NFC North: Matt Stafford
Reviewing the merciful end of the Detroit Lions' preseason, a 35-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills on Thursday:
- The biggest news of any preseason finale is whether any prominent players suffered injuries. The Lions suffered no obvious ailments, partly because they rested six (relatively) healthy starters: running back Reggie Bush, receiver Calvin Johnson, safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and defensive end Ziggy Ansah. Also sidelined were receiver Ryan Broyles, running back Montell Owens, tight end Michael Williams and safety John Wendling.
- The remainder of the starters played two series. First, the good news: The defense didn't allow a first down. It forced a three-and-out on the first possession against Bills emergency quarterback Matt Leinart, and nickelback Bill Bentley intercepted Leinart on the third play of the second.
- The bad news: The remainder of the Lions' offensive starters -- including quarterback Matthew Stafford -- weren't sharp. Guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford collided in the backfield when both pulled, an error I'm going to attribute to Warford, and Stafford completed only 1 of 6 passes for 12 yards. He threw one interception when a high pass glanced off receiver Nate Burleson's hands. I'm not sure what to make of Stafford's preseason. It wasn't sharp by any means. He completed 49 percent of his passes for 310 yards, one touchdown, one interception and a 64.9 passer rating. But Johnson hardly played, and Bush's absence took away Stafford's comfort receiver Thursday night.
- As long as we're talking about Lions personal fouls -- Oh, wait. Were we? -- let's get on the record that center Dominic Raiola cost the team 15 yards with a personal foul while trying to make a tackle on the interception return.
- With Johnson and Broyles inactive, the Lions gave receiver Patrick Edwards a long look. Results were mixed. Stafford overthrew him on the first play of the game for what could have been a 63-yard touchdown. On another deep pass, Edwards got open but seemed to slow down when looking for the ball. It glanced off his hands. Meanwhile, he let a third-down catch bounce off his chest but later broke a tackle to score on an 8-yard pass from backup quarterback Shaun Hill. Have the Lions seen enough from Edwards to give him a regular spot in their rotation? I think the better question as final cuts loom this weekend is whether they'll have a choice. It's worth noting that competitor Matt Willis made a sensational 39-yard catch from Hill and just missed a touchdown from Kellen Moore when he couldn't get both feet down in the end zone.
- Moore wrapped up a strong preseason with a performance that suggests the Lions will at least have a very difficult decision to make. Moore entered in the second quarter and played the second half, throwing two touchdown passes to rookie running back Theo Riddick. Moore finished the preseason with four touchdown passes and a 99.4 passer rating. The Lions might want to use his roster spot to keep a player at another position, but this preseason he has looked at least like a future No. 2.
- For what it's worth, the Lions started Jason Fox at right tackle and Warford at right guard for the second consecutive week. Does that mean they have won the Week 1 starting jobs? I suppose it depends on how their film grades out from Thursday night. But things appear to be going in that direction.
- Joique Bell got the start at running back with Bush sidelined, and his best run was a 23-yard scoring jaunt. Mikel Leshoure managed 24 yards on seven carries. Each lost a fumble. At the very least, Bell has earned himself regular-season playing time even with Bush locked in as the starter.
- Did you notice rookie cornerback Darius Slay matching Bills speedster Marquise Goodwin stride for stride on a go route in the first quarter? I did. I realize speed is a skill and not a reflection of technique, but it's nice to know the Lions have a cornerback who can run step for step with one of the fastest receivers in the 2013 draft.
Here’s what Jaws had to say:
“I remember studying Matthew Stafford when he came out of Georgia in 2009. My first impression was this kid can really spin it! In 2011, Stafford played a full season for the first time in three years. That’s why he enters 2012 as No. 14 on my quarterback big board…
“Another full season with similar production (as 2011), and there's no question Stafford is a top-10 quarterback. He's an elite arm talent. I just need to see durability and performance over a longer period of time.”
The Senior Bowl festivities are underway and 30 of the NFL's 32 teams are in offseason mode. That can only mean one thing: It's mock draft time.
ESPN's own Mel Kiper issued his first mock draft of the year Wednesday night, and Mel has Detroit taking Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick. At No. 9, Kiper's got Green Bay selecting Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins. (All picks below No. 16 require an ESPN.com Insider subscription.)
But I think it's also interesting to look at Kiper's "Big Board," a fluid ranking of draft-eligible prospects. As of Wednesday, Kiper's top player was Texas Tech wide receiver Michael Crabtree. Kiper has Stafford ranked as the fourth-best player -- one spot above USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Just a little something to whet your appetite with a month to go before the annual scouting combine and three months away from the 2009 NFL draft.
Another prominent former head coach has moved into Green Bay's sights for its open defensive coordinator position. According to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, former Buffalo head coach Gregg Williams -- who spent 2008 as the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville -- is under strong consideration as well.
While Nolan remains the leading candidate for the job, Williams has the résumé and schematic experience the Packers apparently are looking for; he has employed various schemes during his stops in Tennessee, Buffalo, Washington and Jacksonville.
UPDATE (10:30 a.m. ET): ESPN's John Clayton reports Nolan will interview Thursday. No interview with Williams is scheduled as of yet. However, the Packers have set up an interview with at least one other candidate to join their defensive staff: Denver defensive line coach Bill Johnson, who would serve in the same capacity in Green Bay.
Continuing around the NFC North:
- The Packers fired offensive quality control coach Ty Knott, according to Pete Dougherty of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. Knott is the eighth, and perhaps last, Packers coach to depart this offseason.
- Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press on the decision of Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford to enter the NFL draft: "Stafford didn't realize it when he sat before television cameras in Athens, Ga., Wednesday, but he sadly endorsed his professional football death warrant. When the junior Georgia quarterback declared for the NFL draft, he basically told the Lions, "Take me, I'm yours" -- a submission that, if history serves as an accurate barometer, might cost him his sanity as well as his self-confidence." The Lions hold the draft's No. 1 pick.
- Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News begs the Lions not to take a quarterback with the first pick: "The Lions need a quarterback, sure. They always need a quarterback, although Daunte Culpepper and Dan Orlovsky (if re-signed) are not horrible options. But they do not need to draft one with their hard-earned No. 1 pick. Let me repeat that for the world's most competitively impaired franchise: Do not cave to the oldest crave and gamble on a quarterback at No. 1."
- David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune believes the Bears offseason overhaul of their defensive position coaches misdirects blame: "As long as the Bears remain committed to [defensive coordinator Bob] Babich and the Cover-2 scheme, and indications are they will continue to be, change will be the enemy. If the Bears report to [training camp] with three new position coaches but Babich still in his current role, even if calling signals becomes a more collaborative effort, then what will be so different really?"
- Minnesota safety Darren Sharper, a pending free agent, believes there is a 50-50 chance he will return to the Vikings in 2009, according to Judd Zulgad of the Star Tribune.
- Vikings receiver Sidney Rice caught 15 passes in 2008, down from 31 as a rookie in 2007. Rice blames the drop on a knee injury he suffered in Week 2, according to Rick Alonzo of the St. Paul Pioneer Press.