Friday, May 29, 2009
Passing on Rey Maualuga not once but twice caused many - okay most - Lions fans to go berserk and start contemplating scaling Ford Field dressed like extras from Mad Max, pitchforks and torches in hand, and hatred in their hearts. And while a good deal of this animalistic frenzy is simply the byproduct of having been repeatedly whipped and beaten by the brutal shitbeasts who have run this franchise for oh so many painful and inglorious years, a portion of the disgust was due to the Lions dire situation at linebacker, specifically in the middle, where the Lions were set to apparently dress Roary, the ridiculous Lions mascot, in the guise of a middle linebacker and then pray that he wasn't beaten enough to sign autographs and pal around with the slackjawed young Lions fans, poor terrified children who would need the comfort of a dude in a giant lion costume after presumably witnessing the horrors of Lions football for the first time, all while their fathers shook in their seats, drunk and terrified, beaten like junkies with post traumatic stress syndrome. Horrible, horrible. But I have wandered off track with that epic run on sentence and so I will try to steer back towards the point, and that is that the Detroit Lions were in woeful need of help at linebacker and at first glance seemed to say fuck it, bizarrely comfortable with the notion that come the first game of the season, they would be left with poor Roary and little else.
This is, of course, ridiculous. Soon after the draft ended, it became clear that DeAndre Levy was drafted specifically to be the middle linebacker of the future and while there has been some question as to the wisdom of this move, much of the immediate concern has been allayed by the Lions signing of Larry Foote to start in the middle next season. And with the outside backers seemingly set in stone with The Lizard King, Cinnabon Sims and Julian Peterson, more and more fans are starting to come around to the idea that the dudes who were selected by the Lions might not be so terrible after all.
I have already written about Levy and now I will discuss the second linebacker who the Lions drafted, a seventh rounder out of California, Zach Follett.
A fairly highly rated recruit coming out of high school, Follett signed with the Cal Bears and immediately found playing time on a pretty good team. He was a productive player who got better with each season - always a good sign. In fact, Follett was a pretty highly decorated player, picking up conference honors in multiple seasons, culminating with a first team All Pac-Ten designation following his senior season.
Follett made his name as an attacking player, racking up plenty of tackles for loss and sacks during his time at Berkeley. He flashed pretty good speed and an impressive ability to hit the shit out of anything that moved. And what's more, he seems like the type of dude who loves to play football, someone who wants to go out there and smack everyone else in the mouth like King Kong on PCP. I mean, there's a whole lot to like here.
So how did Follett slip all the way to the Lions near the end of the seventh round? Well, he had some injury problems in college, particularly the dreaded neck stinger, and that probably caused him to fall some. But, unfortunately, the simple fact is that Follett probably isn't quite good enough to be a productive starting linebacker in the NFL. He does hit - and hard - but he lacks ideal fluidity, and will get lost in coverage. His aggressiveness can also work against him, particularly when he tries to blow into the backfield only to overrun the ball carrier. He's probably not the most instinctive player, and he's not exactly a student of the game type. He just seems like one of those guys who really, really wants to fuck people's shit up, and hey, that's cool.
I think Follett will probably be the sort of guy who will make a couple of huge HOLY SHIT type hits, maybe a couple of sacks here and there and will bring a shit ton of energy to the game whenever he's in there - all valuable things to bring to a team. He will probably stand out the most on special teams, where he can just run down the field and murder people with reckless abandon, and then be tethered to the bench in between by a choke chain so he doesn't wander into the stands and start wailing on poor unsuspecting drunks. He's going to be a popular player. There's no doubt about that in my mind. He has fan favorite written all over him, but he's probably one of those players who is just a hair shy of being good enough to be a starter in the NFL. He kind of reminds me of a 4A player in baseball - prospects who are talented enough to dominate at the Triple A level but who aren't quite good enough to get it done with the big club.
What they could have done differently: Look, when you're into the seventh round like this, there is really no point in speculating about what could have been. Everyone at this point is a crapshoot. I guess if you want to talk about the position itself, well, then I suppose the Lions could have taken Maualuga or Laurinaitis(fuck it, I am not checking the spelling - if they're right, they're right, if they're wrong, well, life's full of disappointments, I'm sure you'll move on from this one.)
What to expect this season: Special teams demolition derby. Maybe he'll see a few snaps at linebacker, but from the sounds of things, he seems like he's pretty lost out there so far during the Lions OTA's.
Early pick grade: A. This dude is pretty much the blueprint of the sort of dude you want to get in the seventh round - passionate, aggressive, highly productive in college, a surefire contributor on special teams with some potential for more down the road. A great pick.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
For years now, the offensive line of the Detroit Lions has been a brutal killing field filled with the bodies of the dead and the dying. We can trace the decay of the line back almost twenty years, when Erik Andolsek got in the way of a runaway car while he was chilling in his yard and Mike Utley decided to spend the rest of his days using wheelchair ramps and getting the best parking spaces. Horrible freak events that mortally wounded a promising young line, and which the Lions have been unable to recover from despite spending multiple first round picks on offensive linemen who, frankly, have turned out to be, well, offensive.
Sure, there was Lomas Brown and there was Kevin Glover, but those dudes really just represented what could have been in Detroit had their other linemen stayed healthy, or, you know, alive. And when those dudes got old, the Lions looked around and realized that there was nobody else to take their place. St. Barry the Great noticed it, and he rode a river of tears straight out of town. It was a situation which needed to be addressed for years and, amazingly, the Detroit Lions still haven't done so. The end result of the rampant incompetence which allowed this to continue year after year was a line which greatly contributed to that oh so special season we'll always remember as 0-16.
