Sunday, March 16, 2008

Which came First: the Backer or the Line?

The obvious answer is: the line, of course. Now, consdering the discussions on differing fan forums, and in articles the last few days, you may think this means I am advocating taking an OT in round one. I'm not.

So, you say, you hath joined the forces of Glitz and are gunning for a RB? Ummm...Wrong again.

Hey there buddy, if you aren't advocating a RB or an OT in round one, then what the heck is up with the title? You teasing? Work too darn many hours on Friday and Saturday (thus no blog yesterday)? Glare from those Pink Lions hoodies makin ya loopy?

The answer: Probably all of the above. Actually, I think they should take an OT and then a the 3rd round. This is an idea in its early stages, and it depends on how the draft plays out.

Let me elaborate, and you'll see what I mean. First of all, lets look at the Lions need areas:
MLB, OT, RB, Dline

At pick 15, the top DE are projected to be long gone, but Harvey may be left on the board. Possibility, but DE rarely start their first year -- and didn't they draft Alama-Francis in the 2nd last year to do just that -- learn the D for a year while they gave Kalimba his final shot at starting? If it weren't for a hamstring injury, and the fact that they took it easy bringing him back in so they didn't damage him long term, he would likely have seen a lot of playing time last season. He is already, if I am correct, penciled in as the starter at end opposite White. So even if the Lions draft a DE, he wouldn't start unless he beats out either White or 5-0, which isn't likely. I don't like the idea of a 1st rounder a on guy who won't contribute much year one.

Next, MLB -- the only real 1st round MLB is...umm...well, really, even Connors isn't one. He is projected to be able to play MLB in the NFL, but hasn't, really. End of the First to mid-round one is where the best MLB prospects - Lofton and Mayo, with Goff likely in the late second, poss early third, are projected to go. None of the teams drafting before Detroit in the 2nd has a real need at MLB; in fact, the Lions are one of the few teams running the 4-3 that Lofton/Mayo seems to fit that are looking for a MLB in the earliest rounds at all. So one of the top two is likely to be present when they make their second pick. So put down MLB for round two. Well, that still leaves the Lions with round 1.

How about RB? The glamor pick. I think either someone will be stupid and either A. Trade ahead of the Lions for Mendenhall, since they rightly believe Millen is stupid enough to take him after releasing KJ, or B. Will trade WITH Millen after he convinces them he will pick him if they don't. I'm hoping scenario B., but since I don't want to throw trades into this mix, I'll go with A. Even if B occurs, I feel (and hope the Lions do) that there will be quality RB who can fit their needs in round 3 -- including the following names I've heard such as Rice, and so far my favorite, Matt Forte RB out of Tulane. (I'm still reasearching this, so feel free to throw in your own suggestions.) He is likey to be there in round 3 for either of the Lions' picks. So I'm going to thow him on their first pick since they really do have to get a RB by the end of the third.

Umm...that still leaves the Lions with that pesky 1st rounder. Whatever to do? Keep on trucking down the list of needs I

Oline -- this is an interesting one. The Bears are as slow or slower than the Lions to admit mistakes. They have Cedric Benson, are paying him lots of dough, and if they draft antoher back would have to admit they both made a mistake drafting Benson AND practically giving Thomas Jones to the Jets a year ago. As you know, My boss is a huge Chicago fan and while he'd like to see them take a RB or QB, he thinks the Bears are convinced (likely rightly so) that what they really need is...a young OT to shore up the line. They feel an improvement on the line will make Benson look a lot better, as many of their Oline are getting long in the tooth (for the record, he feels they're going with a WR in round two because they just plain don't have any outside of Marty Booker [yes that Marty Booker of Chicago past.]) Why the long Bears dialogue? Because what I've been seeing looking at not only mock drafts, but team fan sites says that Williams or Otah will be there at 14 -- but not both. And whoever is there, the Bears will take. They prefer Williams. Otah, from what I've seen and read, is a little less than motivated, has trouble with his weight, and well...take Aaron Gibson's career description, swap out the names, and that's what I'm coming up with so far. While this sounds like a perfect Millen 15?

we could take a look at other OT names I've seen bandied about but the one that seems to intrigue me the most is..Heath Benedict. Redshirted at Tenn, had elbow surgery (related to when he was a pro-pitching prospect) and was played at DT, OG, and OT. Transferred to Newberry where he was an outstanding RT. I've seen some unverified reports (I'm not an ESPN, Scouts Inc etc insider, so if anyone knows where to get good profiles, eval on guys, I'd appreciate. Without the dough.) that he was drilled at LT at the combine, and did pretty well. He seems to be a hard worker, and also seems to be pretty smart. I advocate the Lions targeting him with their second third round pick, or trading up in the 3rd to get him if necessary. (Gotcha, didn't I? How many didn't catch on that I wasn't talking about 1st round prospects anymore. Seriously, I'm not that crazy.)

