Joe Thomas Vs. Calvin Johnson–Three Years Later

November 19, 2009 on 5:46 pm | In Uncategorized | No Comments

After three years, and the selection of a potential franchise QB, the Lions will now be able to see first hand whether they made the right decision selecting their franchise WR Calvin Johnson over franchise LT Joe Thomas, who currently plays for the Browns.

With the obvious friction between Matthew Stafford and Johnson two weeks ago, and with Johnson assuming the bitter demeanor of someone disappointed with being a member of the losing Lions organization of late, and given the Lions criminal inability to maximize Johnson’s incredible untapped potential, I am edging closer to believing that this is the one draft day decision made by Matt Millen that could have altered the course of the Lions future, had he actually made the right one and selected Thomas. Here are Buffalo Rumblings thoughts on drafting need versus value:

Need versus Value
Ah, yes – the ultimate NFL Draft argument. Do you take the best player who plays a position you’re thin at, or do you just take the best player? Both sides of the argument have been attempted, both have had raging successes, and both have failed miserably.

I’m of the school of value. Need lists are obviously important to discuss from a team standpoint heading into the Draft each year, but ultimately, if you’re building for the long-term, you need to find the best football players, period. Clearly, if a team has players graded out similarly, but one’s a linebacker (who’s graded only slightly lower) and the other’s a cornerback, and your team just happens to be thinner at linebacker than corner, you take the linebacker. But, as an example, it can get pretty brutal when you force-select a JaMarcus Russell when Calvin Johnson and Joe Thomas are clearly the best players available.

The Calvin Johnson is an interesting case study too, by the way. Matt Millen is one of the most infamous front office executives of the modern era of football, but that’s a selection he did well with – and he did it in the face of intense scrutiny, considering his penchant for drafting receivers early. Johnson is one of the best offensive forces in the game right now, and while he doesn’t play a premium position – teams can and do win without elite receivers – he’s a difference-maker on the field

I differ from the author on one thing, not on his draft logic, but I do believe that, whenever possible, you do, in fact, select a player at a premium position over one that is auxiliary to developing a better team, when you are as bad as the Lions have been. The Lions have never subscribed to this theory, either, which is why I believe that they remain in their current morass.

It is difficult to suggest that the Lions did anything logical during his failed reign as the team’s chief personnel executive, but I can see actually what Millen was thinking. The Lions did possess a LT in Jeff Backus who was reliable, if limited, who always answers the bell, as far as being ready when it’s game day. The Lions were reeling from the failed picks of Mike Williams and Charles Rogers, and still held the belief that Roy Williams could be a productive member of their franchise, if he had a complimentary player whom he could flourish along with, in Johnson.

The fact is, Backus has been mediocre, even if he has been reliable, and the Lions have had 15 starting LG’s during Backus’ career. Had the Lions decided to select Thomas and moved Backus to guard, do you think the Lions would have been this bad during the three years(2-31 since the midpoint of each player’s rookie year, and 8-33 overall) that Thomas has been in the league?

If Johnson maintains his sulking, bitter demeanor, and doesn’t exhibit the ability to overcome the Lions many organizational flaws, then the Lions will eventually jettison him like they have so many other unhappy players (cough, gasp, Shaun Rogers).

Thomas is a two-time Pro Bowler on an incredibly bad team. Johnson, although an exciting player with superlative athletic gifts, rarely makes any real difference for the Lions, due to opposing teams devoting all of their resources to limiting him, and the Lions not possessing the resources necessary to make opposing defenses pay for the attention that they utilize limiting Johnson.

Interestingly enough, there have been some rumors about the Browns potentially trading Thomas, since they have so many organizational needs, and Thomas is the one player who could actually bring back enough in value to help them move forward as a franchise. The Junkyard, gives a compelling perspective, that I disagree with, for the Browns trading Thomas:

1. Next to Tampa Bay and St. Louis, no team has as few talented players – and as little depth – as the Browns.

By trading Thomas, one of their best players, the Browns would have their best shot at stockpiling quality talent.

Let’s say the Browns could command a first- and second-round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and a first-rounder in 2011 for Thomas.

And that’s certainly a reasonable demand for a two-time Pro Bowl tackle.

Now, combine that haul with the Browns’ own first-round pick in the 2010 Draft, which will likely be a top-5 choice.

Then, add in the high draft selection the Browns should have in Round 2.

You’ve gone a long way towards solving – or at least properly addressing – the Browns biggest problem:

A flat-out lack of talented players.

The Lions once utilized similar logic with someone of Thomas’ ability, Shaun Rogers, who was unfortunately lacking Thomas’ character and commitment to conditioning, when they made their failed trade for CB Leigh Bodden and the draft pick that they used to select DL Andre Fluellen. The Lions believed at that time, that the move to trade Rogers was more than addition by subtraction. I defy you to find one Lions fan who would not like a “do-over” on that deal, especially considering the fact that the team is projected to potentially select a defensive lineman in the first round of the 2010 draft.

In September, the Sporting News listed it’s Top 100 players, Thomas was considered the 41st best player and Johnson 82nd. That list was made early enough in the year that it was made based on the performance of the players thus far in their careers. Has Johnson done anything this season to prove, other than possessing world class ability, that Sporting News was wrong? With that in mind, if we could turn back the clock, would you still want the Lions to select Calvin Johnson over Joe Thomas? I bet that I can give you Matthew Stafford’s answer in 30 seconds or less…that is, assuming that he has actually overcome the mental aftershocks of repeatedly having his head spiked off of the Metrodome astroturf last Sunday.

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