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Brock
02-20-2009, 09:56 AM
Combine Snap Judgments: Lions eye tackles, not QBs, with first pick

Reading the tea leaves, sounds like Detroit won't take QB first overall

Michael Oher claims to have not read best-selling book about himself

None of the top-rated offensive tackles are lacking for confidence

INDIANAPOLIS -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from on scene at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine, which has morphed into the league's all-purpose kick start to all things having to do with personnel acquisition season....

It took a good 45 minutes or so into my four-day stay here in Indy, but I'm convinced I've already figured out the biggest riddle of this year's NFL draft season: What, pray tell, will the Detroit Lions do with the first overall pick on April?

After careful analysis of every syllable uttered to the media by new Lions head coach Jim Schwartz on Thursday morning in the bowels of Lucas Oil Stadium, where the combine has relocated to this year, I'm willing to guarantee that Detroit isn't taking a quarterback with its No. 1 pick. Okay, guarantee is a little much. Let's just say I'm pretty sure. Make that reasonably certain. Could I get by with calling it a very strong hunch?

I will admit it's entirely possible I was pre-disposed to come to such a conclusion, given that I gave Detroit an offensive tackle -- Alabama's Andre Smith -- last month in my inaugural mock draft of the year. But after hearing Schwartz describe the needs of his 0-16 team, the boom-bust factor at the top of the draft, and his time-tested philosophy of building a roster from the inside out (read the offensive and defensive lines first), I'm willing to go on record stating that I'll be shocked if the Lions tap a quarterback like Georgia's Matthew Stafford or Southern Cal's Mark Sanchez first overall.

So, there you have it. Please, no more calls, we have a winner. The Lions are going to select one of the draft's several highly rated offensive tackles with the first pick, and that's that. As for exactly who, check back with me a bit later. Say, April 24th or so.

All kidding aside, I didn't think it took a rocket scientist -- or even a particularly sharp NFL writer -- on Thursday to discern the way the Lions appear to be leaning early on in draft season. Give a listen to Schwartz when asked for his take on the dubious distinction of picking in the top slot:

"This is my 16th year in the NFL and it's my first experience with it -- and hopefully my last,'' Schwartz said. "It is a different animal. I've compared it a little bit to playing blackjack. You can go play blackjack in Vegas, and play $5 tables, and play for a couple hours and make bad decisions and lose $100 and have some fun. You go play at the $5,000, or $10,000 table and you're making bad decisions, you're walking home. You're not flying home. You've got to add that into the equation. Not only is it an opportunity to get a great player. But you need to make sure.''

Make no mistake, Schwartz's Lions are at the big-money table this year, holding the No. 1 pick for the first time since they selected Billy Sims in 1980. Last year's No. 1 pick, Miami offensive tackle Jake Long, got $30 million in guarantees in his rookie contract, and that figure won't drop this time around.

That's why you need to make sure at the top of the draft, and does anyone out there think the track record of picking highly rated offensive tackles isn't safer on the whole than picking highly rated quarterbacks? That said, the Lions own two first-rounders this year, their own and No. 20 (which came from Dallas in the Roy Williams trade), and they very well could address the game's most crucial position with that second No. 1 (Kansas State's Josh Freeman?)

But the Lions rolling the dice on a junior quarterback like Stafford or Sanchez selected first overall? I just can't see it happening. Schwartz might as well move over to those high-roller blackjack tables and start playing two hands at a time.

At no point did the Lions rookie head coach say quarterback was not an option at the top of the draft, but he really didn't have to if you listened to what he was saying. Like when I asked him about the conventional wisdom within the league about building a team from the inside out, which I happen to know he buys into.

"I've said before, we're going to build the team like it's an outdoor team,'' Schwartz said. "We're not going to build it to be a dome team. This is a great dome, and Ford Field is a great dome. But the fact is that we have to go to Lambeau, probably in December. We'll have to go to Chicago, maybe for a game that might mean the playoffs. You need to be big and physical, run the ball and stop the run when the weather gets bad. When you look at Tennessee and other places I've been, if you're strong on the offensive and defensive line, you'll be consistent from week to week.

"That doesn't leave you. You can have a dominant skill player, but he might get hurt one week or the wind might be blowing, like it was in Buffalo when New England played up there, and you can't throw the ball. Or the footing might be bad and the running back can't make his yards. But offensive line and defensive line will make you consistent from week to week.''

