Lions Notebook: Team Eyes 3 Top Prospects

Martin Mayhew (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Three main candidates have emerged for the Lions to draft No. 1 overall. Also, a slew of comments from Lions' GM Martin Mayhew on last weekend's combine, Detroit's quarterback situation, and more.

Three main candidates have emerged for the Lions to draft No. 1 overall: Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford, Baylor left tackle Jason Smith and Wake Forest linebacker Aaron Curry.

Stafford has been atop many mock drafts, but he didn't throw at the NFL scouting combine while Smith and Curry performed impressively. Now media opinions are mixed.

There is no doubt the Lions are seriously considering Stafford. He ate salmon and asparagus at Shula's Steak House in Indianapolis with president Tom Lewand, general manager Martin Mayhew, senior personnel executive Shack Harris, coach Jim Schwartz and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

"I had a great time," Stafford said. "I really felt like I clicked well with some of the people there."

Entering the combine, Andre Smith was a popular choice at left tackle. But leaving the combine, it was Jason Smith.

Andre Smith was suspended for his final college game for breaking team rules, showed up for the combine out of shape and took off without telling anyone first.

That could be a problem for the Lions. Asked beforehand about players who choose not to work out, Schwartz said: "It probably depends on the reason whether it's a red flag or not. If you're not working out because you're not in shape, it's definitely a red flag."

Jason Smith left no doubt he was in shape. He benched 225 pounds 33 times - 10 times more than another top tackle, Virginia's Eugene Monroe.

"I have not talked to the Lions," Jason Smith said. "But I do believe it's realistic that they will take a tackle, and I do believe it's realistic I could be the No. 1 overall pick."

Curry dined with the Lions brass Sunday, then had a great workout Monday. He finished first among linebackers in four of the six drills - 40-yard dash (4.56 seconds), vertical jump (37 inches), broad jump (10-feet-4) and 60-yard shuttle (11.35 seconds).


The Lions are impressed with Aaron Curry (running at the combine). But will they spend No. 1 overall on a linebacker?
Aaron Curry (Scott Boehm/Getty)

"Just to know that they're considering taking a linebacker No. 1 overall ... just that whole thought process is amazing," Curry told NFL.com. "I came out here today with that in the back of my head.

"It did motivate me to know that if I put on a good enough show, maybe they may feel like they could build a team around a linebacker. Add me with Ernie Sims, and maybe we could make some big plays."

There is no question Curry would add a lot to the Lions' defense, which ranked last the past two seasons, and some draft analysts are calling him the safest pick the draft. He's big, strong and athletic. He seems mature and engaging.

The question is whether a strong-side linebacker has enough value to be the No. 1 overall pick. Curry said he can play all three positions, and he is supposed to be versatile. But he said he has had only five or six practices in the middle. Would the Lions feel safe using the top pick on a player while projecting how he will play a new position?

Schwartz spent the past eight years as Tennessee's defensive coordinator. He has a reputation for intelligence, and he likes his defenses to be multidimensional.

Could that make Curry the first linebacker taken first overall since 1988? Or will they go with Stafford? Or Jason Smith? Or someone else? The Lions have a lot to talk about over the next two months.

NOTES

  • The Lions haven't named Daunte Culpepper their starting quarterback but expect him to be much better. General manager Martin Mayhew said Culpepper's weight was "visibly down" but didn't give a number. "It's not a concern at all right now," Mayhew said. "If he continues to do what he's doing, he'll be fine."
  • Mayhew insisted the Lions have not decided whether to pay the $1 million roster bonus quarterback Jon Kitna is due March 3 and that they are still discussing his future. Asked if the Lions are trying to trade Kitna, he said: "We look at options for trade for a lot of players, for all of our players, really. If something kind of came up where we had an opportunity to trade Jon and there was value for us, we would certainly look into that."
  • The Lions were trying to sign quarterback Dan Orlovsky before he became an unrestricted free agent Feb. 27. Mayhew said he told Orlovsky he sees him as a backup, but the best player would play. "He's been a backup his whole career," Mayhew said, "and I'm not sure he'll go out in the market and he'll get starter money."
  • Might this be a good time to draft a quarterback, because the Lions have a veteran and wouldn't need to throw in the rookie right away? "Yeah, I think if the right quarterback is there, now would be a good time to draft a quarterback," Mayhew said. "It has to be a good fit for us."
  • Mayhew stopped short of saying the Lions would not draft a player No. 1 without signing him first, but he said: "It's of critical importance that we have a contract done prior to the draft. That's very, very important to us." He envisions the Lions negotiating with at least three potential No. 1 picks, starting a couple of weeks before the draft because of the complexity of the contracts.
  • Mayhew said he was considering moving left tackle Jeff Backus to guard, perhaps paving the way for the Lions to draft a tackle No. 1. "I had one conversation with him at practice last year," Mayhew said. "He told me he thought he could do it." Backus has started every game - 128 straight - at left tackle since the Lions drafted him in the first round in 2001. "I think it's easier, though, to go from outside to inside than it is to go from inside to outside," Mayhew said. "Jeff's a talented guy. He's a hard worker. He's a smart guy. He takes coaching. So I think if we did that and we did it relatively soon, I think he could adapt to the position. I think we'll cross that bridge whenever we get to it. If that's something that we decide as a club is the best thing for us, I know Jeff wouldn't have a problem with it."
  • Mayhew said the Lions would research prospects more thoroughly and make group personnel decisions. But from the first pick to the last, he will make sure he is happy with the selection. "It's going to be a guy that I like," Mayhew said. "All the way down the draft, it's going to be a guy that I like. I think sometimes we have picked guys, and I don't know if Matt really liked them the way other people may have liked them in the building. That's all I'll say about the past."
  • Mayhew won't say much about how Millen or coach Rod Marinelli did things, even to illustrate how the Lions will do things differently in the future. He doesn't want to take shots or come off as a know-it-all. "People go places, and they take over, and they say, 'Before, you guys were doing it all wrong, and now I'm here, the savior, to save the day,'" Mayhew said. "That's not me. And I respect Rod. I respect Matt."
  • When the Lions interviewed Miami secondary coach Todd Bowles for their head-coaching job, he told them when the Dolphins went from 1-15 to 11-5, they banned talk about the past. The Lions have done the same thing, even, say, telling funny stories in the cafeteria. "We started about two or three weeks ago," Mayhew said. "We said, 'You know what? We don't do that anymore.' And now we catch each other, and we stop. We don't do that anymore. I think it's important to let go of the past and look toward the future."
  • The Lions are working with a company that does psychological testing of prospects at the combine. "It doesn't make the decision for you," Mayhew said. "It's another piece of information. It's no different than what his vertical jump is. It's another piece of information you have when you pick a player. You wouldn't not pick a guy because he didn't test well, and you wouldn't pick a guy whose play doesn't reflect it because he did test well. It's just more information I think will help us."
  • QUOTE TO NOTE: "That would be really smooth and really easy and make everybody feel real good about each other. That's why we've been getting our butt kicked around here for eight years. I just play it straightforward with these guys. If they don't want to know, then they shouldn't ask me, because I'm going to tell them how I see them. A lot of them are dissatisfied with that, but that's how it's going to be. Too many group hugs around here lately." -- GM Martin Mayhew, on why he told QB Dan Orlovsky he sees him as a backup instead of just telling him he could compete for the starting job.

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