Stafford ready to follow in footsteps of top picks

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The last quarterback the Detroit Lions grabbed early in the NFL Draft flamed out after four seasons and has bounced around from the Dolphins to the Falcons to the Saints.

Joey Harrington couldn't turn around the Lions' fortunes after being selected as the No. 3 overall pick in 2002. Detroit was 2-14 the season before and never won more than six games with him.

Now comes Georgia's Matthew Stafford.

On Saturday, the Lions could make Stafford the draft's top pick, sending him to a franchise that last season became the first in NFL history to go 0-16.

"Typically when you get drafted in the top 10 you're going to a bad team with a lot of needs and a lot of rebuilding that must take place," said Steve Marriuci, who coached the Lions from 2003-05. "If Matthew Stafford goes No. 1, he's going to make the most money, he's going to go to the team that needs the most help."

Stafford might not get thrown directly into the fire. Detroit could work him in gradually behind veteran Daunte Culpepper.

"He's definitely prepared for it," said John Stafford, Matthew's father.

If Stafford goes No. 1, he would be the ninth quarterback selected with the top pick since Peyton Manning in 1998.

"I've stood by Stafford from the beginning and I'll continue to do that," former Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden said. "I just think he has an NFL body."

Others aren't so sure about a player who completed 57.1 percent of his passes at Georgia.

NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock said Stafford has a "huge" arm and "tremendous upside," but if he had a top-10 pick he would take Southern California's Mark Sanchez because his "floor is higher."

"Stafford doesn't always have his A game, and I don't get that," Mayock said. "With all the talent around him, I could put in a tape and watch him have an unbelievably hot half against Alabama and an unbelievably cold half and I don't know why it varies so much from game to game."

Reach Marc.Weiszer at marc.weiszer@morris.com.

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