Out of Bounds: NFL draft provides hopes for teams, fans

The NFL draft is probably the most exciting off-season event for football fans, as all teams look to revamp their lineups in hopes of miraculous improvements on future seasons.

Next Saturday, teams will try to find the missing piece to become a championship contender, try to provide some depth at an aging position, or find a franchise player to build a team around - which is what most teams with an early pick usually try to do.

One such team this year is the Detroit Lions, who hold the first pick in the draft due a dreadful 0-16 season last year. Many experts predict them to take Georgia's star quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Taking a quarterback with a top-3 pick can be very rewarding for a franchise if they choose the right guy. In 1998, the Colts took Peyton Manning with the first overall pick and have been a consistent Super Bowl contender ever since. Other quarterbacks taken in the top three picks of the draft that have had successful NFL careers include Steve McNair, Donovan McNabb and Troy Aikman.

But if a team misses on their quarterback, their franchise can be set back for years. The Cleveland Browns have not yet fully recovered from taking Tim Couch first overall in 1999. The 49ers are just now starting to come back after missing on Alex Smith in 2004. Other busts include the Bengals' Akili Smith, the Chargers' Ryan Leaf, Lions' Joey Harrington and the Texans' David Carr.

Picking a quarterback with an early round draft pick isn't always the best option, however. The Texans are now starting to build a contending team around their most recent first overall pick in 2006, defensive end Mario Williams. They picked Williams despite many fans wanting Houston-native quarterback Vince Young. Williams has since become a star in the league, racking up double-digit sack totals in each of the last two seasons. Meanwhile Young sat on the bench most of last season.

In the past, teams that choose not to take a quarterback with their first pick have become highly successful in the NFL. In 1997, the St.. Louis Rams took offensive tackle Orlando Pace with the first overall pick and won the Super Bowl two years later. In 1995, the Jacksonville Jaguars selected offensive tackle Tony Boselli with the second pick - the Jaguars reached the playoffs in every year from 1996-1999.

This past season, the Miami Dolphins took tackle Jake Long with their first pick instead of a quarterback and made it to the playoffs. Yes, Matt Ryan, the quarterback they would have taken also led his team, the Atlanta Falcons, to the playoffs. But the Dolphins have so far been successful taking the safe choice instead of taking a chance on a quarterback.

This year, the Lions have other options with their first pick besides Stafford. Many regard linebacker Aaron Curry as being one of the top players in the draft. There are also a variety of top offensive tackles to choose from: Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe and Andre Smith are all projected to be high first round picks.

But none of these players have the upside that a potential franchise quarterback like Stafford has. Stafford may end up being a player like Manning or Aikman, which is why a quarterback pick is the best option for the Lions in next weekend's draft.