The Detroit Lions went 3-12-1 in the 2019 season, and it’s a pretty non-controversial opinion that the team is pretty much a mess. I’m thankful that we’ve reached the part of the offseason where the “Trade Stafford” nonsense has died down, at least. The team has, predictably and obviously, thrown their full support behind their current signal caller and tossed aside trade talk faster than Bill Belichick tosses aside questions about whatever team beat his Patriots after a loss.
After a brief post Combine hiatus, I’ve taken the past couple weeks to regroup and I’m happy to say I’ve figured out a few things about the 2020 Detroit Lions. Fixing the team is going to be super easy, and I’m stoked to start explaining how. There isn’t really an order to these, so don’t get offended if you feel one of these is more important. Like I said, this is super easy, so they can really be done in whatever order the team feels is necessary.
Step 1: Fixing Cornerback
Darius Slay is under contract for 2020, so despite wanting a new deal there is no reason to move on from him at this time. Sure, the team could trade him, netting a likely day two pick in return. That pick could then be used for either another cornerback such as Kristian Fulton of LSU, TCU’s Jeff Gladney, or Clemson’s A.J. Terrell, or be used for a different position of need, of which there are several. This is, of course, assuming they don’t use their first pick on star cornerback Jeffrey Okudah of Ohio State. If the team traded down in the first round and missed out on Okudah, they could always land C.J. Henderson of Florida or, if they managed a trade later in the round, Jeff Gladney a little earlier. There are options, is what I’m saying.
That’s even ignoring that the Lions might have found something in Amani Oruwariye, their fifth-round pick in 2019, who posted one of the team’s highest coverage grades on the year, though it was in limited snaps.
The team could also pick up Dallas Cowboys former first-round pick Byron Jones, the top ranked corner in free agency, or Denver Broncos corner Chris Harris Jr. If they manage to extend Darius Slay, they could land Logan Ryan for a bit cheaper or look in division at Prince Amukamara or Trae Waynes.
Step 2: Need a Pass Rush
I get it, the Lions pass rush was atrocious in 2019. Trey Flowers was the only man working his tail off on every play and the team struggled both with scheme and personnel to make any quarterback feel uncomfortable. Fixing it is a piece of cake, though. The Lions just need to make Chase Young their top selection, assuming he falls to three. If he doesn’t, the Lions are still likely to trade back and acquire additional resources that they can use to draft someone like Iowa’s A.J. Epenesa or, later, Yetur Gross-Matos from Penn State. If they miss out in the first round and have to pick on day two, don’t be surprised if they bring in Josh Uche from Michigan or, again later, Bradlee Anae from Utah to help fill that void. In any event, it should be easy to find some help.
After spending heavily on Trey Flowers, I wouldn’t expect the team to pay big bucks to a free agent again. Frankly, I’m doubtful any of the biggest names even see the market as they’re likely tag and sign candidates. Still, they could easily bring Kyle Van Noy back to Detroit as he’s worked far better in a Matt Patricia defense than he did in Teryl Austin’s. Vic Beasley is on the outs after a few disappointing seasons in Atlanta, but he could see a career resurgence in Detroit if he’s just allowed to cut loose on the edge. Despite his first round and former All Pro pedigree, he likely won’t be too expensive after putting up some pretty poor tape recently.
Step 3: Gotta fix those Linebackers, too
Though personally opposed to the idea for schematic reasons, the Lions probably haven’t fully ruled out Isaiah Simmons with their first pick after he showed out at the Combine. He’s likely still available after a trade back, too, which is nice. If they get far enough back in the first round after trades they may have the capital and gumption to go after Oklahoma’s Kenneth Murray or Ohio State’s Malik Harrison, both options to replace Jarrad Davis while the team uses those additional resources to find help at other positions. If they can’t find help early, there’s always the chance they look at Stanford’s Casey Toohill, who absolutely crushed expectations at the Combine and fits the Patricia mold in terms of size and length while also being an elite athlete. Kansas Edge/LB Azur Kamara is a true lightning bolt of speed and is another option to fill this void in the draft.
If the team goes free agent, the most common name is Rams linebacker Cory Littleton. He’s a bit small and may be priced out at the moment, but that doesn’t rule out Browns linebacker Joe Schobert who is known for his coverage ability (a trait the current group lacks badly). Easy connection to make is former Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, who would be an easy plug-and-play guy in this defense.
Step 4: That OL though
We can’t forget the offense, even though it would be easy to considering all those holes that need filling on defense. The predictable departure of Rick Wagner leaves a void at a position that doesn’t have a clear successor. Sure, the team could always plug in Tyrell Crosby, but he was spotty in that role and might not be a sure thing.
