Diamonds Are Forever. Just Find Them.

We’ll constrict it to the Martin Mayhew regime, but many have long, and appropriately, questioned the Lions drafting acumen. Questioned is probably bathing it in sugar. Being successful in the NFL draft is an amalgamation of science, art, team philosophies, relentless preparation, and as absurd as it may sound, luck is welcome too. No team bats a thousand when it comes to what seems to be the no-brainer picks in the first round, even at the top of the round. This is a place where Mayhew has actually acquitted himself rather adroitly in drafting Stafford, Suh, Fairley and this past year Riley Reiff.

This may or may not be true, but wild Internet rumors have it that the NFL draft is actually seven rounds in length. Teams don’t hit their first pick 483 feet, circle the bases and call it a day (unless they’ve traded all their picks for say a no-doubt-about-it franchise QB). Not only are teams free to get inventive by moving up, back and diagonally towards future drafts during the seven round NFL draft, they’re also permitted to select players who may play well beyond their draft status. That’s especially needed when the word bust becomes the noun associated with your top picks.

Winning and championship teams are all built differently through varying degrees of success in the draft, a clever trade or two, luring the proper free agents, and of course having the right man in charge to bring it all together every Sunday (or Thursday, or Saturday, or Monday).

I view it very much as an apples to oranges discussion when it comes to grading drafts, and which teams ‘win’ the offseason. OK, your draft apparently sucked, but that undrafted free agent who leads the team in tackles makes up for it. OK, you had no cap room for quality scheme-fitting free agents and your draft was mediocre at best, but you’ve got a scholarly group of coaches who are getting the most out of modest talent. Point made? At the end of the day, if you want all the fruit to look alike dump it all in the blender, and see which fruit smoothie, or teams in this case, has won the most games; and they do it with regularity.

This blog post isn’t to scour through every team acquisition to create clarity as to why the Patriots are a legimate decade long dynasty, and why the Lions are decade old debacle. The results speak for themselves. And that would take an eternity, and I’m sure there’s another impending apocalypse we must brace for.

What this post is here to serve is something that’s been on my mind about the Lions for many months now. How come they don’t ever get ‘lucky’ in the draft? Where’s their 6th round stud? Where’s the undrafted guy they signed right after the draft who’s become the heartbeat of the team and possibly a local cult hero? Look, sometimes it’s just flat luck that Marques Colston, a 7th rounder from Hofstra (HOFSTRA!), turns into one of the game’s finest receivers. But, the successful teams through diligent research often create that ‘luck.’ Ben Franklin said, diligence is the mother of good luck. Good Luck is also a quarterback in Indianapolis.

Think about it. Who is that player on the Lions? Joique Bell? It took a couple organizations passing on him for the Lions to find him, even when he right under their nose, not even mileS away at Wayne State.

Think on that while you read on. This excerpt from Grantland’s NFL Pro Bowl team finally inspired me to do the research and write about this brain teaser the Lions have put before me.

Defensive Lineman: Geno Atkins, Cincinnati. The criminally underrated Atkins has 10.5 sacks on the year, the highest total for a 4-3 interior lineman since Rod Coleman had 10.5 for the Falcons in 2005. Atkins is more than his quarterback takedowns, though; he’s a force of nature on the interior who easily penetrates into the backfield and disrupts plays on a regular basis. Pretty impressive for a fourth-round pick who makes $540,000 this year.

Atkins is arguably the very best interior lineman in the game. His value is immeasurable, at least until they’ve gotta make him disgustingly rich, and likely overpaid. Ndamukong Suh’s rookie contract guaranteed him 75 times Atkins 2012 salary. To drive the stake in deeper into the chest of Lions fans, since Marvin Lewis took the reigns, the BENGALS are a far better franchise than the Lions. Most teams have been better than the Lions for forever, but the Bengals take more criticism than they deserve. Geography (in the division with two of the league’s great franchises) is their worst enemy.

Still haven’t figured out who THAT player is on the Lions, right? Maybe Cliff Avril, a third rounder? That’s a quality find. Another third round choice, DeAndre Levy? Extremely serviceable but certainly not a difference maker on the Lions defense.

I decided to go through each team’s roster and see which were capable of uncovering THAT player I was looking for. A diamond in the rough. A gem. It’d be foolish not to concede that finding one doesn’t guarantee a team anything. It’s just one of the many ways though of judging a team’s ability to bring in the right personnel, or at least the ones that can be coached up beyond their talents, and perhaps cover up for one of those busts early on, or a miss in free agency.

