The talent on the Detroit Lions roster had been a talking point throughout most of the offseason, albeit for different reasons.
From the perspective of the offense, the discussion centered around the potentially dominant offensive line and vast arsenal of weapons. Through eight weeks of football, some of these dreams have come to fruition, while others have been questionable. The offensive line has been fine, but not the overwhelming force we envisioned. The offense has been explosive at times, but the depth is being tested with injuries abundant.
From the perspective of the defense, the lack of talent was the major concern entering the season, and it has been justified. While the Lions have gotten some surprises, such as Malcolm Rodriguez, the defense as a whole has struggled, which might be putting it nicely. The Miami Dolphins diced the Lions secondary on Sunday, and when the Lions offense stalled, the defense could do nothing to stem the bleeding.
With our sight turning to 2023, evaluating the team’s current assets becomes ever-important. It is difficult to project which pending free agents will go where, but after some rough outings, I think we have started to know where the weaknesses lie.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What is the Lions greatest need in 2023?
My answer: A cornerback.
While the development of Jeff Okudah has been stellar, no other corner has illustrated an ability to be a complementary piece. Will Harris has been the next-best cornerback, but that is a title practically won by default. Mike Hughes has had moments, both good and bad, in the slot, but he has been mainly forgettable as the nickel corner. Due to an injury to Hughes, AJ Parker has seen some action in the slot, but the magic from his rookie season has evaporated. He was burnt early and often by the speedy wideouts of Miami. Amani Oruwariye has been a disaster thus far in a pivotal contract year—this picture perfectly summarizes his season: confusion.
Dying at how far offsides the Lions defender at the top of the screen lined up pic.twitter.com/CU7sklcQ0R— Computer Cowboy (@benbbaldwin) October 30, 2022
The rest of the cornerback group is an unknown at best. Jerry Jacobs has been brought along slowly in his return from injury, relegated largely to special teams. Can the former undrafted free agent rekindle the excellent play we saw flashes of last season once he is up to speed? The lone remaining corner on the roster is Chase Lucas, but the seventh-round rookie is hardly seeing the field even when healthy. The Lions could technically convert Ifeatu Melifonwu back from safety, but he too has failed to remain on the field.
Unless the Lions can get a significant turnaround from one or more of their corners, they will continue to get burnt by explosive offenses. As such, a starting-caliber corner is needed.
Free agents are difficult to project with re-signings and franchise tags still to come, but there are a few names to monitor. James Bradberry is proving his worth with the Philadelphia Eagles after being cut by the New York Giants in March. Jamel Dean has been an underrated asset for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and would fit in with the young core of the Lions defense. However, the Lions might have difficulty pulling the trigger on such a move, as their projected cap space could hinder a large signing.
A cheaper alternative is the draft, and it is an avenue the Lions are almost guaranteed to approach. With two first round picks, the Lions could certainly target a player in the first round. Their own first might be too rich for a cornerback, but with the Los Angeles Rams struggling so far, their first rounder might fall in the middle of the pack. Keep an eye on the likes of Antonio Johnson, Clark Phillips, Joey Porter Jr., Kelee Ringo, and Cam Smith as the draft approaches.
The Lions badly need a second quality cornerback, either on the outside or in the slot, to pair with Jeff Okudah. Given how many teams across the NFL have stocked up at wide receiver, it means little to have one good cornerback anymore. Despite Okudah’s improvement, the opposition can merely target everyone else on defense.
The Lions defense has some decent pieces along the front seven, and the safeties will improve with Tracy Walker back and Kerby Joseph gaining more experience. That largely leaves the cornerbacks, and the Lions need to address this sooner than later. As for other positions of need, quarterback is one that stands out, and it could be addressed with an early pick. That being said, the Lions have lost more games in 2022 due to the secondary than their quarterback. The defense continues to be historically bad, and that cannot suffice.