Through five drafts, Lions president Matt Millen has been working to put together a younger, faster team and it appears he has finally succeeded.
The Lions might not be ready for 12-4 but it will be surprising if they are not at least respectable and — they would prefer — competitive in the NFC North.
Wide receiver Mike Williams, the first-round pick, is expected to line up as the third receiver behind Charles Rogers and Roy Williams.
Defensive tackle Shaun Cody, the second-round pick, is expected to play a significant role in the defensive line rotation, probably as an inside rusher on passing downs.
After seasons of 2-14, 3-13, 5-11 and 6-10, the Lions might finally be ready to win more games than they lose.
DRAFT REVIEW — The Lions didn't have the flash of the 2004 draft - when they landed wide receiver Roy Williams and running back Kevin Jones in the first round — but president Matt Millen might have applied the finishing touches to a team capable of competing in the NFC North.
The idea going into the draft was to upgrade the defense, preferably with an edge pass rusher, a cornerback and depth.
What Millen got was a starting caliber wide receiver (Mike Williams of USC), a defensive tackle with inside pass rush ability (Shaun Cody of USC), a third-round cornerback with speed (Stanley Wilson), a developmental quarterback (Dan Orlovsky of Connecticut) and a couple of players he believes will bring special skills to the defense (pass rushing defensive end Bill Swancutt of Oregon State and outside linebacker/defensive end Johnathan Goddard of Marshall).
Despite the lack of glitz, the Lions feel they improved in two days of drafting.
Williams, the USC receiver who sat out the 2004 season after he and Ohio State running back Maurice Clarett were shut out of the draft a year ago, was the Lions' surprise pick of the draft.
Millen and coach Steve Mariucci had their sights set on a pass rusher with the No. 10 pick in the draft but when Williams was still there on their draft board, they felt they simply couldn't afford to let him slip by.
"We've been talking about helping out our defense," Mariucci said. "Well, a guy that can score points certainly helps your defense in many ways. Thirty touchdowns (at USC) is very, very productive."
Millen believes the 6-foot-5, 229-pound Williams — playing in the slot between Roy Williams and Charles Rogers — will create major problems for opposing defenses and give Lions quarterback Joey Harrington yet another sure-handed receiver.
The Lions got to their true defensive player by trading up four slots in the second round to get Cody. Although they say they see him as capable of playing both tackle and end, Cody spent the majority of his USC career playing inside and that's where he feels most comfortable.
It is likely Cody will join the Lions defensive line rotation, working primarily inside where he stands to benefit from the double teams applied to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers.
Wilson, who was timed at 4.38 in the 40, will get a chance to compete for the nickel back position in the Lions defensive secondary.
With just two quarterbacks — Harrington and Jeff Garcia — on the roster, the Lions were looking for a player they could develop for future value. Orlovsky doesn't fit the mold of a mobile West Coast offense quarterback but he showed them enough to convince Millen to give up a fourth-round pick in 2006 to New England to get him in the fifth round.
BEST PICK: Wide receiver wasn't the Lions' most pressing need but Mike Williams of USC was just too good to pass when he was still available at No. 10 in the first round. With Mike Williams joining Roy Williams and Charles Rogers in the three-wide offense, the Lions have potentially one of the NFL's most dangerous sets of receivers.
COULD SURPRISE: Cornerback Stanley Wilson was best known for his speed coming into the draft. Scouts feel his 4.38-second time in the 40 translates into excellent playing time and he is rated a solid cover corner in man defenses. Although Wilson was rated well below the top three of Antrel Rolle, Adam Jones and Carlos Rogers, he improved noticeably in his senior season at Stanford and the Lions feel he could continue his improvement in their nickel defense.
A closer look at the Lions' picks:
Round 1/10 — Mike Williams, WR, 6-5, 229, USC
Has been compared by some NFL scouts to Cris Carter. Sure-handed, very good in the red zone, where the Lions did not fare well last season. Caught 30 touchdown passes in 15 starts at Southern Cal and the Lions don't feel he lost anything by sitting out the 2004 season after getting caught up in the Maurice Clarett snafu. Has excellent hands and uses his body well to ward off defenders. Only thing he lacks is great speed but he's not a slug. Great size and strength should make him a terror lining up in the slot, with Charles Rogers and Roy Williams outside.
