Lions – Reboot time
Result: Missed Playoffs
2019 Regular season record: 3-12-1
2019 Scoring Offensive Rank: 18th 21.3 PPG
2019 Scoring Defensive Rank: 26th 26.4 PPG
2020 Draft First Round Pick: 3
Coach: Matt Patricia
The Offseason Scenario:
An already floundering Lions team lost their final nine games after Matthew Stafford’s season was ended by a back injury. With two virtual no-names in the backup role (I’m not being mean, David Blough went undrafted and Jeff Driskel has been in and out of the league with Cincinnati before joining Detroit), Detroit just wasn’t ready for a half season without their franchise QB.
But honestly, the offense wasn’t the big problem in the D, that would be the D. Matt Patricia made his bones as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator, but he’s struggled to get the Lions defense on track, and he’d probably be gone if Stafford hadn’t gotten injured. If Detroit can’t make some major strides forward in 2020, he’ll be on the hot seat all season long.
Free Agent Frenzy:
Detroit has been busy in free agency, really busy.
First off, they immediately improved their defense by bringing in a player that Patricia is very familiar with versatile and athletic linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. Patriots fans will recognize the name as a core player from 2013-2016, when he took a holiday in Cleveland before returning to last year’s defensive juggernaut.
Patricia also looked to his old roster for two defensive stalwarts in DT Danny Shelton and safety Duron Harmon, who both have won a Super Bowl win with New England. They also upgraded the secondary with Veteran CB Desmond Trufant from Atlanta, Ravens CB Tony McRae and safety Jayron Kearse from Minnesota. That’s a lot of new blood on defense, but the core of ex-Patriots should held bring some cohesion to a disorganized unit.
On offense, the Lions have perhaps solved the backup QB situation, bringing in veteran number two option Chase Daniel, as well as addressing the offensive line with OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai from Philly.
Assuming that Patricia can put the pieces together, the Lions have almost certainly done enough in free agency to improve on defense. The question becomes: What could they do in the draft to improve around Matthew Stafford?
Seriously Premature Draft Hunches:
As I mentioned in the Dolphins preview, there’s a chess match to be had here between Detroit and Miami.
If Matt Patricia and crew can convince the Fins that they’re going to nab Tua at number three, they stand a chance of getting extra assets from Miami to swap picks. If Miami bites, there’s no question that Detroit should trade back to grab a valuable extra pick or a player asset.
But here’s the thing: I’m pretty convinced that Tua isn’t the guy that Detroit wants or needs. They seem comfortable with Stafford and his over bloated contract, and they’ve done enough on defense to assume they’ll be better there.
So, the question becomes: Are they taking a quarterback at all?
My hunch is that if the Lions can’t trade back, they will use that number three pick to do something that won’t make much sense on its face: pick a defender.
Let me explain.
They’ve just spent a ton of money on defensive players, so the obvious move is to pick Stafford’s heir apparent or a game changing offensive weapon, right? Maybe, and that’s what I’d choose for the Lions. Stafford simply hasn’t been the same dude since Calvin Johnson retired (you remember him, right? Megatron… big dude, caught everything thrown within eighteen feet of him) and my guess is that if the Lions want to win in the twilight of Stafford’s career, an absolute stud on the outside is a necessity, not a luxury. That’s the way to go, unless your team can’t pick a no-brainer number one receiver in the draft.
But there’s a wrinkle.
Two defensive players that could help turn Patricia’s unit into one of the NFC’s best defenses. What if Chase Young is still on the board at number three? He’s potentially a generational talent, and this is a deep, deep draft for receiving talent. Maybe you grab him and a high-upside guy at WR in the second round. What about Jeffery Okoduh? He’s a lock down corner, and supremely talented, but do you pick a cornerback at number three overall?
It’s a hornet’s nest of possibilities for Detroit, and that’s why I think that their strongest play might be to trade back with whichever suitor offers the most value.
For more thoughts and opinions from Tom, check out his author page.