The 'upside-down' draft

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Pity the Detroit Lions.

Again.

They finally are free of general manager Matt Millen and the mess he made, only to have his replacement, Martin Mayhew, legitimately fearful of another potential bust.

Coming off an historic 0-16 season earned the Lions the ultimate booby prize -- the first selection from a generally weak class in today's NFL draft.

At best, the woeful team is tempted by the lukewarm prospect of overpaying for a young quarterback who hardly smells like a franchise saviour.

"I think the system is broken," a frustrated Mayhew said earlier this week. "The idea, I believe, was to have teams who hadn't been as successful have an opportunity to get better by picking first. Now, if you miss early, it really sets you back even more."

A 'BLAH' CLASS

The Lions are broken for more reasons than the system, but Mayhew has a point, especially in a draft year as "blah" as this one. Desperate for a quarterback, Detroit seems set on Matthew Stafford, a kid from Georgia with a gun of an arm.

The problem is, like the other consensus first-round QB -- Mark Sanchez of USC -- he is an underclassman who could be two years away from starting.

Another option is defender Aaron Curry of Wake Forest, but rarely does a linebacker go that high.

The indifference toward top prospects has led to mass speculation that this afternoon's start to the two-day show will be full of wheeling and dealing -- especially given that none of the top six picks from a year ago signed for less than $50 million US over five years.

"Every team in the top 10 is looking to trade out," NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said this week in a conference call with reporters. "I've never seen the situation quite this heavy and the theory is everybody knows we're upside down with this draft.

"The rookies are getting paid way too much proportionate to their value, so teams are scared to death.

"Any team in the top 10 will listen to any reasonable offer because you can get the same kind of player (at) 20 as you can at seven and pay one third the money."

The flaws, which are exposed more some years than others, have led cries for reform -- namely a rookie salary cap similar to that of the NHL.

Good luck selling that to the powerful NFLPA, however.

As usual, draft geeks will have plenty to watch for this afternoon.

- Many feel Sanchez is the quarterback with the greatest upside after benefitting from the Trojans' pro-style offence and he could muscle his way into the top five.

"I would compare his arm to (Atlanta Falcons first-round pick last year) Matt Ryan," Mayock said.

- With a lack of depth at the skill positions, this draft once again is expected to focus on big men, in particular offensive linemen.

- The Buffalo Bills, with two picks in the first round, are likely to draft for need, which means getting someone to block the blind side for quarterback Trent Edwards, and a credible pass-rusher to boost the soft defence.

- And finally, for Canadian football fans, there is the intriguing story of University of Western Ontario behemoth, Vaughn Martin, a 6-foot-4, 325-pound defensive lineman who played just two years with the Mustangs before declaring himself eligible for the NFL. Though raw -- much like Israel Idonije, of Brandon, Man., was before catching on with the Bears -- Martin is seen as a physical specimen too good to ignore. A likely second-day pick (Rounds 1 and 2 go today), one of the most hyped "sleeper" prospects in the pool will at least be a post-draft free agent signee.

ROB.LONGLEY@SUNMEDIA.CA


Videos

Photos