With Millen's draft, the glass is half full

The Raiders made the mistake of passing on Calvin Johnson to take the Russian roulette gamble on a quarterback, letting the sure thing slip by. Lions vice president Matt Millen didn't make the same mistake. Much more from columnist James Cook inside on Millen's draft manuevering, and how it may have helped (or hurt) Detroit's chances in 2007.

There are glass half full people and glass half empty people.

I'm more like, "Who horked half of my drink?"

Once again, Matt Millen is taking heat for a draft that he has actually played very well.

Some think the glass is half empty, some half full. I see Millen as having drank half of someone else's glass.

The Raiders made the mistake of passing on Calvin Johnson to take the Russian roulette gamble on a quarterback, letting the sure thing slip by. Millen didn't make the same mistake.

Don't fault him for the picks. He just puts the Lions in the position to get the guys that Rod Marinelli, Mike Martz and Joe Barry want. He did that, and did it well.

Calvin Johnson was a gimme. Not taking him would be the stupid move Millen haters expect. Instead, he took the best player in the draft anyway, knowing he would take the heat for selecting yet another wide receiver in the top 10 -- four in the last five years, as Lions fans know all too well.

It appears he has a chance to get his winning percentage at picking top-10 WRs to .500, something that has been a pipe dream for the Lions themselves for almost a decade now.

Millen was aggressive in trading up for the players that the coaching staff wanted. Some may have been taken a little earlier than "experts" had them pegged, but the bottom line is the coaches got the players they wanted.

He traded up in the draft three times, and down once. But sometimes the most important deals are the ones you don't make. That is the case this time around.

Calvin Johnson is a difference-maker. No lower picks can guarantee that as much as CJ

To point out the no-win situation Millen finds himself in, many fans were then distraught that Millen didn't turn around and trade the consensus can't miss player and potential best WR of his time. How do you get equal value for someone who is head and shoulders above everyone else in the draft? You don't, plain and simple.

Unless someone offers you something that you can't possibly turn down -- and a 31-year-old cornerback doesn't fit that -- you keep him.

Tampa and Atlanta thought he was bluffing when the Lions selected Johnson. They reportedly both made offers after the pick, but Millen told them the price had gone up. Millen held all the cards, and wasn't giving up his hand.

In Martz's system - or really anyone's system, for that matter -- Johnson should thrive. He and Roy Williams will give the Lions the truly formidable receiver tandem Detroit has been searching for in the last half dozen years. Mike Furrey gives them perhaps the best No. 3 receiver in the league, and Shaun McDonald is a good No. 4 receiver. If he has anything left in the tank, Marcus Robinson is a potential red zone threat that the Lions lack.

So receiver is set for awhile. The big question is will there be enough passes to keep both Johnson and Williams satisfied? Winning a bit will help ease that question in the absence of anything else. Furrey will be OK with winning, so the others should be, too.

Since Marinelli is solely a defense guy, he gave Martz some extra toys to play with.

"Right now, Mike Martz is up there and he has paper everywhere," Marinelli said when asked how Johnson would be used. "He's just scribbling."

On to Drew Stanton. This has Martz written all over it

Martz loves quarterbacks who can take a hit. With a porous line at Michigan State and butterfinger receivers, he should fit in nicely in Detroit, where hopefully those attributes are fading. The line is (hopefully) improved and Williams, Johnson and Furrey will result in single coverage all over the field.

Whether Stanton is really that much better than Josh McCown is debatable, but Stanton comes in wanting to be a Lion. McCown was simply looking for a place to be a starter, then bail for big money. When he was beaten out by Jon Kitna, he didn't become a cancer, but his trade demand made it a possibility this upcoming season if he stayed in Motown.

Hence, trading the gifted McCown to the Raiders, along with one of the previous wastes of a top 10 receiver pick in Mike Williams, for a fourth-round pick was a wise move.

Addition by subtraction. Twice in one move.

Finally the Lions may get something out of BMW's roster spot.

Stanton may be more coachable in Detroit than McCown was. Nobody really knows, because the coaching he received at MSU was dubious at best. McCown was known for scrapping the play and just running, a la Mike McMahon. Stanton sometimes did the same thing at MSU, mainly because his feet were a better option than the hands of his receivers. He shouldn't have to worry about that in Detroit.

After Stanton came the trade-ups

The Lions already have at least 56 players under contract who are legit pros. How many fifth-round picks are out there who are going to beat out guys like Blaine Saipaia, Donte' Curry, Stanley Wilson, Jonathan Scott, Frank Davis and Bill Swancutt?

The answer? Not many.

So why bother having six second-day picks who likely won't make the final roster anyway, when you can guarantee that you get the guys you want in the first day?

Late second-round picks -- Hawaii defensive end Ikaika Alama-Francis and Boise State safety/cornerback Gerald Alexander -- were branded as reaches by many.

With Alama-Francis, he did go a little higher than projected, but the supply of the top ends was rapidly diminishing and Millen and Marinelli moved up to where they could still get one. The kid appears to be very raw and a project, but a physical specimen who also has intangibles and should get much better with some coaching, Marinelli's specialty. Dan Bazuin of Central Michigan was a safer pick, but Alma-Francis could have a bigger upside. Marinelli swung for the fences.

Then the really "controversial" pick that's drawing a lot of questioning is Alexander.

Teams are more and more looking for safeties with corner skills and corners who can hit like safeties for the Cover 2. Having played both positions -- and playing both well -- Alexander could mesh well with the Marinelli's Cover 2 early. His intangibles and work ethic were likely the final pieces that were likely the deciding factors. Marinelli wants no more distractions, no more locker room cancers, no more outspoken doubters.

In order to trade up into the second round to get Alama-Francis and Alexander, the Lions gave up two third-round picks (one of which was acquired in the trade-down that netted Stanton), a fourth-rounder and a fifth-rounder.

Keep in mind that this is generally considered a somewhat weak draft.

The Lions took corner A.J. Davis in the fourth, after he was supposed to be a third-round pick. Another falling standout, guard Manuel Ramirez, prompted Millen to trade up again and land the mauler from Texas Tech who has been compared to Lions free agent signee Edwin Mulitalo.

Round five brought inside linebacker Johnny Baldwin from Alabama A&M, the Bulldogs' leading tackler the last three years, each time registering over 100 stops. Baldwin appears to be a player much like Anthony Cannon, a late pick by the Lions last season who played mostly on special teams. Seventh round corner Ramzee Robinson of Alabama, who could -- along with Alexander and Davis -- push guys like Keith Smith or Dee McCann out the door.

James Cook is an award-winning columnist with the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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