And it wasn't enough that the talent on the line was obviously deficient. No, the Lions had to add to the misery by messing things up further through good old fashion incompetence. Anyone who has followed me on this blog for a while knows that I wasn't exactly the biggest fan of the Rod Marinelli regime(this is akin to saying that Jews weren't the biggest fan of the Hitler regime - was that grossly inappropriate or just terribly offensive? I'll leave you to decide.)
And now that Marinelli has been deposed and his assistants shot into space(with the bizarre exception of Stan Kwan, the special teams coach - dude must have pictures of Schwartz getting filthy at a chess tournament or something), the players who suffered under the raging incompetence which was the hallmark of the Marinelli years have begun to speak out about the atrocities, war crimes and other assorted fuck ups which they were forced to endure. Jonathan Scott, a little used offensive tackle came out and had this to say on BuffaloFootballReport.com:
In Detroit, the life of a lineman was maddening. Scott said the communication breakdowns between the offensive coordinator and his offensive line coach ran rampant. One told him to step left on a play, the other said to step right.
“So which one do I do?” Scott said. “If I don’t it the offensive line way, I won’t be able to play. If I don’t do it the offensive coordinator’s way then I’ll never get on the field. There were always situations like that.”
Chaotic fragmentation. The shoddy separation of powers triggered on-field breakdowns. Scott said the linemen became “chickens with their heads cut off.” Who was supposed to block where was a play-to-play mystery.
“You can sense frustration throughout the entire team,” Scott said. “Cancer is a disease and negative energy can be transmitted easily from one player to the next and one coach to the next. I’ve witnessed situations where coaches aren’t on the same page. So when you try to change all that negative energy and do a 180 on game day, your chances aren’t that great.”
Okay. I could launch into another tirade here on the buffoonery of the Marinelli regime, but why bother? The man will never be an NFL head coach again and I see no reason to kick his corpse - not out of deference to him, but really, why put myself through that bullshit?
Instead, I figured I'd talk about the future, and more specifically, what the Lions did in this year's draft to ensure that the future would be different than the horror show of the past. And because sending a terminator back in time to protect Erik Andolsek and Mike Utley while hunting down Matt Millen isn't feasible - at least for now - we have to be patient with this aspect of the rebuilding process and hope that this year's draft can be the start of that process.
Unfortunately, it seems as if the Lions missed the memo there, and while I have already expressed time and time again my willingness to cut these dudes some slack and embrace the alien concept of hope, I am left kind of uneasy with the fact that, given the pathetic state of the offensive line, the Lions bolstered it in the draft with a measly seventh round pick. Especially since they passed up Michael Oher in the first round and probably could have snagged somebody who could have helped in the wide expanse that exists between the end of the first round and the beginning of the seventh.
But that is a dangerous thing, playing the what if game, and it will leave us all in a pool of our own urine and vomit as we gibber and slobber over ourselves, our brains broken and finally beaten by the years of torment that come with being a Lions fan. Instead, we have to focus on what they did and hope that, in the end, they knew what it was they were doing.
And what did they do? Well, let's find out.
With the 228th pick overall, the 19th of the seventh round, the Detroit Lions selected Lydon Murtha, an offensive tackle out of Nebraska. Now, the good news is that Murtha was a highly rated and prized recruit out of high school, a terrific natural athlete with good speed and flexibility, the kind of guy who has the agility necessary to handle top flight pass rushers and the kind of size and strength needed in the running game. Sounds great, right? Well, the problem with Murtha is that he never managed to stay healthy while at Nebraska and never lived up to his seemingly immense potential. It would be a little naive to think that a guy who couldn't stay healthy or dominate at the college level would be able to do so once he took the enormous step up in competition that he'll be forced to do here.
Still, Murtha has outstanding measurables, and if everything breaks right for him, maybe, just maybe he'll be able to put it all together and become something worth, well, something in the NFL. The killing fields of that brutal league are filled with the bodies of the exceptionally talented and gifted, who, for one reason or another, didn't live up to their potential. This is probably the fate that awaits Murtha. But, hope is a funny thing. It clouds your judgment, makes you see stars in seventh round picks, and makes you think that the world will break right. And I have hope. For the first time in years, since St. Barry juked his way out of town - and really, if I am being honest here, a while before that even happened - I have hope, and even though my head is screaming at me to stop being an idiot, reminding me of all the vicious and terrible trials I have been forced to endure as a Lions fan, my heart wants to believe. It is a terrible battle, and Lydon Murtha is just another frontline in the war between head and heart.
My head tells me that he is a seventh round draft pick who didn't dominate in college. And even though he was a highly rated recruit, offensive line recruiting is notoriously a crapshoot. And what we're left with is a fine athlete who was a good high school football player and little else. Harsh? Certainly, but my head is a dickhead and a cynic.
But my heart sees that athleticism and begins to wonder. My heart thinks that all this dude needs is a break, that with the right coaching he can put it all together and use those raw tools to become a franchise left tackle. My heart tells me that it's a new day, that the old guard has been vanquished and beaten and we should celebrate this new era by excusing old injuries, forgetting the horrible and the profane, and moving forward. My heart sees Lydon Murtha and thinks that maybe his injury plagued college career was a fluke, that maybe his time in the NFL will be different. Nauseatingly rosy? Certainly, but my heart is an optimist and a gentleman.
