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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The 2009 Detroit Lions Draft (Part II)

Results of the plan. First some additional observations.

Almost all the players selected were team captains, so leadership garnered points for each player in the ranking system the Lions are now using. That doesn’t mean a player has to have been a team captain to get drafted, it just means when ranking players it didn’t hurt their status any. It also means a non-captain had other qualities that increased his desirability to the Lions.

Second, when addressing needs the Lions weren’t just looking at starters. No one truly expects round 4 or later picks to be starters until a couple years later, if ever. However, backup slots are needs too, and if the current backup on the team hasn’t shown the promise to eventually become a starter then getting replaced by a later round draft pick who eventually might be able to become a starter is a distinct possibility.

Third, playing special teams is nearly a requirement for a backup to make the team. It’s very difficult to hold your roster spot if you are not a starter and also don’t play special teams. Thus potential draft picks in the later rounds got extra credit for special teams play. There is no sense drafting a guy after round 3 if he’s not going to be able to help special teams as he is then unlikely to be able to make the roster anyway.

I do not believe the Lions have used these 3 “methods” in the past.

Some notes on players that were not selected… we all know what “red flags” are as it pertains to draft picks. Drug use. Lingering injuries that never seem to heal. Mental issues of one kind or another. But I believe the Lions also now downgrade (in their ranking system) players that don’t fit their definition of body type for the position. For example, a 300 pound DT was going to get points taken away while a 330 pounder wouldn’t. A fast LB at 235 plus pounds is going to get more points then a faster LB at 220. In other words, the ranking allowed for preferred body types for each position. In addition to that, players who help the run game (or help stop the run game) got perhaps some small advantage over players who do not. That’s not to say a player HAD to have these traits. Just that where they ranked might be affected. To end up at the top of the Lions draft board at any particular slot would require an exceptional player with some fantastic traits… good enough to keep them up above the rest of the remaining hopeful draft picks that maybe CAN do special teams, or has the better weight, or is a team captain, whatever.

Now for the picks themselves, what do I think of them, and how will they fit with the Lions roster?

1a. Matt Stafford. His contract could’ve easily been higher, and it would seem it also could’ve been less. Since it’s (in my opinion) somewhere in between I’m just going to leave this part alone. #1 draft picks get paid way too much (as do all the top 7 actually) and until they fix that there is no point complaining about his contract. I’m not going to do an in-depth analysis of this (or any other) pick, dissecting every play, every throw and foot placement, etc. The summarized version of it is this… when Matt’s on, he is a terrific quarterback. When he’s a bit off, he has a really bad day. It will be up to the coaches to work on his mechanics so that he has something to fall back on when things go haywire… something to get him back to comfortable… much as was saw in the 2nd half of the bowl game against MSU last January. There is a chance that he could actually become a franchise QB. Something most of us Lions fans who are alive now have never seen (sorry old timers). Not saying he will, or should, only that there is a chance (yeah, I know, “so you’re saying there’s a chance”).

Then look at all the intangibles. Not his intangibles, but these ones… it’s been 50 years (going on 51) since the Bobby Layne 50 year curse was laid upon the organization. Not months after the curse being over the Lions draft a QB who went to the same high school as Bobby Layne. Matt’s first name is really John. The last QB the Lions drafted in round 1 also had a first name he didn’t use of John. M-a-t-t Millen was fired before M-a-t-t Stafford was drafted. Then of course there’s the last name, the last four letters being f-o-r-d. Doesn’t it just feel right? No? Well, at least know this, Schwartz, Mayhew, Lewand and the rest of the Lions front office and coaching staff have pretty much laid their futures on Stafford’s shoulders… if he doesn’t turn out they will likely not last the fallout in a few years. Do these individuals not strike you as the types that would try their very best to keep the odds on their side? They strike me that way. Stafford may not start the season, but if Culpepper struggles, or in blow out games (in either direction) you may see Stafford get playing time. If Culpepper plays in top form then you may have to wait a long time before seeing Stafford this year.