Round 2/37 — Shaun Cody, DT/E, 6-4, 293, USC
Although he played defensive tackle for virtually his entire career at USC and says he feels most comfortable playing inside, the Lions see him as a capable of playing outside also. Got scouts' attention with a strong showing at the Senior Bowl and Lions went after him when he slid to the second round. Is considered quick and explosive, gets through the gaps well. Good inside rusher that might benefit from the double teams that Lions Pro Bowl DT Shaun Rogers will get playing beside him in passing downs. Is quick off the ball and pursues well. Doesn't give the Lions the speed coming off the edge they might have hoped for and doesn't overpower double teams.
Round 3/72 — Stanley Wilson, CB, 6-0, 185, Stanford
Has speed to burn. Ran the 100 meters in 10.46 seconds and the 200 meters in 21.4 seconds as personal bests during four years of track at Stanford. Ran the 40 in 4.38 seconds and scouts say his speed translates into good playing speed. Has natural athletic ability, good hips and will stay on a receiver's hip. Played his best football as a senior and will continue to improve. Still has to develop coverage awareness and route recognition, should play run support more aggressively and improve tackling. Son of former Cincinnati Bengals fullback Stanley Wilson, who was scratched from the lineup in Super Bowl XXIII with drug problems.
Round 5/145 — Dan Orlovsky, QB, 6-5, 225, Connecticut.
Old-fashioned, pro-style quarterback who doesn't have the mobility generally associated with West Coast offense quarterbacks but the Lions see him as a player who can be developed at No. 3 behind Joey Harrington and Jeff Garcia. Size is an asset. Adequate arm with good short-range accuracy. Very poised and competitive, good leadership qualities and prepares meticulously. Threw two touchdown passes against Toledo in Connecticut's Motor City Bowl victory but hurt himself with erratic play at the Senior Bowl and the combine.
Round 6/184 — Bill Swancutt, DE, 6-4, 270, Oregon State.
A natural pass rusher who had 11 1/2 sacks in his final season at Oregon State but scouts apparently question whether a college-level overachiever can be as effective in the NFL. A dedicated worker with a non-stop motor. Has long arms, locates the ball quickly and fights to get there. Has good playing speed, long arms and big hands. Impressed in the Senior Bowl against solid competition. Lacks initial quickness and is not naturally athletic. Doesn't have the bulk to hold his ground at the point of attack against the run.
Round 6/206 — Johnathan Goddard, OLB/DE, 6-0, 238 pounds, Marshall
Although Goddard is considered a tweener by many, the Lions like his speed and his feel for the game. Led the nation as a senior last fall with 16 quarterback sacks and 28 1/2 stops behind the line of scrimmage. Does not have great playing strength or leverage but makes up for it with a great motor. Plays with effort and runs plays down with a good first step.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Most general managers and coaches in the NFL of today are under so much pressure to win right now that they use the draft to plug needs and let someone else worry about tomorrow.
er to fire coach Mike Sherman, who is i
Thus, Thompson was able to think more about the future than the present with his three premium draft choices.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers of California will apprentice behind Brett Favre in 2005 and for who knows how many more years.
Safety Nick Collins, the first of two second-round choices, hails from the Division I-AA ranks at Bethune-Cookman and no doubt will have a hard time getting on the field as a rookie because of his mental shortcomings.
And wide receiver Terrence Murphy of Texas A&M, the other second-round selection, enters as No. 4 behind Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson.
The Packers traded their third-round pick (No. 89) to Carolina for two fourth-round choices (Nos. 115 and 126). Using the trade value chart, Green Bay got the short end of the deal because the Panthers received 145 points compared to 110 for the Packers.
Sherman was asked how the three choices will help the Packers win next season.
"I do think we helped our safety position, helped our dime package and helped our return game," he said.
