The wild Wild Card weekend is over, and we have whittled down the playoff teams.
The home team New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles fell, while the New England Patriots lost to the Tennessee Titans in upset fashion at Gillette Stadium. The Houston Texans were the only home team to win, and they needed overtime to do so.
The remaining teams — the 49ers, Packers, Ravens, Chiefs, Seahawks, Vikings, Texans, Titans — are all talented teams. The Detroit Lions were not. Perhaps, in some alternate reality, they could lend that talent to our struggling Lions.
It’s time to get hypothetical.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which player from a playoff team would you add to the Lions?
My answer: It is worth looking at both sides of the field to get an understanding of where the Lions’ needs lie.
Quarterbacks like Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes would be incredible for the Detroit Lions, but with Matthew Stafford well entrenched as the starter, you would get better value picking a player from elsewhere. You would theoretically trade away Stafford if you acquired one of these quarterbacks, but that would be equivalent to adding a hypothesis inside a hypothesis. That would be getting too close to Inception for my tastes.
There are some dangerous offensive weapons on these eight playoff teams. The 2019 Lions’ run game was ineffective at best, so players like Dalvin Cook, Derrick Henry, or Aaron Jones could be massive boons for the offense. George Kittle is the 49ers’ best player on offense, but T.J. Hockenson is likely to grow into a bigger role. The Lions’ offensive line improved as the season continued, so I would not look towards a lineman either. As for wide receivers, I would be content with the Lions’ stable of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Adding players like DeAndre Hopkins, Stefon Diggs, and Davante Adams would give Stafford an incredible arsenal, but when healthy, this Lions offense was playing pretty well.
A unit that was not playing well was the defense, and boy, there are plenty of options. Outside of Darius Slay and Trey Flowers, the Lions’ starters on defense struggled throughout the year. Perhaps the weakest group were the linebackers. Rookie Jahlani Tavai was the best of the bunch, but that is more of an indictment of the poor play of Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones. All-Pros like Bobby Wagner and Eric Kendricks would instantly provide relief.
Corner was a noteworthy weakness for the Lions this season. Darius Slay had a down year but still got a Pro Bowl nod, while rookie Amani Oruwariye shined in limited snaps. Two of the best in the league, first team All-Pros Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White, were both eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday. Richard Sherman and Marcus Peters are two possibilities, but there is another solution to help coverage: improve the pass rush.
If the Lions wanted to improve their pass rush, they would not even have to leave the NFC North to do so. The Vikings’ Danielle Hunter has been a menace to offensive lines around the league, and he has racked up 15 sacks in two consecutive seasons. At just 25 years old, Hunter has over 50 career sacks. The Lions’ 2019 leader? Trey Flowers with seven.
Now, this is not to say Flowers played poorly — actually, he was one of the Lions’ best players. Instead, this speaks about the scheme. As per this beautiful PFF graph, the Lions on average rushed four players, well below the rest of the league:
Barring a total scheme overhaul, the Lions emphasized contain from the defensive linemen. The negative is that without elite pass rushers, quarterbacks had a lot time to throw. Even a great secondary is going to struggle when the opposing team is given that long to pass.
If the Lions are only going to rush four players, those four players ought to be good. Enter Danielle Hunter.