David Syvertsen of New Era Scouting, who has been interviewed on this site a couple times before, is back again to help preview the 2010 NFL Draft. I always enjoy reading David's insights on the draft and football in general, and this most recent interview gave me the chance to pick his brain about a variety of draft-related topics, including specific players like Ndamukong Suh, Gerald McCoy, and Eric Berry, and more broad subjects like the Lions' needs and late-round sleepers. You can check out the interview below, and thanks again to David for taking the time to answer my questions.
Pride of Detroit: The vast majority of Lions fans favor Ndamukong Suh over Gerald McCoy by a fairly wide margin. Is that simply because Suh has received more publicity, or is he that much better than McCoy? At the same time, are Suh and McCoy really head and shoulders above the rest of the prospects in this year's draft?
David Syvertsen: You really can't go wrong with either, as both Suh and McCoy are going to shine in the NFL. Both have enormous talent and are fully capable of solving the issues along the interior of Detroit's defensive line. Personally, I graded Suh slightly higher than McCoy, but the difference in minimal. I feel Suh's power is more NFL ready than McCoy, and he will be a greater force against the run right off the bat. One could make the argument that McCoy has more explosion into the gap, but Suh's combination of power and initial quickness on top of that enormous pop is something that McCoy still needs to develop. In comparison to the other first round caliber defensive tackles, Suh and McCoy are without a doubt head and shoulders above everyone else. But they are in the same tier on my sheet as Eric Berry, Russell Okung, Rolando McClain, Derrick Morgan, and Joe Haden. Any player graded at 90 or above according to my system is considered elite, and those are the names in that category.
POD: What is your opinion of the notion that the Lions should draft Russell Okung to start looking ahead to the future at the left tackle position? Lions coaches seem to be very big fans of Jeff Backus, and the whole idea to move him to left guard (which I was never a fan of) sort of is gone now that Rob Sims is on the roster. Would it be wise for Detroit to select Okung and eventually work him into the lineup, or can they wait and get a few more years out of Backus?
DS: I don't think the Lions can afford to pass on the talent available at the defensive tackle position. Suh and McCoy are top tier prospects that will really aid the rebuilding project that is under way under head coach Jim Schwartz. With a more than serviceable Jeff Backus already in place at left tackle, drafting Okung with that second overall selection would a two-point mistake. He will not match the value or need at that spot because he will not be the best available player and he does not fill the biggest hole on that team. I would suggest addressing the left tackle spot in the draft in the later rounds, as there are a few intriguing developmental athletes in this class at the position.
POD: I don't think the Lions are strongly considering drafting him, but there has been much debate about Eric Berry on the site. Where do you have him ranked and do you think he is worth the second overall pick?
DS: Eric Berry received a final grade of 95 on my sheet. That is the second highest grade I have ever given a player, with the first being your own Calvin Johnson a couple of years ago with a 96. While I firmly believe the Lions should go for one of the high-ceiling defensive tackles at the #2 spot, I could not argue against Berry. The thing that makes him so unique and valuable is his ability to shine in any role, within any scheme. He could come in and shine as the centerfield-type safety, allowing Louis Delmas to fly around in the box. He could creep up towards the line of scrimmage and play the role of a Troy Polamalu. Or he could even match up as a corner-safety hybrid a la Sheldon Brown and shut down an opposing #1 wideout. With the issues Detroit has had on the defensive side of the ball, Berry is a player that can hide a lot of weaknesses because of the wide variety of roles he can play on the field.
POD: The Lions' ideal scenario for the draft is probably to trade down, but that seems highly unlikely, especially now that Washington no longer has a big need for a quarterback. If Sam Bradford goes to the Rams like everybody expects, do you think any team would fall in love with Jimmy Clausen so much that they would move all the way up to No. 2 overall for him? At the same time, if the Rams were to surprise everybody and pass on Bradford, how likely do you think it would be for the Lions to find a trading partner to move down?
DS: I think the Lions ideal scenario is to acquire a top tier defensive tackle that can rush the passer as well as defend the run well. So with that said, they are in prime position to walk away in great position Thursday night. If they are secure with what they have on the roster and what they can acquire in the later rounds, the Buffalo Bills could be willing to move up from the #9 slot. The issue, however, is there are no teams projected to look at a first round quarterback until the Browns are on the clock at #7. To trade up to the #2 overall slot is going to cost a lot more than, say the #4 or #5 slot when it comes to draft picks and money once the player is selected. If the Rams do pass on Bradford, there could be a bidding war between the Browns and whoever else likes him, making a trade up to #2 overall more realistic.
POD: Looking ahead to the second round, the general consensus among Lions fans is that we would like to see a cornerback or running back drafted. The cornerback class certainly seems solid at the top this year, but the problem for Detroit may be that some of those top corners won't make it out of the first round. What do your rankings at cornerback look like and who do you think the Lions would have a legitimate shot at drafting with the 34th pick?