1b. Brandon Pettigrew TE. The best tight end in the draft, an old school type who can block and block well, as well as catch. The Lions haven’t really had a quality TE that stayed healthy enough to help the team in any one season in nearly 2 decades. Like QB, many of us fans have forgotten what a truly good TE can do for your team. The run game, the passing game, the ability to help a lineman who is struggling, and the best friend of any young QB. There were 236 other players drafted after Pettigrew, and perhaps some of them will be better in the NFL then him, but for a team who does not have a quality TE you can hardly go wrong getting one of the best available. I do not foresee Brandon having any trouble adjusting to the NFL and of the top notch TE’s currently in the league, he might just have one of the better personalities. There was a reason the Lions had him ranked this high, higher then those other 236 guys, and I figure it won’t take us all long to see what it was come this season.

2. Louis Delmas, Safety. This guy hits hard. Remember the player who hit Keyshawn a few years ago? You do? Why? Because it was a devastating hit, right? That was one hit… in what… years? Now picture a few of those every single game! It’ll be contagious. The other players will play harder, they’ll be juiced up. This pick (ignore who else was there instead) is going to entertain us… and make the opponents hear things (that are really there).

3a. DeAndre Levy. A future Arizona Cardinal… until the Lions foiled their plans. I’ll throw out a link to some info on the guy, nothing much, just some numbers. http://www.profootballtalk.com/2009/04/06/wisconsins-levy-runs-a-450/ He’s big but not huge and can get bigger. He’s fast. He’s able to hit with authority. In fact, I believe he’s the same exact size as Foote, a potential free agent LB Steeler who actually wants to be a Lion. I am moderately certain the Lions planned on starting Levy at MLB this year from game 1. However, if Foote does become a Lion the young man will have a year or two to learn from a vet. I don’t have a problem with either plan myself. No offense to Paris Lenon. By the way, his jersey is available for sale at the Detroit Lions Store (the other 3rd round pick’s is not).

3b. Derrick Williams WR/KR. Say hello to our new return guy. We may see him on the field even more if he can win the slot receiver spot. If I got my gut feelings right, the Lions got 4 guys with the first 4 picks that will be seeing the field and helping the team out a lot for the next 6 years before they hopefully all warrant and get contract extensions.

4. Sammie Lee Hill DT. 6’4” 329 pounds. I don’t think the Lions were going to draft a DT smaller then this guy. He’s not quite ready to take the starters job away from the vets, but he will make the team and rotate in while he learns. He does have a lot to learn though, and assuming he does this “little” project has the potential to be every bit as good as a former DT that the Lions traded away recently, without the attitude. Dare I say it? The Lions may have finally got a 4th round pick that will actually contribute to the team… for the first time in what, 3 decades? Something like that.

6. Aaron Brown RB/KR. Assuming this guy can do it, he’ll be replacing two “vets”. If he can be a 3rd down RB and be either the backup return guy or if they split the return duties for kicking and punting, then Calhoun and Cason are both goners. Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, and Aaron Brown should hog the 3 half back roster spots. It doesn’t hurt to have two returners on the team either, for depth in case of injury. Plus, if something were to happen, Cason always seems to be available to re-sign for some reason.

7a. Lydon Murtha T. 6’7” 306 lbs. I think Lydon’s task is to beat George Foster out of the backup offensive tackle job. It is likely to be his only chance to make the team and not the practice squad.

7b. Zack Follett LB 6’2” 236 lbs. Zack it the exact same height and weight as Levy (believe it or not). Zack’s task is to beat Graham and Spencer out of a backup LB job. I suspect the man has it in him to do just that. The linebackers will eventually be expected to be able to play more then one LB position, so it doesn’t really matter which backup position he obtains, he just needs to get past the vets to earn a roster spot. His special team play might be enough to do just that, as long as his LB play isn’t too far off the mark. He already has a fan base in Detroit, so it should be interesting watching the young man battle. And it will be a battle.

