Help Us, Calvin - You're Our (and Millen's) Only Hope
For approximately six hours, from 12:30 p.m. EST to 6:30 p.m., the Lions draft looked A-OK to me. Matt Millen did exactly the right thing; he knew he had the one player (and draft slot) other teams wanted, and took advantage of that to try and get the best trade offer he could. Maybe he asked for too much in return, and teams like Tampa Bay and Atlanta called his bluff.
But when the Lions end up with the guy everyone says is the best player in the draft, the one with the most athletic gifts and fewest question marks, it's difficult to say that they lost out. (Even when I still wonder if maybe they should've taken the best offensive tackle on the board.) It looked like it was going to be a good day.
It's what Millen did the rest of the day, however, that I have a problem with. As the first round reached its end, and it was apparent that several linebackers would likely reach the Lions when their second-round pick at #34 came up. Paul Posluzsny, probably the top-rated linebacker after Patrick Willis would be there. So would Michigan's David Harris and Hampton's Justin Durant. And if they really were serious about getting a defensive end, as most of the rumors about Gaines Adams seemed to imply, LaMarr Woodley would be there, too. Millen would continue rebuilding the defense, especially the faster, younger front seven that he and Sgt. Marinelli envisioned. Things were looking good.
But then, as Mr. Big Ten Hardball and I were on the phone, wondering how Alan Branch slid out of the first round like he was covered in butter, the graphic on ESPN's screen changed from the Lions' logo to the Buffalo Bills'. What was that? What the hell happened? And just as we were trying to figure out what the Lions could've possibly gotten in return to justify such a move, the Bills selected Posluszny. Apparently, the Lions thought they were set at outside linebacker across from Ernie Sims, with Paris Lenon, Alex Lewis, or Boss Bailey.
That third-round pick better have been worth it, because two offensive tackles and a cornerback were taken off the board in the subsequent eight picks. But the middle linebackers were still there. So was Woodley. And then the ESPN cameras showed Drew Stanton on the phone, next to Drew Rosenhaus, and you just knew what was going to happen. Seconds later, he's putting on a Honolulu Blue hat and crying the tears of a kid who was just told he's not only going to play in the NFL, but for his hometown team.
I'll admit that I was okay with this pick at first. I knew the Lions were interested in Stanton, I thought it would be kind of cool to see them pick up a local guy, and I hoped that they'd consider him if he was available in the second or third round. Mr. BTH, however, was nearly apoplectic on the phone when he saw that Millen passed up Harris. And after the sweetness and charm of the hometown story passed, I began to agree with him.
Stanton might be a good NFL quarterback. And the Lions likely will have a need for one after Jon Kitna's contract runs out (or maybe even before that). But on ESPN, they were calling him a project. Steve Young, in particular, was questioning his throwing mechanics. Ron Jaworski thought Mike Martz was just the coach to mentor him over the next two years. The underlying subtext to all of that noise, however, is that the guy isn't going to play right now. And with a second-round pick, the Lions needed someone who will be a starter next season. Stanton isn't that guy.
I liked the principle of taking a quarterback to groom during Kitna's remaining two years in Detroit. But the second round wasn't the place to take him. Well, you might say, then the Lions would risk losing a guy they liked. So be it. What happened to building that defense? Millen showed once again that he seems to think all of his high draft picks are luxury picks. That was fine when Calvin Johnson was on the board. The best player didn't fill the immediate need. But when the best players available can help you out immediately, you have to take them.
I wasn't as upset as Brian about passing up Harris, because I don't know if he's the right kind of middle linebacker for the Tampa Two defense. Believe me, I love Harris and have enjoyed the hell out of his last three years at Michigan. The guy was the Wolverines' run defense. But if you need your middle linebacker to drop straight back into coverage on most pass plays, I'm not sure Harris is your man. Durant, however, looked like he had the speed (if not the ideal height) for that kind of role. If they were interested in London Fletcher as a free agent, I don't understand why they wouldn't want Durant for that same role. Again, the Lions must think their current roster has that covered.
The only thing that makes sense to me is that the Lions think they can sign Shelton Quarles, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, as a free agent for that middle linebacker spot. Or the Sarge and staff still think that another year of coaching will somehow get through to one of their present linebackers and they'll be able to fill that role. If that's the case, I really hope they get Quarles.