Sunday, April 11, 2010

Reliving, Part V: 2006 - 2009

I was over half way finished with this when it became too much like work and I left it alone. For about two months I should say. Lazy! Oh well, here's a wrap-up of draft picks between 2006 and 2009.

2006: Detroit selected Linebacker Ernie Sims out of Florida State with the No. 9 pick. Sims has proven to be somewhere between serviceable to promising. I personally think he's pretty good, but lately he's fallen afoul of Lions fans. Sims is a 6'0", 220 lb LB who is a prototypical Tampa Two LB. He's got speed and a ferocious hit. Injuries maligned his 2009 season, and with the emergence of rookie Deandre Levy, he should be part of a dynamic LB corps at the weak side along with Levy in the middle and Julian Peterson at strong side.

Note: Sims was traded on April 19 to the Philadelphia Eagles in a three-way trade between Philadelphia, Detroit, and the Denver Broncos. The Eagles got Sims, the Broncos got a 5th Round draft pick, and the Lions picked up TE Tony Scheffler from the Broncos, who happens to be a former Western Michigan standout.

2007: The Lions had the No. 2 pick and selected Wide Receiver Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech. Johnson was the fourth WR taken in the first round in five years. Johnson was widely considered to be the best player in the entire draft.

Only this time, the Lions made a sound choice, despite needs elsewhere, like the offensive line and the secondary. Johnson, if he stays his entire career in Detroit, may wind up being the best WR ever to play for the Lions, notwithstanding being one of the greatest of all time.

No question about it, Johnson is as pure a receiver as they come. Sure hands, superhuman leaping ability, and the stride of a gazelle; there's nothing this guy can't do. The only thing hampering him right now is the lack of a No. 2 receiver, as well as an effective running game to take extra defenders off of him to make plays.

2008: This year was the first time the Lions drafted outside of the Top 10 after starting the 2007 campaign 6-2 and finishing 7-9. Detroit had the 15th pick but traded down two spots to No. 17 in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs. With the 17th pick, the Lions selected Right Tackle Gosder Cherilus out of Boston College. Cherilus filled a need the Lions had long since neglected, addressing the O-Line.

Cherilus, unfortunately, has not been as solid a contributor as the Lions had hoped. His first year, he was benched a couple of times in favor of RT George Foster, who by all accounts, is one of the worst Tackles the Lions have seen in some time. His second year, he was benched again. He's been plagued with numerous penalties, mainly for false starts.

I don't think the Lions have written him off yet, but he needs to have a breakthrough year if he's going to remain in Detroit for long.

2009: 2008 was the worst season for any football team ever, and it belonged to the Lions. Everyone knows they went 0-16. It's like knowing what day the Declaration of Independence was signed - it's common knowledge.

So Detroit "earned" the top pick, and with the No. 1 pick, they selected Quarterback Matthew Stafford of Georgia. Lions GM Martin Mayhew that Detroit needed to just "blow it up," and completely remake the franchise. The first thing all "new" teams need is a franchise QB. Stafford was praised for his leadership, his playmaking ability, and for a cannon of an arm, rivaled only by Chicago's Jay Cutler.

There was very little question the Lions were going to pick Stafford. The decision to do so wasn't instantly popular; at the debut of the new look jerseys, fans screamed and hollered "DON'T DRAFT STAFFORD!" The only other option the Lions had was draft Linebacker Aaron Curry and see what they had in Drew Stanton, a former 2nd Round pick in 2007. As it turned out, they got to see both Stafford and Stanton, and after one game, Stanton was pretty well written off as either a career backup or player whose days in the NFL were numbered.

Stafford went into training camp competing for the No. 1 spot with journeyman Daunte Culpepper, a former Pro Bowl and All-Pro QB for the Minnesota Vikings. Culpepper suffered a devastating knee injury in 2005, and spent the next three years on three different teams: Miami, Oakland, and Detroit in 2008. Detroit signed him in 2008 after losing two starters to injury, and could not lead the Lions to a victory in the 2008 season. But he had been out of football, out of shape, signed midway through the season, and had very little chance to be successful.

After losing thirty pounds (Culpepper was at the time, 296 pounds, way too heavy for an NFL QB), he competed with Stafford, and was ultimately the loser in that battle. Stafford started the regular season and after two losses, led the Lions to their first victory in two years against the Washington Redskins. It wasn't pretty. But that's the way it goes in the NFL.

Stafford would lead the Lions to one more victory before going down with a season-ending shoulder injury. His rookie campaign would be most remembered for the victory against the Cleveland Browns where he threw five touchdowns, including a hail mary pass with no time left at the end of regulation. This pass was completed just after the play before where he initially injured his non-throwing shoulder; the referees flagged the Cleveland secondary for pass interference and the call gave the Lions one more shot. Stafford delivered, and was the talk of the league for that week.

While he only won two games (the only two victories the Lions had in 2009), he proved himself to be the franchise QB Lions have been looking for since Bobby Layne was traded in 1957.

But wait, there's more. With the 20th pick, the Lions selected TE Brandon Pettigrew out of Oklahoma State. Perhaps an even more unpopular pick, particularly given Matt Millen's penchant for drafting WRs, Pettigrew didn't make much sense. With so many holes on defense (defensive line, the secondary), Pettigrew didn't seem to fill an immediate need. But Martin Mayhew insisted they were going to draft for talent.

Pettigrew didn't help his case in the first few weeks, either. A dropped pass here, a botched play there, Pettigrew fanned the flames of his critics. That is until November where Pettigrew picked the up the pace and caught 15 balls in 4 games before blowing out his knee on Thanksgiving. As long as Pettigrew continues on his development, most see him as developing into a premier TE.