NFL Draft: What the Lions Will Do With No. 1
by Trevor Whenham - 02/28/2009
Now that the Combine is out of the way, all that is left between now and the NFL Draft are pro days and a couple of months of rumors and speculation. Chief among that speculation is going to be what the Detroit Lions are going to do with the first overall pick. It's not an easy thing to figure out - there isn't a clear No. 1 player, and the Lions have needs virtually everywhere on the field (and in the front office, too, but that's a different matter). Detroit also can't afford to make another mistake.
Perhaps the only thing we can be sure of is that the team won't be taking a receiver with their pick. Michael Crabtree might be a talented enough player to warrant consideration, but Detroit has flopped on so many receivers in recent years that there would surely be an armed revolution if they tried again. With that in mind, here, in descending order of likelihood, are the possibilities for what they could end up doing:
1. Pick a left tackle - Left tackles are the new rock stars of the league, and teams and fans are valuing a good anchor to the offensive line more than ever before. You can make a real argument that this is the best use of the pick - Jake Long and Joe Thomas have shown how well the picks can go, and a good pick can be a cornerstone of a team for a decade or more. Beyond that, this draft has a few very good tackle prospects. Oklahoma's Andre Smith self-destructed and probably worked himself out of consideration. Another Smith, Jason Smith of Baylor is probably the top of the class now. He was a beast at the Combine, and he looks very good on tape. The other top choice is Virginia's Eugene Monroe. The Lions have liked him for a while now, but he wasn't quite as impressive as Smith in Indy.
Picking a tackle is the safe pick, and it is one that can be sold to the fans - good teams are built around good lines, and Lions fans need to be patient and build a team the right way for once. That doesn't necessarily mean that it's the right pick, though. There are so many good tackle prospects that Detroit could probably get a good quality player that could start right away with one of their two other first round picks - numbers 20 and 33. That complicates things, but I still think that this is the most likely choice.
2. Pick a quarterback - Mark Sanchez is moving up in the eyes of some experts, and Matthew Stafford has yet to work out for scouts so it's uncertain which one will go first, but the Lions (and most teams) seem to prefer Stafford. Detroit also definitely needs a quarterback. The question is whether they think that Stafford is good enough to pay a pile of money to and to tie their future hopes to. That didn't go well for them at all last time around with Joey Harrington.
This may be the flashier pick, but I just don't see it happening. Some of that is because of personal bias - I just don't see Stafford as a top-level guy like a Matt Ryan or even a Joe Flacco. I don't trust him when I watch him play, and I think he is only the top prospect because he is in a weak class. If Bradford or McCoy had come out this year then this would be a different story entirely. I also don't know that it makes sense to spend a pile of money on a quarterback that is unproven until you have the tools around him to give him the best possible chance to succeed. Ryan and Flacco both had the luxury of a whole lot of time to make decisions, and they had decent tools around them. Finally, I still think that it makes more sense for the Lions to use some of their other picks to get a more established quarterback - whether that is Matt Cassel or someone else. Detroit can't really afford to gamble, and right now Stafford is a big gamble. I won't be surprised if Stafford is the first pick, but I don't agree with it, and I'm not at all convinced it will happen.
3. Aaron Curry - Curry is the current darling of scouts and the media. The Wake Forest linebacker was seen as the best defensive player in the draft going into the Combine, and he was even better in Indianapolis than people expected. He's an impressive player, a good guy, and very likely to become a pro bowler. He may not be a home-run type of player, but he's also very much without risk, and he would be a popular pick. It would make sense in a lot of ways. There are at least three factors that make me think it is unlikely, though. First, Ernie Sims is one of the few stars the Lions do have, and he and Curry ideally project to the same position. Next, the Lions are a 4-3 team, so linebackers aren't as big of a priority. Finally, it's been a long time since a linebacker went first overall, and longer still since a No. 1 linebacker worked out. If Curry goes to Detroit it will almost be by default - no one else stood out as a good choice. He'd be one heck of a consolation prize, though.
4. Trade the pick - I don't see this one happening. There is good depth in this draft, but there isn't stand out talent that teams are screaming to have. Top picks only get traded when a team is afraid that a true freak won't be available by the time they pick. There are too many good alternatives to make a trade attractive, especially considering how expensive No. 1 picks are to sign these days.
5. Pick another player - This is at the bottom of the list because it just isn't going to happen. There isn't a defensive lineman worthy of the top pick. Nor is there a running back, or someone in the secondary. They won't take a receiver. It won't be an offensive lineman that isn't a left tackle. I would be very surprised if the top pick isn't one that has been discussed here.