Round 1 (1 Overall) Jason "Physical Assault" Smith, OT, Baylor


Although you wouldn't guess it from listening to Mel Kiper (who insists that the Detroit Lions would be crazy to pass on quarterback Matthew Stafford) or most Detroit Lions fans (who insist that the Detroit Lions would be crazy to pass on linebacker Aaron Curry), I believe that there are only two picks that make sense for the Detroit Lions from a value standpoint: Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe.

First, here's why I believe that Aaron Curry would be the wrong pick for the Detroit Lions. It is important to distinguish between the more popular term, "best player available," and what I think is a more solid draft philosophy: "most valuable player available." The distinction is that the prospect with the highest chance of success is not necessarily the most valuable. Imagine that this year's NFL Draft contained the best punter prospect in the history of the draft. The punter would barely command a first round pick, if at all. Although one could get into superlatives such as a "punter who could pin the other team at the 1 yard line from any place on the field" if we're speaking realistically, a punter will never go particularly high in the draft simply because the position holds little value relative to the other positions on the team.

Although this is an extreme example, it gets at why Curry does not make sense with the number one overall pick: a true linebacker (i.e. not a rush linebacker) simply does not add the same value as a top flight quarterback, left tackle, defensive end, or cornerback. This, I think, is what people are really arguing when they say "you can't spend that much on a linebacker." The point is not that there is something inherently wrong with spending a lot of money on a linebacker, it is a recognition that the market for NFL players puts so much less value at the linebacker position than, say, offensive tackles. A great linebacker will be less valuable than just a "good" offensive tackle.

I understand why Aaron Curry is such a popular choice amongst Detroit Lions fans. Lions fans have been subject to terrible drafting where many highly touted players at the "glamour" positions have failed. Thus, it is only natural that many will gravitate towards a "lunch pail" type of player with very little downside. However, it is possible to be too risk averse. If that's the way you draft, you'll end up with a team full of linebackers, interior offensive linemen, and safeties, and you won't have anybody to pass, protect the passer, or rush the passer. These prospects are inherently more risky because they are so rare and the positions that they play are so difficult to master.

Aaron Curry has taken on a near mythic status. However, the simple truth is that he is not the greatest linebacker prospect in the last ten years. In his top 100, Rick Gosselin, who has as much access to NFL scouts as anybody, acknowledged that most scouts actually would prefer Jerod Mayo to Aaron Curry. Jerod Mayo is a nice player, but he is not quite ready for his Hall of Fame induction yet, and neither is Curry.

Matt Stafford, the choice of the Mel Kiper's and pundits of the world, holds a special initial appeal due to the position that he plays. Make no mistake, quarterback is the most valuable position on an NFL team. To win a championship with only an "average quarterback" requires a dominating defense in the mode of the 2000 Ravens or the 2002 Buccaneers. Although finding a great quarterback is difficult, it is much easier, and much faster, to find that single special quarterback than to assemble a defense with eleven special defenders.

However, although Matthew Stafford plays the most valuable position, in my opinion he is a below average quarterback prospect: he simply lacks the accuracy necessary to succeed at the next level. This is not to say that Stafford will be a bust, but simply that as a calculated risk, the smart play is probably to avoid him. Also, as David Lewin found in researching quarterbacks, draft position within the first round does not correlate to NFL success. In other words, on average, a quarterback drafted at #1 overall has no additional value than a quarterback drafted at #15. This is not true for other positions, such as defensive end and linebacker, where a player's draft position is a significant factor in projecting their likely success. Also, given the likely quality of next year's class, I believe that it would be best for the Lions to defer. Deferring comes with a cost: you set back your franchise at the most important position for a whole season. However, the cost is significantly less than drafting a quarterback high in the draft who ends up a bust.

Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe, however, in my estimation have passed both prongs of the "most valuable player" analysis. Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe play a premium position: left tackle. Moreover, left tackles taken in the top 5 picks more often than not play at a pro bowl level at some point in their careers. Both players are widely acknowledged as elite pass blockers. Jason Smith is recognized as raw, but is also recognized as exceptionally strong, as possessing great feet for the position, and as having a terrific work ethic.

I also strongly considered Eugene Monroe, who like Smith, has elite pass blocking skills but is only average in the running game. Eugene Monroe is perhaps more polished than Smith but he has a much more extensive history of injuries, especially knee problems. Staying healthy is a skill, and when offered the choice between two similar players, one with an injury history and one who has been relatively healthy, the choice is clear.

That's why I would draft Jason Smith, OT, Baylor

As a special bonus, I am also playing this particular contest against my brother, who has a standing invitation to post on this blog as "Chuck Longin' For You." Chuck Longin' For You selects Matthew Stafford, Quarterback, Georgia.



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