OK. But the Packers' primary rival, the Minnesota Vikings, have added wide receivers Troy Williamson and Travis Taylor, guard Marcus Johnson, defensive end Erasmus James, nose tackle Pat Williams, linebackers Napoleon Harris and Sam Cowart, cornerback-safety Dustin Fox, cornerback Fred Smoot and safety Darren Sharper during the offseason. They also get back from injured reserve tight end Jim Kleinsasser and right tackle Mike Rosenthal.
The balance of power in the NFC North might be tilting 270 miles west of Green Bay.
For his part, Thompson indicated that the selection of Rodgers was automatic, but Sherman surely didn't.
"I wouldn't say it was a no-brainer," he said. "The philosophy going in was to take the best player for the value. He was the player with value at that time so that was the pick."
With overwhelming needs in the defensive line and at linebacker, why did the Packers deem it necessary to take a wide receiver-kickoff returner who has returned just one punt in his career?
"It's pretty much the Ron Wolf philosophy," Sherman replied. "We had him rated as the highest player. He had a particular grade that warranted taking him at that point."
The Packers haven't had a losing season since 1991, the year before Wolf and Brett Favre arrived. After the decisions Saturday, they are far better prepared to handle the retirement of Favre but face a struggle to remain a contender next season.
Rodgers, 6-2 and 223, appeared to be a top-5 pick based mainly on the value of the position but when running backs and wide receivers dominated early no team thought enough of him to take him or trade up for him.
"I really liked the way he played the game," Thompson said. "It really comes down to something almost as simple as that. He knows what's going on around him. He has a really good feel in the pocket."
Thompson labeled Rodgers' arm strength as average, said his tough and accuracy were very good and suggested that his ability to make plays on the move was adequate.
Rodgers comes highly prepared after spending the last two seasons under Golden Bears coach Jeff Tedford. However, most of Tedford's quarterbacks, including Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, Trent Dilfer and Kyle Boller, have been disappointments in the NFL.
"I think it's coincidence or something," Thompson said. "We actually asked Aaron at (the combine) about that. He said he's better than all those guys. I don't think that should necessarily be a burden that Aaron Rodgers has to carry."
What Rodgers will have to deal with is the palpable pressure of being ordained No. 4's heir apparent.
"I think we shouldn't call him that," Thompson said. "He'll have a chance to be the quarterback that plays after Brett Favre. There is no Brett Favre heir apparent. He has to be Aaron Rodgers and play quarterback for the Packers when his time comes."
Collins, 5-11 and 201, started one season at free safety and one season at strong safety in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference but then caught the attention of the Packers with his man-to-man coverage ability playing cornerback at the Senior Bowl.
"He could actually play corner or in the dime," Sherman said. "He has excellent skills in coverage, which separates him from a lot of the other safeties. He's also packed pretty solid and lays a heavy punch."
Some other teams rated Collins as a second-day selection primarily due to concerns about his mental aptitude. The Packers dispatched new secondary coach Joe Baker to determine if Collins could learn.
"Joe felt he could learn our defense and get on the field," Sherman said.
Still, is it possible that a raw athlete with scores of just 10 and 14 on the Wonderlic intelligence test could start as a rookie on a team desperate for not one but two starting safeties?
"It will be a challenge for him learning the defense," Sherman said. "There will be challenges from a mental standpoint. He's got speed. He's got a vertical jump (40 inches). He has good hands. He has good downhill range."
Murphy, 6-1 and 202, is a former high-school quarterback who started for three seasons at a school that produced Ferguson and once had Sherman on its staff. In 45 games, including 29 starts, he caught a school-record 172 passes for a 15.1-yard average and just 10 touchdowns.
"He's a fourth receiver that can also return kickoffs and possibly punts," Sherman said. "He has excellent speed and explosion. He had a couple fumbles this year. We need to work on that."
BEST PICK: Quarterback Aaron Rodgers gives the Packers a chance to remain competitive when Brett Favre retires. He can apprentice under Favre for however many years it takes and then take over, if he's capable. Rodgers is an extremely hard worker. He has an average to slightly above arm. He is accurate and throws with good touch. Before the selection, the Packers had Craig Nall and J.T. O'Sullivan. It was a grim situation. Some scouts question Rodgers' delivery and how more he can improve. Is he maxed out? It's a good question. He has given his all on a circuitous journey from a junior college. But there's nothing in Rodgers' physical or mental makeup to think that he can't be an effective starter.
