DETROIT – It’s kind of amazing, really, how the Detroit Lions have completely ignored the most important position in football for more than a decade during the NFL draft.
In 2009, Detroit used perhaps the single greatest resource an NFL team can have -- the No. 1 draft pick -- to select Matthew Stafford. Obviously, it was a good pick. Stafford has been the team’s starting quarterback for a decade, and he’s long been considered among the top 10 or 15 in the league at his position.
If the NFL redrafted the 2009 class considering everything we know now, Stafford would still be the No. 1 overall pick. There’s no issue with that. The strange part is what’s happened since.
Nothing. The Lions have done nothing at quarterback for a decade.
Quarterbacks drafted by Lions
Here’s every single quarterback the team has drafted since 2009:
- 2016: Jake Rudock -- No. 191 overall (sixth round)
- 2017: Brad Kaaya -- No. 215 overall (sixth round)
Rudock spent more time on the practice squad than he did with the actual team while Kaaya was swiped on waivers before his first season even began.
Translation: The Lions have spent absolutely no draft resources on quarterbacks for 10 years.
They’ve spent fifth-round picks on a fullback and a punter in the last seven years while never spending even a fifth-round pick on the most critical position in the game.
Thursday’s first round
There was some speculation throughout the offseason that the Lions might take Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 3 pick. By Thursday, all of that noise had completely faded and it was clear the Lions weren’t taking a quarterback in the first round.
Not only did they pass on a possible future star at quarterback -- doing so in itself is justifiable in this position -- but the Lions also spoiled their chance to move down and acquire more picks. It was easy for the Miami Dolphins to see the Lions weren’t going to draft Tagovailoa, so they simply called the bluff and took him at No. 5.
Tagovailoa isn’t guaranteed to be worthy of a top five pick, but Thursday isn’t so much about the Lions passing on him as it is the Lions passing on every single quarterback with realistic upside for 11 years.
Matthew Stafford conundrum
It’s impossible to go a day in this state without hearing the classic talent vs. winning argument about Stafford. One side will relentlessly defend Stafford and claim the losing isn’t his fault. The others will point to the team’s record and pin it all on the quarterback.
Stafford isn’t the reason the Lions have been terrible, but he’s also not among the elite quarterbacks who can carry a team on his own.
Before the draft Thursday, I asked if a good, but not quite great quarterback is worth ignoring a chance that Tagovailoa could be among that elite tier. Obviously, the Lions think the answer is yes.
Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn figure to be fighting for their careers this season, so that also likely factored into this year’s first-round decision. But what’s the excuse for the previous 10 years?
Green Bay Packers example
Investing in a quarterback doesn’t have to mean a team has a bad starter already on the team. Having a strong starter and a high-upside prospect behind him is allowed.
Take a look at what the Green Bay Packers did Thursday. Despite having a future hall of famer in Aaron Rodgers, who is still very good and just led the team to a 13-3 season, the Packers traded up in the first round to draft Jordan Love, a quarterback from Utah State.
Yes, Rodgers is four years older than Stafford. But he’s also been better and more successful. Yet the Packers weren’t afraid to put some young talent behind him -- even trading up to do so.
That’s not a fluke, either. In 2014, the New England Patriots used a second-round pick on a quarterback while winning Super Bowls left and right behind the greatest quarterback of all time.
Jimmy Garoppolo developed behind Tom Brady and became a trade chip because the Patriots never needed him to step in as the starter. Had something happened to Brady, he was there. Instead, he was traded and led the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance.
Why draft a quarterback, though?
Drafting quarterbacks is admittedly a very tricky practice. For every quarterback who turns into a star, there are dozens who don’t live up to their draft prices. But the problem with never drafting a quarterback is instead of having a slim chance to discover a star, there’s no chance to discover a star.
Garoppolo was a second-round pick. Russell Wilson went in the third round. Dak Prescott went in the fourth. Quarterbacks drafted in the middle rounds have a chance to work out, but the Lions haven’t drafted a single one in 11 years.
Yes, the Lions have other needs on defense and along the offensive line. But they’ve been using first-, second-, third- and fourth-round picks on those players for a decade, and it hasn’t exactly worked out.
The Kansas City Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens were perfect examples last season of how identifying a star quarterback is the easiest way to turn an uninspiring team into a Super Bowl contender. The odds are low, but the reward for finding the right quarterback is massive.
Detroit has been average or (much, much) worse for the better part of 63 years, so it’s hard to understand why it wouldn’t at least take a shot on a quarterback who could become a star.
Maybe the Lions plan to take a quarterback in the middle rounds Friday, but that would be a surprise considering the job security (or lack thereof) of Patricia and Quinn.
Lions fans have been dealing with more or less the same disappointing product for 11 years. The best way to inject excitement and hope into a fan base is by making a move at the quarterback position.
The Lions had a chance to do so at No. 3, and they passed. Who knows if it was the right move for Thursday, but it’s hard to argue they’ve made the right move for 11 years.