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Roundtable: Who is the Lions least-replaceable player outside of Matthew Stafford?

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The staff writers discuss who the Lions could least afford to lose for the 2017 season.

NFL: Detroit Lions at San Diego Chargers Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

As you may be doing with your living space, Pride Of Detroit is also doing a little spring cleaning of their own. Rather than spraying some tropical-scented Febreze, flipping around the throw pillows to hide the stains and calling it good, we’re taking on a task that’s almost too big to accomplish before the dog days of training camp arrive. We’re not just tearing up the carpet and putting in hardwood. We’re not adding that kitchen island you’ve dreamed of for years. We’re mobilizing and delivering—think Amazon Prime... but better.

This is the beginning of “Roundtable”, a series where the staff will be tossed a question each week and you’ll see the discussion exactly as it unfolded amongst the staff. Most often times, we’ll come up with the questions on our own, but sometimes we might cherry-pick ones from the comments section as we move into the future. What we’ll always be doing, though, is answering them each and every week, right here on Pride Of Detroit.

This week’s question is...

Excluding Matthew Stafford, who can the Lions least afford to lose in 2017?

Ryan Mathews: No one better than me to kick things off. If the Lions lose A’Shawn Robinson, this defense is in big, big trouble. With hardly any depth at the position, Detroit would be left with a 33-year-old Haloti Ngata and a whole lot of spare parts meant to serve as rotational pieces. No bueno.

Jeremy Reisman: You hit on the big crux of this question and that is: where is the Lions roster at its thinnest, and I would agree with you that defensive tackle is perilously thin. However, the other thing to consider with this question is how vital is that position to the team’s success. There is where I depart with your suggestion of A’Shawn Robinson being the most essential player outside of Stafford. Robinson is good, but the Lions can get by without his play, as they did for large portions of the 2016 season.

Andrew Kato: Right. Another way to look at it is by asking which player’s absence is most likely to cause the Lions to lose otherwise winnable games. Just thinking about the defensive side of the ball, we have examples where the absence of individual players caused observable dropoffs in unit-wide performance: when Glover Quin went out with a concussion against the Saints in 2015, when Darius Slay went down to injury late in the season in 2016 and left us with Bademosi and Jackson covering guys like ODB and the horrible pass rush all season after Ezekiel Ansah got injured.

I am with Jeremy and think losing Robinson would be bad, but not the worst possible loss.

Ryan: If we want to take it back, let’s talk about how the Lions defense hasn’t been the same since they lost two premier, interior defensive linemen: Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Ever since Suh took his talents to South Beach, this defense hasn’t been the same. The second and third lines, in terms of coverage, have gone from respectable—8th in 2014—to literally the worst in the league—32nd in 2016—in a span of two seasons.

Now, I’m not saying Robinson is the same talent that Suh was by any means, but we’ve seen how having pressure up front makes everyone else’s jobs much easier. Like Andrew mentioned, the team struggled to disrupt the rhythm of any opposing quarterback with a hobbled Ansah last season. Without Robinson, who many expected to be a first-round pick in 2016 but slipped to the Lions on Day 2, you concede any chance at getting push from the interior.

Andrew: Absolutely right about Suh. Losing him completely changed the entire character of the defense. That is a great example of a difference maker.

But if you drop down from A’Shawn Robinson to say Akeem Spence or Jordan Hill, is that more or less of an impact than going from Taylor Decker down to Cornelius Lucas or Corey Robinson? We’ve seen that dumpster fire before, only at right tackle.

Ryan: Call me crazy, but I think A’Shawn has the chance to be a difference maker for this defense. Probably not to the degree Suh was during his time in Detroit, but I think, of anyone drafted in 2016, he’s going to be a guy who makes the biggest leap from a production standpoint. In fact, if I could put together a quick power ranking predicting the improvement from year one to year two, it would look like this:

1. A’Shawn Robinson
2. Graham Glasgow
3. Miles Killebrew
4. Taylor Decker
5. Antwoine Williams
6. Joe Dahl
7. Jimmy Landes
8. Anthony Zettel
9. Jake Rudock

#BelieveInBrad

Andrew: Such disrespect to Zettel, putting him below Landes when only one of them has actual NFL snaps and the other spent the year on IR. Unbelievable.

Ryan: Snapping the football under a camel counts for something, right?