The Lions current starting lineup at Oline of Backus-Mulitalo/Ramierez-Raiola-Peterman-Scott, with the new offensive schemes, seems to me that it could hold up for this year. Although, I can see Benedict pressing Scott to start at RT with a healthy competition between the two, resulting of them winning the LT position from Backus as his skills continue their steady decline from good lineman, to decent, to medicore, to hope like heck one of those guys beats him out before then!! Scott was a 5th round pick with lots of potential, and I think he was really starting well before the thumb injury last season. After what he went through with a 7-step drop long developing pass play every down his first season, RT or even LT with a running game and some 3-5 step srops should be a breeze.

Now, remeber before calling me a complete idiot that this is just one idea. I'm the kind of guy who likes to look at things form all angles. Sometimes, you come up with ideas that seem crazy at first, but the more you look at them, the more the line between "crazy" and "genius" disappears. And if you are Mike Martz, you forget the distinction exists and get last year's Lions Offense.

What about that first pick? Have you forgotten all about it? Right now our first three rounds are:

1. ???
2. Lofton/Mayo
3. Benedict
3. Forte/Rice/Other RB who can break tackles with halfay decent speed
4+ not the point of this post.

I would dearly love to see the Lions trade back either later in the first round, but not past 23 or do the following. Even if they stay at 15, and yes, it would be a reach, I would like to look at one last position:

DT -- Right now they have Moore, Cody (who is more a DE/DT hybrid), Redding and Darby. Now, assuming they do NOT draft a DE as proposed above, move Cody back into the rotation at DE with Cory Smith, White, 5-0 -- and you have an opening for a starting (I see there being 3 starting DT in the T2, as rotation is necessary to keep them fresh enough to provide pressure.)

And the winner is...Kentwan Balmer. What I've read on the kid, his stats seem low because he is a run stopper, and was taken out on 3rd and long or other passing downs his first three years. He seems to be a big run stuffer, and would be the type of guy you'd need to guys to block if he tries to go up the gut. He's big (not Rogers big) at 308 and would be the perfect type of guy to learn from, and eventually replace Darby and play hard next to Redding. And as a 1st round pick, he would contribute his first year by rotating in on the line and spelling Darby, who plays all out but, as he is getting up in age, and will need to be rested a bit. (as if the coaches aren't used to that with S. Rog, minus age and planning.) He is rated as the third best DT, but isn't expected to make it past Carolina, who desperately needs a DT to replace the oft-injured and recently traded Kris Jenkins.

So if you fill him into the equation, the Lions would:
  1. Be starting IAF at DE
  2. Have an additional young starting DT to pair with Redding and learn from Darby
  3. Have a 3rd starting caliber OT to create competition, and give the Lions a stronger Oline due to the competition, and the increase in talent and youth. Have Benedict and Scott as starting OT within 1-2 seasons, or see improved play from Backus to hold them off. (as Rod showed with KJ, no one is safe.)
  4. Have a stud young RB to compete with Bell, Calhoun, and Cason and likely win the #2 role early, and possibly unseat Bell as starter by midseason -- if an injured KJ can do it, I have no doubt a 3rd rounder in this draft (which in weaker years, I am told, would be rated as low 1st early 2nd round talent) can do it.
  5. Have a solid young MLB who, yes, will have growing pains early -- but could be solid in the middle of line for years to come. We may even see Paris Hilt..I mean, Lenon in the MLB for one more year, or more likely, half a season as the rookie rotates in and learns, before he (Lenon) moves to his natural position at SLB. The Lions can then upgarde over him as a starter next draft, and keep him on as a backup to the SLB and MLB positions.

