I recently interviewed David Syvertsen of New Era Scouting, and he answered many questions about what the Lions should do in the draft and analyzed a few specific players as well. He also gave his thoughts on the Matthew Stafford debate, making his opinion on the situation pretty clear. Take a look:
Pride of Detroit: The biggest debate among Lions fans is whether or not Matthew Stafford should be the top overall pick. Early on this year, almost every member of the media had the Lions taking Stafford. The majority still do, but there are now many more people out there that have the Lions taking someone like Jason Smith instead. What is your opinion on Stafford? Is he a good enough prospect to spend the top overall pick on, and even if he is, should the Lions be worried about a quarterback right now?
David Syvertsen: The classic answer to this debate is that when you rebuild a franchise, it all has to begin with the quarterback. To an extent that is a true statement, especially if you take the time to examine the rosters of the perennial contenders in the NFL. They are all secure at the quarterback position and it all transpires from there. It is without a doubt the most vital position in all of sports. The Lions need to do this the right way, meaning they need to get their future signal caller on the team as soon as possible. Now, the problem with the three, almost four, months in between the season and the draft is the extent to which people will over-analyze the same thing about a prospect, especially one that is slated to be a top pick. What we know now about Stafford is exactly what we knew in January. He has a cannon for an arm that can make all of the throws in the NFL, he moves very well with the ball in his hands, he is a tough competitor that plays through pain, and he has the smarts to handle the complexities of opposing NFL defenses and his own playbook. I fully understand the position of a nervous/hesitant Lions fan when considering the Joey Harrington debacle but Stafford is head and shoulders above him from every angle. I feel the most important thing to look for in a quarterback before all else are the intangibles he brings to the table. Stafford receives the highest possible grade there on my sheet and his actual physical ability cannot be questioned. When a poor team does not have their franchise quarterback and there is one available for the taking, you don't pass on the opportunity. End of discussion. There are no other players, Jason Smith included, that are rare prospects that should even begin to contend with Stafford's spot at the top of the Lions board.
(Rest of interview is after the jump.)
POD: If the Lions opt to go in a direction other than Stafford, most believe they will draft an offensive tackle, specifically Jason Smith. Once a tight end, Smith's stock has really been on the rise since the beginning of his senior year at Baylor. What makes Smith such a great prospect, and how is he different than someone like Eugene Monroe?
DS: The number one thing a scout will look for in a left tackle in terms of performance is the prospect's footwork. Not necessarily from a technique view point, as it can be taught with good coaching, but his ability to get out of his stationary stance and reach the edge with natural, effort less knee bend and balance. If a coach wants to show his young left tackle how to do this, all he would have to do is pop in a Jason Smith game tape. With the speed of the NFL game where it is and where it is heading, Smith seems to be the best option for a team looking for a blind side protector. There are a few differences between Smith and Monroe, but the one that separates them the most in my book is his ability to stay balanced at all times. Rarely will you find him lunging after a defender whether he is pass or run blocking. He has excellent body control and gets the most out of every hit he makes, an essential aspect of the position.
POD: A recent poll on Pride of Detroit indicated that Lions fans want Aaron Curry to be the top overall pick. That seems unlikely since Curry would have to switch to inside linebacker, but how big of a gamble would that be for the Lions? Curry seems like he is talented enough to handle the switch well, but is it not worth the risk to use the top pick on someone that would be moving positions?
DS: Aaron Curry is a special linebacker. His transition to the middle would be a minimal risk because a lot of the traits he displayed as a SAM at Wake Forest fit in with what Schwartz will want out of his man in the middle. However, to be honest, any selection of a player at #1 overall is going to be a major risk no matter how you spin it considering the financial commitment that has to be made. While Curry is one of the "safer" prospects in this class, he may not be the one that can pay the highest dividends. A middle linebacker playing next to Sims and Peterson will not need a ton of range, just reliability within the tackle box. The best route to take here is Stafford or Smith, in that order.
POD: Shifting our focus to the Lions' other first-round pick, what position do you think they should address when they go on the clock with the 20th selection? Obviously what they do with that pick will depend greatly on what happens with the top overall pick, but do think they should address their need for a defensive tackle, defensive end, cornerback, offensive tackle, etc.?
DS: Assuming they go with Stafford at #1, I feel the next priority has to be protecting that investment. With such a deep class of quality offensive tackles, there is a very good chance of a good one being available at #20. A guy like Michael Oher or Eben Britton would be excellent selections at that point. However the Lions have to be careful and not draft someone ahead of their value because this team has a lot of needs. While you could bump an offensive tackle's grade up a bit, you have to take the best player that can help your team there. Having two first round picks does not happen very often, and taking a guy with a second round grade simply because he helps our team more right away is essentially negating the advantage you have heading into the draft. If Britton and Oher are gone, names like Tyson Jackson (DE / LSU), Larry English (DE / Northern Illinois), Vontae Davis (CB / Illinois), and Darius Butler (CB / Connecticut) are names that would fit in well with the need and value formula.
