Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Volume 7, Number 3: 8 Selected Lions Draft Decisions (and What I Wanted Them to Do)
With the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft taking place tomorrow night, I thought it would be a good time to discuss some of the decisions the Lions have made over the last 22 years (focusing more on the past 10 as I have followed the draft more closely in those years). The Draft is a lot like Christmas (or Hanukkah)... you have expectations but you know that not everything you get will be what you wanted.
1990 (7th overall pick)
Drafted: QB Andre Ware (Houston)
I wanted them to take: LB James Francis (Baylor)
Why: The Lions had not had anything remotely resembling a pass rush since they traded DE Bubba Baker in 1983. They even wasted the fifth overall pick in 1987 on DE Reggie Rogers, hoping that he would revive the "Silver Rush", only to register more negligent homicides (3, in a 1988 drunken driving accident in which he ran a red light) than career quarterback sacks (2). And the Lions already had three quarterbacks--Erik Kramer, Bob Gagliano, and Rodney Peete, a guy that I thought was a big-time steal by the Lions in Round 6 of the 1989 Draft, and had already won 7 of his first 19 starts for a Lions team that was still digging its way out of the Darryl Rogers Era.
The final story: Francis may not have been the perennial Pro Bowler I thought he'd be, but consider this: If the Lions had drafted Francis, who racked up 8 sacks in his rookie year for the Cincinnati Bengals, then three years later, they might not have traded a first-round pick to New Orleans in 1993 for Pat Swilling, who basically played the same position as Francis--outside linebacker. As for Ware, there was no need whatsoever to use a first-rounder on him. The Lions were the only team in the NFL using the Run n' Shoot offense and it wasn't working at the time; Ware only fit that kind of offense and there was no indication that any other NFL team was interested in him. Ware turned out to be a huge bust. Peete, meanwhile, went 6-2 for the Lions in 1991. (Why they didn't stick with him the way, say, the New York Giants stuck with Phil Simms, I'll never know.) Oh, and about that first-rounder Detroit dealt to the Saints--they used it to take offensive tackle Willie Roaf, who went to the Pro Bowl 11 times and was elected the Pro Football Hall of Fame earlier this year.
2002 (3rd overall)
Drafted: QB Joey Harrington (Oregon)
I wanted them to take: CB Quentin Jammer (Texas A&M)
Why: I thought Mike McMahon merited a longer look as the Lions' QB, and besides, if he failed, there was always Byron Leftwich (2003) or Ben Roethlisberger (2004). Meanwhile, the Lions' secondary had been a mess for the better part of the previous ten years, dating back to when William Clay Ford let CB Ray Crockett and SS William White walk. Shut-down corners are hard to come by.
The final story: Harrington showed a thin skin as the Lions' QB, and looked about as fit for that role as Genevieve Bujold did playing Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. (Main difference is, Paramount was quick to re-cast the role, handing it over to Kate Mulgrew. The Lions' coaches weren't so quick.) Jammer was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with the #6 pick, and while he may not have lived up to that draft status, at least he's still playing. He has 18 interceptions and 6 fumble recoveries to his credit over the last nine years.
2004 (originally 6th overall)
Drafted: WR Roy Williams (Texas)
I wanted them to take: I would have been equally happy with Williams, TE Kellen Winslow II (Miami-Fla.) or FS Sean Taylor (also Miami-Fla.); the Redskins took Taylor with the 5th pick
Why: Even after taking WR Charles Rogers in 2003, I thought the Lions needed every weapon they could get on offense, and adding either Williams or Winslow was a sure-fire way to get the offense going. With Taylor off the board, it would have been tough to decide between Williams and Winslow, but the Cleveland Browns made life easy for the Lions and me by basically giving away a second-round pick (37th overall) just to flip-flop the 6th and 7th picks. On top of that, the Lions traded up from their spot early in Round 2 for a late first-rounder, which they used to select RB Kevin Jones, the second-best RB available in the draft, and one of the speediest.
The final story: Williams stopped playing at a Pro Bowl level just three years into his career, and Martin Mayhew (who replaced Matt Millen after Ford sacked Millen in 2008) dealt him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-rounder and a third-rounder in 2009. Jones became injury-prone in Detroit and wound up out of the NFL after five seasons. Sean Taylor, rest in peace.
2005 (10th overall)
Drafted: WR Mike Williams (ex-USC)
I wanted them to take: LB Derrick Johnson (Texas) or OT Alex Barron (Florida State)
Why: The Lions had two big-play wideouts in Rogers and Williams, and a very good #3 receiver in Kevin Johnson, whom the Lions had recently signed in free agency. They had two promising linebackers in Tedy Lehman and Boss Bailey; problem was, they were never able to fulfill that promise because they were injury-prone and no one in their right mind could expect them to stay healthy. Their offensive line was a problem as well; they had just lost right tackle Stockar McDougle to the Miami Dolphins (also via free agency) and their left tackle, Jeff Backus, just was not a left tackle.
The final story: The Lions went and threw me the curveball of all time. Williams, who did not play college football in 2004 due to the fact that he hired an agent that year (which itself was based on the assumption that he would be eligible to go pro in 2004, which turned out not to be the case). He came in overweight and out-of-shape. Worse still, Rogers turned out to have substance abuse issues--I thought the Lions had looked into that when other members of the 2002 Michigan State Spartan football team had those issues--and that was when Millen turned to Rogers instead of his original first choice (defensive end Erasmus James from Wisconsin, who himself would be a bust with the Minnesota Vikings, who took him with the 18th pick).