7c. Dan Gronkowski TE. 6’6” 255 lbs. One of those “too good to pass up” picks. They already got Pettigrew so they didn’t “need” another TE, except that isn’t true. A team keeps more then one TE, a 7th round pick isn’t likely to earn a starting job, and upgrading backups who have shown they are unlikely to ever be starters is just as important as drafting starters in the early rounds. So Dan needs to take Fitzsimmons job away, simple as that. He has one thing going for him already, his cap hit will be a 1/6th of what Fitzsimmons is. If he doesn’t take the job, that means that Fitz is playing healthy and well, and there is nothing wrong with that either.

There are 9 undrafted rookies who were also signed by the Lions. I’m rooting for a hard working LB named Holtzclaw to make the team… if he can impress despite his “short arms” he may have a chance, after all, LB is the one position on this team that before the draft had only 2 sure fire keepers on it, that leaves room for up to 5 new faces. The returning players should all be ready for a duel, and that includes the vets signed during free agency too.

That’s not to say the other undrafted guys don’t have a chance, I’m just not as familiar with them as I am with the guy that so many Chiefs’ fans had hoped would be on their team.

On my Lions page I have a link to my estimated depth chart for 2009. I’ve had it there all off-season but I’m about to add a page to the front of it that includes the results from the draft. It’s only a guess, some mental projections if you will, and subject to change as matters develop, but by the middle of August I will once again try to top my best estimate of year’s past, of 5 wrong (based on the final 53 man roster).

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

The 2009 Detroit Lions Draft (Part I)

They have a plan. They said they did, we all heard them, but until the Lions were on the clock just exactly what that plan was wasn’t quite known or if known, not understood.

As the draft unfolded I realized exactly what the draft plan was. It’s not something that a lot of people can grasp at first. Sometimes even after explaining it. Despite that, I shall give it a go.

The Lions drafted the best available player on their draft board that fit any need.

The key words there are “their draft board” and “any need”. The lions spent thousands upon thousands of man hours, and hundreds of thousands of dollars (or perhaps millions) scouting players throughout the United States, as all teams do to differing extent. They pay scouts, they spend hours scouring film, they travel to pro days, to the combine, they pay for players to come to Detroit. They update their information daily 365 days a year. Then they spend the weeks leading up to the draft ranking each player that will enter the draft vertically, by position. So they have the best LB at the top, then the 2nd best, then the 3rd, etc. They do this for each position. Then after they have hundreds of potential draft picks ranked, they combine the players into a horizontal ranking, meaning the best in the draft, the 2nd best player in the draft, the 3rd, etc. This gives them their draft board. They rank the players by adding to or taking away from their score based on play, based on competition, based on tangibles like height, weight, and even mental capacity. They learn less then a week before the draft which players failed the drug tests at the combine, and lower the scores of those players. The higher picks they talk to their college coaches, their families, their friends, their opponents. All of this is done in an attempt to get the best ranked draft board possible. Every team does this. But, every team puts more emphasis on one area or another, no two teams rank the players the same. No two teams scout players the same way, or have scouts who see the same things. So okay, the Lions now have their draft board set about a day or two before the draft.

They also have reviewed their own team, along with every other team in the league. They have a good idea of what teams need what… including all their own needs. The temptation during the draft for many is to rate the needs of the team into some sort of order then draft a player to fill the most important need, then the next, etc. This method tends to make for a pretty draft, but it causes a team to “reach” for players that normally wouldn’t be taken right there. In essence, the team drafts by ignoring all that work and all that money they put into their draft board. What the Lions did was draft based on the highest rated player on their draft board that filled one of their needs, any need, and in no particular order. If a team is successful in this, they will slowly fill their roster with the best player they could possibly get, and if they did their homework correctly, that position STAYS filled. The next year, there are that many more positions that do not need to be drafted. The main problem is that the this style of draft does not appear to be addressing needs. It is, obviously, but not in any particular order. Nor will it necessarily address the most important need, or the most needy need. Whatever. Teams that go with this method know they will have to address the remaining needs not filled in the draft after the draft as best they can, then draft again the next year. Like I said, eventually, as long as you fill your needs and they stay filled, you build a team, a very good team, the best team you possibly could build based on who was available as you were drafting.