POD: One player I have selected with the 20th selection in a couple mock drafts is DT Peria Jerry. Some have expressed concern with his age -- he will be a 25-year old rookie. Is that a legitimate reason to pass on someone like Jerry, or is his talent enough to not worry about that too much? Also, how does he compare to some of the other defensive tackles that will be on the board after B.J. Raji is gone?
DS: If someone does not draft a good player because he is 25 instead of 23, that person should be revoked of their decision making responsibilities. If you are sold on a player's ability to help your team win both now and in the future, you take him if he grades out accordingly, no questions. The issue I have is just that. I'm not sold on his ability to warrant a #20 overall selection. Raji is on a level by himself as he can penetrate and wreck havoc in the backfield as well as hold his ground against a double team. Jerry's number one competitor for the #2 spot right behind Raji, Ziggy Hood from Missouri, is an awfully similar player. I still have some game tape to go over but from what I have seen already, Hood is ahead of Jerry on my board. They are both 3-technique guys that can get off the snap with explosion, but Jerry does not react well to engagement. Once he gets locked on to by a powerful blocker, it's over. Hood on the other hand plays with more of a wreckless style that fits the position. He is a slippery target and would fit in well with the new defensive system. With all of that said, neither of these guys will be the best player available at #20.
POD: If I wouldn't have selected Jerry in those mock drafts, chances are CB Vontae Davis would have been the pick. Is he the best cornerback in the draft not named Malcolm Jenkins?
DS: I really like this year's cornerback class. There are as many as six cover men that will be selected in the first round. Behind the consensus #1 Jenkins, I currently have the same grade for two players. Vontae Davis of Illinois and Darius Butler of Connecticut are those two guys. If I were on the clock and had to choose one of them, it would be Butler because of his superior intangibles in comparison to Davis. He has tremendous overall physical ability but unlike Davis, it doesn't end there. He has that knack that all good cover corners have that tells him when to gamble and when to sit back, awfully similar to Asante Samuel in that respect. Davis has the talent but I question where his head is at sometimes. There are a lot of technique issues I have with him and I saw little improvement in that realm from 2007 to 2008. When I combine that with the tidbits I've read and heard about his over-confidence and what we are seeing from his brother in San Francisco, I tend to downgrade him just enough to put him below Butler.
POD: Should the Lions decide to not pick Jason Smith, they will likely pick an offensive lineman with their other first-round pick or the second-rounder. By that time, most believe that offensive tackles Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, and Michael Oher will be gone already. After those three, who is the best offensive tackle out there? Also, would the Lions be better off drafting a guard instead of a tackle? The latter move would likely cause Jeff Backus to switch to guard, so would it make more sense to draft someone like Duke Robinson and keep Backus at tackle?
DS: Well that is the positive that Backus brings to the table. While his level of play could certainly be upgraded, he is a serviceable lineman that gives the Lions options. If Smith, Monroe, and Oher are the only tackles off the board when #20 is on the clock, it should take less than two minutes for them to hand in their card with the name Andre Smith written inside. The character issues have been blown out of proportion to the point where he is being over-analyzed. Every year we talk about how the games are more important than the pre-draft workouts, but the second a top player such as Smith doesn't look good with his shirt off, the red flags are raised and his grade drastically decreases. Smith, on the field, is better than any offensive tackle in this class and I say that with as much confidence as I possibly can. If these pre draft blunders by Smith have caused him to fall all the way down to 20, the Lions should be rejoicing like they never have before. I don't see any guards that present top 20 value but if Duke Robinson is there at #33 overall, that could be a move that supplies them with an immediate starter and upgrade.
POD: Assuming no trades happen, what three players do you think the Lions will have picked after day one of the draft?
DS: As I stated before, I think the Lions are leaning towards Stafford at #1 overall. So considering their needs on both sides of the ball, they are in the position to take the best player available at #20 and #33. With Stafford set in stone, the Lions really need to upgrade their offensive line to avoid the torture David Carr went through in Houston. A huge reason why Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco had such early success was the quality of the big uglies protecting him. The Lions will be in a position to draft a quality left tackle at this spot because of the deep class. Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe, and Andre Smith will likely be off the board but I feel Michael Oher will be there for the taking. If that ends up being the case, Oher would be the likely selection. On to the #33 overall pick, the Lions could get a very good defensive player that will be starting caliber right away. That is a spot where a high value player usually drops and I can see a James Laurinaitis, a guy that could be a fixture in the middle of a Jim Schwartz defense for 10 years, there for the taking.
POD: Thanks to David for taking the time to answer my questions.