Please, indulge me while I ramble. Or don't, there are shorter fanposts to read...
What I like about Picking Okung
Okay, I'm going to have to turn off my knee-jerk "BPA Suh or Berry! BPA Suh or Berry!" impulse for this one a little bit, and look at the positional value teams put on elite left tackles in the draft, what that means in terms of us getting one in the future once we start winning (i.e. not getting top-5 draft picks), and also the actual value on the field of having an elite pass-protector when we face Jared Allen, Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews twice a year.
We need a long-term Left Tackle. The top LT's in each draft are the second highest-valued positions in the draft after quarterback**, and they rarely fall out of the top 5 picks. If you have faith in Schwartz like I do, we won't be selecting in the top 5 again for a long time. We're building a winning team.
What this means is that, if he fits the consensus view that he is an elite blind-side pass-blocker, and if the Lions start winning and stop ending up with high draft picks, Russell Okung the is the single best Left Tackle we will have a chance to draft for a very long time.
Of course if Suh and Berry also fit the consensus view about them, then Ndamukong Suh is the single best Defensive Tackle we will have a chance to draft for a very long time (assuming St. Louis takes a QB). Oh, and, of course, Eric Berry is the single best Safety we will have a chance to draft for a very long time.
But we're in a division, and a league, with some great pass-rushers, and I DO NOT WANT Stafford to struggle because, while he had all the talent and heart in the world that it took to be a great QB, he was not properly protected, and got beat up so bad that his lack of protection doomed us all to watching Culpepper/Stanton trot out there late in the season and throw games away, again.
Sliding Backus over, i.e. "two birds with one stone"
If we take Okung with our top pick, we'd likely either start him out at Guard and move him to Tackle soon after, or just put him at LT to start the season. We'll even be able to debate who the LT should be. If you enjoyed "Stafford vs Culpepper" on PoD, think of the fun we can have with "Backus vs Okung". Maybe Okung is not quite as good a run-blocker as Backus, but I have no reason to suspect either guy couldn't fill that huge gaping hole at Left Guard.
Okung is very strong--he put up 38 reps at the combine. That's 6 more than Suh, even with Okung's longer arms, for anyone who thinks bench press reps at the combine are meaningful (recalling some other discussions on PoD, bench press reps seemed like a significant reason for some to doubt Gerald McCoy's strength when comparing him to Suh). I have no reason to believe he couldn't be a much better Left Guard than Loper or Ramirez if he wasn't ready to take over at Left Tackle immediately (which would be no red flag to me--even Jonathan Ogden started in the NFL at the guard position).
More likely, Backus would slide to Guard, and allow Okung to do what he does best--protect our QB against teams' best pass-rusher.
The thing I like most about this: We don't have to worry about that LG position any more for a few years! We already know Backus is a decent starting lineman with good ability and excellent durability, he'd be fine at Guard, so we could stop scouring a thin FA market or hoping for a mid-round 2010 rookie to step up (both are dubious propositions if we hope to have a good O-Line in 2010). We can save that third- or fourth-round pick to spend fixing our secondary, or whatever. One less hole to fill. yay.
What I don't like about picking Okung
Would Schwartz and Mayhew honestly tell all of us that Okung was higher on their draft board than both Suh and Berry, that he is likely to be a better football player than those two, and that's why we drafted him--because we always take the BPA over positional need--and expect fans to believe it? I guess I'd have trouble with that one. Maybe it's true, maybe Suh and Berry have been able to secure so much more hype because they get to do things like knock down the QB and run back interceptions for touchdowns. On the other hand, offensive linemen can be such unsung heroes--it can be harder to notice non-sacks caused by a good OT than sacks caused by a good DT. I guess I'll defer to the consensus I've heard for a few months now--that while Okung is clearly the best LT in this draft, Suh/Berry is "the next" Sapp/Reed, thus picking Okung over Suh/Berry would be a deviation from BPA, in favor of positional value.
Jeff Backus, you rock! Now get out of the way and go play Guard
I also wonder how Schwartz would handle giving praise to an offensive lineman, saying he deserved to be voted to the Pro Bowl, and then immediately spending the second pick in the whole draft on somebody who plays his position. Obviously Schwartz doesn't have to let things he said in the past affect his sound decision-making, but I wonder if there would be any credibility damage in sending those mixed signals. Maybe not, but you'd have to wonder how he'd field those questions that are guaranteed to come about what he said about Backus if Okung is the pick.
Draft Position of FIRST Offensive Tackle drafted (2000-2009):
3,2,4,8,2,13,4,3,1,2 (Median = 3)
Draft Position of SECOND Offensive Tackle drafted (2000-2009):
6,14,7,20,16,19,39,5,12,6 (Median = 13)
Number of Offensive Tackles gone before pick #15 (2000-2009):
1,2,3,1,1,1,1,2,3,3 (Median = 1.5)
Draft Position of the FIRST Defensive Tackle drafted (2000-2009):
6,3,6,4,14,16,12,10,5,9 (Median = 7.5)
Draft Position of the SECOND Defensive Tackle drafted (2000-2009):
25,6,12,6,21,28,14,13,7,24 (Median = 13.5)
Draft Position of the FIRST Safety drafted (2000-2009):
34,37,8,16,5,34,7,6,31,33 (Median = 24.5)
Draft Position of the SECOND Safety drafted (2000-2009):
39,54,24,42,44,40,8,19,43,34 (Median = 39.5)
And, just for comparison...
Draft Position of FIRST Quarterback drafted (2000-2009):
18,1,1,1,1,1,3,1,3,1 (Median = 1)
Draft Position of FIRST 4-3 Defensive End drafted (2000-2009):
1,4,2,14,18,18,1,4,3,2 (Median = 4)
I forgot where I was going with these numbers, I like numbers, you can use them for the powerball, but anyway, how would you feel about the Lions taking Russell Okung?