That is what the Lions (presumably) did. Now, I am biased here. I totally agree with this method of drafting. The pressure to stray from the plan is always there, and sometimes a team will cave… and draft a player by reaching for him simply to fill a need. The trick is to resist that temptation and build your team with the very best players you can get your hands on. That way, if there are mistakes made, it’s not because you ignored all your time and money making your daft board, it’s because you made the wrong draft board.

A fan might not like this method, and I can appreciate that. A fan might not agree with the picks a team made, but the fan doesn’t have all the information a team has, so the fan might be wrong, or the team might be wrong. Unfortunately no one knows how a pick will turn out in advance, so it’ll be a year or two or three before it’s known if the team was right or the fan. Regardless of how the draft turns out, a fan needs to realize the team had no intention whatsoever to address all their needs, or even necessarily their most pressing need, they planned to fix ANY need they have with the best players they could get. And that part is very hard to accept.

So on to the Lions 2009 draft. Pick #1, Matthew Stafford. The Lions had him ranked #1 on their board, they had the first pick, and the only thing that would’ve stopped them from drafting him was if the player’s agent and the team couldn’t agree to a contract before the draft… or if some other team made an offer to trade that was just too good to resist. There was no blockbuster trade offer, or for all I know, any trade offer, and the contract was agreed to the day before the draft. The Lions picked their QB for the future. A need. Will he turn out? I have no idea at all. It was a need, he was the highest player on their board. End of pick #1.

Note: I would’ve probably had Eugene Monroe or Jason Smith rated higher then Stafford. So my first pick if a contract was agreed to would’ve been a left tackle. Also a need, in my opinion.

Pick #20 puts the Lions on the clock with (presumably) Brandon Pettigrew TE on the top of their board. A need. The pick is made. They had him rated higher then the 4th left tackle on the vertical board, higher then the middle line backer who dropped nearly a full round from here, so there was info there that fans don’t have. (I might have had Alex Mack rated higher, a center/guard, so my pick would’ve been another Oline pick).

Pick #33 the Lions take their next top rated player, Louis Delmas, the best Safety in the draft. Another need. They had him ranked higher then say Laurinaitis, a much more pressing need, but they are not drafting for need, they are drafting the best player they can at any need. I probably would’ve had the same player on my list (the one I really wanted was drafted the pick before), so a Safety for me as well.

At this point they have their best players picked, QB, TE, S. I would’ve have LT, C/G, S. All these players were on the “list”. The list is posted under this post. It consists of all the players the Lions were known to have contact with. Last year, the list contains every single draft pick they took except for one. This year LionHawkeye, the fan who spent probably hundreds of hours scouring the internet for news and photos to determine who the lions contacted, made an even more in depth list. Between round 2 and round 3 we had no idea the Lions had been sneaky. They had brought in at least 3 players to Allen Park and no one knew (including DeAndre Levy on April 17th). In addition, they told players not to say anything, according to a guy in Iowa, they told the scouts to quit making comments after a couple got out. In other words, they shut down all leaks and the list was utterly incomplete… when we were thinking it was even more complete then the year before. I don’t know if it helped them in the draft, but they managed to get 6 players drafted that were not on our list. I applaud the front office being able to have that much control despite our efforts, we will of course have to try harder… anyone know how to do wire taps? *Just kidding*

The rest of the draft I’m sure you followed (you didn’t read all the way to here without being a big fan). The trades, the picks they took. How thin the draft was in the final two rounds. When all is said and done the Lions got (presumably) the best players they could possibly get based on their own scoring system to fill needs on the team. Not all of them. Maybe not even the most dire needs. Or the most important. Whatever. But if they did it right, they won’t need to fill those needs again next year. This year they didn’t need a #1 WR, or a #1 RB. A right tackle, a kicker, punter, long snapper, or starting weakside linebacker. Next year they also won’t need (hopefully) a starting QB, a starting TE, a starting Safety, and with luck, some other starting positions, or if not that, some backup positions (those are needs too). The more needs that get filled, the more players they will skip over even if rated the highest, because that highest rated player on their board won’t fill a need. If the next 10 players aren’t needs they will accept more trade downs in the higher rounds. Eventually they will be drafting players only to replace free agents and the older vets. The draft then might even appear to the fan like some of the Patriots or Pittsburgh drafts. That’s the plan. That's what the Lions planned to do and as near as I can tell, that is exactly what they did.