Kent Lee Platte: Gotta think Darius Slay tops this list. He goes down, there isn't a player on the roster who can fill his role, even for a little bit. Quin might fall into the same, but I think you can get by for a short while with Wilson and Killebrew on the back end. The team is even worse off on the defensive line than last season, so any loss could be devastating since the team simply lacks the depth to recover.

To Ryan's point on A'Shawn Robinson, I agree he should take a big step forward but probably not in the same way people are thinking. Don't think Suh. Don't think Donald or Casey or Short. Think Pat Williams. Robinson should be the Stan Van Gundy of the Lions defense, just building a wall.

Jeremy: I think you’re all going about this question wrong. The identity of this team is, and has been for the past two years, their offense. The Lions can afford to play with a poor defense, they did for all 17 games last year. They can’t, however, afford to play with an impotent offense. Therefore, I’d argue that Golden Tate is the player the Lions can’t afford to lose in 2017. Tate is coming off his second 1,000 yard season with Detroit, despite a slow start to 2016—which also not-so-coincidentally aligned with the team’s slow start.

Detroit is extremely thin at wide receiver and there’s no one on the roster that can open up their offense quite like Tate does.

Kent: If we're looking offense, then have to consider our thinnest position on it: offensive tackle. If Taylor Decker goes down, who is going to protect Stafford? Corey Robinson? Cornelius Lucas? Storm Norton? It's a wasteland.

Andrew: I mean, at that point you also lose Matthew Stafford eventually, right?

Kent: Dominoes at that point.

Ryan: Brad Kaaya at that point.

Kent: With no protection? Even Kaaya fans know how that show ends.

Ryan: wITh nO ProTEcTioN? EVeN KaAyA fANs KNow HOw tHat shoW eNDs.

Jeremy: Don’t say “Bye, Felisha.” Don’t say “Bye, Felisha.” Don’t say “Bye, Felisha.”

But I’m not actually convinced Stafford’s health is in danger if a top lineman goes down. He’s dealt with mediocre-to-poor protection for years and has managed to stay healthy for six straight seasons. Plus, Jim Bob Cooter has developed a quick strike offense that has made pass protection less of an issue.

Chris Lemieux: It’s spelled “Felicia,” Jeremy. Duh.

Jeremy:

Chris: Fake news.

Ryan: STOP THIS NOW.

But here’s where I see the distinction being made in this question: is it who the team can least afford to lose and maintain their same level of play from a year ago, or who the team could least afford to lose and stand to make improvements this season?

If it’s the former, I’m on board with the suggestion of Decker, or Tate even. If the offense suffers, the team gets worse. But if Detroit wants to make a marked improvement from a year ago, the defense has to be better, and that all starts up front.

Chris: It has to be the latter, if only because the level of play last year was totally untenable. It’s impossible to replicate the outcomes that the Lions enjoyed in 2016, even if I don’t necessarily agree with doomsday scenario that some hold that will see everything go against the Lions next year in similar situations. To that, it’s either a matter of straight improvements to a position at defense or an element to create a consistent offense—bearing in mind that we saw the offensive playcalling flail and die as the season went on when it was clear Cooter wasn’t sure what he could do with a depleted backfield.

Is it crazy for me to say Ameer Abdullah? A third-year player, but he’s still pretty unknown in what he’ll deliver. Yet after watching the run game last year and what Cooter’s offense needs in pace of play, it seems like it’s going to be critical that the run game at least be, uh, present. And there’s still nothing behind Abdullah when it comes to a credible backfield threat.

Andrew: I don’t think that is crazy at all. In fact, a credible run threat is probably the most important factor to opening up downfield passing for Matthew Stafford. I harp on this a lot—seems like every few months—but Stafford is a great play-action passer and Detroit will not get many shots down the field unless they can run the damn ball.

Alex Reno: Teez Tabor.

Poll

Excluding Matthew Stafford, who is the Lions’ least-replaceable player?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    A’Shawn Robinson
    (28 votes)
  • 6%
    Glover Quin
    (64 votes)
  • 33%
    Darius Slay
    (351 votes)
  • 8%
    Golden Tate
    (85 votes)
  • 18%
    Taylor Decker
    (200 votes)
  • 12%
    Ameer Abdullah
    (134 votes)
  • 13%
    Ezekiel Ansah
    (147 votes)
  • 4%
    Other
    (48 votes)
1057 votes total Vote Now