So, who wins the war? Obviously, I am torn. I like Murtha, I really do, and for a seventh rounder, he's a great pick. Let me say that again. He's a great pick. Unfortunately, given the need along the offensive line, and the horrors of the past - specifically those of last year, I fear that Lions fans will want him to play like a first rounder instead of a seventh, It is unfair, it is brutal, but that is life as a Detroit Lion.
What they could have done differently: Picked a lineman earlier, like Oher. But they didn't, and so we're left with what could have beens and those are always awful and stupid. Then again, I have devoted a whole little section here to what could have been and so I will give it some space to breathe.
What we can expect this season: Not much. Murtha is a seventh round pick and a rookie. Those don't typically steal starting jobs and drive their team to the Super Bowl surrounded by a sea of groupies. I think we'll see Murtha stashed fairly deeply on the bench - at least to start. The Lions probably like what they have as far as his raw talent goes and they will do their best to develop it slowly. But, the situation being what it is, there is a good chance that at some point or another in the season, if Murtha shows them enough at practice, that he'll be thrown out there and asked to do something. I just hope he doesn't fall flat on his face or blow out a knee or start vomiting on himself.
Early Pick Grade: A-. I know this seems high, but I'm trying not to grade here based on what the Lions could have done earlier in the draft. For a seventh round pick, Murtha is a terrific pick - tremendous upside with little financial commitment. If he works, hey, sex and candy for everyone. If he bombs, well, it's a seventh round pick that didn't pan out.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
I had planned on writing about more than just Sammie Lee Hill in my last post, but I got carried away with ranting and raving about other bullshit, and so I decided to save the next pick for my next post, which made me decide that I'm just going to do one player per post, otherwise the word count could get out of control in a hurry. And so, we have four more picks to go, which means four more posts - including this one - before we are done with this draft nonsense.
I'm just going to dive right in to this one, the sixth round pick that the Lions picked up from the Cowboys in the Roy Williams deal. With the 192nd pick overall, the Detroit Lions selected Aaron Brown, currently found on PBS and formerly of CNN. What Brown brings to the table is a calming influence, best illustrated by his coverage of the events of 9/11 on his first day on air at CNN. Obviously, this shows a remarkable poise and maturity for a rookie and is a good sign for his rookie season with the Lions, and . . .
Wait. What? Oh.
It would seem that the Aaron Brown the Lions selected is not a 60 year old broadcaster but rather a running back out of TCU. My mistake.
Anyway, the Aaron Brown soon to be found wandering the desolate killing fields of Detroit seemed to be a curious draft pick by the new regime at Ford Field. Brown is an explosive athlete who has the potential to do good things with the ball in his hands. The problem is that, for the most part, an injury riddled college career only allowed him to show flashes of that explosiveness. Playing in the Mountain West - which has proven itself to be, if not on a par with the BCS conferences, certainly several steps above the other mid-major conferences - Brown was a versatile weapon for TCU, one of the top programs in the conference.
When one thinks of TCU running backs, one thinks of Ladainian Tomlinson. Unfortunately, when one thinks of Aaron Brown, one thinks of Aveion Cason. You see, while Brown has the tools to be a versatile weapon, he has never really been able to put it all together. A big part of the problem is his inability to remain healthy. But another problem is that Brown really doesn't have a position. Drafted as a running back, many teams reportedly worked Brown out at receiver. A man without a position is a man who has a hard time finding steady work in the NFL - unless there is one thing he is really good at. Fortunately, for Brown and for the Lions, there is a chance that he does bring something to the table that not many other guys can.
As a running back, Brown isn't going to be very good. His scouting report basically screams CAN'T RUN THE BALL THROUGH THE MIDDLE. Not exactly the thing you want to struggle with as an NFL running back. But, Brown does possess the tools to be an explosive kick returner. He has the kind of fluid athleticism that teams look for back there, a kind of elusiveness that is inborn, the ability to control your body and make people miss in the open field. Chances are all Brown will ever be is a kick returner in the NFL. And for a sixth round draft pick, that's pretty okay, and if it works out, for a team like the Lions who have wandered in the desert feeble and dying for a few years now when it comes to the return game, that's better than okay. But, it's a big if. There's a decent chance that Brown doesn't make it as an explosive return man, and chances are that all he ever will be is an Aveion Cason sort who gets cut and brought back by some sorry ass team 1100 times during his career. Besides, if the Lions can get Derrick Williams to hit as a returner, that makes the need for Brown pretty small, and out of everyone the Lions drafted, he might be the most likely to be cut.
What they could have done differently: Once you get into the sixth and seventh round, you're basically just looking for guys who can either do one thing well or guys who aren't really great at anything but who can provide quality depth for you down the road. Some of the names still available here include James Davis, a running back out of Clemson who was very good in college at a top level. But the Lions already have Kevin Smith and just signed Maurice Morris so a running back without an accompanying set of skills like kick returning was a low priority. Curtis Painter, a quarterback out of Purdue was still available here too. Mel Kiper had a hard on for Painter since the time the last draft had ended. The only problem is that, well, Curtis Painter sucks. Kiper's boner for Mr. Painter was pretty bizarre, and if the Lions would have taken him I would have thrown up and died. THAT'S RIGHT, THROWN UP AND THEN DIED. How's that for hyperbole?
