and Jansen wasn’t considered to be athletic enough to pass protect on the left, even in his prime. The Lions need a left tackle, who could be groomed to replace Jeff Backus.
The Lions’ Offensive Guard situation is one of the most interesting on the team. The only sure thing is RG Stephen Peterman, who played very well until his ankle injury. On the left side, trade conquest Rob Sims, heretofore of the Seahawks, will be starting—but he’ll be playing on a one-year RFA tender offer. Whether the Lions extend him to a long-term deal, or let him walk in 2011, could depend on the two Lions (and former Texas Tech Red Raiders) who just signed their own RFA tenders: Manny Ramirez and Dylan Gandy.
Ramirez, finally off the bench after languishing under Marinelli, was constantly in and out of the lineup, platooning with the now-released Loper at right guard. The fact that they tendered him shows they still believe in his potential--but then, they tendered Loper, too, and he's now gone. Gandy did okay, but not great, in relief of Peterman. Gandy has the ability to play center, too, so he provides some versatility.
The Lions are set at guard for 2010: Sims and Peterman, with Ramirez and Gandy backing them up. However, if the Lions don’t think either of the reserves has a long-term future as a starter, I could easily see the Lions drafting a guard. The Lions need a long-term answer at left guard—but they may already have one.
At Center, the Lions have the same answer they've had for nine years: Dominic Raiola. Though, like Backus, a popular punching bag for his youthful mistakes, Raiola has been a consistently tough, intelligent, athletic presence in the middle of the line. He’s not a mauler, but he’s excellent at the second level. Therefore, he’s not a perfect fit for what the Lions want to do in the run game, and he will start to decline in the next few years—but for now he’s solid, and Gandy can back him up. The Lions could use a power-blocking center, to groom behind Raiola.So, here's the shopping list:
There are also two positions that are filled for 2010, but—depending on the Lions’ opinion—could be needs for 2011 and beyond: