ALLEN PARK - Losing has its rewards. After yet another double-digit loss season for the Detroit Lions, they will again draft in the top-10 for the fifth consecutive year.
Having already botched high first rounders on players who no longer appear to be part of the team's plan (Charles Rogers, 2nd overall, 2003 and Joey Harrington, 3rd overall, 2002) Lions GM Matt Millen will be back at it, trying to find a player who actually can fit into the team's plan.
Millen has used the last three consecutive first rounders on wide receivers, Rogers, Roy Williams (9th overall in 2004) and Mike Williams (10th overall in 2005) with very little production from those players.
Still, Detroit appears to have a solid nucleus of offensive playmakers even if Rogers and Harrington do not return. Detroit needs to find a quarterback and solidify the offensive line but the needs on defense are more pressing.
The team continues to be gashed by team's who run the ball effectively. Since the retirement of Robert Porcher, Detroit hasn't come close to fielding a set of defensive ends who can both rush the passer and stop the run. James Hall has had limited success rushing the passer, Kalimba Edwars appears more suited to a linebacker/rush specialist role and Cory Redding has been spotty at best. Jared DeVries could be the team's best overall defensive end.
This season, their aren't many first-round quality defensive ends, but Mathias Kiwanuka of Boston College is that rare player who possesses the combination of size, speed and technique that is worthy of the ninth overall pick.
Kiwanuka recorded 9.5 sacks for the Boston College Eagles but his athleticism - he's a former basketball player - has helped him to become the complete, prototype defensive end. Kiwanuka is most often compared to Javon Kearse, another tall athletic defensive end who was able to wreak havoc on NFL offenses.
In addition to his sack total, the Ugandan native had 51 tackles, not big numbers but his reputation caused most teams to put two players on him to reduce his impact on the game. As a junior he recorded 11.5 sacks and 24.5 tackles for loss.
Miami tackle Eric Winston, himself a first round candidate became fast friends with the BC star and says he's one of the toughest players in college football to block.
"He's one of those guys who has a great motor. When you attach one of those motors on a great talent, you can't help but have a great football player," Winston told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
"He's tough to pass-protect against. Even if you keep him away from the quarterback, he can still reach out and maybe get his elbow or something. He's been great. I'm a big college football fan. I watch a lot of his games. You can't help but think he's going to put up the great kind of numbers in the ACC that he has everywhere else."
In Kiwanuka, Detroit could get the kind of experience and maturity possessed by another first round draft pick, former Texas wide receiver Roy Williams. Like Williams, Kiwanuka returned to college for his senior season when he would have been a consensus first round pick had he come out as a junior.
While he wants to excel at the NFL level, he has loftier goals. He plans to return to Uganda and finish the work started by his grandfather, the former prime minister of the country who was assasinated by former strongman Idi Amin.
"One of the first things I'll do is help (get rid of) the AIDS epidemic," said Kiwanuka, "Because it's tearing the country apart.
"I'd like to build a hospital or supply medication, then help the country with industrialization. I'll definitely go over and offer myself and just listen."
Character, talent, production.
Kiwanuka brings the whole package to the NFL. In light of Detroit's recent draft picks, they could do a whole lot worse.