Since the Lions have never been to the Super Bowl, the NFL Draft has become a surrogate Super Bowl for Detroit Lions spectators. I feel uneasy referring to Lions followers as “fans” because I think, by definition, “liking the team” is a prerequisite for being a fan. Since nobody likes the Lions, I think the word “spectators” is more appropriate. Nonetheless, if Lions spectators were polled about how their team faired in the draft over the weekend, I think most would say that the Lions lost their 20th consecutive Super Bowl. Statistically, the Lions had one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL last season. On a team with more holes than a Kwame Kilpatrick alibi, the defense especially stood out as a unit in major need of an upgrade. Instead, the Lions opted to use their first two picks on skill positions handing out the richest guaranteed contract in the history of the NFL to a player who hasn’t taken a pro snap in the process.
I wrote last Thursday how ridiculous it is for any team in the NFL to invest a top ten pick on a quarterback given the futile success rate of such a risk. Scores of teams have gone that route and roughly 80% have regretted it big-time. Top-ten offensive tackles, on the other hand, have higher than an 80% success rate. Considering top-ten tackles have four times the success rate as top ten quarterbacks and it would’ve cost the Lions $10-$15 million less to take a tackle, I think the Lions made a major mistake. Spectators are pissed about that and they should be.
Surprisingly, though, it’s something else that the Lions did on Saturday that irritates me even more. I’ve come to terms with the fact that Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz feel lucky enough to go all-in on a 1 in 5 probability. I’ve also come to terms with the fact that they immediately drafted a tight end to help improve those odds. What I cannot understand is the rationale that went into drafting a safety in the second round for the third time in four years instead of a middle-linebacker. I don’t know if Louis Delmas is going to be a bust and, really, it doesn’t matter. Entering the 2008 NFL Draft, the Lions needed a MLB so badly that Rod Marinelli insinuated that he would take Jerod Mayo—the top MLB in the draft—with the 15th pick in the first round. The vast majority of mock drafts had Mayo going in the mid-to-late 20s. That tells me that the Lions were in serious need of help at that position. Unfortunately for Marinelli, New England had few holes to fill and didn’t mind burning a pick on Mayo at #10. Marinelli tried making up for missing out on Mayo by overreaching on another MLB prospect in the second round. Unfortunately, that was Jordan Dizon and well, you know.
Considering the Lions had one of the worst statistical defenses in NFL history last year and the fact that Marinelli badly wanted to take a MLB in the first round of the 2008 draft, I think we’ve established that MLB was a position that needed a major upgrade going into the 2009 draft. The consensus top two middle linebackers in the draft were Rey Maualuga and James Laurinaitis. Many analysts predicted that the Lions would take Maualuga at #20 if he fell that far. The same was predicted for Laurinaitis had he been available for the Lions at pick #33. As it turned out, Maualuga was available at #20 and the Lions opted for a tight end. If the Lions truly believe that Brandon Pettigrew is a game-changing tight end, then I can’t fault picking him at #20. Tight ends can make things much, much easier for a young quarterback. However, when both Maualuga and Laurinaitis fell to #33, and the Lions still passed on both, that’s when idiocy became hilarity. I don’t think anyone can argue that the Lions don’t badly need a major upgrade at MLB. I don’t think anyone can argue that Maualuga and Laurinaitis were certainly worth taking at #33 considering they were the top two MLBs in the draft. If Maualuga or Laurinaitis were there at #33, but not both, then I could possibly understand the Lions passing. There are a bevy of reasons why a team might not like a certain player. That wasn’t the case, though. Both players were there. The Lions had their choice of two premier middle linebackers with very different builds and styles. I cannot imagine that both of them were so flawed that they weren’t good enough to play MLB for the Lions. The Rams and Bengals—both badly in need of an upgrade at MLB—jumped on Laurinaitis and Maualuga within five picks of the Lions passing. I wonder how that’s going to turn out.
To be fair, though, the draft did have its bright spots. For instance, there was the total vindication of the Matt Millen-era. Who knew that the first round trade that Millen made with the Chiefs last year would end up being one of the great ripoffs in NFL draft history. The Lions dropped two spots from 15 to 17 last year and picked up KC’s 3rd and 5th round pick in the process. This year, the Browns dropped back two spots in the first round twice—from 17 to 19 and 19 to 21—and only managed a 6th round pick each time. What Millen got a 3rd and a 5th for last year only went for a 6th this year. I think everyone owes Millen a monumental apology.