Friday, January 4, 2008

San Francisco Linebacker Patrick Willis Wins Rookie of the Year Award -- Of Course He Does

Sometimes, when it comes to the NFL Draft, I'll be the first to admit, I get it wrong. In 2005, for example, I was yelling as loud as anyone into my television that the Detroit Lions needed to draft USC wide receiver Mike Williams. Even though the Lions had drafted wide receivers the previous two seasons, Charles Rogers was looking like a bust and Williams, had he been eligible for the 2004 draft, likely would have been the #1 pick because of his incredible amount of pure talent. With three cornerbacks (another position of need) taken in the first 8-picks ahead of the Lions I was ecstatic when the Lions passed on Texas linebacker Derrick Johnson and selected Williams. Oops. We all saw how that turned out, as Williams never was willing to work to develop his immense base-talent and Johnson, on the other hand, has turned into a good and solid (if unspectacular) linebacker for Kansas City.

Last year though, I pleaded with the Lions to pass on the top wide receiver in the draft, Calvin Johnson, and this time take the linebacker, Ole Miss's Patrick Willis. (I even titled the post "2007 NFL Draft Preview aka Why the Detroit Lions Shouldn't Draft Calvin Johnson")

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.

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, while I may have been wrong in 2004, I can say I was right in 2007 as Willis, who is going to the Pro Bowl in his first season, was named Rookie of the Year today. And while I was impressed with Calvin Johnson this year (despite his late season drops and lack of concentration) and think he will be a special player, Willis already is a special player. Imagine him in the defensive backfield with Ernie Sims, crushing opposing offenses. And not only that, but the Lions would have earned a number of additional draft picks with their selection of Willis because it would have involved a trade-down.

Just another missed opportunity to add to the list of the Millen-regime.

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