Recently, “Killer Kowalski”, in his responses to MLive.com reader’s questions, made one of the most concise (and scathing) assessments of the Lions past draft room escapades, which if they are true, reinforce the perceptions that the Matt Millen-regime was truly a rudderless ship.
Entering last season’s draft, many Lions fans demanded a complete overhaul of the scouting department, since it’s success-to-failure rate in the draft was so low. Here are some thoughts by Kowalski:
First, Mayhew has a hands-on approach to the draft. This year, he said he traveled to eight or nine schools during the regular season to scout players – a severe departure from the previous regime. There is a lot more interaction between the personnel heads and the scouts – and the coaching staff. What’s the purpose of drafting a player the coaches don’t like – and won’t play? Perhaps the biggest difference is the preparation in the final weeks. The Lions have added an extra step to what Millen did. Once the work is done and the draft board is complete, they go over it again. They watch more film and argue amongst themselves about the rankings. Mayhew and Schwartz, just the two of them, get together and review film for countless hours.
Hmm…I guess it is too late to question the comparative lack of preparation, but one begs to ask, wouldn’t the team’s draft results signal to Matt Millen and his staffers that their draft process needed to be altered considerably? Does the division of responsibilities between Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew allow Mayhew to take a “more hands-on” approach than Millen ever had the luxury of, while he was team president?
Mayhew said the arguments are all made in the days leading up to the draft so when the Lions are on the clock, they know exactly who they’re going to take. I’ve often recounted the Brian Calhoun story, about how the Lions were debating about whether to take an offensive lineman at that spot in the third round. The argument was whether the Lions would be “reaching” for him at that spot. They went back and forth without resolution and then, as the clock was about to expire, a coach yelled “Take Brian Calhoun.” And that’s what they did.
The Brian Calhoun selection was particularly befuddling, since the Lions had so many other needs at that time, and his draft stock was not particularly high. Between Calhoun, whom the Lions likely envisioned as poor man’s Marshall Faulk, and Drew Stanton, it is clear that Mike Martz’s presence factored heavily into the Lions thinking, even if Martz wasn’t explicitly excited about either player, or their respective futures.
That situation won’t happen with Mayhew running the show. If you’re wondering why the Lions don’t announce their pick immediately, it’s because they’re still waiting for the phone to ring to see if they get an offer they like. Mayhew admitted that when the Lions moved too quickly, they’ve later received a call for a deal they would’ve considered. That’s why they wait.
Mayhew’s acumen for deal-making is unquestioned, even if overall, most of the deals that he made have went south on him this past season. That being said, I will concede that in most of the trades that Mayhew made, the Lions were better off than they were prior to the trade being made.
In regards to the draft, Mayhew and his team of scouts, at this early juncture, appear to have done as a high a quality of a job as any Lions staff during recent memory, certainly in the last twenty years.
It’s not that the Lions’ scouts are perfect, they’re not. They make their fair share of mistakes but the reason I didn’t think they should get broomed last year is because of the things I’d heard about the league. The Lions’ scouts had a pretty good reputation with other NFL personnel directors and many of those guys were around in the pre-Millen days when the Lions actually drafted pretty well.
Oh, and that offensive lineman they were debating about? It was Max Jean-Gilles, who is now a starter with the Philadelphia Eagles. Interestingly, the Lions were both right and wrong in their debate about Jean-Gilles. The Lions were on pick No. 74 when they discussed him and he didn’t go until the 99th overall choice so they would’ve been reaching for him.
However, Calhoun gave the Lions absolutely nothing while Jean-Gilles, who started just one game in his first two seasons, has been a starter at right guard in 15 games over the past two years for the Eagles.
Hey, Lions Fans, I Presume You Like
These final comments from Kowalski are the most bitter and painful. In most cases, for every botched Millen pick, there is a clear cut, alternate choice who has enjoyed a successful career, effectively rubbing the noses of the Lions fans directly into the “mess” Matt Millen left on William Clay Ford’s rug(Silverdome/Ford Field).
Conveniently, WR Charles Rogers could have been just as easily, and clearly more wisely, perennial Pro Bowl WR Andre Johnson, or even CB Terrence Newman or DT Kevin Williams. WR Mike Williams was followed by OT Jammal Brown, and a pair of LB/DE’s in DeMarcus Ware and Shawne Merriman in the first round of the 2005 draft.
QB Joey Harrington should have been OT Bryant McKinnie, DE Dwight Freeney, DE/LB Terrell Suggs, or DT Albert Haynesworth. Good, but not great, trade chip WR Roy Williams could have been CB Dunta Robinson, QB Big Ben Roethlisberger, or RB Steven Jackson
Many Lions fans would gladly trade increasingly disgruntled, but sublimely talented WR Calvin Johnson for OT Joe Thomas or RB Adrian Peterson, even with his propensity for fumble-itis. OT Gosder Cherilus could have been OT Jeff Otah, QB Joe Flacco, or RB Chris Johnson
I will steadfastly remind people that the Lions could have selected OT Michael Oher, game-changing WR Percy Harvin or DE/LB Clay Matthews, with the pick which they utilized to select TE Brandon Pettigrew. Admittedly, Pettigrew showed a great deal of promise prior to his injury, and he was even selected to the NFL all-rookie team. That being said, you will never convince me that the Lions needed Pettigrew over the addition of a player like Oher, or Harvin, who as a slot companion to Johnson and explosive kick returner, would fill a clear roster void.
Obviously, the benefit of hindsight being 20/20 factors heavily, and several of the defensive players would have been ill-suited for the various defensive schemes at the time of their respective draft selections (Ware, Merriman, Suggs, Matthews).
Still, just analyzing only the Lions first round selections (Oh my, looking at the second round would be an absolute torture and would send me reeling in dejected misery!) it is clear to see why the Lions have only three victories in their last 40 games, a jaw-dropping reality, in itself.
Speaking of jaw-dropping, former stalwart, fan favorite DT Luther Elliss has hit some rocky roads in his personal life recently. From MLive.com:
Retired Detroit Lions defensive lineman Luther Elliss is preparing to abandon his million-dollar suburban Detroit home, the latest in a financial collapse that has forced him to file bankruptcy amid a string of failed investments and debt.
Elliss, 36, who was paid almost $11.6 million from 2000-04, is relying on area churches and friends to pay bills, his savings depleted. He lost one home in Utah to foreclosure and the married father of 11 plans on walking away from his Oakland Township home due to lack of income and high mortgage payments.
“We can’t afford it,” Elliss told The Detroit News for a story published Tuesday.
Regardless of the mistakes Elliss may have made, you hate to see this scenario play out, whether the person has been fortunate in the past, like Elliss, or not.
Here are Elliss’ statements about his unfortunate situation:
“My faith has helped carry us through this,” Elliss said. “If my story can help change somebody’s destiny or future, I pray that it does.”
Elliss and his wife filed Chapter 7 bankruptcy in June, one month after the U.S. Bank National Association won a $524,058 civil judgment against them tied to the Utah foreclosure.
“That was the tipping point,” Elliss said.
Here’s hoping that someone who was a enthusiastic and charitable person as a Lions player finds good fortune around the corner, even if it is impossible for him to ever reclaim his vast wealth.