What we can expect this season: Brown really only has one shot at making it, and that's as a kick returner. If he doesn't win the job right away, if someone like Derrick Williams grabs it or if some retread off the street wrestles the job away, then Brown is probably a goner. And even then, he'll be under fire to perform right away at a position where the Lions desperately need somebody to perform. When the offense stinks - which it almost definitely will again this year - and the defense is coming off being the worst in NFL history, you need all the help you can get in terms of field position. Bare adequacy won't keep Aaron Brown in Detroit.
Early Pick Grade: C. This pick really feels like a flier. Brown would seem to have potential as a kick returner and if a major miracle happens, maybe - maybe - he could stick as a running back. It's a gamble by the Lions. Chances are good that he's out of the league sooner rather than later, and while the sixth round is ordinarily a good place to take a flier on someone, the Lions can't really afford to have someone not work out. The fires of hell are still licking at their asses(that sounds filthy), and even though most of us - at least the sane among us - understand that this thing is going to take time and that not every pick is going to be Liquid Metal Terminator Tom Brady, we still desperately need players. Every pick counts when it comes to this and if Aaron Brown sticks, then awesome. The coaches apparently think he has a shot at returning kicks for them, and if you can patch that hole with a sixth round pick, well, you're doing good things. But if he doesn't, and I think the chances of this happening are just as good, well, you've got one less horse to ride as you frantically try to escape the hell that lies just behind us. And yes, I realize I did just refer to Aaron Brown as a horse.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Continuing on with this never ending draft review, we find ourselves wading through the middle and late rounds, that time during the draft when the idiots still hanging out in the bleachers at the Draft try to keep themselves entertained and Mel Kiper, Todd McShay and company blather on endlessly about Player A's upside and Player Z's lack of height and Player R's hands being too small and Coach Y's hatred of players named Bill and General Manager T's predilection for Thai hookers and on and on and on and . . .
Basically, it becomes a never ending sea of banality and hype that starts to border on parody, the TV screen filled with endless charts and lists and best available players and so on, and yet people still treat each pick their team makes as if it's a decision on par with those made during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Choose wisely and there are sighs of relief and people smiling at each other and shaking stranger's hands in the streets. Choose poorly, and there are people stocking up on food and ammo, desperately digging holes in their backyards to house a fall out shelter and punching random strangers in the streets who get in their way.
The boring reality is that most of the players picked from here on out end up either being fringe contributors or working as salesmen, bagging groceries or dead in a ditch. But . . . but . . . TOM BRADY!!! Yeah, yeah, there are obvious exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, these are not dudes who are going to set the world on fire with the magnificence of their stardom. Still, for die hard fans, these guys mean something if only because they end up contributing to the depth of a team and to the special teams and because they give us all one more player to bitch about or to hold up as being unjustly ignored by the idiot coaches. And because, deep down, we want to believe that every pick our team makes will end up being Tom Brady.
For the Lions though, this particular draft seems especially meaningful. It's the first for the new regime, and given the decrepit state of the team, every pick seems amplified. A seventh rounder this year feels much more important than it normally does because the Lions are building from scratch. Actually, that's not even true. An expansion team builds from scratch. The Lions, however, find themselves in the oh so fun position of having to get out from underneath the mountain of shit suffocating them for the last decade(really, the last fifty years, but fuck it, let's not get morbid). In order to move forward, the Lions first have to undo the damage that has already been done and then they can start to build. This takes both time and new players. And that's what makes this year's edition of the draft seem so important. Even depth players, practice players, guys who run down and smack somebody in the mouth on a kickoff, seem vitally important right now. Everything is needed, and every pick gives the Lions one more thing that they didn't have before. It's a monumental task, awful and full of terror and madness, and yet, they are trying. And in the open sewage system that is Detroit Lions football, that is either a monument to dedication and perseverance or to thunderous stupidity and rampant foolishness. Maybe a little bit of both. But the thing about being a die hard football fan or a coach or a GM is that the alternative is to simply not care and that is unfathomable. It sucks and it is ridiculous but there are times when it is fun and exciting as hell and glorious. Really, it's all silly, foolishness really, but if you're going to get behind the wheel, you might as well drive the damn thing as hard as you can for as long as you can. And so coaches, GM's, etc. do everything they can to build no matter how daunting the task and fans parse over every pick, every personnel decision no matter how minute. We're all buffoons to care about such things, and yet, here we are.
Okay, enough blathering and aimless hooting. Christ, at second glance, that really was some meandering shit, but fuck it, it's there and I don't feel like changing it. Let's just get on with this nonsense.
With their lone fourth round pick, their only one until the sixth round, the 115th pick overall, the Detroit Lions selected Sammie Lee Hill, a giant defensive tackle out of tiny Stillman College(Stillman University? The University of Stillman? Hell, I don't know. Stillman College sounds right.)
Hill is an interesting pick. Scouts say he has the raw athleticism to be special, the type of player who one season goes from being a project to an All Pro assbeater, the sort of player that the Cowboys loved to draft and hone into killer werewolf vampire beasts during their glory years. And it comes at a position where the Lions need a ton of help(well, where don't they). Unfortunately, the Lions need that help now and Hill probably won't be ready for another couple of seasons.
