The Lions should show faux interest in drafting Brady Quinn. They should call Cleveland and let them know that they are going to draft Quinn unless Cleveland wants to throw them a second round pick. If Cleveland wants Quinn bad enough, they will have no choice but to make the move. The Lions would then have the third pick to go along with two second round picks.
Then, the Lions should call Tampa Bay and Atlanta and let them know that they are planning on drafting Calvin Johnson with the third pick unless either of those teams wants to “ante up.” If both Atlanta and Tampa Bay want to trade their two second-round picks, then the Lions are presented with a dilemma. Atlanta has the better combination of second round choices at # 39 and #44 (Tampa Bay has #35 and #64). However, trading with Atlanta likely means passing on Thomas, Peterson, and possibly Adams. It also means eliminating and possibility of trading down one spot to Arizona. The best option would be to trade with Tampa Bay. TB will almost certainly be interested in moving up to take Johnson.
The Lions could then offer the fourth pick to Arizona who is, by many accounts, enchanted with Joe Thomas. The Lions could again pick up an extra second round pick by dropping down a spot to fifth. This would leave the Lions with the fifth pick and the option of picking Adrian Peterson or Gaines Adams, or the option of trading down a couple spots again. If Arizona doesn’t want to trade up, then the Lions can simply draft Joe Thomas to go along with four second round picks.
Something tells me that no NFL team would ever attempt this because of the complexity. I don’t believe it is complex in the slightest. Every move features a more-than-acceptable exit strategy. If any of the teams declines a trade at any point, the Lions could easily stay wherever they are at that point and draft a very good player. If the Lions choose this scenario—and it would make my year if they did—these are the picks they would end up with:
No team has ever had more leverage in the history of the NFL draft. The four teams immediately following the Lions all have their eyes on specific players. The Lions are in the enviable position of not caring who they end up with because their needs are so pronounced. If they play their cards right, they could end up with Adrian Peterson and five second round draft picks or Joe Thomas and four second round draft picks. Imagine the possibilities of trading up with five second-round draft picks. They would have no problem snatching up Patrick Willis somewhere in the mid-first round. As fantastic as this idea sounds, the Lions will probably not even consider it. The fact that no team has ever done anything this elaborate before probably keeps the Lions from giving it much thought.
Assuming the Lions won’t be bold enough to rake in possibly the greatest draft haul in NFL history; it makes sense to discuss the more likely scenarios. By my calculations, there are only a few ways the Lions can screw up with their first round draft pick on Saturday and they all have something to do with Gaines Adams. I don’t think we’re out of danger completely with respect to the Lions passing on Brady Quinn and—if Oakland passes on him—JaMarcus Russell. But, I think the Lions are looking in other directions. I do think we’re very much in danger of seeing the Lions draft Adams. I know there are more than a few local media members who are begging the Lions to draft Adams. I can kind of see where they’re coming from. The Lions have an awful pass rush. So, it stands to reason to want to draft a defensive end. The 1998 Chargers needed a quarterback. So, they took Ryan Leaf. I’m not suggesting Adams is the defensive version of Leaf. I’m just saying that you can’t be stubborn enough to draft on need when the value isn’t there. I’ve read on more than a few occasions that there are six elite “prospects” in this draft. The only reason it’s six is because Adams has been inexplicably thrown in with the group of Russell, Quinn, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, and Joe Thomas. I’m not sure how an undersized defensive end managed to reach “elite” status but it has happened nonetheless.
Just Say No to Defensive Ends
Draft “busts” are not specific to any position. No position is immune to a bust, either. However, I think that drafting a defensive end produces the most diminished returns of any other position. Defensive end prospects often shoot up the draft charts because they are in the unique position of “raising eyebrows” at the NFL Draft Combine. No other position consistently produces athletes that stand 6’5, weigh 260 lbs, run the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds, bench press 25 reps of 225, and vertically jump 40 inches. Scouts salivate over those numbers. If numbers were all that mattered, then teams would draft defensive ends with their first pick every year. Adams could be a solid pro. He had tremendous success in college and has impressive “measurables.” Adams would be a great pick for a team in the mid-first round. Drafting Adams at #2 or #4 would be a monumental reach. One only needs to look at past drafts to see how rare it is for a defensive end to live up to his pre-draft hype. Additionally, a large percentage of the elite defensive ends in the NFL were drafted outside of the first round. Here is a list of the Pro Bowl defensive ends over the last three seasons along with where they were drafted:
Julius Peppers-------First Round
Aaron Shobel--------Second Round
Jason Taylor---------Third Round
Derrick Burgess------Third Round
Will Smith------------First Round
Aaron Kampman-----Fifth Round
Dwight Freeney------First round
Michael Strahan------Second Round
Osi Umenyiora-------Second Round
Kyle Vanden Bosch---Second Round
Bertrand Berry-------Third Round
Patrick Kerney-------First Round
Two things stand out. First, only Peppers, Taylor, Freeney, and Strahan are what I would call unbelievable players. The others are very good but not necessarily worth the second pick in the draft. So, even a good defensive end is usually not a dominating player. Second, notice the number of players that weren’t selected in the first round. Not only is the defensive end position one that produces its share of busts, it is also a position that produces a bevy of low-round values. The Lions signed James Hall as an undrafted free agent in 2000. He produced 11.5 sacks in 2004 before battling injuries his last two years in Detroit. I know there is a huge difference between “serviceable” (James Hall) and “game-changing” (Julius Peppers). Clearly it pays to draft someone of the caliber of Peppers in the top five. Peppers is a once-a-decade player. Adams is no Peppers. Considering the value that can be found in the later rounds and the relative letdown of top ten picks at the position, it just doesn’t make sense to draft a defensive end that has as many question marks as Adams. There are too many elite players available to draft Adams out of need. Having said that, I think there are far more “correct” decisions the Lions can make on Saturday than “wrong” ones.
