10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: What are the Lions' biggest positions of need?

From time to time this offseason Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman."

20man: Quinn hasn't made the big splash in free agency we saw him make in his first two years when he signed Marvin Jones Jr., Rick Wagner and T.J. Lang. He’s added some good veteran players at specific areas of need, but has so far stayed away from the big-money signings.

This is a sign to me that Quinn likes a lot of elements about this roster, and thinks new head coach Matt Patricia and this staff can get more out of them than the previous regime.

Quinn has six draft picks to add to the roster how he sees fit. He has a pretty good track record in his first two drafts of adding talent that can make an immediate impact.

For me, the big X factor is the new coaching staff. It really comes down to what this staff brings to the table in terms of their week-to-week preparations and player development.

After listening to coach Patricia speak on a number of occasions, my takeaways are that he’s extremely intelligent, has a specific way in which he wants things run, and has a game plan to accomplish that. He also comes to Detroit with a track record of success. For that reason, I do think they are better.

20man: Here are my top 5 after a week of free agency, but they're obviously subject to change if players are signed in the second and third wave of free agency:

  1. Defensive tackle – The Lions still need to find a replacement for Haloti Ngata.
  1. Tight end – Releasing Eric Ebron sent most of the position's production elswhere.
  1. Running back – LeGarrette Blount was a nice get, but there’s still room for a strong, young runner to be added to the group.
  1. Pass rusher – I’ve left this open to both the 4-3 down and 3-4 edge variety because teams can never have too many pass rushers.
  1. Interior offensive line – If Graham Glasgow moves to center, Joe Dahl could slot into the left guard spot, but why not add even more competition to the mix?

20man: Patricia has been rather coy about his defensive plans when asked about it. Talking to the free agents the Lions signed on defense didn’t shed any light on the plans either.

Looking at what Patricia did in New England, the Patriots really didn’t have a base defense. It was so different from week-to-week based on the game plan. I would think he'd want the ability to run both a 4-3 and 3-4, if needed. To do it will require versatile players, like linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones, and safety Tavon Wilson, who were signed and re-signed in free agency.

This would also be a good time to remind folks that teams are in their base defense about 30 percent of the time nowadays and sub packages the remaining 70 percent, so 4-3 vs. 3-4 isn’t as big a deal as people are making it out to be.

But, if Patricia wanted to run a 3-4 base defense to start the first preseason game, he’d likely need a nose tackle with the versatility to also play the three technique (Vita Vea type) and another pass rusher with versatility (Harold Landry type).

20man: Quinn had 10 picks going into the draft his first season as general manager in 2016 and nine picks last year. As it stands right now, he’ll only have six picks this year, so I could certainly see him trying to obtain more if the opportunity presents itself to move back and obtain picks or trade a player for a pick(s).

As for the direction I see them going early in the draft, there’s obviously a lot of factors that go into that, some of which we don’t yet know.

But just looking at some of the team’s current needs and knowing what positions are stronger and weaker in the draft, I could see Detroit making it a priority to add to the defensive line. It’s an area they haven’t really addressed in free agency thus far.

This isn’t a strong group of down defensive edge rushers, but there’s some versatility. There are four or five interior defensive linemen who could be drafted in the first round. It’s a good group, and there might be great value there at No. 20.

It’s a very talented and deep running back class, and good backs will probably be available into Day 3. That being said, I could see there being a run on backs Day 2, with the Lions looking to add a powerful young rusher sometime on the draft’s second day.

This is also a very good class of interior offensive linemen, and it wouldn’t shock me if one is taken in either of the first three rounds.

20man: One thing I can tell you about the NFL is it’s a sink or swim league. GMs and coaches obviously want to draft and develop players because that’s the most salary-cap friendly way to build a team, but the most talented players will play, and there aren’t any tears shed about it. That’s just how this works.