That leaves one of the best tackle classes of the last decade for the Lions to pick and choose from. This is especially an option if the team trades back and acquires more early draft capital. You’ll probably miss Mekhi Becton but leave yourself open to Andrew Thomas, Tristan Wirfs, or Jedrick Wills. That’s not even pointing out Ezra Cleveland, who the Lions used a formal Combine interview with, a rising tackle from Boise State who put up one of the best overall athletic profiles of anyone at the Combine, any position.
Titans right tackle Jack Conklin is coming off a career year and as a former Michigan State Spartan has some local ties that could bring him to the Lions. After Anthony Castonzo signed a huge deal to remain with the Colts, it’s going to be tough to bring in a veteran on a short-term deal again, but the Lions may be able to work out something with former Packers starter Bryan Bulaga similar to the deal they did with T.J. Lang. An interesting one to watch is former Lions UDFA Cornelius Lucas who fits the team’s tackle profile and has actually played well since leaving.
Step 5: The Looming Wide Receiver Crisis
The Detroit Lions don’t have any wide receivers signed in 2021. That’s not an immediate problem, but it’s certainly a big one that will have to be rectified. An extension with Kenny Golladay is likely and the team already brought back Danny Amendola on a short-term deal, while Marvin Jones’ future is uncertain. Thankfully this draft is totally stacked with NFL caliber receivers. The team could nab Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III, or CeeDee Lamb early or with a trade back get the resources to get someone like Jalen Reagor or Baylor’s Denzel Mims who lit the Combine on fire.
If the team spends big on the market, they could bring in a lesser known but still excellent Robby Anderson who played for the Jets. After a very poor season (where many fans clamored for the Lions to trade for him), Nelson Agholor could come in on the cheap looking for a career reset. There are plenty of other short term options such as Breshad Perriman or Phillip Dorsett, both deep threat former first-round picks who could find a role here with an established number one.
Step 4.5: Crap, I forgot guard
Taking a step back, we forgot the whole ‘both guard spots are a problem’ thing. The Lions drafted an excellent center in Frank Ragnow, but they’ve left both his bookends pretty much empty. After a mostly disappointing first season as a starter, I’m not sure what they do with “Good Job” Joe Dahl, but maybe he bounces back and shows off that early success he had in the long term and doesn’t fizzle or get injured like he did in 2019.
The team could also draft another swing IOL early like Lloyd Cushenberry out of LSU or Michigan’s Cesar Ruiz. In fact, they could also pick up Jon Runyan out of Michigan who will probably swing inside to guard, so that’s two local products they could hit up.
Joe Thuney. I don’t have much to say about this free agent class of guards, as I think Brandon Scherff ultimately signs an extension after being tagged by Washington, but Joe Thuney has improved from the moment he stepped onto an NFL field and would be the best free agent target they could make.
Step 3.5 Oh yeah, Interior DL, too
Man, my bad, I totally whiffed on adding defensive interior guys and that’s kinda more important than the offensive stuff. The Lions lost nose tackle Damon Harrison Sr., as many expected, but they’re also unlikely to retain Mike Daniels and/or A’Shawn Robinson. That’s a pretty big hole. Thankfully, there are some pretty good options. If the team needs a nose, they can find a way to get Derrick Brown from Auburn if they can get the value right, or they can just wait and get Leki Fotu of Utah a couple rounds later for better value. Interior pass rush has guys like Javon Kinlaw or Missouri’s Jordan Elliott, one who has the measurables and one who has the tape, something for everybody.
D.J. Reader is the big name on the market to fill an interior void, but you’ve also got Danny Shelton and Leonard Williams out there who both fill what the Lions like on their line. Shelby Harris over in Denver might be a good option for a bit cheaper, and I’ve heard the Seahawks are trying to bring Jarran Reed back but he could also be available. They showed interest in Beau Allen before, so maybe that’s another option.
See! It’s pretty easy to fix the team with the quickness. They just need to use their early assets well, although acquiring more early assets is pretty much a necessity to put in the kind of changes the team needs to see any form of early returns from this draft class, and they have to both lure in and sign some of the better free agents while also bringing in the depth needed to stay competitive at each of these positions and holy cow are there really this many holes that need filling this year? I mean, I didn’t even go into the depth the team needs, or the fact their running back corps is a bunch of walking wounded. There’s also backup QB to consider, the possibility Will Harris ain’t “it” at strong safety, and just...all the depth, I really can’t stress that enough, it really does bear repeating.
I’m beginning to think it might not be as easy as I had imagined, you guys.