The first step in any successful offseason is assessing your own needs. For the Detroit Lions, that may be a lengthy process. While the team has undoubtedly built a foundation, both in terms of roster formation and culture, their list of needs will not be a short one when it comes to adding talented players this offseason.
But our perception from the outside is not always the same from the inside, and that appears to partially be the case with Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes. In his end-of-season press conference on Tuesday, Holmes ran down the strengths of the team, and one of his answers may surprise you.
“Offensive line, you could say defensive line. You could argue that those are strengths of our team, but we do want to improve in all the other areas,” Holmes said. “I think our running backs did a really, really nice job.”
Offensive line is a gimme. Penei Sewell could have very well been the final piece of the puzzle. Detroit’s offensive line, at times, dominated opponents and allowed for the Lions to finally establish a run game. Pass protection was not much of an issue, either. And considering Detroit’s offensive line performed that well without their starting left tackle for most of the season and without their Pro Bowl center for almost the entire year, the future is bright there.
Running back is another easy one. The duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams proved explosive early in the year, and when injuries forced the reserves in, Craig Reynolds, Godwin Igwebuike, and Jermar Jefferson all proved capable runners. All five of those players are under contract for next season—assuming the Lions offer Igwebuike an exclusive-rights free agency deal—so we may not see much movement there.
But the defensive line is an interesting answer from Holmes. The Lions were not great at creating pressure (26th in pressure rate) and they were often manhandled in the running game, finishing the season ranked 31st in Football Outsiders’ run defense efficiency metric. While some of those issues bleed over to the linebacking unit, it’s hard to say the defensive line had a good year.
Perhaps, though, Holmes is banking on a significant improvement from the unit in 2022. They played most of the season without their top two pass rushers: Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers. Additionally, Holmes could be expecting development in a couple of Day 2 rookies in defensive tackles Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike—both of whom got plenty of experience in their first seasons.
Still, plenty of questions remain with that unit. Holmes was non-committal on Flowers’ future with the team. Nick Williams and Charles Harris are key free agents. And how will Okwara look after rehabbing from a brutal Achilles injury?
In terms of team needs going forward, Holmes was pretty straightforward.
“We can always get better at the perimeter positions on both sides of the ball. But I think it’s not one position that you can kind of focus on,” Holmes said.
Here, he’s referring to wide receivers and cornerbacks. In 2021, the Lions cycled through just about everyone on their roster at both of these positions. They found success stories in Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Kalif Raymond at receiver, but both Reynolds and Raymonds are free agents. Detroit also still lacks a true No. 1 outside receiver, which could certainly be a focus this offseason.
At defensive back, the Lions saw Amani Oruwariye take a significant step and found a nice depth piece in Jerry Jacobs. However, rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu still has a long way to go in his development, and the future of Jeff Okudah—also coming off an Achilles injury—remains a mystery.
So to recap, the strengths of the team are in its trenches and at running back. Where they need to improve is at wide receiver and cornerback, but it is not just limited to those spots. Do you agree?