COULD SURPRISE: Linebacker Brady Poppinga is an up the field pass rusher that the Packers hope to pair with Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila on passing downs. Last year, they tried and failed with R-Kal Truluck. Two years ago, it was Chukie Nwokorie down the stretch. Neither did much. Poppinga runs 4.6 and gives great effort. He will be used at strong-side linebacker in the base defense but figures to be a project there. The Packers would have drafted edge rushers such as Erasmus James, Demarcus Ware, Shawne Merriman and even Marcus Spears in the first. Failing that, they didn't have another end in the first. Poppinga was the first edge rusher that was selected and will get a very good look.
A closer look at the Packers' picks:
Round 1/24 — Aaron Rodgers, QB, 6-2, 223, California
Not many people in the NFL could believe it when Rodgers fell out of the top five, then the top 10 and finally the top 20. Would his free-fall take him in the second round? The Packers stopped his slide, selecting their first round in the first round since Rich Campbell in 1981. Oops. The Packers better hope he doesn't turn out like Campbell, who never advanced past third string in four seasons. Rodgers will take his time learning under Brett Favre. When Favre retires, Rodgers will have the task of replacing him.
Round 2/51 — Nick Collins, S, 5-11, 201, Bethune-Cookman
The Packers made a big-time reach into the ranks of Division I-AA for a player from Bethune-Cookman that they hope develops like another BCC second-round pick, cornerback Rashean Mathis of Jacksonville. GM Ted Thompson says Collins was the best player on their board at the time of the pick. He is a strong athlete with a 4.37 clocking in the 40 but scored just 10 and later 14 on the Wonderlic and might struggle picking up an NFL system.
Round 2/58 — Terrence Murphy, WR, 6-1, 202, Texas A&M
Murphy was the 10th receiver selected. The Packers took him over Vincent Jackson and Courtney Roby. He is a size-speed prospect that dropped too many and scored merely 10 touchdowns in four seasons. He averaged 24.6 on kickoff returns but returned just one punt in his career. The Packers are trying to get rid of return specialist Antonio Chatman and view Murphy as a strong candidate to handle all the returning. For the time being, he is the No. 4 receiver behind Javon Walker, Donald Driver and Robert Ferguson.
Round 4/115 — Marviel Underwood, S, 5-10 1 /2, 205, San Diego State
A three-year starter who could compete for playing time immediately with Collins. He runs the 40 in 4.47. On third down, he covered receivers out of the slot. On the short side but the Packers say he's physical.
Round 4/125 — Brady Poppinga, LB, 6-3, 259, Brigham Young
Poppinga played outside linebacker as a senior after having been a D-end earlier in his career. His forte is rushing the passer. A relentless player with 4.60 speed. The Packers need a speed rusher opposite Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila and Poppinga will get a long look along with R-Kal Truluck.
Round 5/143 — Junius Coston, G, 6-3 1 /2, 310, North Carolina A&T
Coston played center and guard at the Division I-AA school but will start out at guard in Green Bay. The Packers regard him as a terrific athlete with speed and quickness to block at the second level. Should be smart enough to pick up the system. His cousin, David Martin, is a backup tight end for the Packers.
Round 5/167 -- Michael Hawkins, CB, 6-1 1 /2, 178, ex-Oklahoma
The Packers took a shot in the dark on Hawkins. He played as a backup as a true freshman for the Sooners in 2001. After being dismissed by coach Bob Stoops, he didn't play any more college football. He played as a backup with the Dallas Desperadoes of the Arena Football League in 2004. The Packers timed him in the 4.3s, say he has turned his life around and feel he's tough and smart enough.
Round 6/180 -- Mike Montgomery, DE, 6-5, 273, Texas A&M
Another pass-rushing defensive end. He has flashed big-time ability. Quicker than fast. Has long arms. Hard worker. Underwent surgery in 2003 to fix an irregular heartbeat. "They fixed it and I'm good to go," he said.
