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Draft Day is Coming, What Will Detroit Do?

Jon Kitna, the Detroit Lion’s former starting quarterback, was proven wrong last season, again. 

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In 2007, he predicted that Detroit would win at least 10 games. The Lions won seven. Then, last year, Kitna said the team would be disappointed if they didn’t win 10. In 2008 it was much worse: 16 games; all losses. It marked the first time a team had gone 0-16 in NFL history.

The franchise that was once home to the great Barry Sanders now looks for resurrection in the Number 1 pick of the NFL Draft. So what should they do?

Quarterback is the obvious need for Detroit. Jon Kitna is now in Dallas. His 2008 campaign was cut short by an “apparent” back injury (Kitna insisted he was healthy enough to play, but the Lions placed him on injured reserve anyway). Dan Orlovksy filled in for Kitna, but was later benched in favor of Daunte Culpepper. The former Pro Bowler showed flashes of his Vikings days with Randy Moss, and could enter 2009 as the starter. However, Culpepper is 32 years old and looks to be a short-term fix in Detroit.

Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are the two elite NFL prospects at quarterback. Stafford, a three-year starter at Georgia, projects to be picked first overall by Detroit. He is a strong-armed quarterback who can make all the throws, but lacks consistency and that Johnny Unitas-esque accuracy. Sanchez, on the other hand, is an accurate, intelligent passer. He comes from a USC system that has produced the likes of Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, and Matt Leinart. But Sanchez does not have top-flight arm strength or the experience in college (he started only 16 career games). Experts expect him to be the second quarterback taken.

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Jason Smith, a product of Baylor University, is the next viable candidate to be selected Number 1 overall. He has the strength and athleticism to be the franchise’s cornerstone at left tackle. Smith would help solidify Detroit’s offensive line and contribute to new coach Jim Schwartz’s physical mentality. The former Titans defensive coordinator believes that winning starts in the trenches; he hopes to turn finesse into power and toughness.

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But what if the Lions go in another, crazier direction? The top picks in the NFL Draft are paid millions of dollars. Often, teams hesitate to invest highly in a prospect who has never played in a pro game. Detroit might try to minimize the risk. They could do the following with the Number 1 pick:

Trade to stockpile draft picks or get proven veterans: There isn't much interest is in this deal. Other teams have the same fears of paying a Number 1 overall pick.

Pass entirely on the pick: St. Louis would move up to Number 1 and Detroit would select whenever they wanted. This way, the Lions get who they want but at a much cheaper price. This is rare, but has occurred recently. Remember Draft Day 2003? The Ravens tried to trade up with the Vikings to seventh overall to select quarterback Byron Leftwich. However, the teams hit a snag in trade talks and the draft clock expired. The Jaguars, who were picking eighth, jumped ahead and took Leftwich.

There is hope in Motor City. This Saturday, the Lions will embark on the final frontier to restore a franchise, and furthermore a city, to glory.