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Detroit Lions Biggest Need This Offseason Is Obvious

Published: December 3, 2009

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It’s December and that means that draft fever is in full swing, at least in Detroit.

Philip Zaroo had an interesting article on today that discussed a question many Lion’s fans seem to have. What is the biggest need for this team?

The Lions have numerous holes that are well documented and easy to see. It doesn’t take a football expert to realize they are near the bottom of the league at scoring points, stopping the run, stopping the pass, field position, and the list goes on.

For years now, Jeff Backus has been the focal point of Lions fan hatred. Jeff “Sackus” he is affectionately referred to, and rightly so. He is not an elite left tackle, he’s not as awful as he’s made out to be either. It seems that either you have an elite left tackle, or you want one. Point being, Backus is “service-able”. That’s code for, we would love to upgrade him, but unfortunately, we have bigger fish to fry.

The defense has been the true achilles heel for this team for some time. They rank near the bottom in every statistical category. They do generate a modest amount of turn-overs and sacks, but they give up so many yards and points that it’s irrelevant.

You can blame the poor scoring defense on field position and claim the offense needs fewer three-and-outs, but that doesn’t excuse the fact the Lions give up ridiculous amounts of yards and can’t get off the field on third down. Is that because of the offense? Not likely, although Stephen Petermen could be blamed for a touchdown run, right?

The truth is that the defense has major issues in the front four and the back four.

If you haven’t read the article above, I would suggest doing so. It describes the debate about whether a corner back or defensive end would help more, Reggie White or Deion Sanders are the examples.

The answer to the question, and to the question of what the biggest need is, is obvious to me.

Defensive End.

The linebacker core is pretty good with this team, but they are the only unit that is solid. Because of this, the Lions are forced to blitz the backers to get pressure on the opposing team. When the Lions blitz players, this creates a hot read. An NFL quarterback will instantly throw to his read if needed.

Cornerbacks are not responsible for hot read routes the vast majority of the time. Why do you think opposing tight ends have career days against the Lions? Hot reads are routes that go directly to the void that is left by a blitzing player. Crossing routes over the middle, running backs out of the backfield, tight ends over the middle, these are the type of routes that are usually considered hot reads.

Bringing in the best corner back in league history wouldn’t change much; it would take away one player.

The Lions defense is bad at defending the rush and the pass. It struggles to get pressure with only four men.

A defensive end can solve both problems. A good defensive end will have an impact on the entire defense. They have the ability to get a timely sack, apply consistent pressure, and get a tackle for loss. They also reduce the need for blitzes.

This allows linebackers to drop into the underneath zone and read plays. Being able to drop more men into coverage helps the pass defense, last I checked.

Ask yourself this question: Who scares you the most on the opposing defense? Jared Allen, Demarcus Ware, Julius Peppers, and Mario Williams come to mind for me. Along with Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. Either way, a corner never scares anyone.

Another great way to look at things, what one thing do the Lions struggle with on offense? They allow too much pressure from a four- or three-man rush. We never are concerned with which corner is guarding Calvin Johnson; we worry about the big stud at defensive end that is going to wreak havoc on our offense.

The Lions need a player(s) that can effect the run and pass defense.

The question: What is the biggest need?

The answer: A stud defensive end.



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Zack Follet Is a Perfect Fit for the Detroit Lions

Published: July 22, 2009

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Originally Featured On Detroit Lions NFL Blog


Zack Follett, perhaps the most celebrated seventh-round pick in Lions history, has inked a three-year deal. Typically seventh round prospects are hoping to make the roster or the practice squad, but not Follett.

Zack has quickly become a fan favorite after putting the rest of the league on notice after the draft. After being over-looked until the seventh round Follett had this to say:

“They’re gonna pay for it,” says Follett. “I’m gonna go out there and hit their players and take them out of the game.”

His attitude and effort are his biggest assets. Watching tape of Follett shows his ability to get into the backfield. That’s what makes him a perfect pick here I Detroit.

Coach Jim Schwartz is looking for players with attitude, talent, and effort. Follett displays all three. He also shows outstanding ability to get into the backfield. Playing in Gunther Cunningham’s blitz happy scheme will make Follett even more valuable.

