Monday, April 30, 2007

Lions draft assessment

Considering the Lions ended up going with “Good Scenario #1” from last week’s “The Perfect Draft Scenario” post, I am obviously pleased with what Millen and Co. did with the second overall pick in the NFL Draft. It’s important to note that just about every other “good” scenario that I had mapped out never really had a chance of happening because teams weren’t much interested in trading—or at least trading fairly. Reports surfaced early in the draft that Tampa Bay was reluctant to give up its two second round picks to the Lions for Calvin Johnson. Since the Lions were probably looking for more than two second-round picks, I think it’s safe to say that discussions never really reached a serious level. Cleveland had no interest in Brady Quinn—at least at #3 overall—so scaring the Browns into moving up a spot to secure Quinn was also off the table. When nobody offered anything beyond mediocre, the Lions did the only smart thing left to do—take Calvin Johnson.

When Miami passed on Quinn at #9, it became apparent that Quinn had a long wait ahead of him. The longer his wait lasted, the more the idea of a team trading up to get him became a possibility. I started to wonder if Millen had thoughts of trading up. A draft class featuring Johnson and Quinn would surely set the Motor City on fire with optimism. The Lions would have needed to trade up 12 spots from 34 to get to where Quinn was inevitably drafted. I was thinking that something along the line of this year’s second and third round picks and next year’s second would be something I think the Lions would have to seriously consider. I’d even throw in two of the four fifth-round picks that the Lions had this year. Any discussion of next year’s first round pick would be a deal- breaker in my mind. So when Cleveland traded up 13 spots from 35 and gave up its second round pick and next year’s first round pick, I was very thankful that the Lions weren’t naïve enough to get involved in a trade that costly. While conventional wisdom says the Browns gave up too much to get Quinn, the Trade Value Chart shows it even more vehemently. The 22nd pick in the draft is worth 800 points. The 35th pick in the draft is worth 600 points. That means that theoretically the Browns only had to give up an extra 200 points (equivalent to a mid-third round pick) along with their second round pick to match-up point-wise. Instead, the Browns gave up a first-round pick next year which will more than likely be in the top 12. The 12th overall pick in the draft is worth a whopping 1,200 points. Nobody takes the Trade Value Chart as the final authority on trading draft picks. It is merely a guideline. However, I’m not talking about a hundred-point difference; I’m talking about 1,200 points. The first thing I thought when I heard about the Browns trading up wasn’t that Quinn finally got drafted but rather how sweet of a deal Dallas made. While I hope Millen at least made an inquiry about trading up to draft Quinn, he once again made a correct decision in the first round. Judging the first round alone, I would have to give the Lions an A. Part of this grade is also due to the Lions not giving into to some local media pressure to draft Gaines Adams on need alone. That would have been a nightmare.

Unfortunately, the draft moves on after the first round which is something that Millen may not have been aware of. The Lions’ draft fell apart the moment the draft entered the second round. First, the Lions allowed Arizona to jump in front of them to draft Alan Branch who had inexplicably fallen out of the first round. Anybody with even a remote sense of football knowledge can tell you that Branch is a bona fide first round talent. If the Lions weren’t planning on taking Branch with the 34th pick then they have more problems than I thought. Arizona certainly thought the Lions were going to take Branch which is why they traded up right in front of Detroit. I have to think that Oakland called Detroit before they finalized the trade with Arizona to see if Detroit was interested. All it cost Arizona to move up five spots to take Branch was a fourth-round pick. I would have done that deal in a second if I were Millen. Branch is a first-round talent and all it would have cost the Lions was a fourth-round pick. Missing out on Branch was a disaster. Arizona had their stuff together and it showed. They also took Buster Davis in the third round. Davis is better than all three of Detroit’s second round picks, in my opinion.

The Lions—possibly reeling from losing out on Branch—quickly traded out of the 34th pick which allowed them to pick up an extra third round pick. This was actually a good move. If Branch is who the Lions wanted and there was nobody else they thought was worth taking, then trading down was the right move. Regrettably, the Lions followed that move up with a series of dreadful decisions the first of which was drafting Drew Stanton with the 43rd pick. I am not a Stanton-hater. I think he is a smart QB with the potential to be an adequate starter in the NFL. I am, however, a “reach” hater. After making two other trades, the Lions had a total of three second-round draft picks. Since Stanton was a borderline 2nd round pick, the Lions reached to take him with their first second-round pick. The Lions could have ended up with LaMarr Woodley, Drew Stanton, and Buster Davis/Marcus McCauley/Daymeion Hughes. Instead, they ended up with Drew Stanton, Ikaika Alma-Francis, and Gerald Alexander. The latter two were serious reaches. Alexander was a borderline third-round pick. Alma-Francis was viewed similarly. Woodley is a fierce pass-rusher with size and quickness. There isn’t any question in my mind—or in most scouts’ minds—as to whether Woodley is superior to Alma-Francis. There has been plenty of speculation that Alma-Francis and Alexander would have been available in the third or fourth rounds which I am inclined to believe as well. Reaching for players or drafting “projects” is fine for the fourth and fifth rounds but the second round is where teams still get starters. It’s just disappointing that the Lions turned three second-round picks into two “projects” and one QB that has as many shortfalls as strengths. I would love for someone from the Lions to write to me two year’s from now about how wrong I was hear. I just don’t think it’s going to happen.