My filtering process was no one above the fourth round, baseline contributions of Avril/Levy, and the team had to have first dibs on giving that player a shot; except in a couple of very extraordinary cases. I also left out offensive linemen. Simply too hard to evaluate from my perspective.

Falcons have Thomas Decoud and the Cardinals have Andre Roberts. Though both third rounders.

Ravens – Dannell Ellerbee 4.5 sacks. 81 tackles. Undrafted.

Bills – Stevie Johnson 7th round, 224th overall. Probably a Pro Bowler with a better QB.

Panthers – Greg Hardy 11 sacks. 6th Rnd, 175th.

Bears – Corey Wooten 7 sacks. 4th Rnd, 109th.

Bengals – Vontaze Burfict 101 tackles undrafted. Burfict is the fix-job of the ’12 draft. Also, the aforementioned Atkins.

Browns – This was a struggle, but Buster Skrine 75 tackles 11 PDs. 5th Rnd, 137th.

Cowboys – Miles Austin. Not what he once was, but undrafted.

Broncos – For his production, I’m astonished I’d never heard of LB Wesley Woodyard. Undrafted. 105 tackles, 4 sacks, 3 INTs, 6 PDs. Wow.

Packers – Nothing. But some moon shots with Rodgers’ beneficiaries in Jones, Cobb, Nelson, Hayward as 2nd/3rd picks.

Texans – Arian Foster. Heard of him? Un-freakin-drafted.

Colts – Another tough one because the defense is putrid. So, Vick Ballard 4.1 avg behind a pathetic offensive line. 5th Rnd, 170th.

Jaguar – Don’t laugh. Leading receiver and quality deep threat Cecil Shorts 4th Rnd, 114th.

Chiefs – Justin Houston a third rounder with 10 sacks.

Dolphins – This is one of those speciality cases. I make an exception for one of the leagues most consistently dominant pass rushers, Cam Wake, discovered in the CFL.

Vikings – Brian Robison 7.5 sacks 4th Rnd, 102nd.

Patriots – Player evaluation is on a whole ‘nother level here. This could be its own post, but we’ll abide by the spirit of one player, so Aaron Hernandez 4th Rnd, 113th. He could be the best TE in the league if not for the Pats already having the the best TE in the league.

Saints – We already referenced Colston, so let’s use the undrafted Lance Moore.

Giants – This is ice cold water on 31 teams. Victor Cruz undrafted from UMass. You don’t wanna know about Bradshaw either. Two Super Bowls.

Oakland – They’re so awful at almost everything, I’ll be kind and provide two: Denarius Moore 5th Rnd, 148th and TE Brandon Myers with 72 catches and 4 TDs, 6th Rnd, 202nd.

Eagles – They’re a dumpster fire now, but in the past; Brent Celek 5th Rnd, 162nd, Trent Cole 5th Rnd, 146th and with a more succinct body of work, Bryce Brown 7th Rnd, 229th.

Steelers – Antonio Brown 6th Rnd, 195th.

Chargers – A long time target for Rivers, Malcom Floyd, undrafted.

Rams – Another specialty case because he’s the only target that’s a threat to defenses for Sam Bradford; Danny Amendola. Undrafted signed by Cowboys, though debuted for the Rams.

49ers – Because he’s one of the three best LBs in the NFL, I could’ve sneaked in third rounder Navorro Bowman, but I’ll adhere to my guidelines. Dashon Goldson 4th Rnd, 126th. 10 PDs 3 INTs. If you watch a Niners game you hear his name frequently.

Seahawks – A few choices here as well, but we’ll go with an authentic Optimus Prime, Richard Sherman 5th Rnd, 154th.

Buccaneers – No dice here.

Titans – CB Jason McCourty 6th Rnd, 203rd. 11 PDs 4 INTs.

Redskins – Alfred Morris 6th Rnd, 173rd and for good measure because I’m unfamiliar with him, Perry Riley with 112 tackles. 4th Rnd, 103rd.

My philosophy on drafts, in just about any sport, is this: while it’s impossible and totally unrealistic to be triumphant with every draft pick – and even the shrewdest teams will occasionally eye up the crosshairs on their own feet – I’m accepting of a team having a bust or two. Just be sure to put some balance into the football cosmos by unearthing a Richard Sherman or a Victor Cruz when teams have already gotten lazy and start high fiving their early picks.

To reiterate, discovering a late round or an undrafted steal doesn’t guarantee you squat. It’s simply a measure in which to evaluate a team’s personnel acumen. In this particular line of ingenuity – and so, so many others, the Lions fail.

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