With Julian Petersen and Ernie Sims starting Zack will be relegated to back up duty along with Jordon Dizon and DeAndre Levy. The word coming out of camp is that all three are solid prospects.

Follett will need to bulk up through his rookie year into he sophomore season. He now has three years to add 10 or more pounds of muscle. If he can do that and play with the same explosiveness and effort then he will be a mainstay on the Lions defense for many years to come.

There is always a lot of hype surrounding Detroit’s draft picks, but Zach Follett is considered by many NFL experts, myself included, to be the best pick of the seventh round. Some went as far as to say the best seventh round pick ever. I won’t go that far.

If you want to get a little excited about the young guys the Lions added this season, start right here:

Zack Follett on YouTube!

An analysis of game footage shows Follett to be a highly capable pass rusher and overall disruptive force. A big hitter that shows good body control for playing at such a fast pace. He is relentless at times and has solid instincts. His leverage is good and he often comes in low and hard. He plays inside out and shows excellent pursuit and closing speed.

Zack can be caught out of position at times due to his aggressiveness but it is not a factor on blitzing packages. He is also considered undersized for a strong side linebacker by between five and ten pounds. His last known weight was 236 pounds.

Expect Zack to be a force on special teams with spells relieving Petersen. He will be worked in during preseason a lot and see action in blow out games, in my opinion.

NFL Expert Gives Lions Fans Something To Think About

Published: July 17, 2009

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In a recent article written by Ross Tucker on, Greg Cosell was asked several questions, including two that are very relevant to the Detroit Lions. Cosell is an NFL Films senior producer, the executive producer of the State Farm NFL Matchup Show, and he has been with NFL Films for over 30 years.

You can view the interview in it’s entirety here: Ross Tucker Inside the NFL

The first question was about the Matthew Stafford versus Mark Sanchez debate. When asked for his thoughts, he had this to say.

“Stafford. He is a ‘wow’ thrower, which doesn’t automatically mean you are going to be a great NFL quarterback, but that is a nice talent level to start with. He has shown the ability to throw with timing and anticipation.

“His offensive line at Georgia was poor and he showed the ability to make throws with bodies around him. He certainly needs some technique work with his footwork but that is correctable.

“As far as Sanchez is concerned, I like that he plays at a quick tempo but not fast. He has really good feet. But I get really uncomfortable when I keep hearing that a quarterback has ‘it’ and that is the focus of the discussion surrounding that player. If people are talking about the ‘it’ factor, they aren’t discussing what he actually does on the field.

“Ultimately, I think Sanchez will be a fine NFL quarterback, but I thought Stafford was far and away the best quarterback available.”

These comments are refreshing and insightful from someone that is very skilled at breaking down film. Many experts have been caught up with Mark Sanchez and much more time has been spent looking at his pro prospects than Stafford’s.

Stafford is a better prospect than Sanchez and there is a very good chance we will see him start early on in his career.

Stafford has the talent and tools to succeed, I don’t know if anyone would question that, and he is much smarter than people would like to give him credit for. Perhaps us Lion’s fans are better at looking for the reasons a player will fail, since they almost all have?

The next point Cosell makes could be very significant to the Detroit Lions as well. Cosell was asked about schematics and their impact. Essentially, how does a coach influence a team and how important is it?


This is what he had to say:

“I am a big believer that coaching plays a significant role in wins and losses in the NFL. Talent-wise, teams are not that different. Outside of the quarterback position, it very often comes down to coaching, which is primarily playing to your strengths and minimizing your limitations. Some organizations are better than others at utilizing their players and really diagnosing what makes the other team successful. Bill Belichick is really good at that. He has a great feel for the strengths of his own players and taking away the one or two things that the other team does well.”


This is a topic that coach Jim Schwartz has addressed multiple times. I have two quotes from Jim Schwartz that go hand in hand with what Cosell is saying.

Here Schwartz is referring to his style:

“You know, that’s interesting to hear you say that because that’s the way that we approached our defense over the last years. You know, we never said, ‘Hey, this is going to be the system,’ whether it’s a 3-4 or a 4-3 or ‘This is the coverage that we’re going to play.’

