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Lions move forward, but caution advised/Paul Peterson

May 3, 2011
By Paul Peterson - For the Gazette , The Daily Mining Gazette

If there is anything surer than a campaigning politician promising to fight for his constituents, it's a general manager or coach in the National Football League lavishing high praise on their most recent college draft picks.

When was the last time you heard a NFL official say they just had a lousy draft? You would probably have to go back to Curly Lambeau of the Packers or George Halas of the Bears in the 1940s for that.

Like that girl at closing time in a tavern, there are no bad drafts. Just ones that look a little better upon closer observation.

The Detroit Lions, on the surface, have moved forward with their latest picks in the heavily covered proceedings in New York City.

Speaking of overexposure, if that kind of attention was centered on unemployment or high gas prices ... there would be no problems in this country.

People like Mel Kiper have made the NFL Draft a cottage industry. And ESPN is more than happy to drag out the drama, especially now since Round 1 moved to prime time.

Still, you have to believe the Detroit braintrust of GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz did a solid job in landing players like Nick Fairley, Titus Young and Mikel Leshoure.

Fairley has the potential to move right into a young defensive line that already ranks among the best in the league.

But potential is just a fancy word for "if," the longest two-letter word in the dictionary. The hugely talented Fairley can make standout tackle Ndamukong Suh even more dangerous if he buys into the system.

Young has the kind of blazing speed that offensive coordinators look for in a slot receiver. With time, he could become what Greg Jennings is for the Packers - a consistent long-ball threat. That would open more lanes for ace WR Calvin Johnson.

Leshoure gives the Lions something they haven't possessed in a long time: A bruising inside runner who can get the tough yards in crunch time.

He can combine with speedy Jahvid Best to give the Motowners a good balanced running game.

Now, for the negative part of the draft.

The Lions didn't select a player who can step in and provide much-needed protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The often-injured Stafford is the key to any long term success the team will have.

That means veteran guard Jeff Backus has to be replaced in the line or shifted elsewhere.

There are also spots at linebacker and the secondary that have to be addressed, probably by free agency. But that can be a hit-or-miss proposition.

I firmly believe the Lions can contend for a wild card spot this coming season.

They're certainly not at the level of the Super Bowl champion Packers on offense, but their defense is probably just as good.

One area that Green Bay has a huge advantage is in the depth chart. While the Packers can lose a key player or two to injury and still function, the Lions can ill afford the loss of one of their stars.

Still, next season (and I'm assuming there will be a season) should be interesting for long-suffering Detroit fans.

Unlike the past decade or two, at least there's some hope.



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