Trading up for Watkins is a dicey move

April, 9, 2014
Apr 9
1:42
PM ET
The Detroit Lions appear to be falling in love with wide receiver Sammy Watkins and while that is nice, they appear to be entering the same territory they did a decade ago.

Bolster the offense and deal with the defense later on.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins set Orange Bowl records for catches (16) and receiving yards (227).
Considering this is a team that wants to win now, it should be much more cognizant of its other needs instead of making what will likely end up being a large move up to grab a receiver it believes has a bright future.

Especially in this draft, which boasts one of the best receiver groups in recent history and where second- and third-round value at the position is high.

Detroit has too many concerns on the defensive side, from safety to cornerback and even to linebacker and defensive line, to ignore. Going with a wide receiver in the first round -- and even more so, by trading away more draft picks or even a player to do so -- reeks of a team that has not learned its own focused-on-offense lesson from before (Mike Williams over DeMarcus Ware in 2005) and one that hasn’t learned from mistakes other teams have made in the past.

In 2011, Atlanta traded way up in the first round to nab Julio Jones -- a receiver like Watkins who was considered an immediate difference-maker. In return, Cleveland got the Falcons' first-round pick (No. 27), second-round pick, fourth-round pick and Atlanta’s first-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Atlanta did this, in part, to pair Jones with one of the top receivers in the game: Roddy White. That sound familiar in this case?

So far in his three seasons in the NFL, Jones has been a fantastic receiver, albeit one who has played in every game just once -- in 2012. The Falcons were also a team that had three straight winning records entering the 2011 draft. They had gone 13-3 the season before.

Since drafting Jones, Atlanta has gone 10-6, 13-3 and then 4-12 in 2013. They have not made a Super Bowl. But they were a team with a lot of strong pieces and saw Jones as the difference to reach the championship game they haven't gotten to yet with him.

In 2012, Jacksonville traded up two spots to make sure it grabbed Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, a player who didn’t have the credentials of Jones or Watkins coming out of college. Blackmon played in four games last season and has yet to hit a 1,000-yard year.

This is just recent history, and we're not even mentioning the Saints giving away the equivalent of a roster (OK, not a whole roster, but a boatload of draft picks) for Ricky Williams.

If you're noticing something familiar, it is this: All of those trades were for offensive skill position players. They worked or didn't to varying degrees, but none of the teams that made the big moves ended up making the Super Bowl with the player they made the move for.

Atlanta still can, but three years is a long window to wait with this Detroit team, for instance.

To get Watkins, the Lions would have to make a similar move up -- but this team is nowhere near one player or two players away from turning the franchise into a Super Bowl contender. They have pieces to be one at some point, maybe even in 2014.

To get there, Detroit needs defensive difference-makers, not another shiny offensive toy for Matthew Stafford to throw to. And this is a team that seems solely focused on winning in 2014, even if it means sacrificing the future for a successful present. And that would seem like why they would be looking to grab Watkins.

Since rumors of Detroit maybe making a move up started, one thing has stuck out. After he was fired, Jim Schwartz discussed on a Nashville radio station how depth was a major problem for the Lions. That there were a lot of talented front-line players there, but when injuries hit, they didn’t have as capable a group of replacements.

That problem hasn’t changed with the Lions, which are star-heavy but have added very little in terms of experienced and talented depth.

Moving up and sacrificing draft picks in a deep draft at multiple positions -- including receiver and cornerback -- doesn't seem to be the correct answer here. It seems to be one of desperation and one of wanting to make the big splash instead of the systematic build Detroit has tried to do in other areas the past few years. Draft for true need with the best player available, something the Lions have done smartly over the past four seasons under general manager Martin Mayhew. And this is a draft where depth can be built both for now and in the future.

Not moving up has little to do with Watkins' ability -- he is likely to become an excellent player in the NFL and could end up as an All-Pro at some point in his career. And if Detroit were a 10- or 11-win team a few years running, this move would make sense.

But the Lions aren't and haven't been, well, ever. If they want to reach that point -- and want to be sustained there -- not making this move would probably end up being the smarter answer.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Comments

Use a Facebook account to add a comment, subject to Facebook's Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your Facebook name, photo & other personal information you make public on Facebook will appear with your comment, and may be used on ESPN's media platforms. Learn more.


Insider