“We never really pigeon-holed ourselves that way because we said, ‘We’re going to do what the players do best. We’re going to try to custom-build this every year and every year it’s going to be a little bit different.’ It’s given us the flexibility to adjust.

“In the division we played in we had Indianapolis, which was a great passing team, a finesse so-to-speak run game; Jacksonville, which was a giant, power-running team; we had to have the ability to be able to change during the season.

“I think the same principles apply here. I’ve been very fortunate, like I said, to have seen the way that a Bill Belichick has done things, Jeff Fisher, Marvin Lewis when I was in Baltimore, and what it’s done is, I’m not … I’ve developed my own style so-to-speak and am not married to a quote-blueprint.”

Here Schwartz is speaking specifically about the type of defensive schemes he plans to run:

“Whatever the players can do the best, most likely a 4-3. But I think too much is made when people hire head coaches; too much is made of scheme.

“I think the whole idea with coaching in the NFL is: put your players in the best position for them to be successful and it may change a little bit. I’d like to point out one example of that would be Mike Tomlin (who) is going to play for a Super Bowl.

“Mike was a Tampa Two guy. He had come up in Tampa Bay with Monte Kiffin; he had learned that defense (and) he went to Minnesota and he ran that defense. When he became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, they had a really good 3-4, they had a good defensive coordinator and they had good defensive players that fit that scheme and Mike was smart enough to say, ‘You know, this fits them best.’ I’d keep that in mind.”

Getting the most out players is key. If Schwartz can find a way to maximize the players he has, it should make a major difference on the field. Last year’s team was often over matched, out of position, or just generally not able to perform their task at hand.

The defensive linemen were not quick enough to penetrate gaps so they tried to slim down and become quicker. That is a big reason Cory Redding was able to move inside. His quickness was an asset in that defensive scheme.

The new scheme that will be employed by Schwartz is based off of power and size up front. From what we are hearing, the defensive ends will be used to set the edge and funnel things back into the middle while the tackles will be used to collapse the pocket, take on multiple blockers, and fill gaps.

This form of defense leaves holes that are easier to distinguish by the line backing core and they should be free to read and attack the open gap.

With the upgraded line backing core the Lions should be able to use this scheme to play to the strength of the defense. Control gaps and the edge to funnel the action to the strongest part of your defense. Hopefully this puts everyone in a position to succeed.

One adjustment Schwartz is requiring of the defensive linemen is to get bigger and stronger. Many players, like Jared Devries and Ikaika Alama-Francis have been looking to add as much as 20 pounds or more to fit their responsibility more effectively.

This may seem contrary to the idea of fitting them where they fit, as opposed to fitting them where you want them to be regardless, however, neither possess blazing speed so the added pounds are more likely to benefit them. Neither can turn the corner effectively so why not bulk up and be run stoppers and edge setters?

Cliff Avril, the speediest defensive end on the roster has bulked up some too, about six pounds though. He is adding lean mass and strength without the extra bulk. The goal is maintain his speed while getting stronger at the point of attack.

It will be interesting to see how the players respond to the new style, schemes, and weight this season. It will be even more interesting to see if Jim Schwartz can make this team better with his coaching and be Bill Belichick like, using the strengths of his players to get the most from them.

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The Detroit Lions’ Biggest Question Is The Defensive Line, Again.

Published: May 16, 2009

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Out of all the problems the 0-16 Lions had last year, the No. 1 reason they lost so many games was the total lack of anything resembling a run defense. The front seven, well usually eight, guys were man-handled every single week.

The Lions had lots of concerns and did a decent job of addressing them in the offseason. The defensive line, however, has not been one of them.

The addition of Grady Jackson was a solid move. He is a big run stuffing defensive tackle and should show up in the run game immediately. It looked like we would see Cory Redding moved back to the under tackle spot where he has been more effective in his career.

Instead, Redding is gone, albeit for a Pro-Bowl caliber linebacker.

This leaves Chartric Darby as the under tackle. Darby is an effort guy that is a nice addition in the locker room, but he’s not a top defensive tackle.

The defensive end position has not been addressed to date, leaving Cliff Avril, DeWayne White, Jared Devries, and Ikaika Alama-Francis to fill those spots.

