Time to take a look at the Lions as they get ready for the 2019 NFL Draft. Bob Quinn and company have done a solid job in 2019 Free Agency (more on that in a later post) and are actually in a solid roster position, where they do not have to abjectly reach for need. This is not to say that they are not with flaws however. We will start with the more settled side of the ball – Offense.
Bold = Roster Lock
Italicized = Likely will make 53 man roster
Red = On the bubble
It is debatable whether or not Matthew Stafford is a franchise QB. My take is that it depends on what your definition of that is. Is Stafford a QB capable of putting the Lions on his back and playing mistake-free, high level football? Yes, in spurts. But not enough to be considered an elite, Top 5 QB, no. However…how many teams with elite Top 5 QBs have won recently outside of Tom Brady ?
Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers have not won rings in almost a decade. Matt Ryan has come close, but no cigar. Russell Wilson won, but when he did he was far from the franchise QB he is not, and was definitely more of a game manager (sidenote: game manager has such a negative connotation for QBs in the football community for some reason, but a game manager is just as likely to win a SB as a gunslinger, if not more so).
My view of a franchise QB is not so narrow. To me, DeShaun Watson is a franchise QB. So is Cam Newton. So is Baker Mayfield. These are QBs that you can win a ring with. They don’t have to be top 5, elite QBS, but they can play at a level high enough, that if they have the support, they can win. This is Stafford. He has never had a good OL, good offensive weapons, and a strong defense at the same time. He may still not. But if Bob Quinn and the Lions front office do their job, he is good enough to lead the Lions to the promised land.
Perhaps more relevant is this … Can we upgrade on Stafford in this 2019 Draft ? I like Kyler Murray and *reluctantly* appreciate the talent of that Buckeye QB. But neither has Stafford’s talent. Ditto for Daniel Jones and Drew Lock. Lions are set here.
Now as for backup QBs, that role is currently held by Connor Cook. I have been mildly surprised by Cook’s career so far, because despite him playing for those losers in East Lansing, I greatly respected his talent. I was happy when he finally graduated, because he had tormented my Wolverines for long enough with his accuracy and had more than enough arm talent for the next level. I thought he would be firmly entrenched as a backup now, and had the chance to develop into a starter. Hopefully he can become that for the Lions.
Draft Outlook: Don’t look for the Lions to add a QB at the draft unless one they really like falls to them on Day 3. Then, whoever they draft will battle it out with Cook to be Stafford”s understudy. Otherwise, they will just grab a QB familiar with Darrell Bevell’s offense and let him and Cook battle.
Nick Bawden (FB)
The Lions feel like they finally added the running back they have longed for for since Barry Sanders hung up his cleats and I too am excited by Kerryon Johnson’s future. I’m also happy that the Lions found a good insurance policy/complement to Johnson in CJ Anderson. Anderson serves all three roles the Lions need: a quality complement to Johnson’s running style, a power back to absorb goal line and short yardage body shots so that Johnson does not have to, and a back capable of being the feature back in the event of a Johnson injury. The Lions have not been both this talented and deep at RB in a while.
Theo Riddick is also back to be the 3rd down back/ nominal receiver out of the backfield. Riddick’s elusiveness is still his calling card and he is still one of the better receiving threats out the backfield in the NFL. However, he is italicized because his salary ($4 million) may be a bit expensive for a guy that is best used as a 3rd back, and is more receiver than running back. Still he likely will make the roster. The same goes for Nick Bawden as Bob Quinn drafted the FB in last year’s draft. Quinn obviously has high hopes for Bawden, as drafting a FB is pretty rare in modern day NFL. In fact one could argue it’s pretty stupid, but that’s a post for another day. Bawden missed all of 2018 with a torn ACL, but like Riddick he will likely make the roster. Quinn drafted him, and Bevell has used the FB historically in his offenses.
The guy in red is Zach Zenner, who always manages to make it back on the Lions due to his toughness and grit as a runner. That and he’s a solid special teamer. This is a deep year for running backs in the draft though, and if one the Lions really like is hanging around in the middle of Day 3, I could see them pulling the trigger. I highly doubt the Lions would keep 5 backs, so at that point it would be a Zenner/Riddick battle which I think would go to the latter. But I have learned not to count Zenner out. Few players that the Lions have had recently can match that guy’s heart.
Draft Outlook: The Lions can basically treat this like QB. They are set, but if a guy like Karan Higdon or Mike Weber is still available in Round 5, I could see the Lions not being able to pass on adding talented long term depth (remember CJ Anderson only has a 1 year deal).
This is the biggest need area on offense to me for the Lions. While they conceivably have their three starters at the position, you have to look deeper. There is a need at slot WR. Sure they have mostly cured it with Danny Amendola. But Amendola’s injury history, while overstated by many, is real. He is banged up quite a bit, but more to the point is that he’s just a stop gap. Lions would do well to grab a young slot to learn from Amendola, and take over next year.