Round 6/195 -- Chris Bragg, WR, 6-1, 196, UCLA
Led the Bruins in receptions all four seasons. A playmaker with pedestrian speed. Returned punts all four years, giving Packers another alternative to Antonio Chatman. Possession type. Thin and not very physical.
Round 7/245 -- Kurt Campbell, LB, 6-1, 233, Albany
Straight-line speed prospect that started at cornerback for three seasons before moving to rover, or strong safety, in 2004. Smart and tough. Has had knee problems in the past. Will be tried at weak-side linebacker in Green Bay.
Round 7/246 -- Will Whitticker, G, 6-5 1 /2, 338, Michigan State
Started for three seasons at right guard and played in a rotational system in 2002. Massive run blocker with problems in space. Struggles in pass protection when manned up.
The Vikings came out of the draft with some of the speed they lost at receiver in the Randy Moss trade (Troy Williamson, No. 7), potential starters at right defensive end (Erasmus James, No. 18) and left guard (Marcus Johnson, No. 49), depth at safety (Dustin Fox, No. 80), a quality running back who could be a starter in 2006 (Ciatrick Fason, No. 112), a 314-pound nose tackle (C.J. Mosley, No. 191) and a cornerback who might help on special teams (Adrian Ward, No. 219).
"We love how our draft board came together," coach Mike Tice said. "We had our top three picks rated as first-round picks, and our top four all were rated in the top 54 on our board."
The only obvious disappointment was not finding a kicker to fill one of the team's most glaring needs.
If you believe the Vikings, their draft was a smashing success that began with them fooling several opponents and countless experts by selecting South Carolina receiver Troy Williamson with the seventh pick when more-heralded receiver Mike Williams of Southern California was still on the board.
They might be right about Williamson, and their recent success in the draft suggests they deserve the benefit of the doubt. But at the very least there is room to second-guess the pick that the Vikings acquired from Oakland as part of the Moss trade.
Williamson, after all, had 91 catches and 13 touchdowns in his entire career, while Williams had 95 catches and 16 touchdowns in his final season at Southern Cal.
"Regardless of who everyone in the country liked, (Williamson) is who we liked," coach Mike Tice said. "That's who we liked production-wise, that's who we liked upside-wise and that's who we liked for our football team."
Williamson, a 6-1, 203-pound junior, ran a 4.34 40, while Williams ran a 4.58. That, combined with Williamson's potential in a wide-open offense and ability to run after the catch, is the reason the Vikings chose Williamson.
Tice, receivers coach Wes Chandler and director of college scouting Scott Studwell fell in love with Williamson's ability to "blow the top off" of defensive coverages with his speed.
"There are only a handful of players in the league who can do that," Tice said. "Randy was one of them."
The Vikings had spent the last two month suggesting they were going to change their offense and be more of a power running game. But selecting Williamson clearly shows the Vikings aren't going to change anything.
The Vikings are being careful not to put too much pressure on Williamson. They haven't named him a starter and said he comes in as a role player.
But there will be plenty of pressure. He will be compared to Moss and Williams.
James and Johnson will fly under the radar and should beat out less-talented players at their positions. Fason might be good enough to run off Michael Bennett and challenge Onterrio Smith and Mewelde Moore for a starting job as early as this season.
BEST PICK: Taking Marcus Johnson in the second round with the 49th pick doesn't have the sex appeal of taking a receiver with 4.34 speed at No. 7 (Troy Williamson) or a pass rushing defensive end at No. 18 (Erasmus James). But it could be the move that helps the Vikings the most. Johnson is a 6-6, 321-pounder who started 45 games at Mississippi. He spent all of his college career on the right side, mostly at guard, but he has the athleticism and quickness to make the adjustment to left guard, which is the pulling guard for the Vikings. He also has a nasty streak -- the Vikings call him a "finisher" -- that could make him a starter in 2005. His competition is Adam Goldberg, a converted tackle and former practice squad player, and second-year pro Anthony Herrera, who was a rookie free agent last year. From a pure talent, size and strength standpoint, Johnson is superior to both of them.