The Lions actually came away with a low risk/high reward type player in the fourth round in A.J. Davis. He is a player that has never really put it all together at the same time but has a tremendous amount of physical ability. He was one of the top 25 players coming out of high school according to at least one prominent recruiting service. He is extremely fast. The Lions have drafted an abundance of cornerbacks that fit the injured/underrated mold in the past few years. None of them have really panned about but that’s what the fourth round is for—not the second round! The Lions also drafted a guard from Texas Tech with a low risk/high reward label in the fourth round. The Lions appeared to have made a steal last year in the seventh round by drafting USC’s Fred Matua but they subsequently released him. Hopefully, this guy (Manuel Ramirez) has a better fate. The rest of the draft featured Johnny Baldwin and Ramzee Robinson. I know absolutely nothing about either player so I’m not even going to pretend to know what I’m talking about.

Since the first round is probably worth 70-75% of a draft grade, the Lions could receive no less than a C- from me and that’s if I gave them a 0% for rounds 2-7. I’ll give the Lions a D for their non-Calvin Johnson selections. Tied into that D is how they handled the trading of Mike Williams and Josh McCown. The Lions may have taken the best trade available—which is what they said they did—but if you’re only getting a fourth round pick in return for a first-round pick two years ago and your back-up QB, then why trade them at all? The Lions fumbled the Mike Williams era in Detroit from the moment they drafted him. The Lions weren’t going to win last season and everyone knew it. Yet, they sidelined Williams for basically the whole season. The Lions were just as responsible for Williams’ plummeted stock around the league as Williams was. They could have showcased him last season in an attempt to garner trade interest from around the league. Instead, they basically put up a sign that says “offer us nothing for Mike Williams and we’ll trade with you.” That brings Detroit’s overall draft grade to a B- . Had the Lions drafted Gaines Adams at #2 as some suggested, I would have given the Lions an F-. I am genuinely excited about seeing a non-overweight, non-habitual drug test-failer, top five wide-receiver selection actually put up meaningful statistics in Detroit. For the next couple days, that excitement will be tempered a bit as I try to get over the rash of questionable draft picks the Lions made after Johnson.


Anonymous said...

What is up with this?

Catch of a Lifetime?

With no great offers, the Lions snapped up a star

Posted: Tuesday May 1, 2007 9:38AM; Updated: Tuesday May 1, 2007 11:38PM

David E. Klutho/SI

"I've got to be the Godfather today," Lions president Matt Millen said last Saturday morning, sitting in the living room of his town house in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn. He sounded full of hope and anticipation. In an hour Millen, a man who badly needed a good day, expected to be fielding calls from three or four clubs and hoped -- in a role reversal for Don Corleone -- that someone would make him an offer he couldn't refuse in exchange for the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft.

It never came. At 12:20 p.m., after the Raiders opened the draft by selecting LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell, the Lions went on the clock, prepared to use their full 15 minutes to listen to suitors.

With Georgia Tech wide receiver Calvin Johnson, widely considered the best receiver to come along in years, there for the taking, all eyes went to the phone console in Millen's office. "Don't do anything with the pick until you talk to me," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder had told him on Thursday. Dallas owner Jerry Jones and Millen had talked at length before the draft, with Millen explaining what he was looking for: high-round picks, plus a starting player. Millen thought he might also hear from general managers Rich McKay of the Falcons and Bruce Allen of the Buccaneers, both of whom he'd spoken to late in the week.

A month earlier Denver had offered two first-round picks, a second-rounder and two third-rounders, plus veteran linebacker Al Wilson, but when the Broncos wouldn't substitute another second-round pick for the injured Wilson, Millen turned them down. With that, the bar was set high.

Two minutes passed. Four. Eight. Not a single ring. And Millen wasn't going to make any calls. In the macho world of NFL deal-making, to do so when you're on the clock is the ultimate sign of desperation.

Not that desperation hasn't been in ample supply in Detroit. The Lions' 24-72 record during Millen's six seasons -- worst in the NFL over that span -- partly reflects his poor drafts. Johnson would be the fourth receiver Detroit had taken in the top 10 in the last five years. Two were abject failures -- the injury-plagued Charles Rogers (2003) and the uninterested Mike Williams ('05), who, fittingly, was dealt to Oakland later on Saturday. Quarterback-of-the-future Joey Harrington, the No. 3 pick in '02, also flopped.

Anonymous said...

Right on. In addition, re. Stanton, next year's draft will feature several good quarterbacks, such as Brian Brohm, Chad Henne, Andre Woodson, etc. If drafting Stanton precludes the Lions from taking one of those guys, he's a detriment. Of course, if they draft one of those guys are cut Stanton, why spend a second-round pick on him? Hopefully he plays well, but that's still an odd pick.

Jake said...

Good article Lombaowski. I'm glad Millen didn't trade the pick just to trade it. If he can keep both Roy Williams and CJ in Detroit, it will be difficult for Detroit to continue being bad. I am shocked that Atlanta and Tampa Bay weren't willing to give up more. Let their WR problems continue.

Anon, I think Millen took Stanton so early because he was a State guy. I just have this feeling that Millen thought about how "perfect" the transition would be etc. Something tells me that Millen gets caught up in that stuff. That doesn't sound like the best reason to select a player. Hopefully he got that one right.


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