The defensive line play has to be the biggest question mark this season. I know many think the offensive line is a bigger problem, but I disagree. We can address them later.

Right now the defensive end position is dependent on a second year player that was drafted in the Millen era, Cliff Avril, or another underachiever from the Millen era, Alama-Francis.

White is solid No. 2 end, and although he may not be worth his contract, he still gives the Lions sacks and tackles with some consistency.

The No. 1 end position is the problem. I like Cliff Avril, and he showed some things last season. He has the ability to turn the corner, but he lacks ideal size and strength at the position.

If he can bulk up about 10 pounds and retain his speed, then he may surprise a lot of people this year.

The other young end, Alama-Francis, has good size against the run and moderate speed, but he’s not a No. 1 end. He’s a back up.

He’s got the size to do well in the run game but hasn’t really shown any consistency or signs that he can develop into starting material. He has improved some but has a long way to go to earn a starting job. 

Devries doesn’t have the speed to get to the quarterback anymore. He has never been great, and now he’s nothing better than a backup from what I’ve seen the last few years.

He’s got the size to hold up against the run but doesn’t appear to have the strength to do so. I think we’ve seen the end of Devries as a starter. He provides veteran depth at least.

The interior of the line improved with the addition of Grady Jackson, no question. The real problem is going to be whether or not he can hold up.

A 36-year-old 345 lb. man is not going to play every down. He will be very helpful in short yardage and on run downs, but how much more can be expected?

Jackson will have to be rotated in and out to stay fresh. If the season started today the depth chart would have Darby and Jackson starting with Fluellen as the primary backup.

If Jackson is out of the game, the Lions have the same problem as last year. An undersized front line that lacks penetrating speed to make up for it.

Sammie Lee Hill, although he’s admittedly a project, is a great pick up. He should have a game day weight at 325 pounds or more, and he has good quickness for his size.

The question for Hill is whether or not he can learn technique and harness his raw abilities enough to be effective at the NFL level. He just doesn’t have the experience.

The great thing about Jackson being here is that he has a similar background to Hill: smaller school, big size, and needed some extra coaching. If Hill gets the technique down he could really turn into a disruptive force.

You may think I’m crazy, but I can see Albert Haynesworth as his potential ceiling. He has the physical ability. This year, however, he isn’t likely to make much impact, at least not early on.

John Gill, the other rookie defensive tackle this year, is an intriguing prospect. He and Hill are the second and third largest defensive linemen the Lions have now. I think Gill can develop into a decent player.

Northwestern has a decent history with defensive line players, and Gill has produced his entire collegiate career. He needs to continue to get stronger but could see limited action this season as a backup.

As it stands, the Lions have two guys they can count on on the defensive line. They really need six. This is why it’s the biggest question on the team right now. 

With the new linebackers in place, the Lions could become a respectable defense with good defensive line play.

The defense is better, it’s just not there yet. At least there’s potential for goods things this year and for the future.

Detroit Lions Rookie Free Agent Mark Parson: The Best of the Bunch

Published: April 30, 2009

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Rookie free agents are the main focus of the Detroit Lions. There has been some buzz about players that are being released from teams, usually for financial reasons, like Larry Foote, but many of those players are not yet available.

Detroit has brought in and even signed several rookie free agents already. I’ve heard the talk about Otis Wiley and Anquan Boldin’s brother, but the one prospect I took notice of is cornerback Mark Parson from the Ohio University Bobcats.

Parson is a standout and arguably the most talented man-to-man cover corner coming out of school this year. He is small and fast and shows excellent technique and instincts. You can view some of the footage available on him here:


Mark Parson was slotted as high as the second round in the 2009 NFL Draft, but like many players expected to get picked, he went undrafted.

I strongly feel Parson can make the team and contribute. I think he is easily one of the top rookie free agents on the market. Look for him on Sundays.

Here is a scouting report from FFToolBox writer Raul Colon.

I don’t necessarily agree that Mark has concerns about competition. I watched him shut down Brian Robiskie, allowing only eight yards on three receptions.

Parson has shutdown capability. Bottom Line. Deion Sanders took interest in him and invited him to his Draft Camp. The best reported 40 time I have heard is a 4.38. That’s unofficial, but he shows plenty of game speed on film.

