It isn’t exactly the busiest portion of the offseason, but rather than rank Lions players by high school nickname or find some funny way to talk about how the Lions are so far removed from truly dreadful drafting that they don’t even get honorable mentions anymore on some draft bust lists, we’re going to keep our eyes forward to the 2019 season. With the draft signings now coming in from the 2019 class, I wanted to take a look back at the 2018 group, and see how they may fit into Matt Patricia’s squad in year two.
G Frank Ragnow (First round, 20th overall)
2018 status: Starting left guard all year
2019 status: Starting left guard (?) all year
Ragnow came as a surprise to many Lions fans when he was selected, in part due to how quiet the team kept their interest. A favorite to land with the Cincinnati Bengals, who went right after the Lions, the New England Patriots, or the Minnesota Vikings, the former Arkansas Razorback was a coveted player the Lions felt they could plug into their interior line and get immediate production from. It was rocky at first, but Ragnow held on and eventually came into his own as he went from struggling rookie to solid starter to promising line anchor over the course of a season.
2019 is likely going to see Ragnow right where he was the year prior, starting at left guard between Taylor Decker, whose fifth year option was recently applied, and 2016 third-round pick Graham Glasgow. With Glasgow facing a new contract, the left side of the line should be shored up.
Having said that, right guard is a mess, with the “best” options being 2018 bench starter Kenny Wiggins and journeyman Oday Aboushi, neither of which inspire confidence. If the Lions seek out someone like Andy Levitre in the remaining free agent pool, or make a surprise trade, it’s possible the line shuffles a bit and Ragnow would be the most likely candidate to slide into RG. He’s played there before, and while keeping line cohesion is important, it is even more so to have five viable starters.
RB Kerryon Johnson (Second round, 43rd overall)
2018 status: RB2/3 to start, elite starter for a stretch before being placed on IR to end season
2019 status: RB1A in a committee
Look, it would be awesome if we could talk about the exciting moments Johnson had as a rookie in the light of him being a starter in a ground-and-pound run game. As it is, Johnson has faced injuries at every stage of his football career and with his season ending as it did, I don’t see the Lions giving him a larger workload.
The team now has two backs who can run inside and outside zone along with power after signing C.J. Anderson in free agency, and they’re likely to get a nearly identical amount of snaps to keep each fresh and, hopefully, healthy. This is a situation where it’s even possible Johnson doesn’t lead the team in touches this season, but as long as they’re getting efficient production and he remains healthy I have no concerns about his role this year.
S Tracy Walker (Third round, 82nd overall)
2018 Status: Sub package safety and special teams
2019 Status: Starting FS
I’m not going to mince words, I’m really excited to see Tracy Walker this year. He was an absolute stunner when the Lions selected him in the third round, and people immediately fell into one of three camps: fans who shared the team’s excitement with the pick despite him being an unknown, fans angry with the pick because he was an unknown, and liars who said they watched him and knew he would be a steal.
Walker was projected to go on Day 3, but the team celebrated as if they’d somehow nabbed J.J. Watt outside of the top 10. Their enthusiasm was justified, as Walker ended up as one of the highest graded rookies in 2018, though he did have very limited snaps.
The 2019 safety room has Quandre Diggs, newly drafted Will Harris, returning former spot starter Tavon Wilson and special teams standouts Charles Washington and Miles Killebrew. It’s not a stacked room, but it is crowded all the same. I still see Walker working his way into the lineup from Day 1 and earning a prominent role in the defense. With Walker, Diggs, and Harris all being able to play both safety spots and drop to the slot if needed, the coverage options are near limitless.
DL Da’Shawn Hand (Fourth round, 114th overall)
2018 status: PFWA, ESPN, and PFF all-rookie defensive lineman
2019 status: Possible Pro Bowler
If you haven’t finished guzzling the kool-aid yet, Hand is a pitcher and a half of the Blue Hope Juice all by his lonesome. Drafted with almost no buzz at all, despite the Lions trading back into the round to get him, expectations weren’t super high. The Lions defensive line was viewed as an underwhelming unit and Hand underwhelmed as a former five-star recruit on the vaunted Alabama defensive line. By the end of the year, in addition to winning all-rookie honors from seemingly everyone, Hand was awarded the prestigious “I always knew he was gonna be a beast” award (Formerly the Hindsight Cup) from Lions fans everywhere.
Imagine his 2018 play, but now with more Trey Flowers. There’s some concern about Hand regaining form while returning from injury, and the sophomore slump is always something to keep an eye out for. But this kool-aid? It’s just too good to temper.
OL Tyrell Crosby (Fifth round, 153rd overall)
2018 status: Reserve offensive tackle
2019 status: Reserve offensive tackle
Crosby was once projected to go Day 2, but much like 2019 fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye he just kept sliding. Unlike Oruwariye, the reason for his slide was pretty well known. A concerning history of concussions along with a mediocre athletic profile saw him fall to the middle if Day 3.
Despite many projecting him to the interior of the offensive line due to his size and athletic profile, the Lions made it clear they saw Crosby as a tackle, trotting out everyone and their mother to fill T.J. Lang’s spot when he went down hurt rather than giving the rookie a shot. He eventually got some work at tackle while Rick Wagner nursed injury and he held his own.
Always the optimists, there are some that thought the Lions should have cut Wagner to start Crosby in 2019 and save some cap space. Considering the team isn’t desperate for cap relief (isn’t that nice?) and that Crosby did alright, not great—like Tracy Walker did in reserve duty—there’s little reason to thrust Crosby into a role he may not be ready for just yet. Until we see how he looks in camp, I think his 2019 looks much the same as his 2018 did.
FB Nick Bawden (Seventh round, 237th overall)
2018 status: Torn ACL early in camp, season lost
2019 status: Starting fullback in an offense that will use one
Bawden has largely been the forgotten man on the Lions roster. With the signing of Jesse James, selection of T.J. Hockenson and Isaac Nauta, and signing of enough tight ends to nearly bring it to double digits, it’s almost as if the Lions didn’t draft the lead blocker of multiple 2,000 yard backs last season.
Until I have reason to believe otherwise, I think the fullback, and thus H-back, job is Bawden’s to lose. Any time I question that, I go back and watch a little tape and all the worry just washes away. I don’t see anyone in camp taking that job from him, and that’s including the option of retaining a lineman to do the deed, as the team did on occasion in Bawden’s unplanned absence. If he’s healthy and back to form, he has Vonta Leach upside.