Edson: Lions Are Facing a Crucial NFL Draft This Week

Bob Quinn, like most NFL general managers, is trying his best to maintain a poker-face heading into Thursday’s NFL draft.

The Detroit Lions GM knows as well as anyone that drafting college players is an inexact science.

For all sure-fire bets like Barry Sanders and Peyton Manning, there are countless disappointments. And believe me, the Lions have had more than their fair share of those.

But looking back at the NFL draft, it’s interesting to note that some of the best quarterbacks in league history were simply an afterthought during the early rounds.

Start with the great Johnny Unitas, a three-time league MVP for the Baltimore Colts. He was drafted in the ninth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 out of the University of Louisville. He was cut in training camp. Luckily, a Colts scout saw Unitas playing in a semi-pro league and signed him.

Then there was Joe Montana, a four-time Super Bowl MVP and two-time league MVP with the San Francisco 49ers. He lasted until the third round of the draft before he was taken with pick No. 82 in 1979.

Or how about the best modern day example of all – New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. The University of Michigan signal-caller was taken in the sixth round with pick No. 199. He is a three-time league MVP and five-time Super Bowl winner.

So anyone who tells you they know who the sure-fire stars are going to be doesn’t know what they are talking about.

That leads us to this year’s draft. Luckily, the Lions don’t need a quarterback. They have one of the best in the NFL in Matthew Stafford.

But, in my mind, they do need some better offensive linemen to protect Stafford. That’s why, with pick No. 20 like the Lions have, I would quickly select offensive guard Will Hernandez from UTEP. The guy is simply a road grader. He dominated for four years and he was a standout at the post-season all-star

In fact, my top three picks for the Lions wouldn’t be sexy at all – an offensive lineman, a defensive lineman and a linebacker.

With the second pick – if he’s still around – I would take Da’Ron Payne of Alabama. He’s a former Crimson Side teammate of current Lions standout defensive end A’Shawn Robinson. There are better defensive tackles than Payne in the draft, but they will be gone by the first round or early in the second round.

One of the things I like best about Bob Quinn is that he came from the New England Patriots. He understands what it takes to win. In the Patriots system, they build solid offensive and defensive lines and have a solid quarterback. They use running backs and wide receivers as interchangeable pieces.

That’s different than the way most NFL teams operate. But you can’t fault their success.

If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m an NFL draft geek. I can’t wait for Thursday night’s first round. But the real action happens Friday and Saturday, when the lesser-known names can sometimes blossom into big-time stars.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.