ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- I've been struck several times Thursday by the irony of Detroit's draft position. Despite the overwhelming popularity of young quarterbacks in the NFL, Lions fans roundly booed the decision to draft quarterback Matthew Stafford last year. Thursday, those same fans were elated to learn the Lions had selected a player who mans one of the least glorious positions in the game. Early reports suggested a run on Ndamukong Suh's No. 90 jersey at a Ford Field draft party.
Stafford proved a solid choice, but I suspect Suh will play no less of a role in any resurgence from this franchise. The Lions have lost 30 games over the past two seasons for any number of reasons, but to me, nothing has been more glaring than the way they've been pushed around on the defensive front.
You have to be a hardcore football fan to appreciate it, but Suh should give the Lions something they haven't had for at least two decades: A defensive player who consistently holds his ground. That might not sound like an asset worthy of the No. 2 overall pick of the draft, but it's absolutely the No. 1 place where the Lions needed improvement.
"Guys like that really help," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "They're hard to block one-on-one. You don't have to scheme something up to win. You can win individual matchups. We need to get there."
Let's be clear: The Lions are expecting much more from Suh than simply absorbing double teams and winning his matchup. According to Schwartz, defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham gave Suh the highest grade possible in the Lions' grading system. Schwartz noted how regularly Suh dominated college games. "He has a little bit of the 'it' factor," Schwartz said.
And Suh assigned himself a pretty lofty goal of his own while speaking to reporters: "I'm looking forward to going in there and turning that organization around," he said.
If the Lions are right, and I believe they are, Suh will be more of a force than Shaun Rogers ever was. Ditto for Robert Porcher and Luther Elliss. In Lions lore, you might have to go back to Doug English -- whose last season was 1985 -- to find anyone resembling the player Suh should become.
From a pure numbers perspective, the Lions can't help but enter training camp with some significant personnel holes on defense. You can't fix everything in one offseason. I know it is a cliché, but it's also true: It all starts up front. Detroit has smartly focused its current efforts on the line, adding Suh to a group that also includes newcomers Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams.
"I think we have the makings of a strong unit there," Schwartz said.
I'm not sure, but I think Schwartz was making an attempt at modesty. As of today, I think the Lions have the second-best defensive line in the NFC North behind a Minnesota group that includes two perennial All-Pros in Jared Allen and Kevin Williams.
With Suh and Vanden Bosch, the Lions have the same kind of yin-and-yang the Vikings employ with Allen and Williams. By playing them next to each other as often as possible, the Lions can ensure that at least one player who can consistently win in single-blocking schemes will in fact face just that. In his best years in Tennessee, Vanden Bosch had a similar arrangement with Albert Haynesworth.
How can a defensive tackle make such a big difference? Here's how Schwartz explained it Thursday:
"He'll help our corners out because we won't have to blitz as much. He'll help our run defense out, and help our corners out again, because with him up there, he's hard to come off double teams and we may not have to spin our safety into the box as much. Couldn't be happier to get a guy like that."
Look, I don't want to oversell this pick. No matter what happens over the next two days, the Lions will still be a flawed team. But I give them credit for ignoring the trees and taking in the forest. Suh was the best player in the draft, and they didn't overthink it.
There were those who suggested that acquiring Williams and Vanden Bosch mitigated the need for Suh, and thus made a left tackle the better play. That line of thinking was flawed and ignored the talent disparity between Suh and the left tackle class. To me, the Lions maximized their position at No. 2 overall.
"We liked everything about him," Schwartz said. "Let's put it that way. He made it an easy pick for us."
The same goes for Lions fans, who have been filling the blog with sentiments like this from antebellum1:
"Oh my God..my shorts are on fire..this may be, oh my God..my shorts are on fire..this may be the best move the Lions have made in YEARS!! ladies and gentlemen...the Lions may have a defense!"
Oh, the irony.