Stock rising for Avril and Knight

The periscope is up — with Cliff Avril, the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Brandon Knight and the Pistons in its cross hairs.

Avril flowers

Cliff Avril has benefited from good timing the moment he came to the Lions as a third-round draft pick in 2008, but it has not been a one-sided proposition.

The Lions have gotten a payoff from Avril being in the right place at the right time — often in the vicinity of the opposing quarterback.

Avril has become one of the NFL’s top pass-rushers, and his impact cannot be measured strictly by his sack total. When the free-agent signing period begins on March 14, Avril’s total package will make him one of the most sought-after defensive ends — if he has not re-signed with the Lions by then.

The Lions face a dilemma in pegging Avril’s value relative to its impact on the salary cap, but there’s no denying his production.

Avril has made game-changing plays that add to his value. In addition to his 11 sacks in 2011 — 11th most in the league and fourth by a defensive end — he had six forced fumbles, five pass breakups, three fumble recoveries and an interception return for a touchdown.

Avril’s status and future have been widely discussed, with one of the central issues being how he’s benefited from playing on a defensive line that’s regarded as one of the NFL’s strongest and deepest.

Certainly, there’s a value in having Kyle Vanden Bosch at right end, and Ndamukong Suh, Corey Williams, Nick Fairley and Sammie Hill in the tackle rotation. There isn’t a weak link in that group.

If Avril benefits from their presence, then the rest of the line benefits from his. It’s logical that in passing situations, the right guard is aware that a premier pass-rusher is lined up at left end and digging in to bring heat on the quarterback.

And Avril has demonstrated that when he’s put in a position where he has the advantage, he delivers — like a cleanup hitter with men on base.

Avril’s career arc has steadily ascended. When he was drafted in 2008, he had a head coach, Rod Marinelli, who’s recognized as a master of developing pass-rushers.

Avril has built on that foundation — five sacks as a rookie, 5.5 in ’09, 8.5 in ’10 and a big season in 2011 that launched him into free-agency.

A year ago, Charles Johnson of the Panthers set a standard with a 6-year, $72 million deal that reportedly included $32 million in guaranteed money.

Johnson and Avril have had similar careers, and at face value deserve similar contracts.

Good timing.

Shining Knight

Brandon Knight’s career arc is ascending — like a meteor that will never flame out.

One play in Monday night’s 99-92 road victory over the Nets showed how Knight can be a dominating point guard in the NBA.

Knight isolated on the Nets’ Shelden Williams, drove the right side of the lane, then exploded to the hoop for a layup with a second left. Knight was fouled and made the free throw for a three-point play and a 51-39 Pistons lead.

Knight is 20 — only seven months younger than Isiah Thomas, the greatest player in Pistons history, was when he was a rookie in 1981.

It’s unlikely that Knight will match Isiah’s career, but Knight might share one quality — toughness. No one was tougher than Isiah.

Knight broke his nose in the previous game and played the next one with a mask. That’s tough.

Frank talk

Going into the weekend’s games, the Pistons’ 7-20 record put them ahead of only three teams in the NBA. That’s no reflection on the job Lawrence Frank has done as head coach.

On a nightly basis, there’s no comparison to the energy level and preparedness the Pistons have shown under Frank compared to his immediate predecessors — John Kuester and Michael Curry.

Hall vote

I was one of the 44 selectors who voted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2012 in Indianapolis on Saturday, the day before Super Bowl XLVI.

The Hall’s rules prohibit the selectors from revealing their vote or specific discussions of the 17 finalists for this year’s class.

Within those restrictions, I’ll offer a few points — with the understanding that there are no absolutes.

My opinions are my opinions, and others can disagree. That includes fans, media, club officials, Hall of Fame candidates and the other 43 selectors.

• For starters, all 17 candidates were discussed thoroughly and fairly. That includes the two senior candidates, Dick Stanfel and Jack Butler, and 15 modern-era candidates.

The senior candidates are voted on in a separate yes or no vote. Butler got in, Stanfel did not.

I did not detect a bit of personal bias against any candidate, contrary to what has been suggested by many who have criticized the vote.

• Football is the only sport that elects players to the Hall who have no defining stats. Those are the offensive linemen, and two were voted in this year — tackle Willie Roaf and center Dermontii Dawson.

That takes away two of the five spots that would go to players with stats.

• I think the Hall’s bylaws should be amended to let selectors make their vote public, if they so desire.

I have a history in this. In 2003, I was the only voter who did not vote for Peyton Manning for Most Valuable Player, as conducted by the Associated Press. Manning got 49 votes. My vote went to Michael Vick, then with the Falcons.

My intention was never to be a lone wolf to attract attention to myself, and I thought the vote would be split between Manning, Vick and Daunte Culpepper.

I voted for Vick because of his impact on the Falcons’ won-lost records with and without him. They were 5-11 in ’03 when he started only four games because of a broken ankle and 11-5 in ’04 when he started 15 games.

I took a lot of heat for my vote, and that’s fair. But anyone who’s afraid to vote his beliefs shouldn’t vote.

• The biggest outcry in this year’s vote centered on the receivers — Tim Brown, Cris Carter and Andre Reed.

I think all three had careers that warrant making the Hall of Fame, and I’ve been on record for favoring Carter because of superior stats — 1,101 catches and 130 TDs.

Other people see it differently, and they might have canceled each other out.

That’s a guess on my part because the vote is not made public, even to the 44 selectors.

• Contributors — such as coaches, owners and other club officials — should be voted on in a separate category, similar to how the seniors are separated from modern-era players.

It’s hard for me to vote for coaches and owners ahead of players.