Every year after the NFL Draft, grades are handed out to each team based on how successful they were during the preceding weekend. It's a pretty inexact science and grades vary quite a bit depending on who you talk to. Even though it is pointless to grade picks before they play a down in the NFL, it is fun to try and rate selections based on the strategy behind each pick. Although it would make more sense to wait two or three years to get a chance to see each player on the field, I certainly don't want to wait to throw my opinion out there.
Before I give my own thoughts on what I would grade the Detroit Lions' 2008 draft, first let's take a look at what the "experts" out there had to say.
I'll start first with probably the worst grader out there: Michael David Smith of the FanHouse. Here is what he had to say about the Lions' draft:
Even without a wide receiver until the fifth round, it was a typical Matt Millen draft, which is to say a bad one. To take Gosder Cherilus while Rashard Mendenhall was still on the board was a horrible decision in the first round. Trading up to take Kevin Smith in the third round doesn't make much sense either. They then used two more third-round picks on defensive linemen, Florida State's Andre Fluellen and Purdue's Cilff Avril, who looked better at the combine than they did on the field.
Millen is always at the bottom of the draft report cards, which is why the Lions are always at the bottom of the standings. Who do you think he'll take with the first pick next year?
Oh, Michael, if only you knew just how wrong you are. Opening with a line saying that this was a typical Matt Millen draft is about as incorrect as you can get. A typical Millen draft would have had the Lions taking the best player available in the first-round instead of actually thinking about what needs the team had. I'm just as surprised as anyone when saying this, but Matt Millen did actually strategize for a change rather than just go for the glamour pick.
Moving on in the above quote, Smith also criticizes the Lions for drafting Gosder Cherilus over Rashard Mendenhall, calling it a horrible decision. Once again, that is about as wrong as you can get. The Lions easily could have drafted Mendenhall and their running back needs for this draft would have been solved, but explain to me who Mendenhall would be running behind next season. Detroit had to find an offensive tackle, and since all the good ones were going so quickly in the first-round, the Lions just simply could not wait until a later pick. To get someone that has the ability to start, Detroit had to pull the trigger when they did, and it was the right move.
Finally, Smith says that trading up two spots to get Kevin Smith doesn't make much sense. On the surface, that is a true statement. I felt that way when it first happened as well. However, doing some research into the trade uncovered that the Rams had met with the UCF running back and he told them that he thought the Lions would draft him. Knowing that, the move makes perfect sense as Detroit moved ahead of the Rams. To put it bluntly, the Lions wanted to do everything possible to get their guy, and that's what they did.
I'm not even going to bother talking about Smith's criticisms of the two defensive line picks in the third-round as there is nothing to discuss. Those were picks made to address needs on the defensive line, and any criticism simply is unwarranted. You can give the Lions an average or even below average grade for their draft, but to say they had the worst one out of all 32 NFL teams, well, that's just pretty ignorant.
Changing gears from negative to positive, respected draft expert Rick Gosselin of the Dallas Morning News gave the Lions an A for what they did on Saturday and Sunday.
The Lions wanted to make this a defensive draft and selected three potential starters in the first three rounds. But their offense, the NFL's worst last season, may benefit even more from the arrival of OT Cherilus and RB Smith.
Moving down the grading scale, Fox Sports' John Czarnecki gave Detroit a B for their draft and correctly pointed out that Matt Millen finally may be understanding what the draft is all about.
Matt Millen seems to be getting a handle on this draft business. After wasting picks on wide receivers in years past, Millen needed a right tackle and got one in Boston College's Gosder Cherilus. Of course, Millen will be questioned for trading with Kansas City and giving them Branden Albert. With the loss of Boss Bailey, the Lions had a need for an outside linebacker, and Jordan Dizon averaged 13 tackles a game at Colorado. Millen loves his instincts and nose for the ball. Central Florida RB Kevin Smith was very productive in college and could move right into the lineup with always injured Kevin Jones no longer on the team.
ESPN's Mel Kiper only gave Detroit a C+ , but his description of the Lions' draft was filled with nothing but praise.
Gosder Cherilus is a right tackle who is an effective run-blocker, which is why the Lions drafted him in the first round. But third-round pick Kevin Smith is the key player in the Lions' draft class. Smith proved at Central Florida he could carry the load, and in my opinion, he'll be the Lions' starting running back in Week 1. Jordon Dizon is undersized for a middle linebacker, but he has a chance to be productive in Detroit's scheme, because he has the ability to cover the deep middle. Fullback Jerome Felton is more effective as a runner than a blocker, but he's a good value pick in the fifth round. Army safety Caleb Campbell went in the seventh round and is big at 229 pounds. Campbell could be an OLB if he puts on 10 to 15 pounds. Cliff Avril could be a decent pass-rusher, although he had only six sacks in 2007. DT Andre Fluellen flashed big-time ability early in his career at Florida State but never lived up to it.
Staying in the C range, the Sports Network also handed out a C+ to the Lions, whereas USA Today's Larry Weisman gave Detroit a C-. SI's Dr. Z didn't have a grade, but did include Detroit as one of the drafts he likes.
Personally, I would give the lions a solid C for their efforts this past weekend. After thinking about it for a few days, I'm really warming up to the Gosder Cherilus pick, and even the Jordon Dizon selection doesn't seem as bad either. I felt that the third-round was drafted excellently by the Lions, but there was lots of room for improvement in the fifth-round as I didn't like either of those picks. Finally, in the seventh-round, I obviously like the pick of Army's Caleb Campbell as I think he can make the team as a big safety or a small outside linebacker.
Although my grade was only a C, a better fifth-round easily would have pushed it into the B range. The Lions' draft could have been better, but overall, I really think Detroit did a solid job this past weekend in New York City.