I enjoyed doing a mock draft last year. I was able to get familiar with seven rounds worth of NFL draft prospects which, in turn, made the draft that much more interesting to follow. As much as I enjoyed doing the mock draft, I think I'll pass this year. Since there are 70 zillion other mock drafts out there with just as much insight as mine, I’ll save myself the effort. For those of you in need of a mock draft or four to pass the time, you can find one here, here, here and here.
While I won’t be contributing another useless mock draft to the internet world, I will be contributing another useless set of proclamations as to what the Lions should do with the #2 pick in the draft. Despite the laughably poor job the Lions have done in the last few years in the draft, this year they have a chance to make up for it. Unlike years past when there weren’t many reasons to trade up, this draft has five or six franchise-type players (at least teams “think” there are) that every team in the NFL would love to have. As a result, this very well could be the best year ever to hold the #2 pick in the draft.
There is dual irony going on here, though. First, the player that the Lions “should” pick is a wide receiver. Whether Matt Millen can let the past go and take another WR is something we’ll have to wait until Draft Day to find out. I don’t blame him if he’s reluctant to go that route again but it's not like he has anything to lose. Second, while this is a very good year to have the #2 pick in the draft, this is a very poor year in terms of finding a trade partner. Only New England has two first round draft picks and those are too low (#24 and #28) to deal for the second pick in the draft. It is possible that the Lions could make a trade for multiple second round picks. Atlanta could give the Lions two early second-round picks (#39 and #44) along with the #8 pick. That hardly seems good enough for a pick that would almost surely land an All-Pro caliber player. If the Lions can find a team to play the role of the ’99 Saints (loved themselves some Ricky Williams) or the ’89 Vikings (couldn't get enough of Herschel Walker) and give them the farm, then they have to make a deal. Otherwise, the Lions need to keep the pick and take the first “freak” in NFL history that doesn’t have character issues.
I think the Lions have to take Calvin Johnson if a) they don’t receive a trade offer they can’t refuse and b) he really is as good as he looks. Obviously, the latter is the multi-million dollar question. Certainly, the Lions took Charles Rogers and Mike Williams because they thought they were good. Everyone thought they were good. But, the Lions would have to be as certain as a team can be on Johnson’s abilities before deciding to take him. Assuming his personality and athletic prowess are off the charts, Johnson would represent the quickest possible route to respectability for the Lions. I say this simply because few teams in the NFL have had two legitimate #1 receiving threats and not been at least a good team. The only team I can think of is the ’06 Cardinals. The Colts and Bengals have been nearly unstoppable offensively because defenses are helpless in trying to stop their wide receivers and the running game. Even Dominic Rhodes and a worn-down Edgerrin James found room to run with those receiving groups spreading out the defense. Jon Kitna isn’t the long term answer at QB but even he could thrive in a situation similar to what the Colts and Bengals have.
The risk in taking Johnson is primarily the slow pace at which wide receivers mature in the NFL. Even the best receivers usually take a few years to find their niche in the league. The Lions would need Johnson to contribute immediately. The only way I see Johnson being the right choice for the Lions is if he just happens to be the biggest, fastest, and strongest receiver to ever come out of college football. And of course, he is. So, the Lions have a number of extremely difficult decisions to make; the first of which is to decide if they can bring themselves to draft another WR. To be fair--Calvin Johnson isn’t just “another WR.” I believe the Lions are looking at him that way because of their past indiscretions with the position. Ignoring Johnson for those reasons would only compound the mistakes of the past. The old adage goes something like, "burn me once, it's your fault; burn me twice it's my fault." The problem is that Calvin Johnson has never burnt the Lions. Millen and his inability to distinguish good character from bad character is what burned the Lions in 2003 and 2005. Had Millen drafted a different position in those two drafts, there would be no doubt that the Lions would take Johnson this year.
The absolute worst decision the Lions could ever make in this draft is to take a QB at #2. Can anyone say, with confidence, that Brady Quinn will be a better NFL QB than Joey Harrington? There are so many similarities it is scary. I believe the Lions are playing up the Quinn card to entice other teams to trade up. If they are not, however, then they might as well trade the #2 pick to whoever signs Joey Harrington for Harrington. Quinn was unstoppable at Notre Dame when he was playing against the Service Academies. Against teams with a pulse? Not so much. JaMarcus Russell falls into the Mike Williams/Charles Rogers category. The Lions can’t keep picking players that have too many unanswered questions. Calvin Johnson is the safest of picks and Russell is the most dangerous of picks. Quinn or Russell would be a disaster for the Lions.
The rest of the options are intriguing. Since the Lions have 42 running backs, I feel very comfortable saying that they won’t draft Adrian Peterson. Joe Thomas remains an option. NFL fans who know their stuff know that championships are won on the defensive and offensive lines. The Lions have one of the worst lines in the NFL. It stands to reason that they will need to upgrade that position in the very near future. However, for every Orlando Pace, there is a Robert Gallery. That isn’t to say Gallery is terrible. It’s just very harmful to an organization to come up with just an average player with the second pick in the draft at any position. The Lions know this better than anyone. I think there is a good chance that Thomas will be a decent pro at a minimum. However, I also think there is a chance he could end up as the Joey Harrington of offensive linemen. Additionally, the Lions now have 42 offensive linemen so drafting Thomas appears to be less of an option.
Considering the other options, I believe the only correct move for the Lions—should they stay at #2—is to select Calvin Johnson and hope he and Roy Williams can open up holes for the Lions’ 42 running backs. If the Lions can get four second round picks and a swap of first round picks, then I would strongly consider trading out of the #2 pick. The Lions need a lot of help; much more than any one pick can provide. However, if Johnson is really a “can’t miss, once in a generation athlete” then the Lions can’t afford to miss on him. Plus, it’s not as if Millen has anything to lose. Every Lions fan hates him. He has come up empty on virtually every draft since the Millennium. The Lions have been the worst team in NFL history over the last six years. Why should he worry about past draft failures?
Now that you know what I think the Lions “should” do with the second pick; here is what I think they “will” do. I believe that Rod Marinelli—a defense-first guy—would never endorse picking a WR with the #2 pick. I also don’t think the Lions would put the hopes and dreams of the franchise in the hands of another rookie QB. The Lions won’t take Adrian Peterson. Joe Thomas is still an option. In fact, if the Lions don’t trade, I think Thomas will be the pick. I do think the Lions will trade at almost any cost. Marinelli knows the Lions need help everywhere. I think he and Millen have already made the decision to trade down (maybe even twice).
If they play it right, that could be a very lucrative decision. The Lions could conceivably trade down to the #6 spot—draft Gaines Adams—and then trade into a spot in the mid-teens to draft Patrick Willis. However, if Adams and Willis end up being the next Kalimba Edwards and Chris Claiborne, this could turn into a disaster. I am secretly rooting for Calvin Johnson. The Lions have been so bad on offense for so long that I would take an 8-8 team with offensive firepower in a second. But, I’m prepared for the wave of defenders that the Lions will draft come Draft Day. Either way, this is the most exciting thing to happen to the Lions since Barry Sanders last carried the football. Imagine how much more exciting it would be if the Lions hadn’t blown the first pick by beating Dallas for no reason in week 17.