In a few days or so I’ll post part II. My opinions of the actual picks, and where I think they will fit in on the roster (or if they will make the roster)… and my opinion of what needs they will yet address in free agency.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Lions Contact List (courtesy of LionHawkeye)

The number to right is number of verified contacts.

#1

Aaron Curry LB Wake forest 4

Michael Crabtree WR Texas Tech 1

Jason Smith OT Baylor 4

BJ Raji DT Boston College 4

Eugene Monroe OT Virginia 4

Brian Orakpo DE/OLB Texas 1

Matt Stafford QB Georgia 4

Aaron Maybin DE PSU 2

Mark Sanchez QB USC 4

#20

Malcolm Jenkins CB OSU 2

Andre Smith LT Alabama 3

Jeremy Maclin WR Missouri 3

Brandon Pettigrew TE Oklahoma State 3

Brian Cushing OLB USC 2

Everette Brown DE Fla St 2

Peria Jerry DT Mississippi 2

Clay Matthews OLB USC 2

Michael Oher LT Mississippi 2

Rey Maualuga ILB USC 3

#33

Louis Delmas SS Western Michighan 3

James Laurenitus LB OSU 3

Alphonso Smith CB Wake forest 2

Ebbon Britton OT Zona 2

Jared Cook TE South Carolina 3

Ron Brace DT Boston College 2

Conner Barwin DE Cinncinati 3

Alex Mack C Cal 3

Josh Freeman QB KSU 3

Michael Johnson DE Georgia Tech 2

Eric Wood OC Louisville 3

Max Unger C Oregon 3

Evander Hood DT Missouri 3

#65

Sean Smith CB Utah 2

Jarron Gilbert DT San Jose state 3

Jasper Brinkley ILB South Carolina 2

S'endrick Marks DE Auburn 2

Fili Moala DT USC 2

Derrick Williams WR PSU 2

Duke Robinson OG Oklahoma 2

Phil Loadholt OT Oklahoma 2

Chase Coffman TE Missouri 2

#82

Pat White QB WVU 2

Travis Beckum TE Wisconsin 2

Marcus Freeman LB OSU 2

Tyronne Mckensie ILB USF 2

Cory Irvin DT Georgia 3

Mohammed Massaquoi WR Georgia 3

Tyronne Greene OG Auburn 2

TJ Lang OG/OT EMU 3

Jon Cooper C Oklahoma 2

#174

Donald Washington CB OSU 3

Demetrius Byrd WR LSU 3

Jason Phillips ILB TCU 2

Daniel Holtzclaw ILB EMU 2

Seth Olsen OL Iowa 2

DeAngelo Willingham CB Tennesee 3

#192

Pannel Egboh DE Stanford 2

Jerraud Powers CB Auburn 2

Ellis Lankster CB WVU 2

DJ Boldin WR Wake Forest 3

#255

Roy Miller DT Texas 2

Nick Hennessey OL Colgate 3

Carson Butler TE Michighan 2

EJ Bigger CB WMU 3

Tristan Davis RS Auburn 2

Bradley Fletcher CB Iowa 2

Johnny Knox WR Abeline Christian 3

Jacob Wyatt SS EMU 2

Brice McCain CB/RS Utah 3

Alex Fletcher C Stanford 2

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Less then 6 days to go for the 2009 draft

At this point in time, it is still unknown who the Lions will draft at #1 overall (assuming they are unable to trade the pick). Any group of 10 fans will garner you 4 different names to choose from, and each will have multiple reasons why their choice is the correct one. I only know for sure the #1 pick will not be a running back or kicker, since neither position group has had any scouting activity by the Lions. Based on the cap implications, I can also rule out Center, Guard, and Safety. We may as well rule out WR as well, for the obvious reasons (already have CJ and the recent draft history). At this point I don't see a DE or a DT that is better then the other choices for #1, so they go off the list.

