I think the Detroit Lions are one of the hardest teams for me to wrap my arms around and trust to make the playoffs again. Even competing for a playoff season seems odd for me to say for the Lions. This franchise is so snake bitten and unlucky that my natural reaction is to say this team will disappoint like it always does. However, this roster in general is actually pretty solid across the board. I doubt Matthew Stafford will ever become one of the best quarterbacks after being taken first overall all those years ago, but I do think most teams would love to have him as their starter. He has the intangibles, arm strength, and ability to win games consistently however, it just always seems difficult for him to do so. To me he seems like a Andy Dalton, Matt Ryan, or Eli Manning type who needs good players around them to win and hide their flaws. Unfortunately, the pieces around him to me is not good enough to help him. This defense also has a few holes in it that makes me worried about this team's extended success.
Matthew Stafford has all the talent in the world, but to me he just never seems to put it together. If anything he can be labeled as a less boneheaded Jay Cutler where he throws a few less picks than the veteran. I do think without Calvin Johnson looming over him to throw to 20 plus times a game is a good thing for the offense allowing him to spread the wealth around. This group of receivers to me is a bit of an enigma where they are full of number two targets with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and maybe the emergence of Kenny Golladay who can be another nice target. Their line is also in some major flux after losing Riley Reiff and Larry Warford via free agency. They may have gotten better by bringing in Ricky Wagner, and T.J. Lang as actual upgrades, but the key to offensive lines is continuity. Plus, they most likely will not get their stud left tackle Taylor Decker until the end of the season if they are lucky. I just think there's too many new and moving parts to make this offensive line a strength that it was last year or at least for the first half of the year if they stay healthy. Meanwhile, this running game is a mess in my opinion and should have been fixed this past off season after how they were not able to run the ball down the stretch. That issue was effectively their down fall the end of the year and caused them to lose in the playoffs.
Then there is this defense that to me has some really nice parts, but to me there are way too many holes to give me confidence in their ability to slow teams down. Their pass rush consists of Ziggy Ansah and that is about it. His back ups and fellow starters at the ends consist of Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, Pat O'Connor, and what ever other undrafted free agent they have. The inside of the line is not much better with aging Haloti Ngata and maybe an improved A'Shawn Robinson who is more than just a run stuffer. Even though I down play linebackers ability to make an overall impact on the game's outcome, but you still need good ones to stop the run consistently. Their trio of Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, and Antwione Williams are not that appealing. Maybe Davis turns into a good linebacker, but I think he was helped out at Florida thanks to his fellow defensive studs. The strength of this defense is their starting corners with Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson who are one of the best duos in the league. Their back ups are alright with breakout candidate and former Raiders first rounder D.J. Hayden and 2nd round rookie Teez Tabor who may have a big chip on his shoulder after sliding out of the first round. Their safeties are also solid with Glover Quinn and Tavon Wilson. Overall, I do not think there is enough fire power up front to help out their solid secondary. Unless, Ziggy Ansah turns it on even more than he has to get a nice big contract next off season.
In the end, this team to me is going to have an up and down season. I could see them do better if their offensive line syncs up and somebody else steps up across from Ansah in the pass rush. However, to me all of that is a big if and then even with a good line they still do not have a running back reliable enough to run down the clock. I also do not see coach Jim Caldwell as one of the better coaches who can game plan around his weaknesses. Their schedule is not too daunting with match ups against the Cardinals, Giants, Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Steelers, Browns, Ravens, Bucs, and Bengals. Along with their divisional match ups against the Packers who are one of the top teams in the league and the Bears and Vikings who have the personnel to beat them. On the high end I can see them winning 10 games if they steal a few wins, but I can also see them going a more predictable 8-8 or 7-9.
1 (21) - Jarrad Davis LB - Like I have said in previous articles I am not a huge fan of drafting inside linebackers or those who play off the line with a high pick. To me they just do not make the same sort of impact an edge rusher, left tackle, or a shut down corner can have throughout a game. Davis to me will be a fine player who can cover slot receivers or tight ends very well. I think he is a bit slight in size to be able to really combat in the run game consistently, but he is a good instinctive tackler. I just think the Lions were better off taking an edge rusher like Charles Harris, Taco Charlton, or a safety who can upgrade an okay position on their roster.
