It is clear that with less than 12 hours before the start
of the 2004 NFL draft, the Lions’ propaganda machine is in high gear. Over the
last couple of days, every notable Lions’ beat-writer has been informing the
masses in print and on radio that the consensus in Allen Park is that, barring a
trade, the Lions number-one choice in this weekend’s draft will be Texas’ wide
receiver Roy Williams. This they say will happen even if Kellen Winslow Jr., the
highly-touted Miami Hurricane tight end, is still on the board.
Could this be a smokescreen, maybe and maybe not? While it
is clear that Roy Williams has a load of talent, and would have likely been
picked by the Lions ahead of Charles Rogers in last years draft had Roy left
after his junior season, I believe Winslow is simply the better choice. Not only
that, I believe Kellen Winslow Jr. could be the best player to join the Lions on
the offensive side of the ball since a certain running back from Oklahoma State
came to Motown back in 1989.
Just like Barry Sanders was a once in a generation running
back, Kellen Winslow Jr. is a one in a generation tight end. Those of you old
enough to remember a Lion by the name of Charlie Sanders know exactly what I am
talking about. These kinds of players do not come along very often, and when
they do you have to grab them.
Many experts and non-experts have made the claim that Roy
Williams will make a bigger impact on the Lions offense. . . . I beg to differ.
What kind of an impact does Tony Gonzales have on the Kansas City Chiefs passing
attack? How about Jeremy Shockey with the Giants? How about Shannon Sharpe in
his prime with the Denver Broncos? Does anyone remember what kind of impact Jay
Novacek had on Troy Aikman’s career in Dallas? A quality tight end is an
invaluable key in creating matchup problems versus a defense’s safeties and
linebackers. Winslow has the speed to outrun linebackers and the strength to run
over defensive backs. In addition to his speed and strength, Winslow’s quickness
off the ball, superior route running, hands and toughness would cause nightmares
for defensive coordinators every week.
Not only could Winslow make an impact by becoming Joey Harrington’s favorite safety valve receiver in the passing game, he is a fine
blocker who could more than hold his own while helping Jeff Backus and Stocker
McDougle seal containment on running plays to the outside. He is also versatile,
as evidenced by the Hurricanes using him as a wide-out, running him in motion as
an H-back, and even lining him up in the backfield as a blocker on occasion.
With all this in mind, isn’t it becoming clearer why we
keep hearing from the experts that Kellen Winslow Jr. could revolutionize the
tight end position in the NFL? While it is fact that the last time a tight end
led the AFC in receptions was Ben Coates in 1995 (96 catches), and no tight end
has led the NFC in receptions since Charles Young in 1974 (66 catches), isn’t it
possible that in today’s pass-happy NFL, Winslow could become the first
tight-end to routinely catch 100 passes a season? One has to look no further
than a seven-year stretch in the 1980’s to find evidence that he could make it
The 1980’s were the glory years for the tight end position,
for six out-of-seven seasons (1980-84, 1986), a tight end led the NFL, or AFC,
in receptions. Winslow’s father, Kellen Sr., began the streak, leading the NFL
with 89 and 88 receptions, respectively, in 1980 and ‘81. Then, in the
strike-shortened year of 1982, Winslow led the AFC with 54 catches. Next came
1983, when the Oakland Raiders’ Todd Christensen set a then-NFL record for
receptions by a tight end, leading the AFC with 92. The following year, 1984,
the Cleveland Browns Ozzie Newsome led the AFC with 89 grabs. Finally, after a
year off, Christensen returned the tight end to the leader board in 1986 with a
NFL-leading 95 grabs. That would stand as the mark for a tight end until the
aforementioned Ben Coates broke it nine years later.
Some folks have questioned Winslow’s attitude because of
his much publicized locker room tirade last season. Frankly, I would like to see
a few of the current Lions on the roster show that kind of emotion after a loss
. . . any loss. Maybe with a few “emotional” guys like Winslow on the team, they
could end that much publicized 24-game road losing streak? Maybe with a few more
“attitudes” on the roster, Ford Field could become a little more than just a
nice place to watch a football game? The question of the Poston brothers being
Winslow’s agent is a non-issue. They are also Charles Rogers’ and Damien Woody’s
agents and the Lions didn’t seem to have any problem getting those players to
join the team. In the same fashion, I have a hard time believing that Kellen
Winslow Sr. would allow his past problems with the Lion front office hamper his
son getting off to a good start as a NFL rookie.
Charlie Sanders went to seven Pro Bowls (1969-72, ’75-’77)
during his stellar ten-year career. His replacement, David Hill, followed with
three-more Pro Bowl trips (1978-80). Since that time, the Lions have sent just
one tight end to the Pro Bowl (David Sloan in 2000). Anyone who saw Charlie
Sanders play in a Detroit Lion uniform would tell you that “Charlie Deep”
remains the greatest tight end, and pass-catcher, in Detroit Lions history. I’m
not saying that Kellen Winslow Jr. will be the next Charlie Sanders. I’m not
saying that he will be a good as his Hall-of-Fame father either. I’ll leave the
comparisons to the experts.
I’m just saying that Kellen Winslow Jr. should be given a
shot to be the first Kellen Winslow to wear the Honolulu Blue and Silver.