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Mailbag. Part 1: Which training camp matchup will be the most fun to watch?

Getting creative with content, training camp matchups, concerns over drafting injured players, potential worries over rookies not projected to starting roles, and Kalil Pimpleton’s chances of making the 53-man roster, all in Part 1 of this week’s mailbag.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Welcome to July in the NFL, where the news is limited and we at POD are doing our best to create exciting content for Detroit Lions fans. This sets up a great opportunity where we can answer any burning questions you have about the organization in a mailbag post.

We actually had so many good questions this week, that we are splitting the mailbag into two parts. So, let’s waste no more time and get started with Part 1:

I appreciate the POD staff getting creative and finding crap to write about. Is it physically painful to rack your brain in mid-July trying to find new topics to write about? — Lee County Flydog

Jeremy: This dead period is a weird mental mix of wanting to take some time off for self-care and feeling desperate to put some sort of content out there. To be clear, we’re not pressured to publish from corporate a normal amount of content during this time, but if I can speak for Erik, we’re both self-diagnosed workaholics. When this site only puts up two or three posts a day, I get anxious. I work best when I’m on a schedule and am forced to be busy, so this is the toughest part of the year for me, both mentally and creatively. It’s why I created the Name Bracket.

Erik: While the NFL has really evolved into a year-round league, there are four parts of the year that are very different when it comes to creating content. Basically, we split the year into quadrants—training camp, regular season, player acquisition, and dead period—and Jeremy and I have strategy meetings at each intersection. In each of these meetings, we review what worked and what can be changed for that time next year, plan out article ideas and goals, and revisit articles/strategies from a year ago.

So, as Jeremy said, during this dead period, we spend some time recharging our batteries, but also feeding the workaholic beast inside of us. To that point, we are restarting a new edition of the Name Bracket Tournament, expanding our roster player preview series, setting podcast agendas, and preparing for a training camp battle series leading into the next phase of the year. This is also a great time of the year to interact with fans and get their questions answered, which is why mailbags and Spotify Live shows can be so rewarding.

Erik: You’re speaking my language, Mary.

Jeremy: I think we’ve mentioned it before a couple times on the podcast, but it will get no better than Penei Sewell vs. Aidan Hutchinson. It’s not just two talented people going up against each other, but two high-energy, emotional competitors. Over/under set at 5.5 scuffles between the two in training camp.

Erik: You read my mind, Jeremy. In fact, that won’t be the only “worth the price of admission” battle in the trenches, as I am also eagerly awaiting a Frank Ragnow vs. Alim McNeill rematches from last year. The sheer power on display between these uber-competitive athletes gets my heart racing, and with the easier access we get to the field, we typically get a front-row seat for the action.

While those matchups will be the pinnacle of competition, I have a few other battles I am anxious to watch, what about you Jeremy?

Jeremy: Well, WR vs. DB battles are always good, and considering I’m just eager to see Jeff Okudah out there, I’ll take him vs. Detroit’s improved wide receiving corps, whether it be DJ Chark or Josh Reynolds (or if we’re lucky Jameson Williams).

Erik: Okudah vs. Amon-Ra St. Brown was amazing last year. Bravado and confidence overload. I’ll also add I am excited to see if Ifeatu Melifonwu will indeed square up against T.J. Hockenson. No one has been able to slow Hock down in previous training camps, so let’s see what Iffy can do.

Erik: One of the advantages of drafting players who are injured is that they typically slide in the draft, thus creating value for a team who can wait for them to heal up. For a team like the Lions, who are in the early stages of a multi-year rebuild with an owner willing to be patient, this presents an opportunity to add value without having to sacrifice excessive draft capital.

For example, if Jameson Williams did not tear his ACL in January, he most likely would have been the first wide receiver drafted. Meaning he would have been selected at least in the top eight, if not the top five, instead of 12th overall. That would have drastically changed the cost to trade up and get him and probably put him out of the Lions’ range. Their ability to be patient with his recovery process likely landed them the top offensive skill player in the draft at a much more reasonable cost.

Jeremy: The downside of all of that is that these players now come with additional risks. Part of the reason these guys slide in the draft is not only because they may not be available right away, but they represent a higher risk of additional injury. Someone who suffers an ACL injury is six times more likely to suffer a second one (Note: this study was from nine years ago, so keep that in mind).