You see, while Hill has a ton of natural talent, blessed with the sort of size and athleticism that causes coaches and scouts to rub themselves as if they are hoping a genie pops out, he is basically a neophyte when it comes to the game of football. Hill himself has said that he was so big and so strong that the coaches just let him go out there and throw the players around without worrying about a trifling thing like technique. That sounds almost exactly like the sort of thing you hear from extremely talented high school recruits, players who dominate because, physically, they are on a whole different level than everyone else on the field. And then they get to college and typically, they struggle a bit once they realize that everybody there is special. They get better once they receive the proper teaching, and once they get the technique down, they combine that with their natural ability to become difference makers. The problem with this is that Hill isn't going to be a freshman in college. Instead, he's heading to the NFL, where the learning curve is not just steep but damn near vertical. It's a long, hard mountain to climb and everyone involved, from management, to the coaches, to the fans, to Hill himself, needs to have the patience of the Dalai Lama if this is going to work out.
Can it work out? Certainly. He apparently has all the talent to make it, and from what I've read, he seems to have the sort of mentality, the humility and the drive, to get to where he and everybody else wants him to go. The place where the Lions find themselves - standing on the hell side of the River Styx while Charon points and laughs at them from the opposite shore - can probably serve as both a help and a hindrance to Hill's chances. Because they are so bad(and really, bad is not the word here - you almost need to make up a word for what the Lions are), Hill will probably have the chance to grow as a player without the pressure to be good for a while. In a way, he mirrors the franchise as a whole. There are no expectations here - at least for a couple of seasons anyway, and as they try to swim back across that horrible river from hell, everyone expects there to be regular drownings and comical dog paddling that leads nowhere. But there is a downside to the Lions being so unbearably awful, and that is that fans will start clamoring for Hill whether he is ready or not. Simply because there is little attractive in front of him on the depth chart, Hill will probably start getting a cult following that will grow and grow until idiots start yammering on talk radio about how the Lions should just put him in there already. If the coaches ignore all this bullshit then Hill should be fine. If they give in and throw him out there before he's ready, well, this whole experiment could end up sinking permanently to the bottom of that awful river.
I know that doesn't really fit with what I said about Matt Stafford and my belief that they should just throw him out there, but the difference between Stafford and Hill in terms of polish and readiness might as well be the difference between, well, between a highly regarded college junior at a major program in the most highly regarded college football conference in the country and, really, a high school senior.
Will Sammie Lee Hill make it? If I had to say, I'd say sure, why not? But that could just be because I am riding that irrational wave of exuberance and optimism that comes with the unknown. He could end up washing out of the league entirely and we could all be shaking our heads sadly at one of the first casualties of the ill fated Mayhew/Scwhartz era. But that is a terrible thought, appalling and vicious, and after the hell Lions fans have been through, the appalling and the vicious can wait a while. For now, I will watch with hope and I will keep an eye on Sammie Lee Hill and try to imagine that one day he will be playing in Honolulu while the Lions relax after a long, hard run deep into the playoffs. It is probably a fool's hope, but fuck it, we are all fools for following such things anyway.
What they could have done differently: D.J. Moore, a cornerback out of Vanderbilt, somehow slipped to the 119th pick and the Lions certainly need help in the defensive backfield. Moore probably could have come in and helped right away, but he lacks ideal speed and is probably best suited to the Cover 2 and it seems that scheme has been exorcized from Ford Field and had its corpse set on fire and buried on unconsecrated ground where hopefully it won't end up creating zombie dogs or something out of a Stephen King novel. So, yeah, he probably wasn't the best fit for what the Lions want to do. They could have also taken Terrance Taylor, a run stuffing nose tackle out of Michigan. He probably would have been of more immediate help, but his upside probably doesn't come near matching Hill's. I would have been happy with Taylor here, but Hill is a pick for the future, and if he works out, he's the type of player who ends up making a good team great. Think Leon Lett or Larry Allen.
What we can expect this season: Nothing much. Hill will probably be buried deep on the bench, and will receive plenty of attention during practice. He's the definition of a project player and if the Lions are smart, he'll see as little of the field as possible this season. I wouldn't be surprised to see him wander into the rotation towards the end of the season though as the Lions try to get him a feel for what real NFL game action is like. I would be okay with that, but don't expect him to see any real meaningful time. Of course, there will probably be people who holler and scream about how the Lions should just put him in there and I expect there to be some of that this season, but talk radio and the like is filled with that sort of inanity and everyone would just do best to ignore Tom from Okemos who thinks the Lions should start Hill and that Drew Stanton would throw for 6,000 yards and run for another 2,000 if they would only give him the chance.
Early Pick Grade: B. This could easily be an A+ if Hill works out. This could also be an F if he washes out. I think it's a good pick for where they got him. It's a place where you can take a project player and if he doesn't work out, it's not that catastrophic. But I'm not going to give it an A just based on pure potential. I'm not that starry eyed. There is a very real chance that Hill ends up not making it, and given what I mentioned earlier about the critical importance of this draft, that's a real risk. Fourth rounder or not, the Lions really do need somebody here who is going to help them sooner or later. I am optimistic and I like the pick. I just hope that in a few years I'm not cursing these dudes and shaking my head sadly when I think of Sammie Lee Hill.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Continuing On . . . Welcome, DeAndre Levy and Derrick Williams. That Heat? Don't Worry, It's Only Hell
So far, I have been inexplicably optimistic in my breakdown of this year's edition of the NFL Draft. I don't know, perhaps I am being secretly dosed with lithium, but I find myself believing in what the Lions did over the draft weekend, an alien feeling that I am not quite sure how to deal with. There is a bizarre duality going on right now in my head, as the horrors of the past all still seem so fresh and when I think of the Lions, I still think of failure on an epic and unprecedented scale, but there is also this strange surge of hope that keeps coming out in my posts. It's probably completely unwarranted. There's a chance that I have just been beaten down by this infernal team so many times that my brain finally just broke and now I am like a mother who's lost all her children in a horrible accident, sitting with a blank stare on the floor holding a blanket, convinced that it's her baby. Everything will be all right baby, Mommy's here. Perhaps I have lost all objectivity and perhaps I am just blindly clinging to a fool's hope because the alternative is just so horrifically depressing. This must be what the Germans felt like after Hitler offed himself or fled to Argentina or had his brain frozen in a lab or jello wrestled with Tom Cruise or whatever the fuck happened to him.
