Earlier this week, Good Morning Football discussed the state of the NFC North after free agency. The question of “Which team will look the most different in 2018?” capped off the segment, and of the four talking heads, none of them mentioned the Detroit Lions.
And on paper, they’re right. The Minnesota Vikings added a new franchise quarterback in Kirk Cousins, the Green Bay Packers added one of the most prolific pass catchers at the tight end position in Jimmy Graham, and the Chicago Bears may have turned their fortunes on offense around with the signing of Allen Robinson.
The Lions moves so far this offseason have been of the unremarkable variety and at less high-profile positions than their NFC North counterparts, replacing the likes of linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow with newcomers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. Detroit was interested in marquee players like Malcolm Butler and Richard Sherman, but missed out on both of those cornerbacks, choosing to retain Nevin Lawson and bring in Sherman’s former teammate DeShawn Shead after Butler and Sherman found new teams.
Less than a month from today, the Lions have six picks in the 2018 NFL Draft to improve their team. Detroit has needs along the defensive line and offensive line, and could stand to improve their depth at a number of other positions. With the fewest draft picks of Bob Quinn’s tenure as general manager in Detroit, it’s going to be critical the Lions get the right players with their limited number of picks to improve their chances in a vastly improved NFC North.
Round 1, Pick 20: EDGE Harold Landry (Boston College)
An albeit predictable selection, Landry is the player the Lions absolutely need if he’s available at No. 20. LSU’s running back Derrius Guice, Michigan’s defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, and Georgia’s offensive lineman Isaiah Wynn were all available at Detroit’s pick in the first round, but the Lions simply can’t pass up the chance to get arguably the best pass rusher off the edge in the draft in service of any other position.
An ankle injury plagued Landry’s production in the 2017 season, but if his performance at last month’s NFL Combine is any indication of his current bill of health, the Lions’ 2018 defense would benefit greatly from a return to his 2016 season form:
In Detroit, Landry would be reunited with his former defensive line coach at Boston College—and now defensive coordinator of the Lions—Paul Pasqualoni. Landry’s body type affords his some positional versatility in terms of where the Lions can line him up, but with his hand in the dirt and opposite of Ezekiel Ansah for the 2018 season, Landry could make a huge difference for Detroit’s lack of pressure up front—Detroit ranked 28th in pressure percentage in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus.
Round 2, Pick 51: RB Ronald Jones (USC)
Running back wasn’t the position I was planning on addressing in the second round, but two things happened by the time it was to make a pick in the second round. One, there were a few names of interest that trickled off the board before Detroit’s selection including Virginia Tech’s Tim Settle, Penn State’s Mike Gesicki, and Ohio State’s Billy Price. Second, USC’s Ronald Jones was available.
Ronald Jones, our highest-graded RB, was clear and above the rest of the nation's running backs with his 93.1 rushing grade this season. pic.twitter.com/hlUfjCN7S4— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) January 23, 2018
Jones was a highly productive runner during his time at USC. During his junior season, his first year as a full-time starter for the Trojans, Jones ran for 1,550 yards—at 5.9 yards per carry—and 19 touchdowns. He wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game—only 32 catches and 302 yards during his three seasons at USC—but that seems to be more a product of USC’s offensive game plan than an indictment on Jones’ skill set. NDT Scouting’s Jon Ledyard had this to say about “RoJo”:
“Jones may be small, but he is a fearless runner with unbelievable burst and short-area quickness in the open field. I wish we’d been able to see him test for NFL teams, but his athleticism seems apparent on tape, and he runs with much better contact balance than his size might indicate. Pass protection and receiving skills are where the question marks lie for Jones, although I think his traits will lend themselves to a strong showing in the latter area.”
For many, Ledyard’s first sentence may invoke thoughts of current Lions running back Ameer Abdullah. And while the two share some similarities, here are some notes from NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein that may create a distinction between the two:
“Willful as a runner. Squares pads at impact for improved contact balance. Fights for yardage and falls forward. Had just two fumbles over 591 carries.”