DS: The cornerbacks are not a very strong group this year, but there will be talent available at #34 overall. The only two corners that are sure-fire first round prospects are Joe Haden and Kyle Wilson. My third ranked cornerback is Kareem Jackson of Alabama, a perfect fit for the Lions defense and a realistic option for that second round selection. Schwartz likes his corners physical at the line and quick enough to minimize the separation all over the field. Jackson is one of the top press corners in this draft class and while he does not 'wow' anyone with his speed, he showed consistent ability to shadow some of the top receivers in the country in the fastest conference in college football. Next is Devin McCourty out of Rutgers. While he does not carry a top 34 grade on my sheet, he has the upside and instinctive style of play that Schwartz will be drawn to. He is a versatile athlete that brings a lot to the table on special teams. He is another guy that allows minimal separation but his lack of ball skills and balance downfield make him more of a developmental guy.
POD: Unlike the cornerback position, this year's class of running backs hasn't gotten a ton of love, partly because there is such a large perceived drop off after C.J. Spiller. Is it fair to say that this year's class is weaker as a whole compared to past years?
DS: Certainly. The 2009 running back group was one of the finest of the decade. The 2009 group was much stronger at the top of the draft, with guys like Knowshon Moreno, Chris Wells, and Donald Brown all grading out higher than the backs under Spiller in this year's crop. However, when it comes to the middle rounds, this 2010 group beings more depth. There are 8-10 backs in this class that should be able to contribute in a two-back system right off the bat if the need is there. In terms of how the big boards should shape up across the league, there will be a lot of value found at the running back position on Friday and Saturday.
POD: Sticking with the theme of running backs, what do your rankings look like after C.J. Spiller, assuming he is at the top of your big board at this position?
DS: Spiller and Mathews are the only guys that received first round grades on my board. That is the main difference when I compare them to the 2009 group. However, there is plenty of mid-round talent in this class. Jahvid Best, LeGarrette Blount, and Toby Gerhart are compliment backs that should be taken on day two of the draft. Best has Chris Johnson-type explosion with the ball in his hands while Blount and Gerhart bring that tough inside running game to the table.
POD: Lots of Lions fans seem to be on the Ryan Mathews or Jahvid Best bandwagon, but which of the running backs would be the best fit for a team like Detroit, which is looking to either replace an injured Kevin Smith or complement a healthy Kevin Smith? At the same time, would the Lions be better off pulling the trigger on a back in the second round or waiting until the third or fourth round to address that need?
DS: I talked with a close friend of Kevin Smith last week, and he told me that things are looking great with the rehab. He is going to come back strong but we all knew that he entered the league with a lot of mileage. He was overused at Central Florida and there absolutely needs to be a strong presence behind him in the wings. Mathews will not be available when the Lions are on the clock Friday, but Best should be. The issue with selecting Best, however, is that he does not offer the every-down capability. He is not a back that will break tackles, the most important component to the position. With Aaron Brown already in place, the Lions should look for a back that can handle more every down duties. Keeping that in mind, there are quite a few backs that can fill that void in the middle rounds. Names like Ben Tate, Charles Scott, and Lonyae Miller are options.
POD: Outside of the running back position, who are some players that you think the Lions might be interested in during the third and fourth rounds?
DS: Because I feel the Lions will address the defensive and offensive lines early, I can see them addressing the defensive backfield in rounds 3 and 4. Devin Ross (Arizona), Perrish Cox (Oklahoma State), and Brandon Ghee (Wake Forest) bring that physical style to the table that Schwartz covets in his defensive backs. There is also room for another high-ceiling wide receiver that can grow in time with Matthew Stafford, and these middle rounds would be a great spot to pick up names such as Andre Roberts (Citadel), Carlton Mitchell (South Florida), and Taylor Price (Ohio).
POD: The Lions have traded away all of their fifth- and sixth-round picks, but they have four seventh-rounders, including the last pick of the draft. Who are some sleepers to keep an eye on in the final round?
DS: I'll give you a name that finished #5 overall on my running backs sheet that everyone I talk to projects as a late round/FA guy. Deji Karim, running back out of Southern Illinois, brings talent to the table similar to Ahmad Bradshaw of the Giants. At 5'9/210, Karim runs with a low center of gravity and tremendous balance. He has the 4.4 speed to break off the long runs, and can deliver a pop to defenders inside. The injury risk that should pay enormous dividends is Oregon's Walter Thurmond III. He tore his ACL early in the 2009 season, but he possesses some of the greatest anticipation and ball skills in this class. Should his knee return to 100% over the next couple of years, he will be a starter in this league that makes plays on a weekly basis. Chris Scott, offensive tackle from Tennessee, is an overlooked edge blocker that can play multiple positions in the trenches. He played a solid left tackle within the fastest conference in the nation, and I was impressed with his ability to stifle a defender with his strong hands when I saw him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl.