I believe strongly that the road to the Super Bowl begins with the NFL Draft. The Lions are the mess that they are largely due to years of ineptitude on the last weekend in April. No team has a better opportunity than Detroit with three picks in the top 33 to start a turnaround. The Lions have basically struck out on draft weekend this decade and have to start hitting home runs, if they are to become a playoff team again.
So, who should Detroit take with the first pick in the entire draft? There are four possibilities, namely, LB Aaron Curry, OT Eugene Monroe, OT Jason Smith and QB Matthew Stafford. I eliminated, OT Andre Smith, as a candidate due to self-starter/conditioning/maturity issues. There is no running back worthy of being the top overall selection and in general that is a tough position to justify taking so high. I will not even address the receiver position for obvious reasons. The following is a breakdown of the four candidates and my rationale:
Aaron Curry- The Wake Forest linebacker is very talented and motivated. However, I believe a defensive player should be a top pass rusher to go number one overall. The best way to stop today’s pass-friendly NFL offenses is to put the quarterback on his back. Curry had only 9.5 sacks in four years at Wake. I would not be willing to chance that this is solely because his coaching staff did not ask him to extensively go after the quarterback. I would pass on Curry at number one unless I was sold that he was another Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas or DeMarcus Ware.
Eugene Monroe- An outstanding left tackle is worthy of being the top pick. I mentioned before that the name of the game for the defense is rushing the quarterback. The offense typically wins if the quarterback has time to throw and protecting the blindside is crucial. I like Monroe, but prefer Jason Smith’s personality and intangibles.
Jason Smith- I believe the Lions should select Jason Smith number one. He has the athletic ability to pass protect against the quick edge rushers every NFL team is looking for. He has a passion for the game and brings a nasty disposition to the field. Smith also has leadership skills that are intriguing. Detroit would have a pair of young and aggressive bookends at tackle between Smith and last year’s 1st rounder, RT Gosder Cherilus. The first step to playing good football is to start winning the battle of the line of scrimmage. The selection of Smith would enable Detroit to move Jeff Backus inside to guard. The Lions surrendered 52 sacks last season and the offensive line is a big weakness. It will be impossible for Detroit to shore up all of their weaknesses in a single draft. The offensive line is a good place to start with the absence in the 2009 NFL Draft of a dominant pass rusher or a special, franchise quarterback who comes along once a decade.
Matthew Stafford- I like Stafford and believe he can be a good starting quarterback. He is tough, competitive, likes the game and has a great arm. However, he is no slam-dunk and will need a lot more than one terrific receiver (Calvin Johnson) to reach his potential. If Detroit selects him at one then they had better be willing to sit him for a year and ease him into being a starter. Can Detroit build a quality offensive line for him? Can they help him by finally putting a stingy defense on the field? And how about a running game so Stafford does not have to throw the ball forty times a game. These are major question marks given Detroit’s history. Stafford is not superman and will disappoint if he is running for his life every other play and always trailing in games because the defense cannot stop anybody. Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco deserve praise for playing very well as rookies. However, if you remove the running game and solid defense they both enjoyed last year it would have been a different story. Detroit would not be making a huge mistake if they select Stafford. They had better be patient and build a strong supporting cast around him or they will not break their losing ways. I would choose the path of building the Lions from the ground up (which means the offensive and defensive lines), if I were the general manager. I could live with Daunte Culpepper at quarterback this year, while the foundation of the team is improved significantly.
You can read detailed scouting reports on Aaron Curry, Eugene Monroe, Jason Smith and Matthew Stafford in the Top 32 section.