Chances are you’ve seen a mock draft in the months since the Super Bowl.
In fact, I’m willing to bet you’ve seen a few dozen of them, and I’d also wager that Matthew Stafford, the quarterback out of Georgia with the rocket arm and the naturally curly hair, features prominently at the top of most of those mocks, to the Detroit Lions.
This is a problem.
Stafford to the Lions is a mistake in waiting. That has nothing to do with Stafford himself and everything to do with the Lions themselves.
Stafford has done nothing but ease concerns with a sharp mind, strong arm, and nearly flawless workouts.
However, the Detroit Lions drafting Matthew Stafford—or any quarterback—first overall is a recipe to ruin the kid and set the team back another three years in rebuilding.
As Lions fans, we are grateful to be done with the Matt Millen era, albeit with a chalky taste in our mouths, a few deep bruises, and a lot of bitterness. Still, does anybody have a guess who Millen would be looking at taking first overall in the 2009 NFL Draft?
More than likely, Matthew Stafford.
The greatest knock on Matt Millen while he was in charge of the Lions was that he valued “skill” players higher than “core” players. The temptation is to only remember the receiver picks, but quarterback is a “skill” position, too. Indeed, Charles Rogers was a poor pick, and Mike Williams was atrocious, but what about Joey Harrington?
In 2002, Harrington was to be the “savior” for the Lions. Picked third overall (like Matt Ryan, for instance), Harrington was faced with high expectations to start producing wins on a team that just wasn’t built for winning.
Poor defense and line play meant Harrington never found a comfort zone (and that was before Ford Field started booing him), and we all were left wondering what could have been. Now what was a promising career sits on the third string in New Orleans watching Drew Brees assault passing records and the playoffs.
Now here we are, seven years later, facing the same dilemma. Offensive line play is still poor, with Lions QBs sacked 52 times in 2008, or roughly once every 10 pass attempts. The defense is historically bad, with the 2008 Lions giving up the second-most points in a single season in NFL history.
Yet somehow, a vast majority of “experts” think Stafford—another QB with “savior” qualities—is the first step to rebuilding.
Thanks, but doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results is called insanity.
If I stuck my hand in a hot waffle iron in 2002 and burned it so badly that I finally decided in 2006 that it just wasn’t going to work out and traded it to the Miami Dolphins for a conditional sixth-round pick, do you think I’d wait until 2009 and do it again?
That waffle iron is still going to be hot, and the Lions still can’t protect a quarterback or stop an opposing offense, just like in 2002.
Drafting a quarterback who might throw a tight spiral on plays he doesn’t get his head taken off is not good football sense.
This is known as the “David Carr” Philosophy, adopted in Detroit as the “Charlie Batch/Joey Harrington/Jon Kitna/Dan Orlovsky” Philosophy. Stafford’s strong arm is only going to help Detroit if he’s not using it to stiff-arm rushing defenders.
Building an offensive line that keeps your quarterback’s head on his shoulders is good football sense, and Baylor’s Jason Smith is the perfect step in the right direction.
The only question left is whether Martin Mayhew has really learned from Millen’s mistakes, as he says he has—or is he every bit the Millen protégé Lions fans fear he is?
The future of the Lions—and Stafford’s career—rests on the answer.