Saturday, April 28, 2007

2007 NFL Draft Preview aka Why the Detroit Lions Shouldn't Draft Calvin Johnson

The 2007 NFL Draft is roughly 12 hours away and for the first time in a few years, absolutely nothing is settled at the start of the draft. The Oakland Raiders draft #1 overall, and they haven't decided whom they are going to take, much less reach a contract agreement with that player like Houston did with Mario Williams last season. And everything for the Detroit Lions hinges on Oakland's selection. If the Raiders choose a quarterback, either Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell, as expected, the Detroit Lions have a very interesting decision on their hands. Calvin Johnson, who has been described as a once in a generation wide receiver, and one of only two "sure things" in the draft (with LSU safety LaRon Landry the other), will be on the board. The Detroit Lions could take him or they could trade down, gather additional picks, and help themselves in a variety of other areas.

Despite Johnson's immense talent, and incredible potential, I think it would be a huge mistake to draft him if, as expected, Tampa Bay and Atlanta are fighting over themselves to draft Johnson, and the Lions are offered numerous second round draft picks to move down. And this feeling has nothing to do with the fact that the Lions have taken three wide receivers in the past four years in the Top 10 of the NFL Draft, with two of those picks, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams, being huge disasters. The Lions can't look back. They should only look forward. The draft picks they made in the past are a sunk cost. They can't go back. If the team needs a wide receiver (and their pursuit of Kevin Curtis this off-season shows that the team believes that they do) and Johnson is as good as everyone says (and there's little doubt that he's going to be a star) then the Lions should not let the fact that they have constantly drafted wide receivers in the first round stop them.

What should stop them, though, is the potential of additional draft picks and players in trades from both Atlanta and Tampa Bay, as both teams are desperate for CJ. While Johnson could be a force across the field from Roy Williams for years to come, giving Mike Martz his Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in Detroit, the Lions have much, much bigger holes to fill than wide receiver. They need a pass rusher, an inside linebacker, a backup quarterback, and a cornerback. Should the Lions trade down with Tampa Bay, in the first two rounds of the draft, they could solve three of those problems. One earlier trade rumor had Tampa Bay sending their first round pick #4, a second round pick, and either a second, second round pick or cornerback Brian Kelly. With those picks, the Lions could take defensive end Gaines Adams, quarterback prospect Drew Stanton (or Trent Edwards from Stanford) and get either Brian Kelly or use the additional second round pick on a linebacker like Michigan's David Harris. In either case, they get their defensive end, their quarterback, and either a solid veteran cornerback or a young rookie linebacker who can step in and play right away. Plus, they have their own second round pick. That's four picks in the first two rounds, leading to four potential starters. Should the Lions draft and hold onto Johnson, they don't get additional draft picks, and it would likely prevent the Lions from taking a quarterback in the second round of the draft, which I would really like to see happen, because I think Drew Stanton is going to be a star in the NFL.

With all of that said, Johnson would not be the worst decision the Lions could make tomorrow (cough, Leon Hall, cough), and I'm not sold on Gaines Adams, the defensive end the Lions seem to be focused on if they don't draft Johnson. There are a lot of questions about Adams work ethic and football IQ, and Mississippi's Patrick Willis and LSU's LaRon Landry have no such question marks and both could step in and start at key positions which are hard to fill (middle linebacker and safety). So between Johnson and Adams, I would like to see the Lions take Johnson, even if technically, defensive end is a bigger "need" for the Lions. But, with the potential for a trade down, and Willis or Landry sitting on the board at #8, or even Adams on the board at #4 with additional second round picks in the wings, the Lions have to take that trade, no matter how much of a star they think Johnson may become.

So, if I were the Lions, in order of preference, here is what I hope happens:

1. Detroit Lions trade down to #8, draft Patrick Willis (or LaRon Landry), acquire two additional second round selections (and perhaps a later additional pick), and draft QB Drew Stanton, DE Anthony Spencer, and a cornerback (Or ILB David Harris if Landry is selected at #8)

2. Detroit Lions trade down to #4, draft Gaines Adams, acquire two additional second round selections, draft QB Drew Stanton, ILB David Harris, and a cornerback.

3. Draft Calvin Johnson, draft either Harris, Stanton, or Spencer in round two.

4. No other option would really make me very happy. Staying at #2 to draft Adams would be a worst case scenario, because it means Oakland took Calvin Johnson #1 overall and we can't trade down. Trading down to take Leon Hall would similarly not make me happy because I don't see Hall being a very productive NFL player.

In twelve hours, we'll all know for sure what happened. And I'll be live-blogging it right here. And while if we do end up with Calvin Johnson tomorrow, I won't be tremendously upset, because he is such a incredible talent, I just can't help but feel like giving up the chance to acquire two additional second round picks, giving the Lions four picks in the first two rounds, where the team could acquire four potential starters (or three starters on defense and a future starting quarterback) is just too much to pass up if its offered. Just too much.

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