Lions’ challenge: Put Stafford in position to succeed

Jim Schwartz was an assistant coach in Baltimore in 1996, when the Ravens had two first-round picks. With Eric Zeier as the team’s starting quarterback, the Ravens used the fourth overall pick to draft OT Jonathan Ogden and their 26th overall pick to build their defense around MLB Ray Lewis.

Along with Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew, Schwartz resisted the safe blueprint for success and took the talented QB from Georgia, Matthew Stafford.

“We allowed the process to lead us in taking the best player on our board,” said Schwartz. “In my 17 years in the NFL, its the first time there was a consensus with everyone in the room all wanting the same player.”

It has been more than 50 years since the Lions won a NFL Championship in 1957 with QB Bobby Layne. Stafford, who went to the same Highland Park High School in Dallas, Texas as Layne, will be asked to lift a franchise who has lost 22 of its last 24 regular season games.

After an 0-16 season, Stafford will be asked to raise the Titanic.

“Its up to us to develop someone who was the highest rated player on our draft board,” said Mayhew. “We were finally convinced during his private workouts. His arm strength and smarts were very impressive.”

Schwartz credits Stafford’s improved accuracy from his freshman to junior year at Georgia as a sign of commitment and work ethic.

Stafford being under contract will allow him to take every snap in every practice in OTA’s, minicamp and training camp. With that said, he stands an excellent chance to follow in the steps of Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco as Week 1 starters as a rookie quarterback.

However, buyer beware. The Lions have allowed 169 sacks over the last three years for an average of 56.3 sacks per season. Hoping to avoid becoming an oft-injured human pinata, Stafford’s early presence on the field could prove to be more of a curse than a blessing.

— Solomon Wilcots

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