Monday, April 20, 2009

the case for Eugene Monroe

So yeah - the NFL Draft. Here's the funny thing about this: I've been a Lions fan all my life, which means some pretty rotten seasons especially in the last decade. You'd think that at least once during all that time, the Lions would have been in line to pick atop the draft order given their stellar history. In fact you'd be wrong. I've always wondered what it would be like to follow the draft with the Lions at the top of it and at the same time never really wanted to find out.

Anyway, here we are, the party is less than a week away, and nobody really knows what the Lions will do. This is bad news for two reasons; one, there's no really dominant player that you'd be stupid not to take, and two, the Lions' needs are so many that there's no matching up a great player with glaring need. In fact there are only four positions of non-need on the Lions roster: receiver, running back, punter, and kicker. If there were a Chris Long or a Quentin Jammer this year, you can be they'd be in the conversation too, and the only thing keeping Michael Crabtree out is Calvin Johnson.

Anyway, pretty much all of the speculation centers on 5 players: QBs Matt Stafford and Mark Sanchez, LB Aaron Curry, and OTs Jason Smith and, of course, Eugene Monroe. Alabama's Andre Smith was once in the conversation too, but he managed to take every play out of the Don't Draft Me playbook - agent trouble galore, crappy workouts, prima-donnatude at the combine - and execute them all to stunning perfection.

Now, of that list, Stafford seems the most likely, and also the most likely to piss me off. Monroe actually does not really appear to be much more than a fuzzy radar blip, which is really annoying because the Lions had a really good chance to draft another stud UVA lineman in Branden Albert and passed him up to trade down for a lesser player. You need a guard, the best one on the board falls in your lap....and you trade down for a worse guard. And you stupid bastards wonder why you went 0-16.

Anyway, I digress. The subject of Lions management tends to raise my hackles. Let's take a look at why all four of those not-Monroe players shouldn't be the pick:

Matt Stafford/Mark Sanchez: Forget Sanchez. His own friggin' coach thinks he shouldn't have left. Who would know him better? Not a good idea, end of story.

Now, here's what pisses me off about Mel Kiper, besides the fact that he's allowed to be wrong 100% of the time and never be held accountable for it. His assessment of the situation boils down to this: The Lions need a quarterback - Stafford has the best arm in the draft - Lions should take Stafford. Never mind how likely Stafford actually is to be a good quarterback - he's the best there, the Lions need one, take him. Stafford's best asset is supposedly his arm strength, which was also considered to be the really great thing about Ryan Leaf, Tim Couch, and Kyle Boller. Unfortunately, Stafford's accuracy sucks and that puts him in really sucky company.

Kiper's misguided attempt at logic can be used against him. If the Lions don't take Stafford, they will continue to suck, it can be inferred from that line of thinking. So they will get a high pick in next year's draft, at which point they'll be able to choose from a group that's much, much better than the sorry-ass collection of misfit toys in this draft. There will be, at a minimum, Colt McCoy, Tim Tebow, and probably Sam Bradford, at least one of whom would almost certainly be available in the top-five slot the Lions will likely earn next year, and all of whom would be preferable to Stafford, a workout star and big-game choker. When you desperately need an upgrade at 20 of 22 starting positions, you don't take the one with the most development needed and biggest risk involved.

I haven't even gotten to the biggest thing yet. See, when you take a quarterback, you're not only trying to run the offense, you're trying to sell jerseys. You're trying to get someone the fans will rally behind and buy tickets to see. Ordinarily, any ol' #1 overall quarterback would do the trick. But we Lions fans have seen this movie already, and we're afraid it's going to be a trilogy. Volume 1 was Andre Ware; Volume 2, Joey Harrington. Lions fans are so anti-Stafford that they actually chanted Don't Draft Stafford at today's logo unveiling. The last thing this organization needs, besides another 16-loss season, is for their first #1 overall pick since 1980 to get booed as he smiles awkwardly and holds up his #1 jersey on stage, and again when he takes the field before he's even thrown a pass. This whole affair has bust written all over it.

Aaron Curry: This is a harder case to make, because the Lions literally have no middle linebacker. The need here is even greater than at quarterback. Guess what though: Curry isn't a middle linebacker. Theoretically, he could make the switch. Theoretically. The thing about this draft though is that it's deep enough at linebacker that the Lions could pass on Curry and still get one with the 20th overall pick. In fact many mock drafts have them taking Rey Maualuga or James Laurinitis with that pick. This is a much shorter section because picking Curry would actually curry (HA HA HA) my favor and not piss me right off like picking Stafford would.

So, we've established that the Lions should pass on the quarterback and the linebacker. That leaves offensive tackle and a battle between Monroe and Jason Smith. Why Monroe?

- Multiple sources think Monroe is the better pass blocker. Smith is stronger and may be a better run blocker, but good run blocking starts in the middle. Good pass blocking starts at the edges. It's why you hear about pass-rushing DE's and run-stuffing DT's. You can get away with a little bit less of a run-blocker at tackle, but that left tackle damn well better protect the passer. There were none better at protecting the passer the last two years in college football than Eugene Monroe, and zero sacks given up in 2007 prove it.

- Is that a two-point stance? Yes, yes it is. Smith operated out of a spread offense at Baylor and very often started plays in a two-point, not three-point stance. Monroe has been in a more-or-less pro-style offense all this time. Slight preparation edge to Monroe for fewer transition pains (an edge we're admittedly giving up this season.) Slight, but at the #1 pick, an edge is an edge.

- UVA has an undeniable recent history of producing NFL-ready linemen. Albert. D'Brick. Big E. Even our "lesser" prospects at least get an NFL shot: Brad Butler. Brian Barthelmes. You get a UVA lineman, you know you're getting someone who's got all the right coaching.

- The last and only time the Lions took a Wahoo in the first round, they ended up with the greatest wide receiver in Lions history. It's been over 10 years since the Lions last drafted a UVA football player - it's time, dammit.

I don't actually think the Lions will take Monroe. I'm bracing myself for Matt "The Bust" Stafford. If not Stafford, the Lions have shown more overtures to Curry and Smith than to Monroe and it'd probably be one of those two. And honestly, the Lions fan in me is happy as long as we don't get a quarterback. But I think you know what the UVA fan wants.

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