Anyway, as gibberish goes, even I am staggered by all that nonsense. Perhaps it would just be best to get on with this thing we call a draft review.
The Lions had the first pick of the third round, but they traded it away for more picks, something they would do multiple times in this year's draft. Rather than talk about each one, I'll just address the overall strategy right here. It was a smart move. The Lions have needs everywhere, down to the gunners on special teams. Right now, more than anything, they need bodies that approach a semblance of competence. The more the better, and frankly, when you start getting into the later rounds, a shotgun style approach to finding talent is probably better than a sniper rifle approach. The odds that you hit on something are much better.
And with their first pick of the third round, the 76th overall following the trade of their original third round position, the Lions selected DeAndre Levy, a linebacker out of Wisconsin. And much puzzlement ensued. While it was clear that the Lions needed linebackers, the general feeling was that they needed middle linebackers, especially in the wake of the Jordan Dizon disaster of a year before. So, it was with more than a few head scratches, rolls of the eyes, and depressed sighs from the Lions faithful that the Lions selected an outside linebacker who was reported to be under 230 pounds.
And I was among them. It seemed a curious selection to say the least. Coach Schwartz reportedly likes someone in the middle who can be a big thumper, a run stopping beast. This didn't seem to fit the bill. Levy has excellent straight line speed and when running downhill can smash the shit out of an opposing ball carrier. Well, now, that's starting to sound better. The bad news is he did it coming from the outside at Wisconsin. Can he transition to the middle? I don't know. I have my doubts. The coaches have said that his weight is already up, and he has a 6'3" frame to pack it onto, but he seems a bit too rangy for what they're looking for in the middle. Schwartz seems to think that he can be their guy for the future, but he seems like a bit of a project for now. For a team that has nothing in the middle, that's a bit of a problem.
Fortunately, it seems like the Lions had a plan all along, as they just signed Larry Foote after he was cut by the Steelers. The idea seems to be to allow Foote to start for a year with the Lions, earn his last big paycheck somewhere else next year, and hand the reigns off to Levy. It was a hell of a gamble if it was their intent. First of all, there was the chance that the Steelers wouldn't release Foote. Sure, they were almost definitely getting rid of him, but you never know. And then the Steelers decided to sit on it for a weekend and see if they could get any decent trade offers for Foote. Luckily for the Lions, and probably for Levy, it all worked out. But that's only the first hurdle. There is a real chance that Levy won't work out in the middle. Like I said, he's kind of a project here. He's tall, physical, fast, but he's also rangy, a bit stiff, and he's switching positions. This is probably the one pick aside from Stafford where we're all just holding our breath here and hoping everything works out. I think it can, but will it? Like I said, I still have my doubts.
What they could have done differently: The later we get in the draft, the more difficult it gets to say what they could have done differently. For starters, I suppose they could have hung on to the first pick of the third round. If they did that, they could have taken someone like Michael Johnson, a pure pass rusher out of Georgia Tech. Johnson was at one time thought to be potentially a late first rounder. The talent is all there, but teams shied away from him, supposedly because of questions both about his ability to stop the run and his passion for football. Apparently, the Lions fell into that camp. Regardless, there was obviously no one available at that spot that the Lions felt they had to have and so they traded down.
What we will see this season: Foote should be the starter right away. I doubt that Levy is ready to be the man just yet - if he ever will be - and a year learning the ropes from a dude who's won two Super Bowls isn't a bad position to be in. Levy should contribute right away though on special teams, as he was one of a couple of picks that seemed like sure fire solutions to the Lions moribund coverage and return units. He's a guy who can get down the field in a hurry and smack a dude in the mouth. If he does that his rookie season, then okay, I'll take it.
Early Pick Grade: C+. I don't know. This pick sort of seemed like a little bit of a reach. The Lions needed a linebacker and they took one, even if he didn't seem to fit what everyone thought they were looking for. Then again, it's tough to say with a new regime exactly what kind of players they want. Maybe they were giddy that they could pick up Levy. This draft feels sort of weird in that sense. It's hard to quickly gauge what's going on because, really, we don't know what the coaches really want on the field. The only way to figure that out is to watch and see what happens on Sundays. Until then, it's like feeling around blindly in the dark. You hope for the best, and you just pray that you don't accidentally end up grabbing some stranger's dick in the process. Yeah, I know, that was too weird, but fuck it, you know the deal by now.
