STILL PUZZLED ABOUT STANTON? ME, TOO

Monday morning after the NFL draft is like Sunday morning after a wild college party. You either had a great time, a lousy time or you wait to learn if you made a fool of yourself.

The Lions will have to wait. It was a strange weekend. The home team took another receiver with its highest pick. A great receiver, we are told, but still another receiver. That’s four in the last five years. And as rare a bird as Calvin Johnson is, his Georgia Tech team last year went 9-5. Guys who catch the ball do not ensure victories.

Then, with the second pick, Lions fans were mystified: Drew Stanton from Michigan State. We’ve all watched Stanton. At times he throws like an NFL quarterback. And at times he throws like, well, a Lions quarterback.

But why would Detroit trade away backup Josh McCown, who at least has started a few games in the NFL, then use such a high pick on Stanton, who at best needs to start anew, break bad habits and grow into an NFL passer – and at worst isn’t going to do any of that?

Seems out of character

If you’re going to choose Stanton, why not make the trade Cleveland made, go 12 picks higher, and get Brady Quinn? Roll the dice on him. At least some believed he can be a franchise guy. So what do you give up? Next year’s No. 1? Hey, win now, right?

A better question might be why go for a quarterback at all with that pick? Doesn’t coach Rod Marinelli believe you win with defense? Isn’t his offensive line desperate for help? A receiver and a quarterback with the two highest picks?

This from a team that, in the last few years, has changed receivers and quarterbacks the way a proctologist changes gloves.

Here’s what I think is happening: The Lions have several forces at work. They have Mike Martz, who is to the Marinelli staff as Dick Cheney is to the Bush staff. The team keeps giving Martz more colors in his paint box. It believes if the guru gets the pieces he wants, the offense will be unstoppable.

Of course, offenses need running backs, and Kevin Jones is still a question mark, and Tatum Bell is not likely to carry the team. And as long as the offensive line is porous and sack-prone, this team will not win a lot of games.

The second force at work is clearly a personality purge by Marinelli. You’d need the thickest wax in your ears not to hear his mantra: “football character.” He wants a certain kind of locker room. A certain kind of man. Mike Williams is now gone because he wasn’t that kind of man. McCown, who didn’t show for a mini-camp, may be gone for similar reasons. As Marinelli told the media of Stanton: “It’s some of the things that are inside of a man … that you’re looking for.”

This approach could work big time. Or it could just leave a team of hard workers with their heads down. Talent does count for something in the NFL.

Parting draft thoughts

The Lions did address their needs, on paper, in the later rounds. They got a defensive end and a safety in the second round, a cornerback and an offensive lineman in the fourth. As with all late-round picks, the Lions will say they are thrilled, and you, having never heard of the guy, will wait to see if the next time you read his name is when he’s cut in August.

But interestingly, both Randy Moss and Williams were traded for fourth-round picks. Both were once first-round selections. This teaches us all a lesson about the draft – as it should Brady Quinn, whose meltdown in the first round was the TV story of the weekend.

Unlike some, I don’t feel sorry for Quinn. I know he might have lost $30 million by falling so low. But he didn’t have to be in New York. Joe Thomas wasn’t. Thomas went fishing. Quinn, who lobbied hard to be the No. 1 pick – and clearly dreamt of that moment being televised – could have excused himself from the proceedings at any time.

Besides, what he went through was no different than what dozens of less-glamorous players went through in their living rooms. The draft makes and breaks hundreds of young athletes, not just studly quarterbacks from Notre Dame.

It’s a weekend of fire and years of waiting for the smoke to clear. One day, we hope, it won’t be the highlight of Detroit’s football year.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. He will sign copies of his latest best-seller, “For One More Day,” for Mother’s Day.

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