2 (21) - Teez Tabor CB - I love this pick and think this may be one of the biggest steals in the draft. Tabor may be a bit of a knucklehead and a bit too cocky, but all the best corners have that attitude you kind of need it to be good at that position. I think he is one of those guys who plays better on the field than in the workouts where he disappointed leading up to the draft. I also think he has a huge chip on his shoulder sliding in to the 2nd round after he was a projected top 10 prior to the Combine. With the Lions he will not be asked to be an outside starter and his quick twitch skills can be a big plus at the slot.
3 (32) - Kenny Golladay WR - This was another nice sleeper and so far in the pre season he is kind of proving. Yes, I know he torched the second and third stringers, but he has good size and skills to be a nice receiver. I can see him beating out Marvin Jones and Golden Tate who are both mediocre receivers in my opinion. Watch out for this kid he may not pop right away this season, but in a year or two he can become their number one receiver for the Lions.
4 (18) - Jalen Reeves-Maybin LB - It's amazing what year can do to a prospect. Going into the season last year Reeves-Maybin had first round appeal due to his speed and coverage skills. However, after missing the year he was hardly ever talked about leading up to the draft. If healthy, I think this could be a solid sleeper pick for the Lions who need more athletic linebackers. At this juncture I think is the proper spot to draft a linebacker and we have seen around the league that many mid-round linebackers end up making big impacts more often then other positions. He will probably start the year on special teams and as a back up, but I can see him being a solid starter by the end of the year.
4 (21) - Michael Roberts TE - Roberts was one of my favorite players leading up to the draft. He was a good pass catcher in the end zone and in the intermediate range. Plus, he can be a good functional blocker. He can definitely out play the perennial disappointment Eric Ebron who has never really clicked with Stafford. Roberts like Golladay could be a solid go to starter for the Lions by this time next year.
5 (21) - Jamal Agnew CB - To be completely honest I did not have Agnew anywhere near my radar so I have very little of my own opinions on him. He will probably make the roster as a solid back up and developmental piece on a secondary where the depth is very weak. Most likely however, he will end up on the practice squad to begin his career.
6 (21) - Jeremiah Ledbetter DE - The only reason why I hate this pick is that it took them 6 rounds and 6 of their own picks to finally take a pass rusher. If I were Ziggy Ansah I would be extremely frustrated. He was unable to make a consistent impact last year due to being double blocked on a consistent basis because of their inability to create a pass rush across from him. I like to think Ledbetter can become an okay rotational piece, but this is definitely not enough impact that they need at such a weak position on their roster.
6 (32) - Brad Kaaya QB - I just do not get quarterback picks past the 3rd round. Very obviously the player will not become a starter or if you thought he would you would have drafted him in round 1-3. At the very best Kaaya may be a back up quarterback, but the year prior the Lions drafted Jake Ruddock who looks like a good back up already. Kaaya to me is too small, weak armed, and a bit too jumpy behind the line to me to be even an okay back up where you want a guy who is fearless to not miss a beat. Instead, I think another pass rusher or any other position would have been a better value even if the player would only be a special teamer at least he would be able to play.
7 (32) - Pat O'Connor DE - Again, I am going to hate this pick since it took them way too long to address one of their weakest positions. Plus, they are just getting a guy who may barely make the team. O'Connor has the workers mentality and will probably make the team as a good energy rotational player.
2018 Off Season:
It will be interesting to see what the Lions will do with Matthew Stafford who is an up coming free agent. He will probably be resigned because quarterbacks rarely flex their strength in threatening teams that they will leave and even if he did I think the Lions would franchise tag him. If I was the Lions I would rather not give him a big contract because his rookie deal and current contract already paid him like a top quarterback, which he clearly is not. They probably will be forced to pay him more than they would want to in the end just due to the current cost of quarterbacks. After that they should look to really address the running back position to help the offense become more balanced. Thankfully their line should be good for another year or two barring injuries. It's their pass rush that needs a lot of work and if they cannot get a deal done with either Ansah or Stafford prior to free agency who they will franchise tag. If they solve those issues they could be a nice playoff team next year, but I just do not love Stafford enough to expect him to carry them to a Super Bowl.
My 2018 Mock Selections:
1 (7) - Sam Hubbard DE Ohio St
2 (8) - Bradley Chubb RB Georgia