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Draft King Analysis

December 31, 2008
Lou Pickney, DraftKing.com

Reader feedback is always welcomed here. Send your thoughts to Draft King at LouPickney@gmail.com.


Happy New Year's Eve, everyone! Have fun and be safe tonight, and enjoy the bowl games today (and tomorrow). My New Year's present to you all is nothing football-related; it's a link to the game Ticket to Ride, which you can play online for free. It is one of the most addictive games I've played in some time.

But, for now, enjoy the final mailbag of 2008...


From: Mark Hannan
To: LouPickney@gmail.com
Date: Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 5:40 PM
Subject: Error in your Mock

You have the Saints pick going to the Giants if Vilma signs a free agent in 2009. The correct information is that the Saints pick would go to the Jets in 2009 as compensation and since the Saints don't have another 2nd round pick, the Giants would get the Saints 2010 First round pick.

Lou: I double-checked on this, and here is how my understanding of the situation is:

-The Saints traded second-and-fifth round picks in the 2009 Draft to the Giants for Jeremy Shockey.
-The Saints traded a conditional 2009 pick to the Jets for Jonathan Vilma, which is now a third rounder based on playing time and which upgrades to a 2009 second-round pick if Vilma plays in 85%+ of the defensive snaps (which to the best of my knowledge he did) AND if the Saints sign Vilma to a new deal prior to him hitting unrestricted free agency. Consequently, since the Saints have only one second-round pick, that would bump up the Giants to a first-round pick, with the Giants getting the nod because the Saints would get their fifth rounder back under that scenario.

I don't believe that the Jets would be in line for a first-round pick from the Saints under any scenario. And, I have to admit, I'm still not clear on if franchising Vilma would impact the conditional pick. I'm guessing that it would since that has not been talked about as a viable option as far as I have seen.

As it is, Adam Schefter of the NFL Network reports that the Saints don't plan to sign Vilma to an extension prior to free agency. So, while this is all very intriguing from a hypothetical standpoint, it appears that the Saints will let Vilma hit unrestricted free agency and then either try to sign him at that point or go into the draft with the goal of landing either Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis.

Vilma has had a great season for the Saints, but it doesn't appear that the team is willing to keep him at the expense of its first-round pick. Along with Albert Haynesworth (who the Titans are now desperately trying to re-sign), Vilma looks to be one of the major players heading for unrestricted free agency who could cash in big-time.


From: Lisa Dekker
To: LouPickney@gmail.com
Date: Tue, Dec 30, 2008 at 9:08 PM
Subject: Lions

I don't understand your logic for the Lions not picking a franchise LT. I know you don't mean that they should stand pat. They have an o-line that gave up 52 sacks last year and couldn't push defensive lines back for 1/2 yard when they needed 1/2 yard for a TD or first down.

Let me remind you about last year, Millen wanted either a starting MLB or a starting LT. As it happened the Patriots took the MLB they wanted and there was a tremendous run on the LTs before their pick at #15, so Millen was faced with taking (fan favorite) OG/OT Brandon Albert, (my favorite) OT Duane Brown or RT Gosder Cherilus. Gosder Cherilus is purely a RT, and the reason they took him, is that there wasn't a LT they thought could start right away. I think they were wrong, but they needed a first rounder to start as soon as possible. Albert and Brown were too much of a gamble for them. They thought Gosder was a slam dunk starter. Since George Foster was their best RT on the club at the time, it made some sense.

So, this year, to improve their o-line do you think they will want to wait until #20 and hope that the LT they like (and they don't have the fallback option of taking a RT this time) is there ...after getting skunked last year? Yes, this is a deep class of OTs but if they wait they could be forced to reach for a guy who may not be able to start right away and they are back where they started from.

If your reasoning is that the money invested is too much, picking at 17 last year they didn't have to pay the bonus baby money they will have to pay this year's #1 overall (which would be even more excessive for a QB). So, while they have a lot invested in offense with Calvin Johnson and Daunte Culpepper (who will get a big bonus for next year if he's retained), and they have a RB who deserves more than his rookie contract...they only have two guys on the o-line who have solidified their position: OC Dominic Raiola and RT Gosder Cherilus. Backus could be switched to LG to replace Edwin Mulitalo (who was a healthy scratch for at least 3 games that I can think of) or RG to replace Stephen Peterman (who I think will be re-signed, but is an UFA). But they need to get some push for Kevin to get a cutback lane, and they need to give Calvin Johnson some time to get past the safety before Culpepper gets smacked in the mouth.

