The Detroit Lions have been in offseason mode for more than a month now. The next big date on the offseason calendar, the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis (Feb. 26-March 4), is fast approaching, and the new league year and the beginning of free agency will be here before we know it next month (March 13).
Lions general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia have by now identified areas of need for the upcoming season and are getting together their draft board and free agent wish lists.
With that in mind, what could Quinn and Patricia identify as areas they want to address given the strengths and weaknesses of the draft, free agent availability and their own roster movement?
Here are five areas I think they could look to upgrade or add depth to this offseason:
Detroit’s 43 sacks ranked 11th in the NFL. Their 130 quarterback hurries were 10th. Detroit finished eighth in the NFL against the pass. So why do they need a pass rusher?
Well, for one, Ziggy Ansah is a unrestricted free agent and Romeo Okwara is a restricted free agent. They were the Lions' two best pass rushing defensive ends last season. Da’Shawn Hand could potentially play more on the outside next season, but teams can never have too much pass rushing depth.
This NFL draft is absolutely loaded with defensive linemen and pass rushers. NFL.com’s Daniel Jeremiah recently released his top 50 prospects for the NFL Draft 1.0, and seven of the top eight players are defensive linemen and pass rushers. The Lions are selecting at No. 8, and one of those elite pass rushers could be sitting there for them.
Darius Slay just played in his second straight Pro Bowl and is considered to be among the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Detroit also returns starters Nevin Lawson and Jamal Agnew (nickel).
Opposing passers had a 110.2 passer rating throwing on Lawson this past season and a 103.6 rating throwing on Agnew. Neither player recorded an interception. In fact, Slay was the only cornerback to record an interception (3) last season.
Detroit selected Teez Tabor in the second round two years ago, but his development hasn't come as quickly as maybe the Lions had hoped.
DeShawn Shead and Marcus Cooper, two depth players who saw time this past season, are both unrestricted free agents.
Lawson could ultimately keep his starting spot opposite Slay next season, but bringing in some competition for that spot would only make everyone better.
The Lions drafted Michael Roberts in the fourth round two years ago, but he has yet to make a big impact. The team signed veterans Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo last offseason. Toilolo led the group with 21 catches on the year, but there were 41 tight ends around the league with more catches than that. Both Willson and Toilolo are also unrestricted free agents.
This is a big area of need for the Lions on offense. They’ll be on the lookout for players that can give them a boost in the passing game, but can also be consistent blockers on the edge in new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s offense.
Some good news on this front for the Lions is that this draft class of tight ends is one of the deepest in years. There could be as many as six or seven tight ends selected in the top 100 picks.
Kenny Golladay recorded his first 1,000-yard season in 2018. His future looks bright. Marvin Jones Jr. is under contract for next season. He has a 1,000-yard season in Detroit under his belt and is a proven producer in this league. After those two, however, the receiving corps is pretty thin. Can Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy or Andy Jones emerge as a playmaker? We’ll see, but I expect some names to be added to that room.
There could be a particular focus on finding a good fit in the slot. The Lions could look to add a player who can make plays after the catch and create separation. The Lions lacked some of that after trading Golden Tate to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick at the trade deadline.
INTERIOR OFFENSIVE LINE
Frank Ragnow was the team’s first-round draft pick last season, and he looks like he’s going to be a good player at either guard or center.
Graham Glasgow is entering the final year of his contract. He played center last year, but can play all three spots inside.
The real question here revolves around the future of right guard T.J. Lang. He sounded like he wanted to keep playing when we talked with him right after the conclusion of the regular season. He didn’t want his career to end on IR. Lang, 31, is still a terrific player when healthy, but he’s missed 13 games over the last two seasons with an assortment of injuries. He's entering the final year of his contract.
Detroit also returns backups Kenny Wiggins and Joe Dahl, but could look to add a starting-caliber player inside via free agency or the draft.