The Lions had another pick in the third round(Thanks, Jerry!), and with it, the 82nd overall, the Lions selected Derrick Williams, a wide receiver out of Penn State. Right away, Lions fans everywhere began clawing at their skin like freaked out junkies, but this was just a reaction to the past, as the words "wide receiver" and "NFL Draft" when thrown together cause hideous flashbacks and awful wailing from Detroit followers. But, as I said before, we cannot be slaves to the horrible past, and so we must look at this pick for what it is.
And what is it, exactly? Well, it's a talented, exceptionally gifted athlete who might just be kind of a shitty receiver. I watched quite a bit of Derrick Williams when he was at Penn St. I remember when he came out of high school and was anointed as the savior of Penn St. and Joe Paterno, a five star recruit who picked JoPa after years of declining fortunes in Happy Valley. And, from his freshman year on, he was always someone you had to gameplan for. He was an electric athlete who could make things happen with the ball in his hands. Unfortunately, the thing is he's not that great at getting the ball in his hands.
Williams doesn't have very good hands, and he seems like he's a little tentative going through the middle, which are pretty much the two worst qualities you can have when you're destined to be a slot receiver. Williams also didn't have a great time in the 40, but he plays faster than he times. He's a quick twitch, pure athlete type, and if he works at the receiving part of things and becomes an actual wide receiver instead of an athlete playing wide receiver, then he'll probably end up being okay. The chances of this happening? Eh. I think Williams is destined to be a frustrating player. He'll probably make a handful of big plays and then he'll do something stupid or run a lazy route or have the ball bounce off of his hands and everyone will be all up in arms. But that's why he was available in the third round instead of being snapped up in the first.
There is one other thing that Williams does bring to the table. He's a dynamite return man, and for a team that has been fucking awful in the return game since they kicked Eddie Drummond to the curb that is welcome news indeed.
What they could have done differently: Brandon Tate, a receiver out of North Carolina, went one spot after Williams. He's kind of the ultimate boom or bust player. If he hits, he'll be a star. If he fucks around, he'll probably be thrown out of the league for smoking weed or something in a couple years. Williams was the safer pick, with a little lower ceiling but probably a higher floor. Both are kind of boom or bust type guys, but Tate has the potential to be one of those dudes who really flames out. Honestly, I might have been happier had the Lions taken Deon Butler here, Williams' less heralded college teammate. He's not as explosive an athlete as Williams, but he's a lot more dependable, and I think he'll be a sure slot receiver for years. He's a terrific route runner and he showed better speed in his workouts than most people thought he had. But, he doesn't have the return game upside of Williams either, and if Williams hits as a receiver, he should end up being the better player. That's a big if though.
What we will see this season: Expect Williams to be a bit of a disappointment as a receiver - at least initially. If he works at it, and refines his route running, he can become the complement to Calvin Johnson that the team desperately needs. It just won't be this season. But, we could see Williams help right away in the return game. He will likely be battling another rookie, Aaron Brown, for playing time in that area. I like Williams here, and should he win that job - which I think he will - he could be a Desmond Howard type return man for the Lions.
Early Pick Grade: B-. I like that the Lions got themselves a guy who should be a sure fire return man. I also like Williams' upside and athleticism. He's the real deal when he gets the ball in his hands. But, I just don't know that he's ready to be an NFL wide receiver. If it works out, this could be a steal. If he never gets it together in terms of route running and his hands, this might end up being a bit of a disappointment. Either way, he should make an impact as a returner, and if that's all we get, well, it's still better than the shit pile we have had heaped on us for the last decade.
Halfway Done~ Tune in to see how many weird Nazi references I can make. Take a drink every time I name drop Hitler or whenever I descend into bizarre, twisted gibberish! Chug every time I use the word gibberish! Fun for the whole family.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
So, with Matthew Stafford out of the way, let's get on with the rest of these poor damned souls. I'm sure after the excitement of getting drafted wore off, each of them had at least one moment, probably late at night, lying in bed next to their girlfriend or the stripper or hooker who they celebrated with, when they realized they were going to the Lions and had a mild panic attack. It's okay guys, I'm sure the dudes who stormed the beaches of Normandy got a little queasy when they heard where they were headed too. Of course, they were charging after Hitler, and so I don't know, maybe our coaches should draw little Hitler staches on a poster of Adrian Peterson or Jay Cutler or Aaron Rodgers, blow that fucker up and hang it on everyone's locker to motivate them. Just a thought.
Anyway, that is all weird bullshit and is only keeping me from getting on with this thing, so let's just do it, shall we? I will probably go over two or three picks per post, depending on how much extraneous gibberish there is and how much I feel like writing.
With their second pick of the first round, the 20th overall, the Detroit Lions selected Brandon Pettigrew, a tight end out of Oklahoma State. And Lions fans gnashed their teeth, ripped their shirts and beat their chests, weeping tears of anguish. Okay, maybe not, but still, people were, uh, not so happy with this pick. Initially, anyway. This was the perfect example of what I mentioned a couple of posts ago, when I said that people reacted based upon the hierarchy established in Mock Draft Land, a land which is ruled over by nerds like Todd McShay and Mel Kiper, and which tends to be ignored by actual, you know, professional football teams. You might better remember this as the section of that post where I made up a bunch of weird masturbation euphemisms. Anyway, the point is that the Lions probably didn't hold guys like Michael Oher or Rey Maualuga in the same esteem as the mock draft enthusiasts. Which isn't to say they didn't like them, just not as much as they liked Brandon Pettigrew. They made their pick based upon who they liked, even if that caused their fans to momentarily go apeshit and start flinging their poop around the room. But once that initial shock wore off, and all the poop was cleaned off the walls, it seems that many Lions fans started to warm up to Pettigrew.
