(ALLEN PARK) - Recently a list was released with the 50 most valuable players in the NFL and to the surprise of almost no one, no Detroit Lions player was listed.
That got me to thinking who are the top fifteen players on the Detroit Lions roster? So with a tip of the hat to Dennis Fithian and Mike Wickett, my colleagues at radio station 1050WTKA in Ann Arbor, here is my list of the top 15 most valuable Detroit Lions. My criteria? Youth, talent, upside and ability to make an impact on the outcome of a game.
10. Jason Hanson --No kicker in the NFL has been as accurate as long and as often as Hanson. While he's up in age, there are about 10 teams, including some who are playoff bound, who would love to have Hanson in their uniform. Despite the debacle in Chicago a year ago, Hanson is as steady and as reliable as they come. He's basically untested in really big games, a shame simply because Detroit hasn't played in any and that is a worry because who knows if he could do it if, say, a Super Bowl berth were on the line (Remember Eddie Murray's miss in the infamous Monte Clark praying hands game?). Still, 99% of the time, Hanson is like money in the bank.
9. Dominic Raiola --Raiola has moved into the starting center position even though some observers felt that Eric Beverly, an undrafted free agent from Miami, was the better player at the time. Raiola must take a leap forward this season in this his third year. Drafted primarily as a drive blocker, he hasn't provided the push Detroit needs in the running game up front to date. This year, Detroit hopes he gives them what they expected when their drafted him in the second round from Nebraska.
8. Boss Bailey --The Lions desperately hope for an infusion of speed at the linebacker position with the selection of Bailey. But whenever a rookie second round pick is the eighth most valuable player, it underscores the need to improve the roster talent wise. Still, Detroit hopes that they're looking at the next Derrick Brooks when they look at the speedy Bailey.
7. Shaun Rogers -- It's time for "Big Baby" to stop acting like one. Last year, Rogers flopped miserably from his 2002 season where he looked like a pro bowler. Robert Porcher has taken Rogers under his wing and he appears to have responded to the off-season trade talk. He's dropped some weight, but needs to shed some more. If he can get back to his 2002 form, he can be a pro bowl type player.
6. Az Zahir Hakim -- Yes, he was only the third receiver in St. Louis' scheme and he drops some balls, but Hakim has speed to burn when healthy and is an exciting play maker. If he is healthy, he can be the featured receiver for Detroit until Rogers is ready to assume his rightful place as the Lion King.
5. Dre' Bly -- Sure Detroit overpaid for Bly, but look for this to be the year Bly becomes a pro bowl player and one of the elite corners in the game. Bly started as a part time player and only last year assumed a starting role in St. Louis' defense. But Lions GM and President Matt Millen jumped in at the right time. Bly will solidify the left corner in a way the Lions haven't seen since Lem Barney patrolled the position.
4. Charles Rogers --It's saying something when a rookie is your fourth most valuable player but Rogers has the ability to be something special. This year's No. 2 overall pick could be the next Randy Moss/Terrell Owens type of receiver. Don't expect anything but flashes this year, but in 2004, look out.
3. Jeff Backus -- While fans often want to go after the glamour positions in the draft, this was an an important draft pick as the Lions have made in years. Detroit hasn't had anyone step up to anchor the left tackle position since Lomas Brown left years ago in free agency. Backus has stepped and an battle every opponents best pass rusher, having good to great success against most of them. He's a keeper and Joey Harrington is extremely happy he's protecting his backside.
2. Kalimba Edwards -- While this might raise some eyebrows, anytime you record 6.5 sacks as a part-time player, you've got the ability to rush the passer. That is a commodity that can't be overstated in today's pass happy NFL. Edwards has the potential to be a double digit sack man in 2003, something Detroit desperately needs as Robert Porcher ages gracefully.
1. Joey Harrington --Last year's number two overall pick, Harrington's future is bright. With a great coach ready to help him pick up the nuances of the game, Harrington should take a leap from having the worst passer rating in the NFL last season, to a the middle of the pack this year. Look for him to jump to the top ten by year three and from there the sky's the limit for this talented but sometimes a little bit too cocky youngster who could stand a touch of Brett Favre-like humility.
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