At some point during the draft, Detroit is going to add a running back to improve on a 2017 rushing unit that was, by many different accounts, the worst rushing attack in the NFL. Adding a talent like Ronald Jones would go a long ways towards diversifying the Lions offense.
Round 3, Pick 82: C Frank Ragnow (Arkansas)
Detroit has a real need along the interior of their offensive line, and the team could justifiably decide to use either of their first two draft picks to solidify a unit Quinn has invested in heavily during his first two years as general manager.
All signs point to Graham Glasgow moving from left guard to the center position, and if a player like Ragnow is available in the third round, Detroit should be leaping at the opportunity to plug in the former Razorback to shore up the interior of their offensive line. Ragnow played 13 games at right guard during his sophomore season in 2015, so he has the positional versatility Quinn covets. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus has Ragnow as the Lions first-round pick in their latest mock draft—here’s their rationale for the selection:
“The nation’s top-graded center for two straight years, Ragnow can play any of the interior offensive line positions and the Lions could slot him in at either left guard or center. Ragnow rarely loses blocks in the run game and he only allowed 15 pressures over the last two seasons.”
Round 4, Pick 117: DL Trenton Thompson (Georgia)
Spending two of the Lions first three draft picks on the offensive side of the ball came as a bit of a surprise and certainly wasn’t how I intended this to work out, but such is the draft.
With the Lions fourth pick in the draft, it was a chance to come back to the defensive side of the ball and add some additional depth on the defensive line. Georgia’s Trenton Thompson is a prime candidate for a Lions team that needs more disruptive three-technique defensive tackles who can make plays in the opponent’s backfield.
Georgia's Trenton Thompson's career QB pressures pic.twitter.com/bgLmTSIF7Y— PFF Draft (@PFF_College) April 5, 2018
Thompson’s best trait may be his athleticism, but keeping him on the field is going to be the challenge for the team that drafts him—Thompson only played 1,079 snaps in his four years at Georgia. If he can manage to stay healthy, he could be a very valuable get on Day 3 for a Lions team so starved for defensive line help.
Round 5, Pick 153: TE Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)
If there’s been any story that’s dominated the newsfeed this offseason for the Lions, it’s been the ongoing drama surrounding tight end Eric Ebron and the end of his tenure here in Detroit.
In the wake of his departure—and Darren Fells, who moved on to Cleveland as a free agent—Detroit signed Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo to replace the top-two snap getters at tight end in 2017. For as much vitriol as Ebron received here in Detroit, his production is going to be a challenge to replace, but the team seems confident in Kenny Golladay to take on that task.
Fumagalli is missing his index-finger on his left hand, which is his dominant hand, but it doesn’t stop him from making catches like this:
Nothing about him is especially awe-inspiring, but he’s probably the most well-rounded tight end in the draft in terms of his ability to get open, catch passes, and block in-line. He isn’t close to being the most athletic guy in this class—that title belongs to Penn State’s Mike Gesicki—but as one former Big Ten coach remarked, Fumagalli’s tape comes on and he just “gets things done.” He’s the fifth-ranked tight end in this draft class according to PFF:
“ He’s a sure-handed option with only 12 career drops on 145 catchable attempts, and he’s improved as a run-blocker every year where he’s able to handle defensive ends better than most tight ends in the class.”
Round 7, Pick 237: S Dominick Sanders (Georgia)
The Lions will be at a crossroads at safety by this season’s end. Glover Quin received an extension before last season, but will be 33 next January. Miles Killebrew is in for a make or break season in 2018, and Tavon Wilson isn’t exactly a spring chicken anymore either. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions address their need for a possible contingency plan moving forward, or just some honest-to-goodness depth.
Sanders is more built in the mold of Quin, a safety with a knack for knowing where a quarterback will throw the ball before he even knows—his 16 interceptions at Georgia were good for second all-time in the school’s history. Sanders was just a flat out great defender in pass coverage. According to PFF, “Sanders has been targeted 129 times, yet allowed just a 29.8 passer rating on throws into his coverage.”
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