Did I? Yeah, I guess so. I was a little bent out of shape at first. But again, my boy Adrian quickly helped me to see the light, and the idea of a dependable safety valve for Matthew Stafford and a strong in-line blocker started to be a comforting one. I was mostly upset that the Lions ignored other areas deemed by many to be of more pressing need, but as I said before, the Lions have needs everywhere on the field and so, the most talented player available, which the Lions apparently deemed Pettigrew to be, was a smart choice.
Now, what's so good about Pettigrew? Well, for starters, there is the fact that he can step in right away and be a dependable possession receiver for Matt Stafford to throw to. He reportedly has soft, dependable hands(By the way, I always cringe whenever I deal with scouting terms because it always comes across wrong. For instance, here. Soft, dependable hands? Christ, it reads like I'm assessing the guy's ability to give a good hand job. I don't know, maybe I just have a filthy, depraved mind.) He also was graded as the top blocking tight end in the draft, and when you have a line as porous as the Lions have had over the past decade or so, anything that can help there is a definite plus.
Pettigrew's downside? Well, he never really put up big numbers in college and he doesn't really have the instant playmaking ability to get deep down the seam. But for what the Lions want, he seems to fit perfectly. A guy who can make the catches on intermediate throws, can help Matt Stafford when everything breaks down - which it will, a lot, trust me - and can be an extra tackle in the running game.
What they could have done differently: Gone with Oher or Maualuga and filled those holes first. But they didn't, and it is what it is. Obviously, they liked Pettigrew better, and the guy was the top rated tight end in the draft so it's not like the Lions pulled an Al Davis here and just randomly pointed at some dude in the stands and said come on down.
What we can expect this season: For Pettigrew to start right away. The Lions already released last year's starter, Michael Gaines, and there's no one else to really challenge Pettigrew. The job is his.
Early Pick Grade: B+. It's hard to be upset whenever you instantly upgrade the starter at a position. Pettigrew was the best tight end in the draft and although he may not put up big stats, I think he'll be an important, steadying force on the Lions offense and, most importantly, on young Stafford. It's hard to quantify something like that. I'm not going to lie though and say that I wouldn't have felt better about solidifying a position like middle linebacker or left tackle. All in all, this is a good pick, and the more I think about it, the more I like it, which is always a good sign.
Up next is Louis Delmas, who the Lions drafted with the first pick of the second round. Again, there was some puzzlement and confusion on the part of Lions fans, as Rey Maualuga was still available at the spot. And when Delmas' name was called, the immediate reaction was WHAT THE FUCK IS GOING ON HERE. But, as I said before, Lions fans have a tendency to see the glass not at half full, and really not even as half empty, but as shattered into a million pieces on the ground. But again, time caused the more reasonable amongst our abused fanbase to see this pick in a new light.
Delmas was considered by many to be the top safety on the board in this year's draft, meaning that the Lions hauled in the top rated quarterback, the top rated tight end, and the top rated safety. Not bad. What Delmas brings to the table is a ferocious hitter who still manages to have top notch ball skills. So, a safety who's a big hitter, can help against the run and can be a difference maker against the pass? Well, shit, sign me up.
The only knocks on Delmas are his lack of size, which some think will lead to an injury riddled career similar to Bob Sanders, and the fact that he played in the MAC and against inferior competition. Delmas is a bit bigger than Sanders, but he is a reckless hitter in the sense that he doesn't care about his own well being when he goes after a ball carrier or receiver. That will probably lead to a shorter career. But I'd rather have someone like that than a dude who hangs out back there afraid to hit somebody and manages to parlay that into a long, mediocre career. And I'm not worried about the competition thing. He was still playing in Division 1(or whatever the hell it's called now) against legit players. Western Michigan did whip up on Illinois last year, so it's not like he was showing off against some D-3 school and their stable of nice young future dentists.
Delmas is also supposedly a fantastic leader, and again, a calming influence both in the locker room and on the field can't really be quantified, but it's something that the Lions have lacked throughout this entire decade of pain and suffering.
What they could have done differently: Again, Maualuga was there. But again, they passed him up. They could also have taken an offensive lineman here, but they obviously were in love with Delmas and didn't think they could get him with the first pick of the third round. They were probably right too.
What we can expect this season: Delmas should start right away. Unlike Pettigrew though, he'll probably have some competition. Daniel Bullocks returns, as does Gerald Alexander. Both are talented and both have shown that they can be quality starters at the NFL level. All three are probably best suited for free safety, but both Bullocks and Delmas can hit and stuff the run well enough to stick at strong safety. If I had to guess, I would say that Delmas starts at free safety and Bullocks starts at strong safety. Kalvin Pearson is still hanging around but he's a Marinelli guy and I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions found a way to get by without him.
Early Pick Grade: A-. I was going to go somewhere in the B range, but in the course of looking at Delmas, I decided that holy shit, this guy is the dude. I think he'll be a great player in the NFL and a difference maker on defense for the Lions sooner or later with an emphasis on the sooner in that cliché. How do you argue against something like that? You don't. My only fear is that Maualuga turns out to be an All Pro animal at middle linebacker, but that is a quibbling thing and my fear is a byproduct of the horrors of the past. For now, and I hope for the future, I think the Lions made the right choice.