A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and football is no exception.
Having a strong starting lineup is fundamental to success in the NFL, but unless you’re playing Madden with injuries turned off, a team’s depth will be put to the test early and often over the course of an entire season. Even if you exclude injuries, depth is important for giving a coordinator multiple options to tackle an opponent’s game plan. There may only be 11 players on the field at a single time, but every team will dip into their depth to throughout four quarters of football.
The Detroit Lions have done well to build a competitive team for the 2023 season, but it’s impossible to build a rock-solid roster from top to bottom. Where might the Lions have some under the radar weaknesses?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
At which position do the Lions have the weakest depth?
My answer: I think the Lions’ weakest depth is at defensive tackle. But before delving into my pick, I want to highlight a few notable candidates.
Quarterback: It seems like a weird pick on paper, given that the Lions just spent a third-round selection on Hendon Hooker. However, Hooker is still recovering from a college ACL injury and will likely miss a large portion of the season. That leaves Nate Sudfeld and Adrian Martinez as healthy quarterbacks. The former has been a career backup with zero starts to his name and the latter is an undrafted rookie. If Jared Goff gets hurt before Hooker is healthy, the Lions are likely in serious trouble.
Offensive tackle: The Lions have an excellent starting tackle duo with Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell. The Lions are lacking reliable depth behind them. Matt Nelson has been a serious downgrade when forced into starting action, his skillset better suited for a sixth lineman role. Veteran Germain Ifedi has starting experience, but it hasn’t necessarily been good starting experience. Fifth-round pick Colby Sorsdal was a tackle in college, but he seems destined to move inside to guard in the NFL. That leaves a mixture of undrafted free agent tackles, none of whom have starting pedigree. In the event of injury, the Lions will have a serious weakness in their otherwise sturdy offensive line.
My pick of defensive tackle is not only a position lacking depth, but its starters are also suspect. Alim McNeill is the standout of the bunch, and he looks primed for a successful third season, yet the Lions are lacking a true star to pair with him.
Isaiah Buggs went from training camp body to full-time starter, and for the most part, it was a successful campaign. Down the stretch, Buggs was a crucial contributor along the defensive line, both on the field and in the locker room. However, one-year wonders are common in the NFL, and after three middling seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers, there is always a chance that Buggs’ Lions season was a flash in the pan. Yet even at his peak, Buggs was closer to good than great—nice to have on the roster, but among the lower end of starters.
Brodric Martin was drafted in the third round of the 2023 NFL Draft and looks like the Lions’ future nose tackle. The future might not be 2023, however, as making the jump from Western Kentucky and Conference USA to the NFL could be a significant change for Martin. The remaining defensive tackles (Christian Covington, Cory Durden, Benito Jones, Levi Onwuzurike, and Chris Smith) have their own issues, from injuries to production to a mix of both.
Aside from McNeill, the Lions have no guarantees at defensive tackle. If McNeill gets hurt, are there any players you feel comfortable stepping into the leading role? For veterans like Buggs, Covington or Jones, the Lions would need outstanding performances. For rookies like Durden, Martin, or Smith, the Lions would need them to hit the ground running. Elsewhere, Onwuzurike has the talent, but can he ever overcome his injury woes?
For the Lions to put together a decent defensive interior, they would need multiple tackles to punch above their weight. It’s one thing for a player like Buggs to have a single good season. The Lions need Buggs to not only duplicate that season, but other tackles to step up as well. In my eyes, too much has to go right for the Lions. The coaching staff has worked wonders before, but turning this unit into an average one could prove difficult.
The defensive tackle depth is a serious weakness entering the 2023 season.
What are your thoughts on the Lions’ depth? Scroll down to the comment section and sound off!