We’re inching closer and closer to football. As I’m writing this, we’re just 64 days, four hours, 32 minutes and 18 seconds away from the Detroit Lions’ first preseason game of the year. But what’s much closer to taking place is training camp. We’re a little over a month away at this point.
With that in mind, I decided to take a little break from the Summer Stafford series—which has three pieces here, here and here—and take a look at what’s left on the free agent market and who the Lions should be taking a look at.
But I want to look at this a little differently. The top free agents left on the board are guys like Johnathan Hankins and Dez Bryant. The Lions only need one of those guys, and I personally can’t wait till Bob Quinn breaks out his bill fold for Dez. (That’s clearly a joke, by the way.)
What I want to look at is the under-the-radar guys that we all may have looked past. Guys that can come in and play a role right away, whether that’s as a starter or a guy that can flex in and out of the lineup. To do this I broke down the three needs I believe the Lions could still improve at. Those are defensive tackle, defensive end, offensive tackle.
Without further ado, here are three guys the Lions should consider bringing in before training camp next month.
I can appreciate Bob Quinn’s relentless quest to fix the Lions run game. But in my opinion, it was the interior defensive line that should have been his second quest. The Lions defensive tackle depth is a little meh these days. They do have A’Shawn Robinson, who I fully expect to be a decent starter in 2019. They also signed Sylvester Williams in free agency. But if you remember correctly, Williams was absolutely panned by the Titans blogger who watched him play in 2017. The Lions should sign Johnathan Hankins. The fact that they haven’t is just insane at this point.
But if they don’t, how about taking a risk on Courtney Upshaw? I know what you’re thinking. he hasn’t started a game since the 2016 season. He was good in Baltimore, but he fizzled out in Atlanta. Here’s the thing: remember I said this was all about under-the-radar players. I also said that this was a shot a camp. Upshaw may not end up making the team, but he’s worth being part of the competition.
There’s a really big reason the Lions should take a chance here. It’s all about stopping the run. With Haloti Ngata gone, Upshaw could fill that role for a bit.
‘‘Upshaw has been, when healthy, the definition of a solid rotational defensive lineman. He can play inside and outside, though his size and skill set play better in the middle of the defensive line, and he’ll give you a little bit of pass rushing prowess and solid run-stopping acumen for 10-20 snaps per game.”
The Lions should not shy away from production, even if it’s in small doses. At this point, if they don’t get Hankins, they’re going to have to rely on the whole interior committee to play small roles. Upshaw is healthy and he’s only 28. Give him a call if all else fails.
There really isn’t much going on in free agency in terms of defensive ends. The Lions could go with an older guy like Robert Ayers, or they could go with a troubled guy like Armonty Bryant (again). But what they should do is go for youth, and there is some youth here to be looked at.
In particular, I think the Lions should look at 28-year-old Jared Crick. So Jared isn’t exactly young, but when compared to the rest of the group of players I would deem signable, Crick is right on.
Crick wouldn’t start in Detroit. That’s still going to be Ezekiel Ansah and Kerry Hyder or Anthony Zettel or Devon Kennard, depending on where he plays. But what Crick can bring is a rotational player with tons of starting experience. Crick missed last season due to back surgery, but had been a starter for the previous three seasons for Denver and Houston, two teams with prolific pass rushers that outshine Crick so much that this is probably the first time you’ve ever heard of him.
Jared snagged 53 tackles and 3.0 sacks in 2016. Tell me that you don’t want that kind of production rotating in and out for a team that had one of the worst pass rushes in the NFL last season.
You know what position is super sexy to talk about? Offensive tackle. I’m burning up just thinking about it. In all seriousness, remember what a train wreck Greg Robinson was? Do you really want to relive that? Well that’s why this is a need.
The Lions did a lot to bulk up their interior line this offseason. They signed a whole slew of veteran linemen like Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson. But what the Lions neglected was the tackle spot, the spot that saw Taylor Decker’s injury really kill a bulk of the season for the Lions in terms of protecting Matthew Stafford.
With Dan Skipper and Brian Mihalik and Corey Robinson the only realistic options outside of Wagner and Decker, the Lions should grab themselves a project in Gillmore. Hear me out. Gillmore is a former third-round pick of the Ravens. They originally drafted him as a blocking tight end. But this summer he’s doing something different.
Interesting news on one of the Ravens pending FAs: Crockett Gillmore is making the transition to a new position. Previously a tight end, Gillmore is moving to the offensive line. He's been training w/former NFL player LeCharles Bentley who runs a highly-respected OL Academy.— Jeff Zrebiec (@jeffzrebiec) February 21, 2018
According to CBS Sports, Gillmore packed on 40 lbs to make the switch. In the piece, Zebiec praises Gillmore’s blocking ability at tight end. But can he bring that same ability to tackle? At 6-foot-6 and 305 pounds, he’s certainly an intimidating specimen, but nobody has bit on him yet.
At 26 years old and not too far into his NFL career, I say why the heck not? The Lions should give him, and these other two fellas, a shot.