So I think it’s fair to levy a small amount of skepticism towards Holmes for the picks of Jameson Williams and James Mitchell. Part of the reason I’m a little anxious about the trade-up in this year’s draft was not only because of the loss of extra picks, but the real risk Williams presents.

That said, I don’t think it’s fair to hold that against Paschal, Barnes, or Onwuzurike. Those injuries appear to have been exacerbated or essentially new when they arrived in Detroit. I suppose you could direct some criticism toward the medical staff during the scouting process, but it’s hard to really do that when we don’t know what they did or did not know.

I concur with the assessment of the rookies in Erik’s article. Should it concern Lion’s Fans at all that we won 3 games last year, and out of the 8 draft picks, only 1 is slated as a Day 1 Starter. — Kwsweger

Erik: First off, thanks. But to answer your question, it doesn't worry me a bit. I expect that Jameson Williams will likely start once he is up to speed, bringing that starting number up to two. But keeping Paschal, the other top-50 pick, in a rotational spot isn’t worrisome considering the frequency NFL teams rotate their defensive linemen.

It’s also worth noting that it’s still early, in that we haven’t even reached training camp yet, and things can change in a hurry once the pads come on. At this time last year, the Lions hoped to get some rotational work out of Amon-Ra St. Brown. Then the wide receiver room was purged and St. Brown ended up playing on 74 percent of offensive snaps on the season but technically only started nine games.

Does this situation worry you, Jeremy?

Jeremy: Not in the slightest. Realistically speaking, you can only expect first-rounders and some second-rounders to be Day 1 starters (maybe a third, if it’s an offensive lineman or tight end). As Erik mentioned, Williams will get there. Paschal may end up being a rotational guy, but who knows? The Lions clearly think he’s got a high ceiling, so if he’s a rotational guy for the first two years, then takes over a starting role, that’s still a win and a lot of production from a second-round pick

It’s far too early to tell, but it is possible that some of these other picks develop into starters. That’s certainly the hope for safety Kerby Joseph and tight end James Mitchell (if they start in two tight end sets). And there are certainly some that are convinced a guy like Malcolm Rodriguez could work his way into a starting role.

Truth of the matter is, if a rookie drafted beyond the third round is starting on Day 1, that’s probably a sign that your roster isn’t very good. So I think you could almost spin this as a positive.

Erik: Spinning things into a positive is my jam.

As a CMU alum, just curious if there is any chance (Kalil) Pimpleton makes the roster as a 6 WR over keeping Godwin (Igwebuike) as the 5 RB? I feel like Pimpleton’s biggest chance to make the roster this season would be if he wins the return duty which would make Godwin expendable. — e_miller

Jeremy: I think it’s certainly possible the Lions decide to keep four running backs (including Jason Cabinda) in order to make room for a sixth wide receiver. That’s something we discussed when we built our 53-man roster. We were actually able to make room for a sixth receiver anyways, but I think the challenge here is for Pimpleton to actually win that sixth spot.

Let’s assume Jameson Williams starts the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. That leaves the following receivers on the roster: Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy Kalil Pimpleton, Corey Sutton, and Josh Johnson. The first four there are essentially locks on the roster. It’s certainly possible Pimpleton makes a run at Trinity Benson’s or Quintez Cephus’ spot, but I think Raymond’s roster spot is particularly troubling for Pimpleton.

The coaching staff loves Raymond, he would cost more against the cap if he were cut, and there’s not a lot Pimpleton can do that Raymond can’t. Sure, he’s a supreme athlete but he’s going to have a lot to learn as a receiver and special teamer. I think Pimpleton has practice squad written all over him.

Erik: Yeah, to summarize, Pimpleton may have to not only beat out Igwebuike for a returner job, but he may also need to beat out Cephus and/or Benson. That’s a tough road. So if he is going to make the roster, he’ll need to prove that he is versatile in multiple spots. He’s a dynamic talent and a hard worker, but as Jeremy said, he is also a bit redundant to Raymond, which makes it more likely he is a practice squad player in 2022, with a possible path to the roster in 2023.

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