Okay, I'm ready. Bash away at this long-winded, but well thought out scenario. One thing you will see I go for is A. Feasability of the Lions doing it, and B. Reality of the players and/or trades being available.

Rod is a Dline guy at heart, and he knows that it takes a year or two to learn the position well. Darby may have just barely that much left in the tank, so he needs to get a starting possibility at DT in this draft. White is younger, so he can look for another DE later this draft or more likely next year.

You saw it here first. And possibly only here, and no where else again.

Didn't I promise fun draft sceanrios? Let me know what you think of my idea here, and other players you would pick at positions I outlined, etc. Or, place your own sceanrio here, but please try to keep in within the realms of possiblity. And just one more request: NO senario involving Roy W. trades. They are going to try to sign him long-term, or franchise him. Their offense is (still) going to be centered around the downfield threat opening up the run, play action, and slant routes, and for that to work in this NFL you need 2 top receivers, not 1. I've seen some pretty silly ones out there. (RW Trade speculation/suggestions) I'm sure you have too.

As I've said before, I'll try to poast nightly, but this is just a hobby for me, so sometimes I won't be able to. Glad everyone seems to be enjoying this blog, and appreciate all of you taking the time to read my ideas -- whether this is your first visit or your 30th. Keep up the great comments and critique.

Favorite Catch Phrase (from pitbull78 on Mlive): "If you build it, they can run."

funniest thing I've read in a long time: (In reference to Jon Kitna's shirt in his recent interview) "Posted by MHip on 03/14/08 at 6:38PM --3:16...obviously a reference to the average yards the Lions face on 3rd down."

Go Lions!!


Anonymous said...

Excellent post Detfan and thanks for sharing the pictures of the future Lion linebackers? LOL.

Great proposed scenarios. What your post is pointing out is what I believe is going to happen and really what the Lions always try to do. Ignore all needs in the first round and pick BPA (of course I would love them to trade down and get players or picks, rest assured it most probably won't happen too bad for that). If the USC linebacker isn't available at 15 then the Lions are pretty much guaranteed to take the best possible linebacker at round two (like they should have last year). I have said many times the last few days it is really quite too early to even speculate what is going to happen on draft day as there is a lot of time left till then and there should still be some player movements throughout the league before the draft.
IMHO Linebacker has become more important than our line problems (both lines) as they let two leave via FA (and rightfully so, I think Boss will do better in a 3-4 defense and I think they are just plain tired of waiting for Teddy to show up and preform like they expected). Look for the Lions to at least bring in someone from FA as well as draft a youngster to help in this area.
As I have said in my other posts, they have opened up cap room to fill one of their gapping holes. They will sign someone at either LB, OL, RB, or DL before the season starts. I think they are sitting back and evaluating what the market is going to present them, I hope they are working on something big that will surprise us all (HHAAAACCCHHHHUUUU, too much Peppers on my lunch tonight. LOL, it will never happen but it would be surprising)


Anonymous said...

I look to read your very enjoyable posts each day. Thanks.
My opinion,
1-OLB (Connor, Rivers)
2-MLB (Lofton, Mayo)
That makes the LBers good for the next 6 years, hopefully.
Trade a 4th round and 5th round for a third round and get a DT or DE.

Anonymous said...

Brother, o brother. I've kicked that same scenario around. No one knows right now; and I don't think Matt Millen does either.

If you've read my earlier posts, you'll know I've been told the Lions were HUGE on Balmer during his interviews at the Combine.

Forte may go higher.

Benedict was a HUGE "secret name" just before the East-West game. really lit this kid's candle.

Then, he laid an egg at the Senior Bowl. He looked overmatched. The kid is a weight room animal and he was ready at the Combine. He put up big numbers. BUT, show me some great tape, and the only good tape is the Senior Bowl. Who does Newberry College play, anyway? No, this isn't the town of Tahquamenon fame in the Eastern U.P. of Michigan.

But the kid works hard.

Even moreso, I agree with the underlying philosophy of a tackle later and letting Jon Scott start with Foster and a rookie to back him up.

I can see DT Balmer or OLB Rivers in the first. I can see OLB Lofton in the second. I can see a RB and an OT in the third.

There are enough holes, the Lions can go many directions and still not pick wrong for their needs.

I can also see the Lions waiting to fill the MLB spot with a veteran that gets cut before June 1st (roster bonus day). Marinelli has said publicly he doesn't want a rookie MLB as play calling is too hard, let alone shifting and audibiling.