That leaves LB, LT, and QB.

There is a perfectly good LB named Curry in this draft who has been called the safest pick in the draft. The only big issue is the money (cap hit) that the #1 pick takes up. No LB has ever gotten a contract as large as what it is assumed the #1 pick will get. Some say it's no big deal, but that just isn't true. How many times have good players been cut due to cap reasons? How many free agents weren't signed by teams that needed them because the money/cap hit was too much? The NFL is a business, everything revolves around the money, and the #1 pick and his agent will be after it. The Lions might feel they will overpay for a LB to avoid the other choices, but that indicates they have rated the players and there's a huge gap between Curry and everyone else. I am not convinced that is the case. There are several other linebackers in the draft who have played their entire college careers at middle line backer and they are options further down the draft board. So even though I don't foresee Curry as the pick, and even though it's unlikely he will be the pick, it is not impossible that he could be the pick.

There are also two left tackles rated fairly high on most boards, and either could be the pick. Both have their plusses and minuses. It's been rumored that J. Smith is the most likely of the two to be picked by the Lions. I just do not know which is better, and I guess I don't really care. If they both are that good then either would help the team. I'm sorry Jeff Backus, but you had 8 years to make an impression and you have been unable to do so. Quite the opposite in my case in fact. If it were up to me, a LT would be the #1 pick in the draft.

There are also two quarterbacks in the draft rated fairly high by some (and not nearly so high by others). The Lions appear more interested in Stafford then Sanchez, and most draft pundits have ordained Stafford the Lions pick. I feel they are feeding off of each other somewhat because the Lions have not said one word about who they would take, and anything they have said was probably misinformation designed to muddy the waters. They are in contract negotiations and are looking for a signed deal they can live with... they are also near a phone all the time in case a trade offer comes up... and they are getting ready for the rest of the draft, which I am sorry to say is actually more important then just the #1 pick. One pick alone is not going to fix the team... while those other picks could go a long way in doing so.

So here are some names I believe contain the players the Lions will draft, throughout draft weekend, depending on who is available and what trades they partake in. Just before the draft I will be posting a list of even more names, ones that have been verified the Lions have scouted, but for now, my short list... the guys who I think stand the best chance of getting picked by the Lions, ranked in the order I believe the Lions to be interested in them, grouped by draft pick location.

Matt Stafford QB Georgia
Jason Smith OT Baylor
Aaron Curry LB Wake Forest
Eugene Monroe OT Virginia
Mark Sanchez QB USC

Rey Maualuga ILB USC
Andre Smith LT Alabama
Peria Jerry DT Mississippi
Michael Oher LT Mississippi
James Laurenitus LB OSU

Conner Barwin DE
Josh Freeman QB KSU
Alex Mack C Cal
Evander Hood DT

Cory Irvin DT Georgia
Donald Washington CB OSU
TJ Lang OG/OT EMU
Jarron Gilbert DT San Jose State

DeAngelo Willingham CB Tennesee
Demetrius Byrd WR LSU
Mohammed Massaquoi WR Georgia

Johnny Knox WR Abeline Christian
Vaughn Martin DT Western Ontario

Brice McCain CB/RS Utah
Nick Hennessey OL Colgate

They won't draft 2 left tackles or 2 QBs, so if 1 is picked, the rest fall off the list, etc. However, they could take more then one DT and LB and CB, so that is not always the case.

I expect some trades down and up to happen as well, and there are many many other players they have scouted to pick from. It all depends on how things fall. That said, 7 players they would like on the team just may be on the above list, if I have done my homework correctly. They currently have 8 picks, but like I said, trades will likely happen.

(I would like to thank LionHawkeye for his scout contact list and all the people at MLive Lions Forum for their opinions on the various players that helped me form my opinions on the 2009 Lions Draft).