Monday, April 30, 2007

Lions Draft Grades: What They're Saying; What I Think

The Detroit Lions may have had the toughest, and most controversial, draft to grade in 2007. Experts either applauded Detroit on taking the draft's best prospect, Calvin Johnson, or criticized them for taking yet another wide receiver with their first round pick. Some thought the Lions got their quarterback of the future in second-round pick Drew Stanton, while others think they'll get the same Stanton who finished the 2006 season with only 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Lions may have reached on a couple of their later picks, or maybe were just finding some underrated and talented prospects.

As of result of this, the post-draft grades for the Lions were all over the map:

Mel Kiper, ($): C

Dr. Z, B-

John Czarnecki, A-

Pete Prisco, B-

Gregg Rosenthal, B+

Tom Mantzoranis, AOL Fanhouse: B-

You get the point. A mostly lukewarm reception, with a couple people regarding our picks rather highly, and Kiper (who in his own mind is the only opinion that matters; remember, this is all he does) bashing the Stanton selection and questioning the Lions' late-round picks.

My breakdown of the Lions' draft, pick by pick:

Round 1, 2nd overall: Calvin Johnson, WR, Georgia Tech

In my opinion, Detroit had no other option but to draft Johnson. They were in a position to either keep the best player in the draft or trade him for a king's ransom, and the Lions ended up coming away with a potential Hall-of-Fame wideout. Unlike Charles Rogers (violations of the NFL Substance Abuse policy; injury problems) or Mike Williams (lack of top-end speed; weight and effort issues), Detroit's 2 previous busts at WR, Johnson is the complete package of size, speed, durability, and (possibly most importantly) character. The only concerns anybody has voiced about him is a perceived lack of interest at points over his career at GT, but I believe this had more to do with the erratic (and that's putting it kindly) quarterbacking of Reggie Ball than any mental issues on Johnson's part. He will immediately step in and start across from Roy Williams, and should thrive in Mike Martz's pass-happy offense. Many will argue that this pick only compounds the mistakes made by GM Matt Millen in earlier drafts, but I think not addressing these previous draft blunders only makes them worse over time. Johnson is supremely gifted athletically, has fantastic hands, and is both humble and intelligent. Plus, it's tough to pass up a man who can do this:

Round 2, 43rd overall: Drew Stanton, QB, Michigan State

I completely and utterly, with every fiber of my being, disagree with this pick. Drafting a quarterback this high means you expect him to be your franchise starting quarterback for the next 10 years. Does anybody really think Drew Stanton is that quarterback? First of all, he has major durability issues. In 2003, as a redshirt freshman, he injured his knee covering a punt in the Alamo Bowl, and underwent reconstructive surgery. In 2004, he suffered a separated shoulder, and only started 7 games. The next season Stanton was bothered by a nagging hand injury. Finally, he suffered 2 concussions his senior season and had to sit out the season finale. Yes, Stanton is mobile, but he hasn't showed the running awareness to know when the get the hell down and avoid the angry linebacker trying to behead him (LaMarr Woodley certainly can attest to this). Stanton also has shown questionable decision-making, especially when throwing the deep ball, as well as a tendency to collapse after making a big mistake, compounding the problem rather than rectifying it. He also played in a very simple offense at Michigan State, and it will take a while for him to adjust to a pro system and making complex reads. Detroit had more pressing needs at corner and inside linebacker, and Michigan MLB David Harris and UNLV CB Eric Wright were both still on the board at the 43rd pick. With Jon Kitna and Josh McCown (at the time) on the roster, Detroit could have afforded to wait a year and spend their first round pick next year on Louisville's Brian Brohm or Michigan's Chad Henne if they wanted a potential franchise QB.

Drew Stanton, in a familiar position...fetal.

Round 2, 53rd overall: Ikaika Alma-Francis, DE, Hawaii

I'm torn on this pick. DE was certainly a need, and Alma-Francis is a talented end who had decent production his senior year at Hawaii. He has good size (6'5", 280) and speed (4.77 40-yard dash), and his father, Joe Francis, played for Green Bay in the 60's. However, he is the definition of a raw prospect. Alma-Francis didn't play football in high school, and went to Hawaii as a basketball recruit. He didn't start until his redshirt junior season, and only has nine career sacks. If Detroit was going to trade back up into the second round, I would've liked to see them address the more pressing need at cornerback. The Lions need players who can contribute now out of their first day draft picks, and Stanton and Alma-Francis are picks Detroit will have to develop before they can see the field.

Round 2, 61st overall: Gerald Alexander, S, Boise State

I like this pick. Alexander is a good fit in the Tampa 2 system, a versatile safety who plays the run well and is strong for his position. He will compete for a starting safety position with Josh Bullocks and Kenoy Kennedy. He can also play corner, and may see some action as a nickel- or dime-back for Detroit. He may have been a reach in the second round, as he was projected as a middle-round pick, but Millen at least took a player who will immediately see the field.

Round 4, 105th overall: AJ Davis, CB, NC State

The Lions finally addressed their biggest need (besides a new GM) in the fourth round. Davis is a little small for a corner (5'10", 193), but is a solid player who projects to compete for at least the nickel corner job, if not start across from Fernando Bryant. A good value pick in the fourth round.

Round 4, 117th overall: Manuel Ramirez, OG, Texas Tech

Detroit could certainly use depth pretty much everywhere, offensive line included. Ramirez adds a big, strong body (6'3", 326) to the interior of the line. However, he will have a lot to learn at the NFL level, as he played college ball in the wild shotgun attack of Texas Tech. Run blocking may be an issue, as he didn't have to do much in college, as well learning a real NFL offense. He does have potential, and also broke the Texas Tech school record by benching 550 pounds during spring practice in 2005. Will at least be an adequate backup until he learns the offense.

Round 5, 158th overall: Johnny Baldwin, ILB, Alabama A&M

Although he is somewhat undersized for the middle linebacker position right now (6'1", 234), Baldwin is extremely athletic and has good instincts. He did a little bit of everything for Alabama A&M. In 45 career games at the I-AA school, he registered 361 tackles, 13.5 sacks, 9 forced fumbles, 4 blocked kicks and 4 interceptions. He should contribute immediately to special teams and hopefully can develop into the athletic 'mike' linebacker the Lions are looking for.

Round 7, 255 overall: Ramzee Robinson, CB, Alabama

With the last pick in the NFL Draft, the Lions took Robinson, a corner lacking too much size and athleticism to ever develop beyond a backup/special teams player. However, he has a spectacular first name, and, according to his Wikipedia page, was a member of rapper T.I.'s "Pimp Squad Clique" under the name "Hood Doc" before signing to play football at 'Bama. For this reason alone, I am rooting for Ramzee to make the Lions, with the hope that maybe they'll have a more entertaining halftime show sometime down the road.

Overall Lions Draft Grade: C+

The Johnson pick salvages a draft that offers little in terms of immediate help for a team that is desparate for some. He'll be a star for years to come, but the same can't be said for Stanton, who was certainly Millen's worst pick of this draft. There is definitely some raw talent here that should contribute down the road, but Detroit needed help now. Yes, the Johnson pick was great, but I still harbor the same feelings as this little girl (courtesy of

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