He may be the steal that changes Lions draft fortune. Check him out and decide for yourself.


Detroit Lions: 2009 Draft Reaction and Analysis

Published: April 27, 2009

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The draft started as expected, with the selection of Matthew Stafford. After that, it was quite unexpected for most fans.

The selection of Brandon Pettigrew at the No. 20 spot received mixed reviews. On one hand, he is the best tight end in the draft and is a solid support for a rookie quarterback. On the other hand, most feel there are bigger needs.

I liked the selection and had mentioned to many people I thought he might be the pick. If you have the chance to grab someone who is the best player at their position and who will make your team better than it’s a good pick. Pettigrew will help the run game with his solid blocking and will be a big target in the pass game that creates match up problems and keeps the opposing defense honest.

The No. 33 pick of Louis Delmas was arguably the biggest surprise. He, much like Pettigrew, is the best player at his position. Safety is certainly a need, but with the two best inside linebacker prospects available, I thought they would go with Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis.

I view the selection and it’s impact on the team this way: The Lions actually have talent and depth in the secondary. It’s been quite some time since that was the case. Delmas is an instinctual player that makes plays and is consistent.

He should provide an immediate impact. We may see a coverage sack this year. (If it’s been too long for you to remember what that is, that is when the secondary covers the receivers long enough for the defensive line to get a sack, even when the pass rush is slow.)

The Lions opened day two with a trade to the Jets; they gave up the No. 65 for the No. 76, and picks in round four and seven.

With the consistent depth of the draft, a trade down made good sense. I again expected to see defensive players come off the board, but was scratching my head when they selected DeAndre Levy, the outside linebacker from Wisconsin.

Levy is an interesting prospect. He has moderate size and has been productive in his college career. He would seem to be a late-round prospect but, much like Mike Mitchell, was drawing interest from numerous teams and was highly regarded in the middle rounds by all accounts.

Levy is a “wait and see” prospect. I see him adding some bulk in the offseason and competing for the middle linebacker spot, likely being the starter this year.

Coach Jim Schwartz was quoted as saying, “… Beanie Wells is such a downhill running back, and Levy knocked him back a couple times, and (that) caught our eye again.”

Levy was high on the Lions’ boards, but when evaluating running back Chris “Beanie” Wells, they decided he needed another good look. More film study and watching him at workouts made him the favorite to man the middle.

Although another defensive pick was expected, the Lions looked at a situational starter with Derrick Williams at the No. 82 spot. Williams is a quick guy that is expected to be a slot receiver and a possible kick return man. He is a playmaker that should contribute early in his NFL career.

Typically, wide receivers do not break out until a year or two later, so I expect good things from him in 2010. It is another pick that supports the new rookie quarterback.

With an acquired pick in the fourth round, the Lions drafted a potential anchor for the defensive line. Sammie Lee Hill, a defensive tackle from Stillman, is one of my sleeper prospects. He is a beast with lots of upside. He played at a small school, but appears to have the tools to get the job done at a much higher level. Coaching will be key with Hill, but his impact could be felt very soon.

I expect Hill to rotate in for most of the year with Grady Jackson. He is on the quick side for his size, and I expect to see him on passing downs and next to Jackson on obvious short yard situations. He adds both youth and size to the defensive line and was a solid pick.

In the sixth round, the Lions again grabbed an offensive playmaker in Aaron Brown. Brown is a running back and return specialist out of TCU. He averaged over 30 yards per kick return and is capable of catching the ball out of the backfield. He possesses good speed and was productive.

Brown will likely be the main kick returner this upcoming season. If his speed and talent translate well to the NFL, then the Lions will be in much better shape. As important as field position can be it is nice to see the need addressed. Brown has a niche and will need to produce. I think he can be a decent return option, and he could develop into a third-down back.

The Lions, largely due to trades, had three picks in the final round. They picked up Zack Follett, Lydon Murtha, and Dan Gronkowski.

Follett is another linebacker prospect that is very versatile. He has experience at every linebacker position and was rated very highly. He was a great late-round selection. He brings quality depth and could develop if allowed to focus on just one position.

