Gah! It’s a draft article in August! What the crap?
Look, we do this song and dance every year. I know many of you are far from thinking ahead to the draft. As always, however, we don’t start looking ahead to predict the Lions record or to immediately assume they’ll be picking high enough to only take the best of the best. We start looking ahead now because it’s fun to take stock of what we think the teams need now so we can laugh at it later. How can we talk about how right or wrong we were if we don’t dive into what we think the team needs most? And with that, we’re going to go through the Detroit Lions draft needs for 2020.
One of the most glaring needs on the Lions roster at this point last season was on their defensive interior. A Day 3 pick was the only significant addition to a squad that desperately needed an influx of talent. Bob Quinn’s shrewd moves as the season progressed, as well as the emergence of Da’Shawn Hand as a massive draft steal, made that need look silly in hindsight.
Can the team do the same at cornerback in 2019? The addition of Justin Coleman at nickel seems to have filled a hole that needed filling, but the starting corner spot opposite Darius Slay and depth behind are still big question marks. Maybe Rashaan Melvin doesn’t play like he did in 2018, but even if he plays well, he is only on a one-year deal. Maybe Teez Tabor makes massive, incredible strides in his play to not only keep his roster spot but prove he was worth a draft selection in the first place. Maybe Amani Oruwariye proves that he was the draft steal we’ve all made him out to be. Then again, maybe none of those things happen and the Lions are still left scrambling for a defensive back who can actually play outside corner competently.
2. Jack linebacker (Edge)
Signing Trey Flowers was taking a big risk that his pressure-but-not-necessarily-sacks production in New England could be better utilized in Detroit. It was also the only significant move the Lions made on the edge. They drafted Austin Bryant in the fourth round, but the injured Clemson pass rusher isn’t expected to have much of an impact his rookie year, and, frankly, the Lions having the kind of luck to hit on back-to-back fourth-round picks is enough of a stretch for me that I’d still consider it a long-shot. Devon Kennard got a decent number of sacks in 2018, but rarely got pressure consistently and isn’t likely viewed as a long-term fix at the position.
3. Interior offensive line (LG/RG)
It’s the second week of the preseason and the Detroit Lions only have three offensive line positions locked in. Yes, three, not four. Why not Graham Glasgow? Because Glasgow doesn’t even have an official position yet. Is he left guard, is he right guard, who knows? The Lions certainly don’t, and we’re staring down the barrel of a couple of players who we have seen playing poorly for years getting starter reps at either guard spot or a former fifth-round pick whose best position in 2018 was fullback (Joe Dahl).
4. Offensive tackle
When the Lions drafted Taylor Decker in 2016, I wasn’t super thrilled. He wasn’t a player I had rated very highly, and I didn’t view his upside as overly impressive. He made an immediate fan out of me with his play as a rookie, shedding many of his bad habits from his college days and playing like a man who knew what he wanted to be and knew how to get it.
After a shoulder injury in 2017, he looked like a completely different player, and it wasn’t a better one. Right tackle hasn’t fared much better, with Rick Wagner generally playing well but playing poorly enough on his bad days to make Lions fans wish Tyrell Crosby, the team’s fifth-round steal would get some starting time. Those hopes were dashed when both of the possible reasons Crosby fell to the fifth reared their ugly heads in the 2019 preseason. He allowed three sacks, suggesting his talent level matched his Day 3 draft status, and after potentially suffering a concussion, it brings to question some of the concussion rumors from his past.
5. Wide Receiver
Kenny Golladay still looks like he could be a legit stud and Marvin Jones could be bouncing back from the injury that ended his 2018 season. Outside that, wide receiver is a bit of a mess now, let alone looking past 2019. Danny Amendola is a short-term band aid, and not a very reliable one with his injury history, and the team could use a serious influx of talent to the position with so little depth behind those three.
6. Defensive end (Edge)
Like Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara had a bunch of sacks but very little pressure as a pass rusher in 2018. I think Okwara factors a bit more into the long-term plans of the team, however, but the addition of Trey Flowers likely pushes his role a bit to the back burner.
So what keeps edge so high on this list? Flowers is here for a while and Okwara provides depth, so defensive end shouldn’t be as big of a long-term need. It’s less about that and more about contingency planning, as several of these for the rest of the list will be. If the Trey Flowers signing doesn’t look like it’s going to work out, the team may have to act fast to course correct and draft/develop isn’t a solution if you don’t have the resume of doing so consistently.
So, contingency planning. 2019 is unique for the Lions in that they have signed not only one, but three separate quarterbacks who didn’t fit the traditional ‘backup only’ type of mold. Connor Cook was eventually cut, but both Tom Savage and Josh Johnson are guys you bring in if you think they can hold down the fort on game day. Previous Lions backups dating back to 2009 were there to help Stafford on game day. It could just be the team planning for Stafford’s injury in 2018, making sure they don’t get caught with no way to win.
It could mean they’re ready to start looking ahead, however, and unlike 2019, the 2020 draft looks to be just loaded with NFL talent at the most important position. With Stafford’s contract becoming workable, it’s no longer out of the realm of possibility.
The team views Jarrad Davis as a stud even if he has yet to bring the fan base on board. Likewise, they drafted Jahlani Tavai in the second round with the hopes to further lock down the linebacker position. I’m a little bit worried about the depth at this position, with Christian Jones no longer under contract in 2020 and no discernible depth there, but it’s a position I feel they have young, capable starters the team has faith in and believe the depth can be addressed in the mid or later rounds.
9. Defensive tackle
Amazing that the position viewed as weakest to start 2018 is possibly overall the strongest to start 2019. I’m a bit concerned with durability, as the team is presently sitting with something like their fourth or fifth nose tackle working with first team due to injuries to nearly every defensive tackle. Still, it’s a position I think they build from what they have rather than target with earlier draft choices.
10. Running back
Kerryon Johnson is not only a capable starter, but a possible star at the running back position. Why even consider running back early at all then? Well, the concerns with Johnson stemmed from his upright running style and durability due to opening himself up to more punishment than he needs to. As a rookie, he flashed immense potential but also justified those concerns and landed on IR. C.J. Anderson is a solid complementary back, but I don’t view him as a great long-term option either. The team is likely to add another back in the 2020 draft, but I doubt it’s a very high pick. If things go south this season, it could be.
Quandre Diggs is locked in. 2018 third-round pick Tracy Walker is poised for a huge role in 2019. The Lions spent a third-round pick on Will Harris in 2019. The team is extremely unlikely to spend any high draft resources on the position again, which probably wasn’t a consideration when PFF did their first mock and gave the Lions a safety.
Jokes aside, this isn’t a position the team is likely to do much at even if they let Tavon Wilson go this year or next. Even their depth is rather solid with Andrew Adams getting some early snaps, Charles Washington providing excellent special teams work, and UDFA C.J. Moore making a strong push for playing time.
12. Tight end
The Lions just drafted T.J. Hockenson eighth overall and signed Jesse James to a decent mid-term contract. The likelihood of them addressing the position highly again in 2020 is close to nothing. Not impossible, but unlikely enough to fall at the very tail end of this article.