There is a connection between the needs of the Tigers and the Lions. For both teams, there is talk about closers.
The Tigers have had problems with their bullpen protecting leads in the early stages of the baseball season.
Finding closers is a priority for the Lions, too. At Monday night’s fan event at Ford Field, Sheldon White, the director of pro personnel, talked about finishing games. The Lions lost six of their last seven games last season, and they gave up the go-ahead or winning touchdown in the fourth quarter or overtime in all six losses.
“We’re going to be looking for closers this year,” White told the fans.
How important is that? And how does it fit with other things happening with the Lions – draft preparations ramping up, a trickle of free-agent signings and offseason workouts continuing?
Mike: Sheldon White calls it “closers,” and I don’t disagree with his opinion, but I have a different term for it. I call it “the winning edge,” and it’s something that separates consistent winners from others searching to find it.
Nobody wins all the time, but good teams come through in the clutch more often than not, and that’s why they consistently make the playoffs.
The end of last season was an example of how the Lions are still searching to find the edge. Offense, defense and special teams all had a hand in three straight losses.
Against the Ravens, the defense gave up a long third-down completion that helped set up the winning field goal. Against the Giants, an interception return for a TD tied the game in regulation, and a fourth-down completion set up the winning field goal. And in the final game at Minnesota, a long punt return set up the winning TD.
That’s three games, three the Lions didn’t close out, and three losses.
Tim: I have a different term for it, too, “playmakers.” The Lions had the lead or were tied in the fourth quarter of 15 of their 16 games last year and finished 7-9. They simply didn’t make enough plays to win late in games. Maybe they got run down, maybe it was a lack of focus or maybe they just weren't as talented as advertised. Whatever it is, the Lions need more players on the roster who can make plays.
The Lions started their draft meetings on Tuesday and hopefully they’re beginning to identify a couple of those players.
Mike: You know where I stand on this one. I’d trade up for Sammy Watkins, but only if the price is reasonable – whatever that is. And what it is usually is whatever another team can squeeze out of you.
How about you wear the GM hat here, and I get to put you on the griddle? I’ll give you three names who don’t get a lot of mention as possible picks for the Lions at No. 10, and you say whether there’s a strong chance, no chance or too far-fetched to consider.
1. Anthony Barr, pass-rusher, UCLA.
2. Aaron Donald, defensive tackle, Pitt.
3. Taylor Lewan, offensive tackle, Michigan.
Have at it.
Tim: Anthony Barr – there’s a strong chance
The Lions are looking for a hybrid-type player they can move around and do a lot of different things with. Barr certainly fits the bill. The team signed free agent
Aaron Donald – there’s a strong chance
I probably wouldn’t have said that before the NFL Annual Meetings, when general manager Martin Mayhew told beat reporters the team wasn’t going to pick up the fifth-year option of
Taylor Lewan – far-fetched
The Lions brought him in for a pre-draft visit, but I think there are positions the Lions could add that would have more immediate impact in a win-now mentality. The Lions offensive line was widely considered one of the best units in the NFL last year.
I like this game, Mike. I’ve got one for you now. There are probably three players in this draft worth moving up for – Watkins, South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Rank them one, two and three in terms of immediate impact for the Lions if they were to make a play for either one.
Mike: Clowney would make the most impact. Ziggy Ansah and Clowney rushing from the outside and Fairley and Suh getting heat up the middle would make offenses adjust protection schemes to protect the quarterback. The Lions could do damage with their four-man rush, which was a staple in their pass-rush scheme a year ago.
Next, Sammy Watkins. Receivers have such an advantage already over defensive backs because of the rules. Lined up with
In this group, Mack would be No. 3. He has the ability to be a fine pro, but he could take longer to develop as an impact player.
There’s a wild card who isn’t in this group. Any ideas?
Tim: The suspense is killing me, Mike.
My wild card would be someone we mentioned above, Aaron Donald from Pitt. I was at the Senior Bowl practices and watched Donald dominate the competition. Then he followed that up with a terrific Combine.
Fans might not like the pick with it being the third defensive tackle taken in the last five years, but Donald can be an impact player right away and fill a possible need down the road.
A pick like that would also allow the Lions to be creative with where they line up Suh and Fairley. Gives them options.
Mike: Lucky guess.
Aaron Donald it is, and I’d draft him right at No. 10 ahead of any defensive back or lineman still on the board – assuming, of course, that Clowney has been taken.
At a little over 6 feet and 285 pounds, Donald is under-sized for a true defensive tackle, but he’s explosive and strong, and he has strong, quick hands.
On his own ability, he’d be a good pick at No. 10. And if there’s any uncertainty about the future of the Lions’ veteran defensive tackles, Donald will fill a need for the next five years.
Top that one.
Tim: I’m not sure if it’s a good thing we’re on the same page. I’m going to ponder and reflect on that for the next week and reevaluate my life.
I think the takeaway from all of this is that the Lions have options.