On crazy draft night, was standing still Lions’ best move?

by | Apr 27, 2012 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

They stayed put. They didn’t move. While it seemed like every team in the NFL was making draft-night trades, the Lions remained in the sandbox, watching the other kids jump on the swings and the monkey bars. This either makes them very slow, very smart or very satisfied.

They would have you believe it was “satisfied,” and the part of me that agrees with that is the part that sees quarterback Matthew Stafford as the most valuable piece of this franchise – and protecting him the most important thing the franchise can do.

In that world, picking a beefy offensive lineman like Iowa’s Riley Reiff with the 23rd pick makes a lot of sense. He is a wall that helps keep Stafford upright, and Stafford upright is the difference between a playoff season and a non-playoff season.

The part of me that is less than thrilled remembers Gosder Cherilus, the Lions’ first-round pick just four years ago. Because Reiff, to win a starting job, is most likely going to compete with Cherilus for right tackle, which means one of those first two picks is going to end up behind the other.

And that’s not a productive way to draft.

But by the time the Lions got around to sending Calvin Johnson to the podium to announce their pick – after he plugged his Madden football cover (and by the way, can we stop acting like being chosen to grace a video game is somehow the equivalent of making the Hall of Fame?) – there was little else for Detroit to do but pick an offensive lineman.

Or get out of the first round altogether.

Where were all the defensive backs?

Because the truth is, the Lions were essentially done with any potential miracles an hour and a half before they picked. What they really needed was secondary help, and the best players in those positions were gone by the 10th pick. The Dallas Cowboys jumped eight spots with a trade and took cornerback Morris Claiborne from LSU with the No.6 pick. Next up was Tampa Bay, which took Alabama safety Mark Barron. Three picks later, cornerback Stephon Gilmore from South Carolina was shuffling off to Buffalo.

That essentially cleared the decks. Dre Kilpatrick from Alabama (nickname “Swag”) was still there at 17, but the Lions made no move to jump up, perhaps believing that their defense was already swaggering enough. Cincinnati took Kilpatrick instead, and the biggest hole in the Lions’ roster was destined to remain a hole until at least today.

So they went with an offensive tackle, which is fine for a team with the oldest offensive line in the league. Riley is considered a top player, well-schooled by his coach, Kirk Ferentz, and certainly decent sized at 6-feet-6, 313 pounds. His fans say he’s solid. His critics say he’s not the strongest or fastest guy. And Mel Kiper is worried he has short arms.

Honestly. Short arms.

If I have to listen to Kiper five more minutes, I’ll blow up the TV set.

Enough of the hype already!

But such is the NFL draft, the most overblown non-event in the current rack of overblown non-events. After all, no games are won or lost on draft night. The only sweating comes from hot lights or chili dogs. It is essentially, for infatuated fans, like shopping with someone else’s credit card. And inevitably, like most New Year’s Eve bashes, it fails to live up to its hype.

I mean, really, all the time, effort, analysis and double-analysis, and the Lions end up with a guy who, once he pulls on his helmet, will disappear from most people’s view for the length of his career? Was that really the party you were counting on?

Here is all you need to know about the NFL draft. The man who helped make it a three-day event with a prime-time telecast, commissioner Roger Goodell, got booed every time he stepped to the podium Thursday night. And he’s the guy who gave the fans what they wanted!

But in the end, for Lions faithful, this was about the team filling a need – and instead it refilled a position that was supposed to be filled four years ago – Matt Millen’s last draft. Some might ask why Detroit didn’t trade up for secondary help. It’s a fair question. But then, there’s always Rounds 2, 3, 4, etc., and maybe Mel Kiper can suggest someone whose arms are long enough.

Which begs the question: How long should a man’s arms be?

Long enough to hit the mute button.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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