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Pivotal Draft Brings Serious Questions
By: Paul Wezner
The Detroit Lions came into the 2002 NFL Draft with numerous holes to fill, but whether or not these holes were filled is an entirely different story. The Lions started out the draft with the building block for the future, QB Joey Harrington of Oregon. From then on, the Lions focused on filling needs, but were they filled correctly?
Despite a possible divided war room, in the end the decision came down to the most important position on the field and the simple need to fill it. And so the Lions chose Harrington over Texas CB Quentin Jammer. Did the Lions need Jammer more right now? No doubt. But who will help this team reach its ultimate goal of the Super Bowl? Harrington, if he develops as the Lions expect him to. Harrington isnt the flashiest top 5 draft pick, but he has a knack for winning football games, and for making big plays when big plays are necessary. Even if Harrington isnt the starter right out of the draft expect him to see significant playing time next season.
In the second round, the Lions began their chore of filling needs. With their selection the Lions chose OLB/DE Kalimba Edwards out of South Carolina. Edwards was originally thought to be a possible top-10 selection, but fell (like Lions DT Shaun Rogers last year) because of injury concerns (a common theme among the Lions selections). Edwards, who will compete for the starting position at Right Defensive End, missed the final month of his college season with a knee injury. Edwards is extremely quick off the snap and has an ability to get to the Quarterback, but will need to work on his defense against the run to become the Lions every-down End opposite LDE Robert Porcher. Factoring in both value and need, Edwards was probably the Lions best pick of the draft.
On came the third round, and on came more questions. Despite players that were considered stronger options like Roosevelt Williams and Derek Ross, the Lions reached to take South Carolina CB Andre Goodman. Goodman, who wasnt even considered the best Cornerback on his team last year (although, neither was Mike Rumph, who went 27th overall to the 49ers), suffered a career-threatening knee injury a few seasons back and didnt seem to get back to his pre-injury form until last season. Goodman has decent cover skills and great speed, but is very weak in run support, and whether or not he can consistently handle bigger receivers is unknown. Goodman wont be ready to start out of the gate, but the Lions hope hell be ready to contribute as a nickel or dime back. Unfortunately, the Lions needed better than a nickelback out of this draft.
The first day wasnt spectacular, but the Lions should have at least gotten themselves a couple of starters and a significant contributor. Because of the first round draft pick, much of the days long term grade will be based on Harringtons performance. If he succeeds, the Lions were able to get their franchise Quarterback for the long haul. If he flops, well if Harrington doesnt work out over the next few seasons, the Lions will probably have a new boss after that.
While the first day was respectable, the second day didnt show the same results. The Lions 4th round selection was in the hands of the Cleveland Browns (compensation for QB Ty Detmer). While the Lions could have used the pick to add an Outside Linebacker, or move up earlier in the draft to possibly upgrade another position, the Lions didnt have that luxury at their disposal. However, because of their free agent losses in the 2001 offseason, the Lions received a Fourth round selection as a compensatory selection.
With this compensatory pick, the Lions yet again made a serious reach, selecting Defensive Lineman John Taylor out of Montana State. Taylor, who played inside at Montana State but projects to Defensive End in the pros, has a high motor but was not considered a highly rated player, someone that probably would have been available much later in the draft. Hes a classic sleeper that could turn out to be a very productive player, but is still a big gamble, especially for a position where a player was just selected the day before.
The Lions still held their Fifth round selection, and so 4 picks after taking Taylor they selected another John, this time it was John Owens, a Tight End from Notre Dame. Owens fills a need on the team, and should be at a point where he can contribute right away. Owens, coming out of a run-oriented offense, knows how to block and was drafted probably for that reason. He projects to be a decent backup Tight End, however, if hes anything more than that the team is probably weak at the position.
In round 6 the Lions took another undersized Cornerback, except this one doesnt have the same speed of Goodman. The Lions selected Cornerback Chris Cash out of Southern Cal. Cash is decent in man-to-man coverage, but doesnt have great speed so he has a tendency to give up the big play. Hes not much help in run support either as he lacks the size to combat with bigger receivers. In other words, Cash will struggle to beat out Jimmy Wyrick and Chidi Iwouma for the final CB spots on the team.
The seventh round was possibly the lone bright spot. The Lions had 3 selections (2 as compensation for free agent losses), and used all 3 to select high-value players. With the Lions original pick, the Lions selected RB Luke Staley out of Brigham Young. Staley, the reigning Doak Walker award winner, fell in the draft mainly due to injury concerns and a concern that he was so productive because of the offense he was in. However, at the point he was drafted, any player that can make the team is a plus.
With the first of 2 compensatory selections, the Lions took another Tight End, Matt Murphy out of Maryland. Murphy isnt a spectacular prospect, but the Michigan native will be provide depth and could compete for a backup spot.
The Lions last selection could turn out to be one of their best however. OL Victor Rogers out of Colorado was an All Big XII selection, dominating as a run blocker and never receiving a single penalty the entire season. However, due to injury concerns (like I said, the theme of the Lions draft) and a concern about his ability to pass block, Rogers fell like a rock out of the first day and all the way to the third to last selection of the draft. If Rogers can stay healthy, he could possibly compete for a starting position at some point in his career.
So, the Lions draft included a few reaches and a lot of players with serious injury concerns. However, the simple fact is that how this draft is graded will come down to one player: Harrington. If Harrington turns into the star most hope, the Lions only need moderate results from the other 8 players for the draft to be considered a success. However, if Harrington flops, everyone will look to this as the draft the Lions could have started a turn around and failed to do so. Coming into the draft it was obvious the Lions had a number of holes to fill. But the question is, did they make the right picks to fill them?