As someone who prizes logic and mathematics more than most, I try to be as objective as I can about most things, including the team that I love, the Detroit Lions. Still, it can be cathartic to look at the team and simply let flow your feelings, good or bad. If you’re happy about something, ‘Drink the Kool-Aid’ as they say and beam about their likely successes, in your humble opinion. If you have concerns, it’s healthy to let fly and voice them, of course avoiding being contrary for contrary’s sake.
What I’m prefacing here is that what follows isn’t going to be the most logical or pretty of POD articles, but one that simply voices opinions that I hold and nothing more. If I’m right, I don’t expect you all to bring it up and say hey, you were totally on point, dude! If I’m wrong, I fully expect to catch hell for it, that’s just the way things are. So here’s things I liked and disliked from the Lions offseason!
I loved that the Lions addressed the run game finally!
Finally? The Lions drafted a left tackle in the first round and a center in the third of the 2016 NFL draft! They signed two high profile free agents in 2017! Yes, I know the team had already been addressing the offensive line prior to 2018, but it’s this season and this season only that the run game was truly a focus. Taylor Decker was known as more of a pass blocker, as was T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, and every tight end the Lions have signed to block in the past three seasons. 2018 was different in that the team drafted a guy known not only for pass blocking, but strong run blocking prowess in Frank Ragnow. Then they drafted a running back, signed a power back, and drafted a fullback. The run game has always played second fiddle to the passing game, but the team finally started taking the run game a bit more seriously and I think it’s going to pay dividends.
I can’t stand that the pass rush has been ignored for so long!
Ignored? That seems a bit harsh. But you know what? Ignored is accurate. Bob Quinn hasn’t placed any focus on the pass rush since taking over as general manager. Sure, he’s done a ton of things to improve the run defense of the team, with varied results, but the pass rush? Nothing. The closest he came was drafting Anthony Zettel in the SIXTH round, a player known as much for a his pass rushing skills as his complete inability to defend the run.
His biggest move, the one most touted by media, was the signing of Devon Kennard in 2018 to replace Tahir Whitehead. Kennard played as a defensive end in 2017 for the Giants, notching an astounding 4.0 sacks and can boast a career mark of less than 10 sacks. Yet we’re supposed to be excited about him as if he’s a threat to the NFC North tackles? Not I.
Ziggy Ansah is the Lions’ best pass rusher, but we all know much of his stats come from abusing bad tackles, and you can’t rely on that. A bunch of run defenders who’ve struggled to do that much, but nobody that’s a true threat to rush the passer. That’s the Lions right now.
I liked this draft class far more than the last one
Hey, it me, noted math nut and metrics guy, part time Lions critic. Last season, I caught a lot of flack for my criticism of the draft class. Teez Tabor’s lack of explosion and speed was a huge red flag for me (I had him rated as a Day 3 pick who could sneak into late Day 2), I wasn’t high on Jalen Reeves-Maybin, and as you might guess from the section above I was not happy with passing on pass rushers until the final two rounds. Ironically, one of my favorite picks from that class was Michael Roberts, and he barely made the roster this year after a poor rookie season and dreadful preseason (Roberts also had the lowest RAS of any TE drafted in 2017, so I only have myself to blame).
2018 has a completely different feel to me. Frank Ragnow may not have been my first choice, but that’s only because I looked at him solely as a center (still likely his best position), and I felt the Lions were locked in with Glasgow there (they are). He was a prized player that three teams were fighting for when the Lions took him, is an elite athlete, and has looked the part of a franchise building block all preseason.
Kerryon Johnson has far exceeded my expectations and based on his preseason usage suggests he’s well on his way to starting and taking a majority of snaps. Da’Shawn Hand was a surprise for many as the Lions traded to get him, but he’s either going to be starting Week 1 or headed that way. The early payout for the Lions first three picks looks good, and with guys like Tyrell Crosby also looking ready for a role (he locked in the top reserve role before the first preseason game), this class appears to be a very good one.
I hate that development of Quinn’s picks has been slow or non-existent
There was excitement entering the season for 2017 first and second round picks Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor. This preseason we were treated to a clinic on how to not play three downs at linebacker by Davis while Tabor was repping behind Nevin Lawson, who struggled mightily, and DeShawn Shead, who was cut. Michael Roberts looks like he doesn’t belong on a roster, let alone ready to contribute despite being in a perfect position to take and hold a starting job given the lack of talent at that position.
Meanwhile, A’Shawn Robinson looks like he’s been pushed out of a starting position after looking worse than multiple very low profile free agent signings and a fourth-round rookie, Anthony Zettel was playing for his very roster life in the fourth preseason game and didn’t even seem to have remembered pass rushers also have to be able to defend against the run. Jake Rudock took a huge step back, reverting to his habits from way back in his Iowa days and refusing to throw the ball more than three yards, while Miles Killebrew had to switch to linebacker after his roster spot was in jeopardy at safety. Jalen Reeves-Maybin failed to build on his strong rookie campaign by getting beaten in camp by Christian Jones (who wasn’t good in Chicago) and his worst area this preseason was his coverage ability, the very thing that put him on the map in 2017. That’s a lot of picks that once showed some promise who look not only like they haven’t developed, but appear to have regressed. It’s maddening.
