By Brian Spencer
For those NFL teams with top-10 picks in the draft, there’s comfort in knowing without a shadow of a doubt who you should and will select.
Last year, the Detroit Lions felt that comfy safety cushion beneath their heavily stomped-upon asses when taking Matthew Stafford with the first-overall pick: there was no doubting their need for a franchise quarterback, and there were few conflicting opinions on whether he was the top QB of his class. It was the easy choice, and it was the right choice.
This year, well, not so much. After a season in which they improved 200% upon the previous one in going a solid 2-14, the Lions climbed one notch above the St. Louis Rams on the Sucks Scale and now have the second overall pick, which of course means they’re in wait-and-see mode with the Rams. Will they follow the Lion’s lead and rebuild around the top QB prospect, Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford? Or will they go in a different direction and choose between the heavily hyped defensive tackles, Oklahoma’s Gerald McCoy and Nebraska’s Ndamukong Suh?
The Lions, for one, are dying to know, but either way I’m concerned. Barring the drastic, Bradford makes financial sense as the top pick and should be headed to St. Louis. If not, the Lions’ decision on who to take second becomes slightly easier, but not by much. They’d cross off one of the DTs, and better yet, there’d be a good chance they could trade down and accumulate more picks if Bradford’s still on the board. But honestly, that’s an unlikely scenario at this point, which means GM Martin Mayhew and staff will be faced with perhaps the toughest, most scrutinzed pick of the draft.
The Lions have a lot of needs. Every position except QB and WR1 is not as strong as it needs to be, so in a sense, whomever they end up taking at #2 would be an upgrade on whomever’s already on the roster at that position. But something tells me that between Suh and McCoy, one’s going to ultimately stand head and shoulders above the other in terms of career impact when each finally calls it a day. And sorry, Lions fans like myself are bred to be skeptical: if they take Suh, McCoy will be a career All-Pro and Suh will of course blow his knee out midway through his rookie season and never be the same again. If McCoy becomes a Lion, it’ll be just the opposite. That’s just how things (usually) work in Detroit.
That’s not all. Second-overall picks, in case you didn’t know, are handsomely compensated. Most teams don’t want to pay DTs big bucks. But they’ll pay QBs, defensive ends, and… offensive tackles that money, no worries. Enter Oklahoma State’s Russell Okung and now, apparently, Oklahoma’s Trent Williams. Okung entered the conversation some weeks ago, but now the Sporting News’ Russ Lande says don’t be surprised if it’s Williams who’s ultimately taken.
Christ. Now it’s not only up to Mayhew to settle on which DT is better suited for his team, but apparently also which OT… then on which of those two candidates is “the guy.” This is not good.
I don’t watch or follow much college football during the season, so all I know about these four kids is what I read. And, of course, most everything I’ve read says each of them is the whoop, especially McCoy and Suh, both of whom are being billed as the best prospects to come around at their position in years.
I don’t know who the Lions should take, and I don’t care. I’ll take Okung or Williams over Jeff Backus (the current starting LT) in a heartbeat, and that’d allow Backus to move over to left guard and the Lions to kill two birds with one stone. Suh or McCoy would pair nicely with newly acquired DT Corey Williams, and along with second-year big’un Sammie Hill would give Detroit a promising trio on the defensive frontline.
All fine players one can make reasonable arguments for (and probably against too). But when the debates are all said and done, it comes down to this: the Lions really, really need to nail this pick. They really do. They’ve been set back enough as it is with top-10 picks over the past 5+ years who didn’t pan out: Joey Harrington, Charles “Smokey the Bear” Rogers, Mike Williams, Roy Williams… and that’s just the first round, nevermind the rest of it. They cannot afford to sink tens of millions of dollars into another bust.
So here’s to you, Martin Mayhew & Co. Please make the correct fucking decision.