The Lions signed Shead to compete for playing time and add depth at the position. If he turns out to be the best cornerback the Lions have opposite Darius Slay, then he’ll play, and Teez Tabor and anyone else is then relegated to sub-package play or a backup role to continue to develop.

The NFL is the only professional sports league that doesn’t have a minor-league system to develop players. Players have to come up and show they belong early on or they’re left behind.

20man: This is a great question I’ve thought about myself. Re-signing Wilson, I believe, keeps Killebrew as a sub-package player for the time being. We’ll have to wait and see for sure.

The one thing people have to realize about Quandre Diggs’ move to safety is that he played mostly in the free safety spot and Glover Quin moved over to strong safety.

I thought when Killebrew got a chance to play more in base defense last year he struggled a bit. There’s still some development that needs to take place there, but maybe he made the adjustments this offseason and he’s ready for a bigger role.

Killebrew's shown over the last two years that he can be a very good role player in sub packages, and I’d expect that to continue in Patricia’s defense. Maybe there’s a hybrid role for him? Patricia has shown an ability to develop defensive talent, and Killebrew could benefit from that.

20man: I thought it was rather telling that offensive line coach Ron Prince was the only assistant coach let go on the same day Jim Caldwell was relieved of his head-coaching duties after the season.

New offensive line coach Jeff Davidson is a former player, and the guys I’ve talked to that have played for him have raved about his demeanor and coaching style.

The Lions underperformed upfront last year based off their talent. I don’t think there’s much arguing that. Starting 10 different combinations upfront didn’t help, so they also have to stay healthy, but it was still time for a change.

I do think interior offensive line could be in play with the No. 20 pick. A few names that could fit would be Isaiah Winn (Georgia), Will Hernandez (UTEP), James Daniels (Iowa) and Billy Price (Ohio State).

20man: I can’t say I agree with that assessment.

I will say that Minnesota has far and away the most talented roster in the division. They’re loaded at every level on their No. 1-ranked defense, and with the addition of Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they have a terrific cast of skill-position players on offense as well.

I look at the rosters in Green Bay and Chicago and don’t see anything Detroit can’t compete with. I’d put Detroit and Green Bay on a similar level behind Minnesota with Chicago still needing another year or so to get there.

DT and TE have suddenly become massive holes for the Lions to fill. Why hasn't this been addressed? How can it be addressed? What FA/draft options could Lions explore? — James Hughes (@jameshughes94) March 20, 2018

20man: Those are two areas of need that are good candidates to still be filled via free agency.

If not the free-agency route, then there’s always the ability to draft help there.

Here’s a list of some current free agents available and then draft prospects at both defensive tackle and tight end.

Free agent DT

Ndamukong Suh

Johnathan Hankins

Bennie Logan

Karl Klug

Jay Bromley

DT draft prospects

Vita Vea (Washington)

Da’Ron Payne (Alabama)

Maurice Hurst (Michigan)

Taven Bryan (Florida)

Harrison Phillips (Stanford)

Free agent TE

Martellus Bennett

Marcedes Lewis

Luke Willson

Julius Thomas

Brent Celek

TE draft prospects

Mike Gesicki (Penn State)

Hayden Hurst (South Carolina)

Dallas Goedert (South Dakota State)

Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)

Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin)

20man: It also depends on who the team adds via the draft before we can really determine this. Blount certainly seems like an impactful signing, but if the team drafts a running back at No. 20 and he gets a bulk of the carries, then maybe not so much.

The same goes for Devon Kennard if Detroit drafts a player with the same kind of versatile traits at the linebacker/pass rusher spot.

If I had to choose one, I’d probably go with Blount. Even if the Lions draft a back in the first two days, Blount will still likely get some of the short-yardage and goal line carries the Lions struggled to convert last season. The team was just 7-of-14 converting 3rd & 1 and 4th & 1 runs last season. Blount should have an immediate impact in that department. I’d expect Blount to get at least 10 touches a game even if a rookie running back is added to the mix.

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