It has been written by many sources that the Raiders will likely select JaMarcus Russell with the first pick. I don't think it's a "slam dunk" decision. Al Davis loves him some freaky wide receivers. It would not surprise me if he took Johnson. If the Raiders do take Johnson, then the Lions lose a lot of their leverage with the #2 pick. But, that doesn't mean they still can't make a few trades. I do not think they should draft Russell if he is there. I think they would be better off trading down a spot to Cleveland because Cleveland will want Russell. Then, the Lions could either draft Joe Thomas or Adrian Peterson or trade down again. For this post, however, I'm going to assume that the Raiders will draft Russell.
Here are the scenarios in which the Lions could end up with a successful first round:
Good Scenario One:
Draft Calvin Johnson with the second pick.
Johnson is no Charles Rogers or Mike Williams. Rogers and Williams didn’t have anything close to Johnson’s level of athleticism. Also, Johnson was honest enough to admit to marijuana use before the draft. Some may argue against this but I think that shows at least some integrity. The Lions had to wait until Rogers failed the first of many drug tests before they found out that he was a marijuana user. Jon Kitna is good enough that he could do some damage with Johnson and Roy Williams.
This also allows the Lions to listen to trade offers even after the pick. It can’t hurt to listen. If Tampa Bay or Atlanta wants to offer up an enticing package, then let them.
Good Scenario Two:
Trade down and draft Joe Thomas.
It would be my preference that the Lions not draft Joe Thomas with the second pick. He would, in all likelihood, be available at pick #4. The Lions could pick up extra draft picks and perhaps a player at a position of need. Thomas could be a very good tackle. The Lions haven’t had even a “good” tackle since the days of Lomas Brown and his annual holdouts. The second quickest way to improve the running game is to draft Thomas. The quickest way is to draft Adrian Peterson but the Lions already have 87 running backs that are expected to receive playing time so I’m not sure the Lions want another one.
Good Scenario Three:
Trade down and draft Adrian Peterson.
Passing on Peterson would be very much akin to the Texans passing on Reggie Bush. Peterson has everything you could ask for in an NFL running back with the possible exception of being good at avoiding injury. He is drawing comparisons to Eric Dickerson and I don’t think those comparisons are far off. He is the type of player that you draft regardless of need.
Good Scenario Four:
Trade down and draft Calvin Johnson.
There is really only one option that makes this possible. Cleveland is apparently concerned that the Lions may be thinking about Brady Quinn. The Lions could force a trade with Cleveland and pick up an extra draft pick ala 2004 when the Lions were able to squeeze a pick out of Cleveland that ended up turning into Kevin Jones. The Lions would pick up an extra pick for dropping down one spot. This would still allow Matt Millen to explore trade options with Tampa Bay at #4 and Atlanta at #8. I would really like to see Millen attempt to trade with Cleveland. It’s really a no-lose situation—unless Cleveland bamboozles Detroit by selecting Johnson. That would be a disaster.
Here are the scenarios in which I think the Lions will have wasted the leverage of having the second pick in such a top-heavy year (notice that Adams is prominently involved in each one):
Bad Scenario One:
Draft anyone other than Johnson with the second pick.
Drafting anyone other than Johnson immediately destroys any leverage that the Lions had by having the second pick. They can trade down and still draft Thomas, Peterson, or—if they must—Adams. The only player that makes sense to draft with the second pick is Johnson.
Bad Scenario Two:
Draft Gaines Adams with the second pick.
This one also falls under “Scenario One” but I want to highlight the importance of not doing this. The absolute worst thing the Lions could do is draft Gaines Adams with the second pick. This would be a monumental blunder and devoid of any logic or reason. I am convinced the Lions know how valuable the second pick is this year with Calvin Johnson being on everyone’s wish list. So, I don’t think this will happen. It is possible, though.
Bad Scenario Three:
Trade down to #3 and draft Adams.
It would defy reason for the Lions to trade down one spot to the third pick and then not trade down again to the fourth pick only to pick Adams. Cleveland wants Quinn. Tampa Bay wants Johnson. The Lions could take advantage of knowing that instead of taking Adams at either #2 or #3.
Bad Scenario Four:
Trade down to #4 and draft Adams.
If the Lions trade down to the fourth pick, the first three selections in the draft will likely be JaMarcus Russell, Calvin Johnson, and Brady Quinn. That would leave the Lions the choice of Joe Thomas or Adrian Peterson. Picking Adams over those two would be foolish.
Bad Scenario Five:
Trade down to #8 and draft Adams.
There are so many opportunities to trade multiple times within the top five (see first paragraph) that it doesn’t make sense for the Lions to trade from second to eighth. Clearly picking Adams at #8 would be better than picking Adams at #2 but that’s about all it is better than.
I’m still unsure whether I think Adams is a good value at #8. If the Lions take him with the eighth pick, we just have to hope he turns out to be pretty good. A trade to eight means the Lions would pick up two second round picks from Atlanta at a minimum. This would give the Lions three second round picks which is more than enough to trade back into the first round. Whether those picks will be enough to trade high enough into the first round to draft Patrick Willis is yet to be known. Thomas and Willis or Peterson and Willis would be a much better haul than Adams and Willis, in my opinion. While this wouldn’t be a terrible draft haul, the sheer number of more favorable options makes this scenario a relatively bad one.