Murtha is a big strong and athletic tackle. He was projected to go in the middle rounds by most draft experts and was a pleasant surprise in the seventh round. Murtha could step in and contribute early. He has the physical tools and was a solid guy for Nebraska. He is a steal this late in the draft.

I think Murtha will be around to stay. He may not take over the starting position, but I think he will provide long-term depth on the offensive line and could develop into a good guard.

Dan Gronkowski was more of a luxury pick. He was the highest-rated player remaining in the Lions’ eyes, and they took him because of it. He has some talent and ability. He may be used sparingly for two tight end sets and should see some action in special jumbo sets.

Gronkowski is a solid blocker and a decent pass catching option. I can see him making the team, but mostly for special teams. With some development, he could develop into a nice addition at the tight end spot.


Overall, I thought the draft was decent. It felt stronger and more competent than in years past. Other than Stafford, the picks felt honest and were not flashy. I sensed they knew what they wanted and knew whom to pick.

I would give them a B, overall. I am not sold on Levy and Delmas just yet. It is hard to say whether a trade down was an option, but a trade at No. 33 could have been a wise move. They must feel Delmas was someone they had to have.









Detroit Lions: Draft Chaos

Published: April 22, 2009

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Each pick in the NFL draft has a ripple effect on the remaining selections. Relate it to the Butterfly Effect. Many of have heard this story, a butterfly flaps its wings in one part of the world causing a chain of events that lead to a major event elsewhere in the world. It’s a sort of Chaos Theory.

The draft seems to follow a chaotic flow as well. With the No. 1 selection the Lions could go in over 300 different directions, each impacting the draft differently.

In all likelihood the Lions will select Jason Smith, Matthew Stafford, or Aaron Curry. They could trade the pick as well, creating a whole new draft board.

If the Lions go with Aaron Curry, for example, then the chance of them drafting another line backer in the top 100 drops significantly. Players like Brian Orakpo, Everette Brown, and Aaron Maybin will likely be selected earlier in the draft.

Subsequently, Mark Sanchez and Josh Freeman could see their stock decline. The top offensive tackle prospects could all see their stock decline as well.

The Lions could go with a prospect like BJ Raji and upset everyone’s draft predictions much like the Houston Texans did with Mario Williams.

Understanding the ripple effect can be very important when targeting other prospects. In the Lions case, drafting Curry means they are going to be looking at different needs in the remaining picks, as opposed to getting a middle line backer. Having picks so close means that the ripple could alter who is available with the next pick.

The chance of getting a offensive tackle in the No. 20 or No. 33 slot increases. This is good news.

The chance of getting a rush defensive end will likely drop. Many defensive ends are hybrid players and with Curry off the board they should move up the draft boards.

The ripple can have a long term impact or a short term impact. With Curry, the impact may last a while. If Stafford falls out of the top 10 and Sanchez falls even further, then the draft order will remain affected until the prospects are selected.

If the Lions go with Stafford then Sanchez rises, Freeman rises, and the tackle, defensive end, and linebacker positions fall.

The Lions need to seriously consider the impact the first pick will have on the draft.

Many scouts believe there is not a lot of difference in talent between the No.1 pick and the No. 20 pick. That being the case the Lions should take a good look at who they want with the No. 20 and No. 33 picks. If trading is there goal then having a falling player of value, such as a quarterback or offensive tackle, can be the best case scenario.

If the Lions still want a quarterback they may be able to let Stafford go and get Josh Freeman with the No. 20 selection. They could let Jason Smith go and end up with Michael Oher, Andre Smith, or Eben Britton falling to them.

Understanding the theory that the draft is sensitive and dependent on each selection can allow you to refine your picks for maximum value. It may be the difference between getting the player you need or seeing him taken a few picks before.

This is what having a big board is all about. You have to understand where players are likely to go and how to get to the highest pick position they are likely to be taken.

For the Lions, they are already in position to take the best player on their board. They must decide if they want to upgrade two positions at once with Jason Smith, fill a huge hole on defense with Aaron Curry, or build for the future with Matthew Stafford.

They must also realize that they have to plan the remaining picks based on the first pick.

Chaos at its finest. How fitting that the chaos will start with the Detroit Lions..