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The reason Detroit Lions' GM Matt Millen had a hard time trading down in the 2002 NFL college draft is the other teams know exactly what he does with his picks. He puts 'em on the roster and plays 'em.
Millen's team selected six players in 2001. Last season, all six played in the NFL, five as the Lions, with a speedy linebacker lifted and signed from the practice squad by the New York Jets.
So, when the Lions were on the clock and wanted more picks on Day 1, the other 31 franchises gave him a wide berth. When nobody in the NFL wants to trade with you, that's called "Respect."
But that wasn't Plan A. The Lions thought they could trade down and accumulate a fistful of selections. The sure-fire cornerback out of Texas might live up to his agent's promises. The QB out of Oregon was a long shot selection, depending on a fan's point of view, who hoped either history did or didn't repeat itself.
Still it was most surprising to hear the familiar monotone of NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue intone the Lions selected John J. Harrington, quarterback and a position relatively low on the Lions' Wish List.
What a shock! The team didn't trade down. They did the brave thing and took the QB! Gee. Wasn't that Plan C?
Millen must've come to his senses or read what got posted in The Den. More likely, he's got some real guts and did what is best long-term for the team.
"Shoulda figured right away that he'd do the smart thing," I thought. How was I supposed to know he couldn't find any body willing to pony up for the #3 pick?
First things second? What's he doing with my, um, our picks?
I must confess, the elation did not last long. By nightfall I wondered, like many Lions Fans all day, "What in the blue blazes is he doing with his picks?" The selections were all over the place, perhaps because players predicted to go much higher were still available at unexpected spots, throwing off the team's draft board scenarios.
Then Millen skipped selecting a quality cornerback to grab a DE recovering from a knee injury in the Round 2. Then, finally, he grabbed a cornerback in Round 3. Wondering why this guy was still available, Lions Fans discovered he was recovering from shoulder surgery and unable to perform at the Player Combine in March.
Now wait a minute. Let me get this straight. Three picks, all projects. Gee. This can't be a good thing for 2003. I wondered what the plan was.
Things didn't get any clearer on Day 2. The selections were all over the place, not following the Team Needs script as seen from this fan's perspective.
In fact, I wondered aloud: "What in the blue blazes is Millen doing with the picks?" Since then, I've thought: "Be glad you're a scribe because your brain can't handle the truth."
Upon further review, it now seems South Carolina defensive end Kalimba Edwards may be another "steal of the draft" on the order of last year's selection of Texas defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. From what people who know his game said, it is as if the Lions received a gift: Peppers-like potential with a non-stop motor, revved by a real character player.
Then there's that cornerback know one thought about taking until the Lions, Andre Goodman. The Sporting News rated him as the ninth-best cornerback and very, very fast. I don't know about you, but one of the most sickening sights last year were receivers catching the ball and moving away from the Lions defenders toward the goal line. How can I get over it, it's seared on my cerebellum like a fraternity brand on a rookie lineman's arm.
For new Lions Fans, last year the wheels fell off in Game 1 when Packers' quarterback Brett Favre found out that three-fourths of the starting backfield was in the sick bay. After 10 plays it was 21-zip. Three-and-outs by the offense most of the game hurt, too. Armchair GMs can blame Vince Tobin's scheme till tomorrow, but the players still need to have the skills to react, run and tackle.
Some Detroit scribes have noted it may take a while for these two and several of the other new Lions to develop and contribute. That may be. Based on how well the medical and training staff did with Rogers, the team may manage to get remarkable playable value for the two main defensive units targeted in the draft: Defensive Line and Defensive Backfield.
OK, so what if both players have injury histories, I now was thinking. Even if they are not long-term solutions, they both may contribute in big ways this season. That's according to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, who added they both might be starters.
So, Millen did address the defense — the biggest area of need for the team — with quality players, impact players, after all. Nice.
Now what he go and do that for?
"Steal" is a relative term. The Lions also landed Harrington, South Carolina CB Andre Goodman, Colorado OT Victor Rogers, Montana State DT John Taylor, Brigham Young RB Luke Staley, and a bunch more in the draft and as Rookie Free Agents.
Although more than a few of the picks are high-risk, high-reward types, it truly is amazing how Millen managed to use what was on the board to get playable value for need positions. These players may end up being the best available picks for the Lions under the circumstances: the team needs playmakers now, as well as for the future.
The Lions also, as noted by The Den's 'stanford4ever', hit the jackpot in the running game. Rated the third-worst ground attack in the league, our most serious offensive need last season got a much-needed kick in the opposing defenses' pants with the addition of Staley. From what I've heard and read, the guy is smart, fast, dedicated and explosive. If anybody has the heart and willpower to come back and play, Staley does. Plus, we've signed on a couple more promising RFA running backs.
Not enough for Lions Fans? As a bonus, the team even managed to pick a player with enormous, and I mean enormous, potential. The team selected Notre Dame TE John Owens, while his receiving skills are largely undeveloped, he's healthy, huge, and a heckuva blocker. No wonder the pros said the position was the deepest in the draft.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T Spells MasterMind
Wait, there's more happily interesting news for Lions Fans. Millen used his draft with the knowledge of which positions and athletes he'd be targeting come the cap casualties of June 1.
Only a football mastermind could successfully manage this added dimension of complexity, on top of the volatile draft scenario. Sure, some of it was luck and the bad play resulting in the right to the third spot; but knowing what to do with the picking position was skill.
For example, coming up is word out of