Road to the Draft

TWENTYMAN: 5 positions of need for Lions

Posted Mar 9, 2018

Tim Twentyman takes a look at the Lions' top positions of need ahead of free agency and the draft.

The Detroit Lions enter their third offseason under general manager Bob Quinn after consecutive 9-7 seasons his first two years on the job.

“At the end of the day, I want to take this team to the next level, and to me that’s winning championships, that’s winning playoff games and that’s winning the Super Bowl,” Quinn said this offseason. “Ultimately, I’m the person in charge of football operations here at the Lions, and ultimately the record that we’ve had the last two years is on me.

“So, (in 2016) we went 9-7 and lost a playoff game, and this year we went 9-7 and didn’t get to the playoffs. So, that’s ultimately my record and I take full ownership of that. Really, the standards that I have and the Ford family has for this team are greater than that.”

Quinn has always been a big believer that good teams are built through the draft and supplemented through free agency, which we’ve seen his first couple offseasons in Detroit. His draft classes have been pretty good, and he’s supplemented through free agency with the signings of players like Marvin Jones Jr., T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner and others.  

Quinn and his staff have evaluated the roster and are preparing for free agency to begin next week and the draft next month.

With where the roster currently stands, here are my five biggest positions of need the Lions should address this offseason:

1. Pass rusher

Players signed for 2018: Ziggy Ansah (franchise tag), Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington, Alex Barrett, Cam Johnson, Jeremiah Valoaga

Lions free agents: Kerry Hyder Jr. (exclusive rights), Dwight Freeney

Top free agents: Adrian Clayborn, Julius Peppers, William Hayes, Kony Ealy, Alex Okafor, Trent Murphy, Junior Galette

Top draft prospects: Bradley Chubb (NC State), Marcus Davenport (UTSA), Harold Landry (Boston College), Arden Key (LSU), Sam Hubbard (Ohio State)

Twentyman: This is a position with a lot of question marks heading into 2018. Can Ansah stay healthy and regain his 2015 Pro bowl form while playing on the one-year franchise tag? What will Hyder look like coming off a major Achilles injury? Will Zettel continue to build on a good second season?

Teams can never have too many pass rushers, and the Lions could be on the lookout for a possible starter opposite Ansah and maybe a long-term plan at the position. At the very least, Detroit needs to build their talent and depth on the edge.

2. Running back

Players signed for 2018: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington, Tion Green

Lions free agents: Zach Zenner (restricted), Mike James

Top free agents: Dion Lewis, Carlos Hyde, Isaiah Crowell, Jerick McKinnon, Rex Burkhead, Jeremy Hill, LeGarrette Blount, Doug Martin, Darren Sproles, Frank Gore

Top draft prospects: Saquon Barkley (Penn State), Derrius Guice (LSU), Ronald Jones II (USC), Nick Chubb (Georgia), Sony Michel (Georgia), Rashaad Penny (SDSU), Royce Freeman (Oregon)

Twentyman: I like Ameer Abdullah as a player, and maybe the improvements the Lions hope to make upfront with a new coaching staff will make all the current backs better, but there is a need on this roster for a bigger back with speed and power.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford can’t continue to do it all himself. He needs to be able to hand the ball off and finally get some support from a consistent and steady performer(s) at running back.

3. Defensive tackle

Players signed for 2018: A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Toby Johnson

Lions free agents: Haloti Ngata, Jordan Hill, Rodney Coe (exclusive rights), Christian Ringo (exclusive rights)

Top free agents: Sheldon Richardson, Dontari Poe, Star Lotulelei, DaQuan Jones, Justin Ellis, Dominique Easley, Bennie Logan

Top draft prospects: Vita Vea (Washington), Maurice Hurst (Michigan), Da'Ron Payne (Alabama), Taven Bryan (Florida), Harrison Phillips (Stanford)

Twentyman: Even if Ngata returns on a short-term deal, the Lions need to look to the future of the position next to Robinson. The Lions could use another big tackle to help against the run, and also a penetrating three-technique type of player.

Like running back, this could be a position the Lions address both in free agency and the draft.

4. Linebacker

Players signed for 2018: Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Steve Longa, Brandon Chubb

Lions free agents: Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Nick Bellore, Brandon Copeland (restricted)

Top free agents: Zach Brown, Nigel Bradham, Avery Williamson, Preston Brown, Anthony Hitchens, Demario Davis, NaVorro Bowman, Todd Davis

Top draft prospects: Tremaine Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Roquan Smith (Georgia), Leighton Vander Esch (Boise State), Rashaan Evans (Alabama), Uchenna Nwosu (USC), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma)

Twentyman: The Lions are very thin at linebacker heading into free agency. Patricia was a linebackers coach in New England from 2006-10, and knows better than anyone the value of the position.

If the Lions are going to be as multiple on defense as Patricia hopes, they’ll need more talent, versatility and depth at linebacker. Expect this to be a position the Lions add heavily to in free agency and potentially even the draft too.

5. Interior offensive line

Players signed for 2018: T.J. Lang, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Leo Koloamatangi

Lions free agents: Travis Swanson, Don Barclay, Zac Kerin (restricted)

Top free agents: Andrew Norwell (guard), Justin Pugh (guard), Weston Richburg (center), Jack Mewhort (guard), Ryan Jensen (center), Josh Kline (guard), John Sullivan (center), Matt Slauson (guard/center), Senio Kelemete (guard)

Top draft prospects: Quenton Nelson (Notre Dame), Isaiah Wynn (Georgia), Will Hernandez (UTEP), James Daniels (Iowa), Billy Price (Ohio State)

Twentyman: This is my opinion, but Glasgow is made to play center. He’s still good at guard, but he’s a much better center. The Lions are keeping their options open with him.

How big a need the left guard/center spot is via free agency and the draft is somewhat dependent on what Quinn and Co. think of third-year tackle turned guard Joe Dahl, who was a Quinn draft pick, and has some starts under his belt at guard. Are the Lions looking for a starter, depth or a good battle in the offseason and training camp?