On the outside, Kenny Golladay is a young emerging stud on the otuside. Complementing him is Marvin Jones, the talented deep threat. The Lions still have a need here though. One reason is depth … None of the gentlemen in red provide sufficient depth in my estimation. The other is that you eventually will need to move on from Marvin Jones soon. He probably only has one more year left to perform at his current level before his salary is no longer commensurate with his impact. Athleticism is a major part of his game and both his speed and leaping ability will begin to wane as he approaches 30. More relevant is the money. The Lions will be able to save 6.5 million in cap space if they cut him next offseason. Not saying that this is Marvin’s last year in Honolulu Blue, but I expect the Lions to have some contingency plans in place.
The Lions picked up TommyLee Lewis, who is most known for being the Saints receiver that was PI’d by aptly named Rams nickel corner Nickell Robey-Coleman in the NFC Championship game. Lewis is small and fast, just like Brandon Powell. Powell is a guy that the Lions front office seems to like a lot and wants to take that next step forward. Both could make the roster or neither could. I see one of them making it and the other spot being taken by draft pick or possibly two.
Draft Outlook: This draft is historically poor at the top at receiver. Just the massively overrated Ole Miss WR DK Metcalf is getting first round love. However, there are a treasure trove of receivers that will fly off the board in the second and 3rd rounds. I personally like Andy Isabella from UMass and Kelvin Harmon from NC State as really talented and good kids, but I haven’t finished my draft evaluations quite yet. I think the Lions will grab a receiver on Day 2 and possibly double back for another on Day 3.
The Lions dropped some good change on Jesse James to be our starting TE and that should end the notion of us taking TJ Hockenson at pick #8. James is a solid two way TE, not elite in either reciving or blocking, but good enough at both. However, depth at this position is weak to say the least. Michael Roberts offers little as a blocker and has not done much as a receiver either. Yours truly was banging the table for George Kittle in 2017, but unfortunately I do not work in the Lions front office. Kittle meanwhile is somehow dominating the NFC West with the patchwork of QBs he had in his first 2 years. The Lions also signed Logan Thomas, an athletic specimen who has not quite mastered his transition from college quarterback to NFL TE. Not exactly a murders row.
Draft Outlook: I could see them trading down into the mid first round and taking Hockenson or Fant. Or perhaps Irv Smith with their 2nd round pick. I have also heard that they had interest in Ole Miss TE Dawson Knox. I have not eyt done film study on him, but allegedly he’s a prospect on the rise that they could nab on Day 2. I expect them to use either a Day 2 or Day 3 pick on a solid TE, and could see said player being #2 on the depth chart by the time September arrives.
Taylor Decker is a foundational piece and the inconsistent but mostly good Rick Wagner is back to bookend him. The Lions are set and solid here. Behind them is Tyrell Crosby, their very promising young tackle from last year’s draft. He projects to be the swing tackle UNLESS he ends up being our starting RG (more on that in a second). Based on what Quinn has said, I believe the preference would be to keep him at tackle, presumably to take over for Wagner in a year or two when he ages past the effectiveness of his contract. But he played some at RG last season and looked very good at times. If he’s the best guy at G, the Lions may look to the draft for a new developmental swing tackle. Andrew Donnal is just a guy. He has tackle experience and was sought out by the front office in March, so it’s likely he makes the final 53. but I doubt we see him on the active roster very often (barring injury of course).
Draft Outlook: If the Lions go tackle, again it will be a Day 3 guy, and likely a developmental guy.
OG / C
After receiver, this is the position with the most immediate need on offense. Last year’s first round pick, Frank Ragnow is solid, and I’m actually expecting him to dominate in 2019, after a year of getting his feet wet. His running mate, Graham Glasgow, is also a solid starter, and have helped solidify that Lions interior. However, there is currently a gaping hole at RG. The current incumbent is probably Kenny Wiggins. Wiggins is a favorite of Lions OL coach Jeff Davidson, going back to his stint as the OL coach for the Chargers. The only issue is that Wiggins is not very good. As a backup G, hje’s overpaid but not awful. You domn’t want him as a starter. Oday Aboushi meanwhile is a Bevell favorite, going back to his time in Seattle. He’s also not the greatest, but probably better than Wiggins, and with the added value of being able to play tackle if necessary. Finally, there is Joe Dahl, the holdover from Quinn’s first Lions draft, who has not really shown much of anything in his time with the Lions.
Draft Outlook: The Lions will likely add a player at this position, either on Day 2 or early on Day 3, if they choose to add someone. Also keep in mind, that in addition to having an open slot at G, C Graham Glasgow is a 2020 free agent. With Ragnow’s ability to play C, this pick could be looked at as replacement for Glasgow in 2020, if not to fill the hole in 2019.
Overall, I expect the Lions to do the bulk of their draft on offense on Day 3. The Lions have a whopping 6 Day 3 picks. I see them using one of their Day 2 picks on a receiver, but the rest of Day 1 and 2 should be used to help fix their defense. I expect them to certainly target some talented developmental players, as the core foundation of this Lions offense is already in place.
Agree or Disagree ? Please don’t hesitate to leave comments !