Another idea for the 4th rounder is a starting FB.

I think the BIG factor is who falls and becomes available?

CHIEFGER139 said...

nice kids
i think they take mendnhal if hes there if not otah or benedict with there 1st with the 2nd mlb,connors/mayo/lofton or goff than they take the running back if they didnt take him in the 1st-boyd,rice,washington-whoevers there thats big or tackle-keith,richardson or blair(big kid from western mich) all are big and could start immediately

jreffy said...

Once again, DetFan installs a Trojan on my computer and is reading the emails between me and my father.

I hate to say it, but with the realistic scenario that you painted in your post, the Lions will be looking to take the dreaded "Best Player Available" with the 15th pick. However, I want to point out that the Lions are sitting in a very good position for a possible trade. #15 won't demand ridiculous salary like a top-5 pick, and it won't cost an arm and a leg for a team to trade up into that spot, a 1st and a 2nd rounder perhaps, depending on how far down the trade is coming from. The question is, what talent is going to be at #15 that another team is going to want to trade up for, and this is where my concern lies.

If the Lions are sold on a OT/MLB in the 2nd round, and an RB 3rd, they are pretty much free to take whoever they want at #15. Let's hope there's someone out there that teams want to trade up for so we can pick up some extra pics and lock up some talent. If we do pick up some extra pics, heck, maybe we can grab BOTH those LB's in the 2nd round and flesh out our SLB and MLB.

This draft is a great opportunity for Millen to start redeeming himself with all the talent at the positions we need (MLB/OT/RB). But a lot of what's going on is going to depend on what's out there at #15. I have a feeling that Millen will have trades lined up with a couple teams, but won't be able to pull the trigger until after we see who Chicago picks.

Anonymous said...

Curtis Lofton
ILB | (6'1", 240, 4.71) | OKLAHOMA

Scouts Grade: 86

Strengths: Adequate height with a sturdy build. A tough, feisty and relentless ILB. Displays excellent diagnostic skills. Reads keys very effectively and takes few false steps. Outstanding overall instincts. Usually the first to diagnose the play and always seems to be around the ball. He is a powerful hitter with strong hips and base. He displays adequate range in underneath zone coverage. Reads QB's eyes and generally gets a good jump on the ball. Makes his presence felt over the middle. Will put a big hit on receivers coming through his zone and will separate ball from body. Is a natural playmaker. Underrated ball skills and also has a knack for forcing fumbles. Seems to have a great understanding of the scheme and will get teammates in position pre-snap. The type that can lead on the field through his actions.

Weaknesses: Lacks ideal speed. Is limited athletically. Does not show ideal closing burst in pursuit. Needs to do a better job of protecting his lower body. Leaves his feet a bit too often as a tackler. Can do a better job of wrapping up in space. Hips are a bit stiff. Is fine when he can work laterally and coming forward, but gets into trouble when he needs to open his hips and turn. Will be limited versus faster NFL RB's in man-to-man coverage.

Overall: Lofton played mostly on special teams as a freshman, logging three tackles (one for a loss) in 10 games. In 2006, he continued to shine on cover teams but also earned five starts in 14 games. He finished his sophomore season with 32 tackles (six for losses), a forced fumble and a recovery. Lofton dominated as a junior last year, and was named an NCAA Consensus All-American and Associated Press Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year. In 14 games, he piled up 157 tackles (10.5 for losses), four forced fumbles and three interceptions. He also ran back a pick and a fumble for touchdowns. Lofton flew under the radar at Oklahoma and he hasn't received much hype during the draft process, either. His physical skills won't wow any NFL teams and his test results will likely cost him on draft weekend. But every time we watch film of the Sooners' defense, Lofton is flying around the field, either making the stop or near the ball at the end of most plays. Lofton is one of the most underrated pure football players in the 2008 class and it won't surprise us a bit if he emerges as a second-round steal.

Anonymous said...