2008 (originally 15th overall)
Drafted: OT Gosder Cherilus (Boston College)
I wanted them to take: RB Rashard Mendenhall (Illinois)
Why: The Lions made it no secret that they were looking for a new running back after cutting the injury-prone Kevin Jones. But it was too early to take Mendenhall, who really only had one great year at Illinois so he didn't have enough of a "body of work" with the Illini to be worth using a mid-first-rounder on him. So when the Lions struck a deal with the Chiefs to move down from 15th to 18th, I thought that maybe Matt Millen would do something right for the first time in at least a few years (I still thought 2004 was a good draft, even if Roy Williams and Kevin Jones hadn't lived up to their draft statuses). Three picks later, Mendenhall was still on the board, and Millen was about to look like a genius. Then he took Cherilus. Did any of the other NFL teams have him that high on their draft boards???
The final story: Mendenhall went to the Steelers, where he has played well (up until he tore his knee a few months back, anyway). Cherilus is merely a serviceable right tackle with a propensity for false starts. The Lions did address the running back issue by moving up in Round 3 to take Kevin Smith out of Central Florida, but like his predecessor, Smith quickly proved to be injury-prone, and on top of that, inconsistent as a runner. He was brilliant against the Carolina Panthers last year, but then the following week, he got hurt again.
2009 (20th overall pick)
Drafted: TE Brandon Pettigrew (Oklahoma State)
I wanted them to take: OT Michael Oher (Ole Miss)
Why: Why take the 5th-best offensive tackle over the best tight end? I can sum it up in three simple words: Supply and demand. The 2009 draft, in my opinion, was very rich at tight end and I figured the Lions could address that position later (I admit that I would have taken Shawn Nelson out of Southern Mississippi with the 82nd overall pick in Round 3; he wound up going early in Round 4 to Buffalo). Meanwhile, the Lions, coming off the first 0-16 season in NFL history, had just used the first pick--and $42 million in guaranteed money--to take QB Matthew Stafford, so why not protect that investment, and do so using one of the picks they had basically swiped off the Dallas Cowboys in the Roy Williams trade the year before? Oher, the subject of Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side, looked the part of a franchise left tackle, and you knew you weren't going to get someone of his caliber in Round 2, let alone Round 3. He went to the Baltimore Ravens with the 23rd overall pick and I thought Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome got a big steal.
The final story: Here's one pick where the Lions made the right decision. Oher played at left tackle for Baltimore in 2010, but not well enough and he went back to right tackle last year--not exactly what I thought he would do. Pettigrew is the all-around tight end that NFL teams really want--one who can block as well as receive--and he has played in all 32 games over the last two seasons. As for Nelson--the guy I wanted Detroit to pass up Pettigrew for--he didn't even last a year and a half for the Bills. Mea culpa.
2010 (2nd overall pick)
Drafted: DT Ndamukong Suh (Nebraska)
I wanted them to take: Suh
Why: Suh was a game-changing monster who single-handedly took Nebraska to the Big 12 championship in 2009, and nearly won it for them. He had as many sacks that year as Gerald McCoy (also a defensive tackle, and the 3rd overall pick by Tampa Bay) had in 2008 and 2009 combined. And Mayhew did not look this gift horse in the mouth. Some of you may ask why I would not have considered OT Russell Okung, the top offensive tackle in the draft, Suh was the reason. Nebraska was a sub-.500 team without him. Anytime you see a player make that kind of impact, you don't pass him up. Ever.
The final story: Suh has been a big reason why the Lions went from losing 30 games in 2008-09 to winning 10 (and going to the playoffs for the first time since 1999) last season. I am grateful that the St. Louis Rams passed him up with the #1 overall pick--they could have had Suh in Round 1, then nabbed either QB Jimmy Clausen or QB Colt McCoy to open Round 2.
2011 (13th overall pick)
Drafted: DT Nick Fairley (Auburn)
I wanted them to take: CB Prince Amukamara (Nebraska)
Why: The Lions were already on their way to building their defensive line in 2010 with Suh and free agent acquisition Kyle Vanden Bosch. The secondary, on the other hand, was still the same train wreck it had been in 2002 (the year I wanted them to take CB Quentin Jammer). A good secondary covers opposing receivers well enough to buy time for the defensive line to break down the opposing offensive line and get to the quarterback, either sacking him or forcing an interception. And Amukamara came recommended by Mr. Suh himself.
The jury's still out: Both Fairley and Amukamara had injuries last year, so it's not clear as to how well Amukamara would have played for Detroit last year. You could argue that the Lions took "the best available player," especially considering that he was a candidate to be taken much higher in Round 1. Amukamara fell to #19 to the New York Giants.
So there you have it. I'll go on record right now as hoping that the Lions get CB Dre Kirkpatrick (Alabama) or maybe even OT Riley Reiff (Iowa) tomorrow night. But based off the last three drafts, if neither man falls to our pick--the Lions haven't picked this low in ages--I trust that Martin Mayhew will take the best available player, so if he doesn't get a cornerback or an offensive tackle, I'll understand.