5.) The Guardian of Guards
Following the offeseason additions of veteran lineman T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner, the Lions offensive line is expected to take a huge leap in 2017. Taylor Decker was excellent as a rookie, grading out as the best rookie lineman last season as well as landing in the top 10 of all left tackles. With Travis Swanson set to return at center after an improved season, the offensive line should be a strength in most areas. The one spot left up for grabs is left guard. 2015 first round pick Laken Tomlinson should have every chance to reclaim his starting spot this offseason. He was benched late in the year in favor of 2016 rookies Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl, who were each picked by GM Bob Quinn, unlike Tomlinson who was the last first round pick of Quinn's predecesor. With T.J. Lang still rehabbing from offseason surgery, both guard positions will be vacant at the start of OTAs. We will learn a lot about how the coaching staff views these lineman not only from who takes first team reps at left guard, but also from whomever fills in the vacant spot at right guard.
4.) The Risk at Reciever
The Lions still have not replaced Calvin Johnsons production. Especially in the redzone, his presence is missed as the Lions have dropped to bottom of the league in touchdown effeciency in the redzone. Since his retirement, the Lions have entrusted wide reciever reps to players like Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin to play alongside Golden Tate. With Boldin approaching 40 and again contemplating retirement, it is looking more and more likely that he will not be a part of the teams plans this season. Now with just Marvin Jones and Golden Tate slotted to start, there is a huge void at wide reciever. Bob Quinn turned to the draft, where he selected Kenny Golladay, the 6'4 MAC product from NIU, in the third round. This pick was widely considered a reach as Golladay is raw and will likely need time to develop as a professional route runner and catcher. Detroit envisions Golladay as their "#1" reciever, where he can play on the boundry and use his sub 4.50 speed to take the top off of defenses. Lions are also returning fan favorite Jace Billingsly and 2014 5th round pick T.J. Jones to compete in the slot. On paper, Golladay should be the favorite to take reciever reps in camp, primarily on the outside. This transition would push Tate or Marvin Jones inside to the slot, solidifying the core of top 3 recievers.
3.) The Logjam at Linebacker
In 2016, there was no worse positional unit perhaps in the entire NFL then Detroit's Linebacking core. At a certain point in the season, the Lions LBs were comprised of Thurnun Armbrister, Antowon Williams, and a burning dumpster filled with trash. The Lions made it a priority to strengthen that position through free agency and the draft. Paul Worrilow was added for veteren depth and leadership, and the Lions also signed Nick Bellore away from San Francisco. Bellore was responsible for replacing the production lost by Chris Borlands surprise retirement and NaVarro Bowmans injury. He was adequate, as is Worrilow at this point in his career. However, both players are upgrades over the incumbent linebackers and should both challenge for a roster spot. Through the draft, Bob Quinn spent a lot of draft capital to improve the position as well. Jarrad Davis, the hard hitting, 3 down linebacker with plus leadership qualities was added with the teams first round selection. Bob Quinn has already stated that the franchise foresees Davis as the long-term solution at middle linebacker, and they hope that he will be calling plays for Detroits defense for the next 10 years. Jalen Reeves-Maybin was added in the fourth round as well to compete for a starting spot at WILL linebacker. JRM was considered a fringe first round prospect heading into the season, but suffered a serious injury and thus fell in the draft. Tahir Whitehead is also returning from injury, as he looks to reclaim the SAM linebacker spot where he graded out as a top 25 LB in 2015 per PFF.
2.) The Controvery at Cornerback
There has been much fuss surrounding Detroits second round pick Teez Tabor. Tabor, considered by many to be the top collegiate conerback heading into last years season, performed horribly at the NFL Combine, where his speed drills were seriously awful. Tabor's short burst and long area speed were both highly criticized after he put on a terrible display, running slower than 4.6 in the 40 yard dash. However, most pundits will respond to this criticism with "watch the film", as Tabor was never exposed deep during his time at Florida and portrays traits of a true shutdown corner. Tabor has claimed that his hamstring injury is responsible for his poor combine numbers. Tabor will compete with boundry corner Nevin Lawson, who had a strong showing in 2016. Lawson is slightly undersized, and it will be interesting to see if Tabor shows enough to relegate Lawson to the slot. The slot was manned by Quandre Diggs, who always was tight in coverage but gave up the catch far too often. Lawson seems to be a strong upgrade over Diggs on paper. Another challenger for both the starting boundry cornerback and slot conerback job is free agent addition, and top 5 pick in the 2013 NFL draft D.J. Hayden. Haydens career has been slowed severly by a slew of different injuries. However, he is healthy now and hopes to display the talent that made him such a high pick. Hayden could realistically start the season at boundry CB. Jamal Agnew, a pure slot corner, was also added in the 5th round of the NFL Draft. Agnew has the athletic tools and will almost certainly earn a roster spot for his special teams ability. The question is will he perform well enough to compete for reps in the slot? Johnathan Bademosi was also a big free agent signing last offseason purely for his play on special teams. Will Bademosi be edged off the roster in favor of younger players? How will that affect their special teams play, which was tops in the league last season? There will be some serious competition among talented players for the right to play across from and next to star CB Darius Slay.
1.) The Quandry at Quarterback
With long time clipboard holder Dan Orlovsky calling it quits after backing up Matthew Stafford for almost his entire career, there was a huge hole opened up on the depth chart. Stafford struggled with injuries the first two years of his career, but has not missed a start since then. Jake Rudock was added from Big Blue last year as an UDFA. Rudock went on to put on a monster performance in the preseason and practice field, which likely made Orlovsky expendable. I do not believe that the Lions went into this offseason thinking that they needed to add a quarterback, as Rudock seemed primed to handle clipboard duties going forward. However, this Draft was weirder than anybody could have predicted. Brad Kaaya, the long time favorite to go #1 overall in the draft, fell to the Lions pick in the 6th round. The Lions pulled the trigger on this talented but flawed prospect. Kaaya, like Rudock, comes from a pro style system in college. Kaaya has more physical abilities, mental fortitude, and intangibles than Rudock offers. It will be interesting to see how the Lions brass plays this out. I think that Kaaya and Rudock could both be groomed and eventually flipped for draft picks, Patriots Style.