On the first day of Draftmas, my true love gave to me: one summary of the Detroit Lions needs.
The Detroit Lions have all but finished their moves in free agency. There will be some minor tweaks but we have what the team will look like going into the draft pretty much set. Perhaps a veteran or two that didn’t get signed before the draft will see an opportunity in Detroit to reset his market for next year. That will be entirely dependent on what the team does in the draft, however.
The Detroit Lions Skill Positions
At Quarterback the Lions have their starter set in stone until the day he retires. Matthew Stafford is all that matters at the position. The team has spent two seasons developing Jake Rudock. Bob Quinn fired former quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan one year after blocking him from interviewing for the Bears offensive coordinator job. That doesn’t look like a GM that was impressed with the developmental quarterback’s progress. Quinn signed veteran Matt Cassell to compete with Rudock for the backup quarterback job. Both are free agents after the 2018 season. quarterback is a late round need.
The Running back position has had a band-aid applied to it in the form of Lagerrette Blount. Last year Quinn banked on Ameer Abdullah not only returning to form after listfranc surgery but being able to singlehandedly carry the load for the Lions on the ground. Abdullah did not return to form. In fact, he had a terrible season, though so did every other Lions running back not named Tion Green.
Green, of course, led the Lions running back group in yards per carry last season. Even he fell short of statistical competence with 3.9 yards per carry. Blount is on a one year deal, and unquestionably the best running back the Lions have had since Reggie Bush in 2013, but he will likely not be on the squad in 2019. Running back is a need in every round until the Lions take one.
Wide receiver is the Lions strongest offensive position, but it will likely be gutted in 2019. Golden Tate, the Lions receptions leader for the last three seasons, is a free agent, and not a man who takes discounts. He left a Superbowl contender to come to Detroit for a paycheck. T.J. Jones, the team’s number four receiver is also an unrestricted free agent next season. The 2019 roster at wide receiver is Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay, then nothing. The 2018 draft is the time to fill that cupboard. Wide receivers generally take a year to transition from college to the NFL. There are exceptions, but that kind of player does not exist in this draft.
The Lions tight end group is missing a player at the top. Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo signed one-year deals for a reason. They’re not long-term solutions to any question worth asking. Michael Roberts looked like a rookie in 2017. The team is hoping he takes a step forward, but the addition of those two veterans gives the impression they are not counting on it.
The Detroit Lions Linemen
The offensive tackle spot could use some depth, but Corey Robinson and Brian Mihalik have both played reasonably well for short periods. The interior of the line is a huge question mark. T.J. Lang will start at right guard, but that is the only thing I can say for certain. Graham Glasgow will undoubtedly man one of the other spots on the line. If the season were to start now there would be a three-way battle. The Lions have added three players that have looked decent for stretches.
Joe Dahl played reasonably well in the last two games of the 2017 season. Kenny Wiggins looked alright in his last season under Lion offensive line coach Jeff Davidson. Wesley Johnson may have been the worst starting center in the NFL with the New York Jets last year, but he is in the mix if the Lions do not address the interior offensive line in the draft. for that reason, I believe they will.
The defensive tackle spot has a lot of depth. A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Sylvester Williams, and Jeremiah Ledbetter would be far from the worst group in the NFL. The draft priority of the defensive tackle comes down to one thing. Does Paul Pasqualoni want to run a defense that uses a gap shooting three-technique? If he does, Ledbetter, a second round player who was drafted in the sixth round, is his only option. Spence looked like one coming out of college but was entirely unsuccessful in the role last season. If Pasqualoni wants one, the Lions need to go get it.
Defensive end is a spot where the Lions desperately need to improve and also have long-term issues. Ziggy Ansah is playing for one year on the franchise tag. Apart from Ansah, the Lions have Anthony Zettel, Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington, and Jeremiah Valoaga. That is not exactly a star-studded list. Hyder missed last year with an Achilles injury. Zettel started hot but fell off as 2017 went on. Washington and Valoaga gave little indication they will be anything but depth. The Lions need a boost for this year and a long-term replacement for Ansah.
The Detroit Lions Back Seven
The linebacker group has received more attention than any other in Bob Quinn’s tenure. Jarrad Davis looks like he will slide back to the middle, where he began his rookie year. Flanking him will be some combination of free agent acquisitions Christian Jones, and Devon Kennard; or second-year pro Jalen Reeves-Maybin. The Lions also have competent special teams and defensive depth players Nick Bellore and Steve Longa in place. If there is a position at which the Lions have no pressing need, it is linebacker. If a stud were to fall their way, however, they could make room.
The corner group was bolstered significantly last off-season with the addition of Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew in the draft. The Lions replaced D.J. Hayden with the bigger and more physical DeShawn Shead early in free agency. Nevin Lawson came back for two more seasons, and Quandre Diggs is in the mix for a role in the slot, and at safety. Darius Slay is the unquestioned number one man atop the group. The Lions have really solid corner depth and all but Shead and Diggs are under contract for multiple seasons. A late round pick would not be a bad move, but it is not mandatory.
The safety group appears to in place for the immediate future as well. Glover Quinn signed an extension that covers the next two seasons as did Tavon Wilson. Miles Killebrew played well at times in 2017, and Quandre Diggs excelled when pressed into service as a single high safety. Other than Quinn, none are the sort of player that would turn a general manager away from the position. Quinn can play either safety position with equal skill. That leaves the Lions option’s wide open if a player of value were to drop to them in any round.
Those are the Detroit Lions needs in the draft as I see them. Tomorrow, and every day until April 26, 2018, I will go over one round of the draft. For those of you that are new here, I will also add a different type of coverage each day. Don’t worry for you veterans, I will not be covering snack foods. All killer and no filler in 2018.