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Detroit Lions Offseason Outlook

Matthew Stafford was brought in to be the Detroit Lions face of the franchise after the Lions went 0-16 in 2008-2009.  The Lions have made tremendous progress since this point.  In 2011-2012, the Lions went 10-6 and got to the postseason.  Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson posted monster numbers of the century.  Stafford threw for 5,000 passing yards while Johnson was still making plays with players on secondary triple teaming him.  Its only scary to imagine what Detroit can do when Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, wide receiver Nate Burleson, and slot receiver Titus Young.  I also left out Tony Scheffler who can be effective as a secondary tight end.  Detroit can become even more lethal if their running game stays healthy with rushers like Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, and Kevin Smith in Detroit’s backfield.

Detroit’s defensive line will feature Kyle Vaden Bosch and Cliff Avril as starting defensive ends.  Lawrence Jackson and Everrette Brown will provide great depth at defensive end.  Ndamukong Suh can remain a force at defensive tackle.  Corey Williams, Sammie Lee Hill, and Nick Fairley provide depth at defensive tackle.  The Lions will continue to bolster an elite 4-3 defensive line that may be considered the best in the league with the additions the Lions made.

Free Agency Recap

The Lions retained left tackle Jeff Backus, left end Cliff Avril and starting middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch.  The Lions added a nickel corner with Jacob Lacey that could help for the short term.  The Lions had to make this move since they may not get Morris Claiborne, Stephon Gilmore, or Dre Kirkpatrick.  All cornerbacks could be gone in the top 20 picks.  This would force the Lions to look to other areas in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Detroit Lions 2012 NFL Draft Needs

#1 Field Cornerback Chris Houston and Jacob Lacey are boundary and nickel cornerbacks.  Neither cornerback could cover Calvin Johnson if they were on an opposing team.  Both corners would probably have problems against Nate Burleson and Titus Young.

Janoris Jenkins is now considered a 2nd round talent after all the legal issues he encountered off the field leading up to the 2012 NFL Draft.  The Lions need a cornerback, but may not get someone that they are desperately looking for.  The Lions could end up with a suspect pass defense without a major change at cornerback.  The Lions could reach for Janoris Jenkins who has some character concerns.

The Lions look past character issues in previous years, butI think the Lions will look elsewhere after their 2011 draft class had the 2 of the 3 draft picks Nick Fairley and Mikel LeShoure involved in off the field incidents.

Left Tackle for the future Detroit can keep their current starters at offensive tackle and groom Martin to be the left tackle of the future when Jeff Backus retires.  Both Backus and Godser Cherillus can perform.  I’d be contradicting myself if I said the Lions did not need to make an upgrade over either offensive tackle.  Jonathan Martin could slip to Detroit thanks to Buffalo possibly wanting to pass on Iowa left tackle Riley Reiff at #10 overall for a cornerback like Stephon Gilmore.

The Lions need a successor to Jeff Backus at left tackle.  Corey Hilliard, injury prone Jason Fox, and Johnny Culbreath who got busted for pot possession are all backup right tackles at best behind Gosder Cherillus.  Stanford left tackle Jonathan Martin would be the best player on the board if he slips to Detroit at 23.  Detroit could address the state of their offensive tackles by taking Jonathan Martin 23rd overall.

Jonathan Martin was Andrew Luck’s left tackle for 3 straight seasons at Stanford.  With all the positive hype surrounding Luck plus negative buzz surrounding Martin, you have to wonder if Martin’s a steal at this point.

Center The Lions really need to find a replacement at center over the aging Dominic Raiola.  Maybe Detroit should trade down an then trade for an extra 2nd round pick obtaining a Wisconsin center like Kevin Zeitler or Peter Konz.  Stafford’s center from his junior season was true freshman Ben Jones who just graduated as a senior.  Big 10 centers like Ohio State’s Michael Brewster and Michigan center David Molk could be day 3 options in round 4 if either is on the draft board.

Strong Safety Depth The Lions can add a strong safety for depth behind Amari Spivey with a day 3 pick.  Spivey could use some competition for his strong safety job after looking so suspect on pass defense.  While the consensus dictates that Janoris Jenkins or Jonathan Martin goes 23rd, it really would not shock me to see the Lions grab Harrison Smith at 23.  Smith was a late round pick.  Smith emerged in the senior bowl and the NFL Combine.

Both the New England Patriots and the Green Bay Packers have been projected to add Smith in round one of some mock drafts.  I got Smith graded out as a 2nd round talent, but lots of mock drafts got Smith going in the late portion of round 1 to one of these two teams since both teams were ranked in the bottom of the league in pass defense.  It would not shock me to see Detroit try to one up those teams by adding Harrison Smith in a very weak safety draft class if Smith is the top player on their board.

Outside Linebacker Depth DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are solid starters on the front seven for Detroit with this defensive line.  The Lions need to find a depth player at outside linebacker with one of their draft picks.

Third String Quarterback The Lions lost 3rd stringer Drew Stanton.  A 6th round pick could be used on a quarterback that could learn under backup Shaun Hill. Houston’s Case Keenum, Southern Miss quarterback Austin Davis, Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, and Boise State quarterback Kellen Moore are all potential candidates to become the Lions 3rd stringer that replaces 3rd stringer Drew Stanton with a late round pick.

Detroit Lions 2012 NFL Draft Strategy

The Lions usually ignore need and add the best player available that fits a need.  That’s why the Lions are on the cusp of becoming a Super Bowl contender in such a short time span.  Using this strategy helped the Lions obtain Matthew Stafford, Brandon Pettigrew, and Ndamukong Suh as building blocks after Calvin Johnson got handed the keys to being Detroit’s #1 wide receiver in the Motor City when Roy Williams was traded to Dallas really helped Detroit turn their team around in such quick fashion.

Detroit is not going to reach for players 2nd round talents that fill a need in round 1 or 3rd round talents in round 2 that fill a need.  The Lions got to where they were by taking the best player available on their board the last few drafts.

Playoffs or No Playoffs? I want to say playoffs because the Lions are a team that many label as a team with Super Bowl aspirations and expectations.  I honestly believe the Lions could finish anywhere from 2nd to last in the NFC North depending on how the draft shakes up for Detroit.  Its sort of too early to say for Detroit at this point.  Detroit could finish 7-9 and get last place in the NFC North or the Lions could win this division and lose to a team like Green Bay in the NFC Title if they sweep the regular season meeting with Green Bay.

The biggest problem with this draft for the Lions is the needs they have like left tackle, cornerback, center, strong safety, and outside linebacker do not have premium value where Detroit is picking in the later rounds after round 1.  Just like the 2010-2011 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Detroit had a really easy schedule last season getting NFC teams that finished in 3rd place along with a cakewalk of really weak AFC West teams last season.

Things could be a lot more challenging for Detroit in 2012 now that teams know what the Lions are capable of. This will tempt the Lions to take the best players on the board that do not fill actual team needs opening up potential holes for opposing teams to exploit.  That could hurt the Lions in 2012.

Not getting a top notch corner could make the Lions pass defense suspect against Green Bay.  Minnesota and Chicago could also present problems if their quarterbacks can make the right reads against the Lions pass defense while getting the necessary pass protection.  Its a good thing the Lions have an array of playmakers for Stafford to throw to and the leagues best 4-3 defensive line.  Otherwise, the Lions might be screwed.