Contingency Plan If Huff, Hawk Are Gone

The first round of the NFL draft on Saturday could be easy for the Lions if either Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk or Texas safety Michael Huff are on the board when they select 9th overall. But what if neither are around? Lions' insider Mike Fowler evaluates the options the team has if its top two targets are no longer available.

ALLEN PARK - The first round of the NFL draft on Saturday could be easy for the Lions if either Ohio State linebacker A.J. Hawk or Texas safety Michael Huff are on the board when they select 9th overall.

Detroit would happily take either of the two if one is left on the board when they're on the clock. If both are still on the board, they'll flip a coin and skip up with the card to the podium, but what if both are gone? Lions' president Matt Millen must have carefully figured contingency plans to make sure their opportunity to improve the club doesn't go down the drain.

OPTION 1: With Jon Kitna looking strong and sharp in the opening session of minicamp last week, Detroit has a solid two or three year starter. Young Josh McCown gives Detroit its strongest backup quarterback in years, but the presence of Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler cannot be dismissed.

Cutler, like another former Lions draft pick, Joey Harrington, has been the subject of mixed reviews. Some say it was miraculous what Cutler did in the high powered SEC conference with no more than a handful of major college prospects on his roster.

Others, most notably ESPN respected Mel Kiper, Jr. say that Cutler was underwhelming, just "alright" in Senior Bowl workouts but "nothing special."

Why would Detroit select a quarterback? They could do it for another team that wants him farther down the draft, but who is unable to put together a package while on the clock. Detroit should find out what teams are legitimately interested in the QB and agree on the parameters of a deal if the Vandy signal caller is on the clock when they select.

On the other hand, Detroit might feel that with Kitna and McCown in place, it is the right time to draft the quarterback of the future and groom him the proper way, with two years on the bench learning the system and without pressure to perform - a luxury Harrington never had.

OPTION 2: USC tackle Winston Justice displayed athleticism and versatility in pro day workouts to the point where he is the consensus second best tackle in the draft. Justice, though, told ESPN's Michael Smith he should be #1. Justice stated that he believes he's a better player than Virginia tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.

Questions have been raised about whether Justice plays all the time, or if he takes plays off. His on-the-field consistency has been questioned almost as much as his off-the-field mistakes including allegedly soliciting a "lady of the evening" and pointing a toy pistol at a student.

On a positive note, Justice has the size, agility and speed and could be coached up to the point where he could supplant current right tackle Kelly Butler or eventually take over for disgruntled and underachieving Jeff Backus on the blindside. Detroit has to decide if Justice is worth the pick or if he's getting the benefit of the hype machine.

OPTION 3: Trading down is always an attractive option if the players you really wanted are gone. The Denver Broncos sit there with two picks (37th and 61st) in the second round, two picks (68th, 93rd) in the third round and multiple picks (119th, 126th, 130th) in the fourth round and they're looking to move up.

According to the NFL's draft value chart, Detroit's ninth overall pick is worth 1,350 points. Denver's 15th overallpick pick is worth 1,050 points and the first of its two seconds is worth 530 points. Meaning, according to the chart, Denver should be willing to toss in its second round pick for a chance to move up. Even at 15th overall, Detroit would acquire a solid player, perhaps a linebacker like Iowa's Chad Greenway or Florida State's Ernie Sims to shore up its injury riddled corps, maybe a second-tier safety like Donte Whitner of Ohio State or a first rate corner like Clemson's Tye Hill.

With the Lions franchise once again at a turning point, Lions president Matt Millen is the man on the hot seat. Millen must produce positive results in the form of solid starters if he trades the pick and a pro bowl type player if he keeps it and selects in this position. Detroit has already missed on #3 overall pick Joey Harrington who no longer has a future with the team and #2 overall Charles Rogers appears to be on the bubble.

No GM who misses on consecutive top three picks gets many more chances. Millen has had more than his share and he better have his ducks in a row when he's on the clock this Saturday.

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