Does that sound like a guy about to tie his and the franchise's fortunes to a quarterback at No. 1? There's plenty of subterfuge practiced at this time of year in the NFL, but by my way of thinking, Detroit's dismal history of drafting first-round skill-position players this decade only reduces the chances of the Lions spending their top pick on a passer. Or have you already forgotten Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, and the aforementioned Roy Williams?

"You mean Calvin Johnson?'' quipped Schwartz, when I mentioned the Lions' recent first-round draft busts. "I'm going to stress the positive. You're not going to hear me speak a lot about what happened in years past.''

But then I rephrased my question for Schwartz, asking him if the boom-bust factor in the first round was even steeper with skill players?

"Probably,'' he admitted. "You probably do have a chance to get that impact player, but it probably is safer, if you're talking about left tackle or a defensive lineman, stuff like that.

"The whole boom-bust thing, not many fans or people in the media know if the left tackle has been a bust or not. If he's starting, it's hard for them to assign blame for a sack or something like that.''

All the more reason to be thinking about an offensive tackle like Virginia's Eugene Monroe, Alabama's Smith, Baylor's Jason Smith or Mississippi's Michael Oher with the top pick, especially given that there are no defensive linemen deemed No. 1 worthy. Less pressure and fewer eyes trained upon every little move that a franchise quarterback makes is probably something that sounds kind of appealing to Schwartz as he starts his NFL head coaching career with the mother of all rebuilding jobs.

"We need everything,'' he said. "There's a reason the record was what it was last year. It wasn't because of bad luck or a rash of injuries. There's a lot of work that needs to be done.''

But I now refuse to believe that work will begin with the quarterback position in Detroit this offseason. And you can take that to the bank, even at the ridiculously early juncture of Feb. 19, before the combine has even really gotten rolling.

No ifs, ands, or maybes about it.

I think.

The most bizarre thing I heard at the combine player media interviews Thursday was easily Oher's admission that he hasn't even read "The Blind Side,'' the book that noted author Michael Lewis wrote about Oher, his college recruitment, and the evolution of the offensive left tackle position into one of the top-paying jobs in the NFL.

Oher, of Mississippi, had a remarkably tough background growing up and was described in the book as the reclusive son of a drug-addicted single mom who suddenly became one of the most prized football prospects in the nation.

"I haven't read it, but hearing what a lot of people say about it, I think it was fairly accurate,'' Oher told the media. "I think it was a good book though.''

And why exactly hasn't he read it? "He (Lewis) talked to me about a lot of the stuff, and went over a lot of things. I felt I didn't need to read it.''

Both Stafford and Sanchez aren't thought of as the most accurate of quarterbacks -- at least not when measured against last year's two first-round QBs, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. I loved what Saints head coach Sean Payton had to say about the accuracy issue when it comes to grading quarterback prospects. It means everything.

"It's a very simple statement, but the quarterback needs to be accurate,'' said Payton, who has one of the NFL's most accurate passers in Drew Brees. "I don't want to hear about how he's going to become more accurate. Generally he's got to be someone who can target and find his throws and you don't want to be holding your breath in your 7 on 7's, with some guy throwing 50 percent. He needs to complete every ball (in those drills), with maybe one or two on the ground, that's it.''

Let's just say Stafford and Sanchez have some ground to make up in that department.

Give Alabama offensive tackle Andre Smith the master of the obvious award in the early going of this combine. Smith was asked Thursday if he would embrace being part of the solution in Detroit, if the Lions took him first overall?

"I would look forward to going there and competing, have a great atmosphere in the locker room, and not be a cancer to the team,'' Smith said.

Good to know he has no intention of being a locker room cancer. That's a positive on every team's scouting report.

I'll say this much for this year's crop of highly rated offensive tackles, they don't lack for confidence. Baylor's Jason Smith, not to be confused with Alabama's Andre Smith, was asked if his goal is to prove himself the best "Smith'' at the combine?

"Not the best Smith -- the best offensive tackle,'' he said. "I'd say first of all, put on my film from Baylor and you'll see that I'm the best. That's it.''

Any flaws, or bad habits?

"I can't think of any.''

Virginia's Eugene Monroe isn't the shy type either. When asked why he should be the draft's first tackle selected, he didn't hesitate.

