Like the NFL's 31 other general managers, Detroit’s Bob Quinn is always on the lookout to upgrade the talent on his roster. The turnover on the roster from year to year is about 30 percent, which doesn’t afford young players a whole lot of time to show what they can do.
“Listen, I’m always looking to upgrade,” Quinn said after the season. “That’s what my job is, I think the players understand that. I think the number of new players that we brought in this year and the number of guys we tried out and worked out, I think it was eye-opening to a lot of people. My eyes are always open.”
The offseason is an important time for young players especially to take their game to the next level and make the proper adjustments spelled out to them in their exit interviews. Young players who do that, find a role. This league has little patience for those who don’t.
Here’s a look at five players who could benefit from a good offseason:
**Alex Carter, CB, third season
View photos of the Detroit Lions cornerbacks in 2016.
Carter lost his rookie season due to injury, and wasn’t ready to compete for playing time in his second season in 2016. Carter looks the part from a physical standpoint, but struggled in training camp last year to be a sticky cover man. He was waived before the start of last season and signed back on the practice squad.
Carter was signed to the active roster Week 16 because of the injuries that accumulated at cornerback for the Lions, but he played just four special teams reps in Dallas Week 16 and was inactive Week 17 and in the playoff game in Seattle.
Can Carter (6-0, 200) put it together this offseason and compete for a roster spot come training camp? It’s typically a rule of thumb in the NFL that if a player hasn’t shown what he can do in year three, he might never show it. There are obviously exceptions to that rule, but it’s safe to say the Lions need to see discernible improvement by Carter this offseason if he’s going to be part of their future plans.
Jimmy Landes, LS, second season
Landes, a sixth-round pick in Quinn’s first draft last year, admitted last offseason he wasn’t quite expecting the rigors of the offseason conditioning program.
He went into training camp competing with veteran Don Muhlbach, and it appeared to these untrained eyes that Muhlbach had a handle on the competition right up to the point when Landes landed on IR in late August with a shoulder injury that required surgery.
The Lions will eventually have to move on from Muhlbach, 35, but he’s still playing at a high level. He was an important cog for a special teams unit that ranked second in Rick Gosselin’s 2016 special teams rankings.
The Lions will have to decide this offseason if they want to sign back Muhlbach, who is a free agent, and let him compete with Landes. If that is indeed what happens, Landes will need a good offseason and a strong training camp to unseat Muhlbach, who’s been a Pro Bowler in this league.
Jake Rudock, QB, second season
It appears the Lions could give Rudock every opportunity this offseason and training camp to earn the backup quarterback role behind Matthew Stafford. They signed Rudock to their 53-man roster the final six games of the regular season.
Detroit could still bring another quarterback into the mix via free agency or the draft.
Rudock showed an ability to move the football in the preseason, completing 30-of-51 passes for 333 yards with four touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 96.3 in four outings.
He has a stronger arm than many give him credit for, and should be even more polished and comfortable after a year in Jim Bob Cooter’s quarterback-friendly scheme.
Joe Dahl, OL, second season
Veteran guard Larry Warford raved about Dahl’s development throughout his rookie campaign.
View photos of the 2016 Detroit Lions rookies.
“Joe is ready to play anytime,” Warford said during locker room cleanout after the season. “I see him in practice and he’s improved. He’s one of the most improved guys I’ve seen. It was fun to see him grow. I’m excited to see what’s going to come from him.”
Dahl, a fifth-round pick last offseason, logged just 20 snaps at left guard as a rookie, but could be in store for an expanded role with Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff set to become free agents in March. The Lions list Dahl as an offensive lineman on the roster, which means he’s got some position versatility.
“I think like any rookie player, the rookie player’s biggest jump is from year one to year two,” Quinn said after the season. “So, if the guys that are on the team now that were our draft picks, they come back better than they were this year, then I’ll be happy. If they regress, I won’t be happy.”
Jace Billingsley, WR, second season
The Lions promoted Billingsley to the active roster from the practice squad for the team’s regular-season finale. The move guaranteed Billingsley would be a Lion in 2017.
Billingsley showed off his open-field elusiveness and playmaking ability in the preseason, catching 12 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He developed at a pace that kept him employed on the practice squad the entire season until his promotion.
With Anquan Boldin and Andre Roberts set to become free agents, the Lions could have an opening in the slot for a player like Billingsley, if he can step up and take it.