I recently finished my first (and at this late date, likely only) two round mock draft over at Draftguys.com and a funny thing happened on the way to the internet.
I didn’t have the Lions taking Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Crazy, I know.
Maybe it’s a reaction to the group think I keep seeing in mock after mock where Stafford has to go to the Lions. I have to admit when the herd runs one way, I tend to take a long look at alternative routes.
But more likely it’s a number of other mitigating factors – hang with me a moment, put the pitchforks down and hear me out.
1) Protection is a must
To paraphrase myself in my mock (how narcissistic is THAT?), you could clone a Serpentor-like mix of the best quarterbacks ever to grace the field, with the biggest arms, most accurate passes and Churchill-like leadership skills and it won’t matter a bit if all the QB does is lay on his back counting clouds and planes.
The Lions offensive line is – if you will excuse the pun – offensive. They flat out don’t protect the quarterback. They allowed 52 sacks last season – thank goodness for the 49ers, since they kept the Lions from being the worst in that category.
How can you utilize Calvin Johnson’s speed and vertical game when you can’t get the ball off? Sure Daunte Culpepper is past his prime as a quarterback. But when you are pressured that often and that consistently? Who can be successful?
2) If You Can’t Block, Then You Can’t Run and You Can’t Pass
Not enough for you? Ok, they’re also barely capable of holding holes open for the running back. Ranked 30th in the league in rushing yards, with a near-tragic 1,332 yards total and a futile 3.8 yards per carry.
If you have no run game, you have no pass game. What about the Cardinals you ask? Well, they have an offensive line that jelled late and have two of the best wide receivers in the game today and a #3 who is better than half the #2s (and a few #1 guys) in the league. In the desert, the line held. The proof? Just 28 sacks against (tied with the Giants) and 4,674 yards through the air. Oh, and the third most TDs through the air.
The Lions should be so lucky. And in the end, a lack of run game was one of the flaws in this Arizona team. They didn’t need to run because they threw the ball so well, but they finally got caught against a team who could stop the air attack (as they were several times last year) and it cost them the Super Bowl.
It’s a glaring hole for the Lions. If they cannot protect the ball carrier, the defense will not respect the run and will just tee off on whoever is the unlucky soul hucking the ball.
3) And Many Miles to go Before I Sleep
Let’s be honest. This team is not the Miami Dolphins – a team with no one superstar or stud piece, but a lot of solid players who could get the job done. The Lions have a superstar in Calvin Johnson, a solid running back in Kevin Smith and… um….. some other guys.
Adding Stafford or Sanchez is not instantly turning this team around. It’s not even the first step. Or third. It might not even be half a step. This team is riddled with holes all over the place.
The Dolphins succeeded last year in part because the pieces they added in the Draft and elsewhere were just enough to get an average team over the hump. Any Miami fan who is honest with themselves know that the team played over its head last year. And any AFC East fan worth his salt knows they were never as bad as the 2007 season made them look. They just didn’t have that far to go to begin with.
The Lions, on the other hand, have much more to do before they can become ‘good’.
And if they draft a QB here – well see points 1 & 2. He may not be around long enough to pay off, or could see his confidence shattered before the team really comes together.
There will be plenty of very good quarterbacks next year – more than there are this year in my opinion. And I’m sorry Lionsfan, but you are primed to be at the top of the heap again next year in the Draft.
Like the title says – build the castle first, then prop up a king to lead you.
And while I do like Stafford and Sanchez, I don’t know if they will survive the beating they would get behind this line, nor be a capable quarterback long term if they have to live through that many sacks and that much pressure. Many good quarterbacks have been chewed up by a porous line.
What about Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco you say? Totally different situations. Ryan was plopped into a rebuilt oline, one that was built to be carried by Michael Turner. Defenses could not just tee off on Ryan, as they were too busy worrying about Turner. And in turn, they couldn’t shut Turner down because Ryan would torch them.
Plop Sanchez and Stafford in a situation like that and I would be much happier with the pick. The Falcons did tons to fix their team before they got Ryan. They had the castle built, had a kick ass moat and a fierce, ball-carrying dragon thrown in for good measure.
Flacco is a weirder situation because he wasn’t brought in to start ASAP. He only played because Troy Smith got tonsillitis and missed the preseason. He also stepped into a decent oline situation and while his receivers weren’t stunning and the run game a bit lackluster, he wasn’t asked to win a bunch of games.
Oh and the Ravens’ D? A little better than the Lions’. He didn’t need to have big games because the team wasn’t allowing many points – just 15.2 a game, third best in the league.
Think Stafford/Sanchez will have the luxury or easing through a season without having to face enormous deficits?
Before you answer, the Lions gave up 32.3 points a game. That would be dead last in the NFL, if you were wondering.
So that’s an awful risk you’re taking, plugging even those two behind a line that’s filled with turnstiles and with a defense that tends to get scored on early and often.
4) Money, Money, Money, MONEY!
I hate to say it, but signability will factor in this pick. How much are you going to spend on Stafford or Sanchez? Ryan had $34.75 million in guaranteed money. They won’t settle for less and will ask for a ton more, since they would be the first pick, not the third like Ryan.
The Dolphins’ first pick, OT Jake Long, cost a mere $30 million in guaranteed money.
Ryan also signed for six years at $72 million while Long is signed for five years at $57.75 million.
It’s going to be expensive, that’s why they are trying to trade out of the pick. It’s also why they won’t be able to. So while it’s sexier to pick the QB, it’s a far safer – and likely cheaper – to go offensive lineman.
Even if the Lions are unmoved by the preceding 1,241 words, they may be moved by the money. Don’t just look at the difference between what Long got and what Ryan got. Remember two other things – we’re talking about a quarterback in the first slot, not the third and a quarterback always gets far more money than a lineman.
In 2007, Jamarcus Russell got a six-year contract worth up to $68 million, with $31.5 million guaranteed. Last year, Ryan – just one year and two slots later – got six years at $72 million with $34.75 million in guaranteed money.
You have to figure if push comes to shove, getting their player at a reasonable price in this economy, may play a huge factor. And Smith will flat out come cheaper.
The one thing I haven’t touched on is Jason Smith (who I think will go ahead of Eugene Monroe out of Virginia). It’s not as if the offensive tackle out of Baylor isn’t very, very good. He is. He’s great in pass protection, is very light on his feet and agile, plays with a flat-out nasty streak and probably hasn’t even fulfilled his potential. I love the guy.
If the Lions take him, he will be a cornerstone for the offensive line – and therefore, that offense – for years to come.
They will have made a good start at building that castle, perhaps adding to it as the Draft progresses.
Then, and only then, should they go find the king to lead them forward.