The Lions have 3 picks in the top 33 and they CANNOT gamble on any of them. They need starters at LT (Backus is not a great LT, average is being kind. If you have the opportunity to get a franchise LT you must take it, because getting one in free agency is impossible), MLB (no matter what defensive scheme they are working in, they don't have one on the roster. Dizon and Lenon are either OLBs or backup OLBs) and DT (Chuck Darby will be let go; Andre Fluellen, Cory Redding and Landon Cohen are undertackles. Shaun Cody is a UFA and would fit better as a 34DE somewhere...anywhere except Detroit.). I'm of the opinion that a run stuffing DT (NT?) is of primary importance because until they can stop the run, this defense is going to be inadequate. They were the worst running defense in the league (which then led to being the worst passing defense) and it cost them all of the games where the offense actually had given them a lead. Losing Shaun Rogers was huge...and not just in weight averages. The defense must be able to stop the run to be respectable.

And then for rounds 3-7, they need CB (starter/challenger), TE (starter/challenger), OG (starter/challenger), DE (depth), S (depthX2), WR/RB/KR (slot WR/scat back/kick returner), and maybe OLB (special teams/backup) or OT (backup). That's 8 or 9 positions with 5 picks (maybe 6 if they receive a compensatory pick after the 3rd or 4th round), which is impossible, of course...so they'll have to use their free agent money wisely, too.

I've read and I agree that WR is the biggest gamble in the draft, followed closely by QB. Well, Millen isn't in Detroit any more (nor are Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, Mike Williams, Roy Williams) and gambling with money you don't have is stupid. D-fans are still sickened by Millen's gambles...well, at least the ones I know...who were still watching the games.

Culpepper, Kitna, Stanton, and Henson don't sound like the answer. However, did anyone know that Matt Casell, Kerry Collins, Chad Pennington, Gus Frerotte were going to be impact QBs before that happened. Culpepper and Kitna can duke it out for starter, and Stanton can watch and develop for another year. I pegged him as a two year project, and Martz delayed his development by putting him on IR and not coaching him at all. Henson doesn't stand a chance; he purely sucks. Dan Orlovsky will move on to greener pastures and be okay for some team that doesn't demand him to win the game, but just play within himself...one with a good o-line and a good defense. If the new coaching staff determines that Stanton isn't the answer, there is going to be another draft next year with some really good QBs...maybe a couple Heisman winners. Wouldn't it be funny if Colt McCoy won the Heisman next year and Bradford, Tebow and McCoy all come out in 2010? That would be 3 Heisman winners available in one draft.

Peace and thanks for all you do.

Lou: The readers of Draft King come through for me time and time again. While I pay attention to all 32 teams, I usually do my best to listen to people who are a fan of a particular team when they are talking about that team. Often times they know things or have insights that might have slipped past me, and at the very least they can provide some sensible contrasting opinions.

Jeff Backus
Jeff Backus is under contract with Detroit through 2011. (Icon SMI)
First things first: we have to see who comes out early from the junior and eligible sophomore QBs who could turn pro or who could go back to school for 2009. It's an easier decision for the Lions if Sam Bradford and Matthew Stafford aren't in the mix, at least in theory. And, yes, it would be quite interesting to see three Heisman-winning QBs (Bradford, Tebow, and if he wins it in 2009 McCoy) in the same draft, though Bradford could potentially play two more years at Oklahoma since he is just a redshirt sophomore.

Even if Bradford and Stafford are on the board, Alabama OT Andre Smith could end up going #1 overall to Detroit. I don't dispute that line of thought at all. That will depend in large part to how the team evaluates not only the talent that will be on the board, but also who will be in the mix on the Detroit roster, accounting for both cuts and for players picked up via free agency.

The NFL is a copycat league, and the Dolphins used a #1 overall pick in Michigan OT Jake Long (and the addition of genius Bill Parcells behind the scenes) to go from 1-15 to 11-5. So, if Detroit is looking to the past for answers to the future, Lions fans might want to keep their expectation level lower than that (unless there's another Chad Pennington to be found out there on the free agent market), but going with an offensive tackle at #1 is entirely possible.

One more thing to consider: Jeff Backus turns 32 next year, and while he's under contract for three more years, the price tag jumps considerably.

2009: $4.45 million
2010: $4.95 million
2011: $5.45 million

In contrast, his base salary for 2008 was just $2.7 million. Combine that with a team coming off of an 0-16 season, and there are no sacred cows (except for perhaps Calvin Johnson).

Looking at the QB situation, Kitna turns 37 in September 2009, and he is due $1.5 million if he is on the opening day roster (in the final year of his contract). Considering that he refused to work out at the Lions' facility due to "tension" with the team, I suspect that Kitna won't be back for 2009.

As for Culpepper, the decision for him will come quicker. He is due a $2.5 million roster bonus in 2008 to go with a $2.5 million base salary. Culpepper turns 32 next month, and unless the Lions staff saw something strong out of him during the forgettable 2008 season, I don't see him coming back.

You're right in pointing out that many NFL quarterbacks came from obscurity to become stars (though Kerry Collins was a #5 overall pick so he's not a particularly good example), and the Lions do have Drew Stanton, who hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to really show what he can do. But with free agency and front office moves to be made, there is much to be played out before anything definitive can be accurately predicted.


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