As if power rankings weren’t futile enough, this week ESPN unveiled what they are calling NFL Future Power Rankings. Because we’re all so perfect at predicting the upcoming season, ESPN attempted to rank all 32 teams based on how they’re currently set up to succeed over the next three years. Based on the current rosters, quarterbacks, coaches, front offices and draft success, a panel of three ESPN analysts (Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates) power ranked each NFL franchise.
The trio apparently isn’t much of a fan of the Detroit Lions. The Lions came in at 18th on the list, which was far below the Vikings (fourth) and the Packers (eighth), but still significantly ahead of the Bears (25th).
I’m not going to sit here and tell you how wrong ESPN is. Trying to predict literally anything three years into the future is a fool’s errand, and, at least today, I’m not feeling like a fool. However, there are some curious things about ESPN’s analysis on the Lions that I feel need to be addressed.
No Matt Patricia faith
First-time head coaches don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. When hiring a person who has never been a head coach you are walking a very thin line between a guy like Sean McVay and Ben McAdoo.
ESPN ranks the Lions’ coaching 24th in the league, and that’s fine. Patricia hasn’t proven anything as a head coach, and his final year as defensive coordinator in New England had its ups and downs. However, ESPN isn’t consistent with their rankings for first-time head coaches. The Titans’ coaching situation is ranked 16th. Tennessee just hired Mike Vrabel, who is not only a first-time head coach, but he also only has a single season of experience at the coordinator level.
Granted, ESPN also dinged the Bears (24th) and Cardinals (28th) for their hiring of first-time head coaches, but their rankings between the four teams seems completely arbitrary.
According to the ESPN trio, the Lions have a roster that ranks 22nd for the future. While, admittedly, this is an impossible task to really rank, I think Detroit’s roster is actually set up pretty well going forward.
Look at Football Outsiders’ snap-weighted roster rankings by age. There were only four positions last year in which the Lions were on the “older” side of the continuum: defensive backs, quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers.
While they’ll likely remain a little old at DB and wide receiver, Detroit added youth to the backfield by drafting Kerryon Johnson, and Matthew Stafford’s age is still at a point where it’s an asset, not a drawback.
Also, look at the contract situations for the Lions. Everyone on the offensive line is locked up for the next three years outside of T.J. Lang and Graham Glasgow, who are both signed for two more seasons (I’m assuming the Lions exercise the fifth-year option for Taylor Decker), and three of those players are still on rookie deals.
While key players like Ezekiel Ansah and Golden Tate could be gone after this year, other centerpieces are already locked up long-term. Matthew Stafford, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Kerryon Johnson, Devon Kennard, Jarrad Davis, Darius Slay, Teez Tabor, Matt Prater and Jamal Agnew are all expected to be foundation players for this team, and all are locked up for at least the next three years.
Here’s where things get really strange. ESPN ranked the Lions’ front office 22nd and their draft 27th in the league. First off, it’s kind of hard to separate these two, since the biggest influence the front office has on the team is through the draft.
Now, I understand still doubting Bob Quinn. He only has three drafts under his belt, and you can really only judge his 2016 draft class so far. That year, Quinn had some hits and misses. Taylor Decker seems like the right choice with his first pick, and Graham Glasgow appears to be a solid mid-round pick. However, A’Shawn Robinson and Miles Killebrew both look like mild disappointments thus far.
But at the same time, it’s undeniable that the Lions’ roster looks a lot better than the team Quinn took over back in 2016. The offensive line is finally complete, the secondary is full of studs, and Detroit has a healthy stable of offensive weapons for the team. I don’t think Quinn has earned the right to be among the top half of the league’s general managers, but he’s been closer to an average general manager than ESPN is giving him credit for.
Overall, it’s hard to get really mad about a ranking like this. Not only is it a harmless list, it’s based completely on subjective guessing at this point. It’s hard to even call it educated guessing when so much can change in a single year.