Several important clues have appeared to help us discern the top of the NFL draft. As the smoke clears, can there be any way that Detroit won't end up with Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh?
Draft intentions are difficult to interpret, especially those of tight-lipped Lions general manager Martin Mayhew. But as much as these things can be predicted, a Suh-Lions marriage seems awfully likely.
Although this scenario has been the likeliest for some time, several variables no longer exist.
First, St. Louis released starting quarterback Marc Bulger on Monday. The move was the strongest indication yet that the Rams will draft Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford -- and not Suh -- with the No. 1 overall pick.
Second, Washington acquired quarterback Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia for two draft picks, including its second-round pick this year. With their quarterback position filled, and a critical draft position shipped out, it's hard to imagine the Redskins as a major trade-up contender for the Lions' No. 2 overall pick.
Before the McNabb deal, there was some thought the Redskins might have enough interest in Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen to swing a deal. That seems unlikely now, dramatically lessening the possibility of a Clausen-generated bidding war at No. 2.
Third, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove signed his restricted free-agent tender with New Orleans. The Lions had hosted Hargrove for a visit and might have considered another position at No. 2 had they acquired him through an offer sheet.
Now, the only obstacle to figuring out the Lions is knowing whether their talent evaluators agree that Suh is a better prospect than Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy. That evaluation is far from a certainty. From a media analyst's perspective, at least, opinions are mixed. ESPN's Mel Kiper has Suh ranked ahead of McCoy, while Scouts Inc. lists them in reverse order. McCoy also heads the list over at NFL.com, where Mike Mayock is the primary draft analyst.
Speaking last month at the NFL owners meetings, Lions coach Jim Schwartz said there is not as much difference between the two players "as people think" and that they were asked to play different styles at their respective schools.
"They're very similar in their skill set," Schwartz said. "If you took Suh to Oklahoma and you took McCoy to Nebraska, I think they'd both excel in the other person's defense. When you're drafting at the top of the draft, you're looking for guys who aren't just a creation of the scheme and you're looking for guys who have multidimensional skills that can do a lot of different things. Both guys are big, they're fast, have high character and both are productive at a high level of competition. There's a lot to like with both of them."
We've discussed the possibility of the Lions drafting Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung for financial reasons. But if you trust the team's pledge to take the best available player with each pick, regardless of position, you can narrow the choices down to Suh and McCoy. And although it's impossible to know with certainty what the Lions are thinking, Suh at No. 2 seems more likely than ever with the draft 17 days away.