"I think over my career at Virginia I've proven I can block anybody,'' Monroe said.

Monroe also had this unintentional beaut -- at least I think it was unintentional -- when asked why Virginia has had so many NFL draftees in recent years?

"I believe that (Cavaliers head coach) Al Groh runs our program with a level of professionalism second to none,'' Monroe said.

Oh, really? Someone call the NCAA's compliance office.

I'm told that Baylor's Smith is an absolute monster when it comes to power blocking, and the converted tight end loves the part of his job that allows him to manhandle his opponents. He didn't waste much time speaking to that reputation at the combine.

"When I'm on the field, I take a lot of pride in physically assaulting somebody,'' Smith said. "As far as finishing them off, that's just a part of the block. So you don't really think too much of it, because that's what you go on the field to do. It's something I practice real hard at, and I practice real hard at practicing. And when it's game time, it just happens.''

Nothing about franchise-tag day really surprised me -- with the exception of Pittsburgh once again lavishing offensive tackle Max Starks with a salary equal to the average of the top five highest paid offensive linemen in the league last year.

I get that Pittsburgh had to protect itself, given that its top three tackles were all free-agent eligible this year, and that tackle Marvel Smith's back problems have rendered him a question mark the past two years. But $8.451 million for a guy who has been considered a backup in each of the past two seasons? Last year, Starks was given the Steelers' transition tag, at $6.985 million.

Suffice to say there's no sign of any economic downturn in the Starks household.

You know who's happy about Julius Peppers playing the game he's playing in Carolina? Jordan Gross, that's who. Because the Panthers were being backed into a corner by Peppers, who wants out of Carolina in the worst way, they were almost forced to get a deal done with Gross at any cost. That way Carolina had the franchise tag available to slap on Peppers, in order to either try and trade him, or somehow coax him to camp later this year.

Don't get me wrong. Gross is a very good player. But until last year, he was hardly considered to be the kind of dominant left tackle who had played his way into the elite echelon of the league. Has he now? Maybe. But there's little doubt that's what he's being paid like at this point, thanks to a six-year deal that includes a record-for-offensive-lineman $30.5 million guaranteed in the first three years.

Quote of the day: From Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, when asked if he was surprised at the widespread use of the Dolphins' Wildcat formation last season:

"I was pretty surprised, to be honest with you. At the end of this, I wish I had a dollar for every person who ran it.''

Sam Hall
02-20-2009, 10:08 AM
REPOST from the main page

Brock
02-20-2009, 10:10 AM
I, for one, don't care if you posted it in the wrong forum.

keg in kc
02-20-2009, 08:47 PM
• Both Stafford and Sanchez aren't thought of as the most accurate of quarterbacks -- at least not when measured against last year's two first-round QBs, Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco. I loved what Saints head coach Sean Payton had to say about the accuracy issue when it comes to grading quarterback prospects. It means everything.That strikes me as an odd statement. Wasn't accuracy one of the things people were concerned about with Ryan last year (he finished under 60% his last year at BC - which didn't concern me at all at the time)? Sanchez had a higher completion percentage in 2008 than Ryan did during any of his seasons, and fewer picks. He did have more ints than Flacco did in 2007 (10 to 5), but, again, a higher completion percentage (65.8 vs 63.5).

I'm clearly missing something. I can see that statement regarding Stafford, but it doesn't make sense to me with Sanchez.

Mecca
02-20-2009, 08:54 PM
That strikes me as an odd statement. Wasn't accuracy one of the things people were concerned about with Ryan last year (he finished under 60% his last year at BC - which didn't concern me at all at the time)? Sanchez had a higher completion percentage in 2008 than Ryan did during any of his seasons, and fewer picks. He did have more ints than Flacco did in 2007 (10 to 5), but, again, a higher completion percentage (65.8 vs 63.5).

I'm clearly missing something. I can see that statement regarding Stafford, but it doesn't make sense to me with Sanchez.

It's like someone told him something and he didn't bother to you know actually check it himself.

bdeg
02-21-2009, 10:46 AM
http://nfl.fanhouse.com/2009/02/21/detroit-lions-gm-now-would-be-a-good-time-to-draft-a-quarterba/#cont

"Yeah, I think if the right quarterback is there, now would be a good time to draft a quarterback," Mayhew said. "It has to be a good fit for us."