COULD SURPRISE: Florida running back Ciatrick Fason, who was taken in the fourth round with the 112th selection, could be a second-day sleeper who plays a significant role this season. The myth about the Vikings is they're loaded at running back. Yes, they have depth. But they don't have a true feature back. Michael Bennett can't stay healthy, Onterrio Smith is one positive drug test from being suspended for an entire season, Mewelde Moore has durability issues and Moe Williams is an aging third-down back. Fason was a very productive runner at Florida and is dedicating his NFL career to his wife and two young children. The Vikings traded their picks in the fourth (120th) and fifth round (154) to move up eight spots. If Fason can develop as a pass protector, he could push Bennett out the door and challenge Smith and Moore for the feature back role.
A closer look at the Vikings' picks:
Round 1/7 -- Troy Williamson, WR, 6-1, 203, South Carolina
The Vikings said they had him rated as the top receiver in the draft and the second-best player available behind Auburn running back Ronnie Brown. The team preferred Williamson's 4.34 speed and ability to run after the catch to the more-heralded talents of Southern California receiver Mike Williams, who some experts had rated as the top player in the draft. Williams fell to NFC North rival Detroit with the 10th pick.
Round 1/18 -- Erasmus James, DE, 6-4, 266, Wisconsin
The Vikings were hoping Georgia safety Thomas Davis or Georgia defensive end David Pollack would fall to them at 18. But when Davis was selected 14th by Carolina and Pollack 17th by Cincinnati, the Vikings were happy to pick James. Coach Mike Tice said the Vikings had James ranked as a top 10 player who fell because of concerns about a dislocated hip that cost James the entire 2003 season, and an ankle injury that slowed him at the end of last season. The Vikings' concerns about James' health weren't put to rest until James visited Winter Park for a closer examination the week before the draft. James gives the Vikings their best pass rusher at right end in the base defense since Chris Doleman. James should be able to beat out Darrion Scott for the starting job.
Round 2/ 49 -- Marcus Johnson, G-T, 6-6, 321, Mississippi
Even after weeks of intensive draft preparation, the debate over picking Ohio State kicker Mike Nugent continued in the Vikings draft room as the 49th pick neared. Desperate for a place-kicker, Tice wanted to take Nugent. Scott Studwell, the team's director of college scouting, didn't want to use a draft pick on a kicker or punter, especially on the first day. The Jets made it a moot point when they selected Nugent with the 47th selection. The Vikings had a sense the Jets might select Nugent, but even Tice didn't feel Nugent was worth trading up three spots.
Round 3/80 -- Dustin Fox, DB, 5-10, 190, Ohio State
The Vikings used their last pick on the first day on a player who will give them speed (4.47), athleticism and youthful exuberance in the secondary and on special teams. Tice compared Fox's attitude to that of former Vikings WR Chris Walsh, whose hard-nosed style on special teams made him a virtual legend among Vikings fans. Fox was switched from safety to corner as a freshman at Ohio State. The Vikings see him as someone who will compete with first-year player Will Hunter at the fourth safety position and possibly push No. 3 safety Willie Offord. He also can be an emergency cornerback. The pick also allows the Vikings to move Ken Irvin back to cornerback.
Round 4/112 -- Ciatrick Fason, RB, 6-1, 209, Florida.
The Vikings traded the 120th pick and the 154th overall pick in the fifth round to move up eight spots to select Fason, who they had rated as a second-round pick. It's the third consecutive year they've selected a running back in the fourth round, following Onterrio Smith (2003) and Mewelde Moore (2004). Fason will start off competing with fifth-stringer Butchie Wallace, but don't be surprised if he moves up quickly.
Round 6/191 C.J. Mosley, DT, 6-2, 314, Missouri.
The Vikings couldn't resist taking a legit 300-pound plus lineman with quickness and athleticism at this point in the draft. Mosley had 30 tackles for loss the past two seasons. The Vikings can wait for him to develop. They already have two nose tackles ahead of him, Pat Williams and Steve Martin. But Martin is in the final year of his contract.
Round 7/219 Adrian Ward, CB, 5-10, 175, Texas El-Paso.
The Vikings had hoped to draft a developmental center in the sixth or seventh rounds, but there were none left that they liked. Ward, who had five interceptions and 59 tackles at UTEP last season, might have a chance to contribute on special teams. He also could end up on the practice squad.