Wednesday, March 21, 2007

NFL Draft: Patrick Willis or Joe Thomas -- What Should the Lions Do?

I'm so conflicted. Two weeks ago, when I started this blog, one of my first posts was about how after the Detroit Lions traded for right tackle George Foster from the Denver Broncos (in the Dre Bly trade which also netted the Lions Tatum Bell) they still shouldn't give up on drafting Wisconsin Right Tackle Joe Thomas. Today, though, I'm not so sure that's the right move anymore.

The good folks over at Pro Football Talk had a lot of interesting tidbits tonight involving the Detroit Lions #2 overall pick. First off, they talk about the potential the Lions could trade down twice in the first round, a possibility first brought up by's Tom Kowalski last week.

First, there's a belief that the Lions eventually will trade the pick to the Browns, flip-flopping with Cleveland the No. 2 and No. 3 selections. The Browns would use the No. 2 pick to snare Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn.

Second, the Lions would hold an auction at No. 3 for the rights to receiver Calvin Johnson. Potential candidates include the Bucs at No. 4, the Redskins at No. 6, the Vikings at No. 7, and the Falcons at No. 8.

In theory, the Lions could use interest from a team like the Falcons to leverage an even better deal out of the Bucs, and then the Lions could draft left tackle Joe Thomas from the No. 4 spot.

If Matt Millen could pull this off, trade down once or even twice in the first round, pick up some extra picks, and still get a shot at Thomas, he may prove himself worthy of that five-year extension he received last year. With the amount of holes the Lions have on their team, they need all the picks they can get.

No matter where they end up selecting, should they trade down from the #2 spot, the question of whom to draft is not going away. And while I still believe Wisconsin's Joe Thomas is the safest pick, another name, shooting up the draft boards, is looking awfully attractive right now. Patrick Willis is a Middle Linebacker from Mississippi and he is a monster. Not only is he strong as an ox but according to Pro Football Talk (I cite this site a lot for a reason -- they know their stuff) his feet must have been on fire.
According to, Mississippi linebacker Patrick Willis ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.37 and 4.38 seconds during a Tuesday Pro Day workout.

Willis was the 2006 Butkus Award winner, and he would be a great fit in a Cover 2-style scheme, which requires the middle linebacker to chase receivers down the middle of the field.

The Cover 2, also known as the "Tampa 2" is the type of defense the Lions run. Pairing Willis with last year's knockout linebacker Ernie Sims, and a crop of other young linebackers (Boss Bailey, Alex Smith, and Teddy Lehman) who can compete for the third starting linebacker slot (and since none of the three can ever seem to stay healthy, them sharing the spot for a season should work out great) would go a long way to rebuilding the Lions porous defense.

So what is the bigger need? It's so hard say. On one hand, the offensive line is critical to ensuring success on that side of the ball, but perhaps with a slimmed down Damien Woody and the addition of Foster, you can get by with what you have. And with the injury history of our linebackers, adding Willis would be a big help. And with his speed, he could really be a special player, especially paired with the equally quick Ernie Sims.

With a little over a month to go until the draft, the debate is only going to grow, especially when/if the Lions make a trade (or two, or three) to move down the draft board a bit. Matt Millen certainly does not have the confidence of Lions fans or the city of Detroit, but a few right moves in the draft could go a long way to slowly working himself back into the good graces of Lions fans.

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