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All spring long it felt like this day would never come. Now, it’s here: the 2011 NFL Draft begins tonight, smack dab in the middle of the craziest labor chaos the league has ever seen. If you’re looking for my take on the Lions’ draft strategy, head on over to The Honolulu Blue, and check out my interview with THB’s author, Wade. We talk about needs, strategy, and my “gun-to-my-head” first-round choice. Wade does a great job, so keep going back after you listen!
Next, if you’re looking for my mock draft, I collaborated with Michael Schottey and Zac Snyder on #mockThree, a blogger/writer mock conducted entirely on Twitter. Schottey, who’s had real training as a scout, and goes to all the college All-Star games to grade these guys in person, did a fantastic job of wearing the Mayhew Hat. The expert graders haven’t turned in their marks for us yet—but just stepping through it made me thrilled for the Lions’ possibilities:
- 1.13 (13) Da’Quan Bowers, DE – Clemson
- 2.12 (44) Brandon Harris, CB – Miami
- 3.28 (92) DeMarco Murray, RB – Oklahoma
- 4.32 (129) Brandon Fusco, C – Slippery Rock
- 5.23 (154) Buster Skrine, CB – Tennessee-Chattannooga
- 5.28 (159) Casey Matthews, LB – Oregon
- 5.32 (163) Ronald Johnson, WR – USC
- 7.02 (205) Chris Conte, S – California
- Traded #75 to New England for #92 and #159.
- Traded #107 to Green Bay for #129, #163, and #233.
This mock was a dream scenario for the Lions. Let’s get this out of the way: I’ll out myself as the guy who pushed hard for Bowers. If the Lions stand pat at 13, they should take a developmental DE or OT. Why? Two reasons.
First, dominant power/speed combo rushers and huge, athletic pass protectors are only available in the top half of the first round. If 2011 goes as expected, the Lions won’t be picking anywhere near this high for a while, and eventually Backus and KVB must be replaced. Taking this opportunity to do so just makes sense.
Second, there are only a few positions on this roster where a rookie can come in and start—and with the possible exception of Prince Amukamara, there won’t be any impact players at those positions. Even if the Lions go with a corner or outside linebacker, they’ll likely be developmental guys anyway. If reaching for an immediate need won’t satisfy that need, then why do it? Take the best prospect that fits a long-term need.
Ultimately, I think the Lions should trade down from 13. There will be four-to-six players the Lions should be happy to add to their roster there, so why not move down a few slots, add a pick, and take who’s left? In #mockThree, Michael Schottey couldn’t find a trading partner before our clock ran out, so we took the prospect with the highest upside: Bowers.
After that, the board unfolded beautifully for the Lions. CB Brandon Harris fell to us in the second round, which I couldn’t believe—but even after that, corners were bountiful throughout the draft. Ras-I Dowling, a corner many believe the Lions might take in the second, fell to us in the third—along with OLBs like Quan Sturdivant and KJ Wright, RBs like DeMarco Murray and Kendall Hunter, and OG/OC Will Rackley. Unable to decide between so many strong options, we traded back and picked up an extra fifth-rounder. At our new, lower third-rounder, we added Murray, a complementary tailback of the sort we know the Lions are looking for.
Things just kept working out. Schottey brought up Slippery Rock C Brandon Fusco’s name in the third, and was Schottey’s #2 choice for our original fourth-rounder. Then we got a whopper of an offer to move back in the fourth and add a fifth and a seventh, and we took it. Fortunately, Fusco was still there with the later pick. Bam, developmental center. With the three fifth rounders, we nabbed Buster Skrine, a CB Schottey had a third-round grade on, and LB Casey Matthews, a 4th-5th graded guy. With the last fifth, we picked up WR Ronald Johnson—a Muskegon product with whom some of you may be familiar. Seventh rounders are always BPA.
After the confounding first round, the board sets up perfectly for the Lions’ needs. Of the Old Mother Hubbard shopping list, (which, I know, isn’t complete), we filled every need except developmental tackle. We added six players who could all be major contributors, if not starters, in 2012. If the Lions are crafty, they could do just as well.
What the Lions won’t be able to do is add three 2011 starters. That’s because of the skill and talent already on the roster, not a lack of skill in the front office or talent in the draft. The Lions have become a good team, and on good teams you don’t draft a raw project in the fourth round and start him Week 1, a la Sammie Hill. On good teams, a fourth-round project has to work to make the roster, let alone the starting lineup!
I’ll be honest: tonight, I have no idea who the Lions will take. I’m hoping they pull off a trade down, and get a player who’ll be great someday, plus change. Whether they get an OT or DE for the future, or a CB for the present, the amazing thing about this draft is that we can just sit back and enjoy it. If you’re smart, you trust Mayhew, Lewand, Schwartz and his staff, Shack Harris, and all the scouts—they’ve done beautifully with their first two drafts, and I have faith they'll do so with this one, too.