Lions Draft Preview

By: Associated Press
By: Associated Press

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- Matt Millen has plenty of experience drafting top 10 players.
The Detroit Lions president and general manager has done it in each of the previous six years with shaky results.
Millen will have to wait until the middle of the first round on Saturday -- with pick No. 15 -- for the first time since he had the 18th pick in 2001 when he took control of a franchise coming off a 9-7 season.
"In some regards, you just sit there and there's nothing you can do," Millen said. "You're just going to wait and see what happens and whatever falls to you, you'll take your best guess."
Millen's hunches haven't panned out for the most part.
After a solid start in his first draft, selecting offensive tackle Jeff Backus, his first pick in three of the next four years were busts: Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers and Mike Williams.
Most of his picks after the first round have failed to help the team, too.
But Millen credits coach Rod Marinelli with helping him alter how he evaluates players and their personalities.
"He basically slapped me in the back of the head and said, 'Listen, we've got to get back to football character,"' Millen recalled Marinelli telling him. "I was like, 'Yeah, of course we do.
"I think the best way he described it to me right from the beginning was, 'Just find guys who love to play. Find the guy who doesn't care about all of the things on the periphery. Find the guy who wants to line up, put his hand in the dirt and go.' That's what football teams are about."
Detroit won a Millen-high seven games last season, Marinelli's second year on the sideline, and made a lot of changes heading into the draft.
The biggest move was dealing two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, perhaps the best player Millen drafted, to Cleveland for starting cornerback Leigh Bodden and a third-round pick on Sunday.
The Lions also cut running back Kevin Jones, a No. 1 pick in 2004, defensive end Kalimba Edwards, a No. 2 pick in 2002 and starting safety Kenoy Kennedy.
Linebacker Boss Bailey and running back T.J. Duckett left the team as free agents.
"It's been a good offseason," Millen insisted. "A lot of work and a lot of things have gone into it. We started this thing making some changes, then we started putting it back together. I like where we're at right now."
Detroit needs help at linebacker, running back, defensive end and on the offensive line.
Possible candidates for the No. 15 pick include USC linebacker Keith Rivers, Penn State linebacker Dan Connor, Tennessee linebacker Jerod Mayo, Oregon running back Jonathan Stewart, Illinois running back Rashard Mendenhall and offensive tackle Chris Williams of Vanderbilt.
Like other teams, the Lions were not interested in tipping their hand by raving about any specific players. Marinelli did acknowledge, however, what he likes about Rivers.
"He's a heck of an athlete," Marinelli said.
The Lions filled some voids in free agency, adding some players on defense who played for Marinelli when he was a Tampa Bay Buccaneers assistant. They acquired defensive tackle Chuck Darby and defensive backs Brian Kelly, Dwight Smith and Kalvin Pearson.
While Detroit has weaknesses on both sides of the ball, it appears to be leaning toward helping the defense with early picks.
"It doesn't have to be a first-rounder," Marinelli said. "It can be a second-rounder, third-rounder. I think how you look at it, especially early is, 'Who are the best players that can help this team win now?"'
The Lions will stun the NFL -- again -- if they draft a wide receiver in the first round, unless the rumors are true about them trading standout Roy Williams.
They were the first team since the NFL and AFL merged drafts in 1967 to take a wide receiver in three straight first rounds: Rogers, Mike Williams and Roy Williams. After taking linebacker Ernie Sims in the 2006 first round, Detroit drafted wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the No. 2 pick overall.
Millen said he's confident in his drafts moving forward because of his working relationship with Marinelli and the pair's understanding of what type of players best fit the team's schemes.
"The interesting thing for me has been, there will be times when I start a sentence and he'll finish it," Millen said. "The point is, we're on the same page. I trust him completely.
"There are times we start talking about players, they can be faceless and nameless, and I know exactly what he wants. I think that's invaluable."


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