I dig the direction this team is headed, but hate where they are
I was all in on Matt Patricia years ago, so I remain excited for where I think this team is going to be in a few years. An offense that has a franchise QB but understands the value of the run game, a defense that forces teams to gameplan every single week but is varied enough that it may not be enough, and a perennially strong special teams group.
Coming off a 9-7 season, you want this team to look far more ready than it does, though. Even taking into account how exposed the team’s lack of depth was last year, you want a team that has been a contender for the postseason to at least look like that. They haven’t looked ready, and it’s extremely frustrating.
Still, there’s so much to look forward to. No more long-term caveats, this team should look good and be a postseason staple for years, I’m confident in it. The defense is, obviously, struggling with the scheme change, but even if Jim Bob Cooter doesn’t improve as a play caller this offense is built to last (outside of the terrible tight end position).
I am struggling to get behind most of the team’s roster moves
No fan should ever just drink the kool aid and make up reasons that every draft pick, every undrafted signing, every cut is a great choice and the team is full of masterminds. At the same time, you can’t hate everything the team does, banking on the ole “set low expectations, always be pleasantly surprised” mantra. Still, it has been hard for me to like the way this team is currently built.
It’s my business to be picky, but even looking at the practice squad I have concerns. Every practice squad is full of guys who don’t belong on an NFL roster (by design), but the Lions signed a bunch of guys who don’t look like they’ll ever really belong. Mike Ford has a lot of upside, but the next best guy is Alex Barrett and his ceiling is maybe rotational rusher. The rest of the group are guys I don’t see an NFL role for, even as a backup. Dan Skipper, one of the worst prospects I’ve ever evaluated, is on our practice squad. There are no starters on practice squads, but there’s usually more guys you can look at and think man, if he fixes a few things he could be a real boon to the team. Not so this year.
The Lions extended Quandre Diggs, which they needed to do and I’m glad for, but they paid him top safety money and he’s never been that. A few games as a safety and suddenly he’s worth more than Glover Quin? I get that contracts are for what you will do, not what you’ve done, but prior to last season Diggs had played one good season, one terrible season, and had no career picks. Their big pass rushing addition was a guy with less than 10 career sacks, echoing last season where they tried to sell us on Cornelius Washington and his three. The Lions best defensive lineman this preseason was Ricky Jean Francois, a 32-year-old perennial backup.
Their secondary, once a strength, got shredded by both Buccaneers and Browns backups, and they keep trying to upgrade it with Dee Virgin caliber players. They kept six receivers, including one who people keep trying to sell as “Golden Tate insurance” as if an undrafted free agent who averaged just over 300 yards per season in college is going to step in and replace a guy who has caught 90 or more passes four years in a row and led the league in YAC over that span. The other receiver the team kept caught a single pass for three yards this preseason, being kept only for his abilities as a gunner.
With all these holes, who do the Lions pick up on waivers? Andrew Donnal, a below average athlete at tackle who boasts a 31.2 PFF rating, because we all know our biggest hole was OT4. To correct the outside cornerback position, the Lions also claimed a cornerback (yay!) named Dee Virgin (wait, who?) who was an undrafted free agent last season and has never played in a regular season game. We’re saved! You’re very rarely going to get a starter on the waiver wire, but you hope to get someone who can actually help your team. An OT4 and CB6 are not those types of players.
THIS IS NOT HOW MY FAVORITE TEAM IS SUPPOSED TO BEHAVE!!!!!!!!!!
Whoa, dude, take a breather!
Look. This was a crappy preseason, but let’s not act like we haven't been here before. We’ve had years where the sky looked like it was falling, and yeah, sometimes that’s exactly what happened. We’ve also seen years that looked like everything was going to be sunshine and rainbows, only to have the team collapse due to bad coaching or injury or other mishaps. I know it can suck. We’ve waited forever as Lions fans for this team to finally start looking like all those other teams we see in January each year, only to end up disappointed, constantly waiting for next time.
I don’t think the Lions are going to be great overall this year because I think the defense is too weak and the offense is going to have to constantly make up for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a lost season or that I’m going to stop rooting for the team. I’m still in their corner and hoping the team does well. I’m struggling to understand many of their moves, and indeed I fully disagree with many of them and don’t see a positive resolution. Yet I remind myself that we’re in Year 1 of a coaching change that included a pretty large scale scheme change— one that has looked more impactful than we initially thought it would be. It took half a decade and far more losing than we’ve had to endure for the Panthers to become a Super Bowl caliber team. With a rookie GM in his third year and a rookie head coach, maybe it’s time to set expectations to where they should have been from the start, no?