Heath Benedict
OG | (6'4", 321, 5.099) | NEWBERRY

Scouts Grade: 70

Flags: (M: MENTAL) Does not retain and learn the system

Strengths: Has an outstanding combination of height, bulk and agility. Shows good range for size and can pull effectively. Gets adequate knee bend in pass set and rarely gives ground to bull rushers. Has a quick kick-step, extends arms once in position and can ride edge rushers past the pocket. Has adequate lateral mobility and can slide with defenders in pass protection. He can engulf undersized defenders and wear then down over the course of a game. Drives legs once in position, has good lower body strength and can move defenders off the ball. Takes adequate angles to blocks and can get into position at the second level.

Weaknesses: Lacks elite explosiveness, doesn't deliver a violent initial punch and he isn't going to knock many defenders back at the point of attack. Plays too high and two-gap defenders are going to have some success standing him up. Footwork is inconsistent, can lose balance when forced to change directions quickly and is vulnerable to double moves. Played at a small school and there is some concern about ability to make the jump to the NFL.

Overall: Benedict originally attended the University of Tennessee in 2002, but he was redshirted after undergoing arthroscopic elbow surgery to repair damage from his days as a high school pitcher. Ruled academically ineligible in 2003, he spent a year away from football and college, then transferred to Division II Newberry College (S.C.) in 2004 . Over the next three seasons (2004-'06) he played in 27 games (24 starts) at right tackle for the Indians, who started a left-handed quarterback. As a senor, Benedict moved to left tackle (for a right-handed passer) and started seven games. He was named a Division II All-America selection in each of his last two seasons. He suffered a broken rib in 2004 but didn't miss any playing time. In 2005, he was slowed by an ankle sprain and missed one game after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Benedict tore ligaments in his ankle in the spring of 2007 and returned too quickly from surgery, leading to a foot fracture that added up to his missing a total of four games. Benedict, who starred at offensive tackle for Newberry, is one of the top small-school prospects in the 2008 draft class. He is unpolished but has the necessary developmental tools, including very good feet for his size. The Division II product should come off the board early on Day 2 but likely will make the move inside to guard, where he can be better protected in the NFL.

Anonymous said...

Jerod Mayo
OLB | (6'2", 233, 4.65) | TENNESSEE

Scouts Grade: 87

Flags: (D: DURABILITY) Player that can't stay healthy

Strengths: Keeps head up and locates the ball quickly. Reaches top speed quickly, aggressive and makes plays in the backfield. Moves well laterally and generally does a nice job of scraping down the line of scrimmage. Has above-average range, plays with a good motor and makes plays in pursuit. Has above above-average upper body strength, flashes an effective punch and can prevent blockers from getting into his frame. Plays with a mean streak and can stack fullbacks up in the hole. Wraps up upon contact and is a sound open field tackler that can deliver the big hit. Gets good depth, shows good awareness and covers a lot of ground when asked to drop into zone coverage. Changes directions well and shows adequate burst coming out of cuts when asked to match up in man coverage. Has adequate ball skills and flashes the ability to make plays in coverage. Plays with a good motor and has the potential to develop into a valuable special teams' contributor. Does an adequate job of anticipating the snap, has above-average closing speed and can get to the quarterback when asked to blitz.

Weaknesses: Undersized and gets engulfed by interior offensive linemen. Doesn't use hands all that well and takes too long to shed blocks when offensive linemen are able to lock onto him. Doesn't always take sound pursuit angles and gets caught out of position at times. Gets turned around a little too much when asked to match up in man coverage and needs to improve footwork. Open hips fairly well when asked to turn and run but lacks elite top-end speed and is going to have some problems staying with a lot of NFL backs on wheel routes as well as tight ends that can stretch the field. Can be overaggressive, occasionally bites on play action and lacks the second gear when gets caught out of pursuit. Missed five games with a knee injury in 2005 and durability is a concern.

Overall: Tennessee red-shirted Mayo in 2004. He started one of the six games he appeared in during the 2005 season. Mayo started 11 of the 12 games he appeared in during the 2006 season finishing with 83 total tackles, 53 unassisted tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, five sacks and one fumble recovery. He played in all 14 games of the 2007 season finishing with a team-leading 140 total tackles, 79 unassisted tackles, 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, one forced fumble and one interception. Mayo isn't a prototypical interior run stuffer but he has the skill set to develop into an effective starter for a team that can protect him and he should make an impact on special teams. He is relentless in pursuit, he covers a lot of ground, he tackles well and he has the athletic ability to improve his man coverage skills. With all of that in mind, he projects as a late-second or third-round pick.