Handicapping the top of the draft

February, 22, 2009
2/22/09
4:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

INDIANAPOLIS -- We warned you last week. If you're looking for guesses about specific teams drafting particular players, you're reading the wrong NFC North blog on the ESPN blog network. But with Detroit positioned at the No. 1 overall in the April draft, it's only fair that we take a look at what we learned about the top of the draft this week at the annual scouting combine.

 
  AP Photo/Darron Cummings
  Matthew Stafford did not throw during his workout at the combine.

(Just for kicks, we'll bring you three questions with a player often associated with the Green Bay Packers' slot at No. 9. But don't get used to it. I have ABSOLUTELY NO IDEA -- yet -- if the Packers want to draft Ohio State cornerback Malcolm Jenkins.)

With that said, let's try to handicap the Lions' possibilities at the end of this important week -- while knowing there are many more important weeks yet to come before the draft. I compiled the list below in order of the most to the least likely target, an order we'll revisit and update regularly as the draft approaches:

1. Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford

Why he's the guy: The Lions paid an awful lot of attention to him at the combine, more than any other individual prospect. Nothing happened to suggest he has fallen from the perch as the top quarterback available, which always makes a player a top candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. And you can't deny the karma: Stafford attended the same high school (Highland Park in Dallas) as former Lions quarterback Bobby Layne.

Why he isn't: Stafford's decision not to throw at the combine means the Lions' evaluation of him can't be complete. It also means NFL teams haven't had a chance to evaluate his accuracy after a college career in which he completed 57.1 percent of his passes.

2. Baylor offensive lineman Jason Smith

Why he's the guy: Smith put up the best combine numbers of the top left tackles in the draft. His 33 repetitions on the bench press and 5.22 time in the 40-yard dash both ranked in the top 10 of all offensive linemen. It seems clear he could step in as an immediate starter at one of the game's most important positions.

Why he isn't: The tackle position in this draft is said to be exceptionally deep, and it's possible the Lions could get an immediate starter either with the No. 20 or No. 33 overall pick. Smith might well emerge as the top tackle in the draft, but is he a player worthy of the No. 1 pick overall? That hasn't been determined.

3. Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry

Why he's the guy: Nothing injects life into a moribund defense more than a big-time playmaker, and Curry has the capacity to step in right away at a key position of need: Strongside linebacker. Coach Jim Schwartz has noted the Lions have a deeper personnel deficit on defense than offense, and spoke glowingly of Curry at the combine.

Why he isn't: Curry is built like a middle linebacker but has never played there, and it's difficult to imagine the Lions would move Ernie Sims out of the weakside position. The linebacker position isn't often considered crucial enough to merit a No. 1 overall pick, especially for a 4-3 team.

4. Virginia offensive lineman Eugene Monroe

Why he's the guy: The Lions indicated a heavy level of interest prior to the combine. He is probably more athletic than Smith and has more room to grow. Like Smith, there are no character flaws.

Why he isn't: We downgraded Monroe a bit after a less-impressive combine performance that included 22 repetitions on the bench press. At the moment, Smith is stronger and better prepared to step in right away. This comparison, of course, could change over the next few months.

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