Kicking off my Lions 2020 NFL Draft Preview with the pillars of any offense, the QB and the Offensive Line. We will take a look at the state of the Lions roster, and how they may use the Draft (3 days away!) to improve it.
*Projected starters italicized
Roster Outlook – Strong
Matthew Stafford has plenty of critics amongst Lions fans but their complaints ring hollow against the backdrop of his actual performance. Stafford was quietly having an MVP caliber season last year before succumbing to injury. In fact, while the stats and win-loss records may not tell this story, Stafford, on tape, has looked the best in his career the last 3 seasons, likely a remnant of Jim Caldwell’s QB-whispering ability. He has played poised, winning football. Unfortunately, his front office has not provided him with the proper support. I expect to still get another 2 or so seasons of this level of Stafford. At that point is when I believe the team will start looking for a successor to him.
The Lions fortified this position by adding one of the top backups in the NFL in Chase Daniel. He’s great insurance for Stafford and allows them to pretty much ignore QB during the Draft. Most teams only carry 2 QBs and I expect the Lions to remain amongst them.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 1% (Maybe they secretly love Herbert or Tua ?)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 1%
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 5% (Somebody could fall to the point they have no choice)
Possible targets: As I stated earlier, I don’t see the Lions leaving this draft with a QB selection. Perhaps if someone drops so far they have to from a value perspective, but it just doesn’t seem likely.
If Jacob Eason (WASH) fell to mid-late Day 3, his talent may be too good to pass up. Also guys like Jalen Hurts (OKLA) or Jake Fromm (UGA) strike me as guys who could be great 10-15 year backups and maybe if they are there in the 6th or 7th round, the value is too good for the Lions to ignore. But we have way too many other needs.
Roster Outlook – Average
This is a sneaky position for the Lions. One one hand, they have their starting tackles, and a swing tackle in Crosby, that they feel confident in. However, going deeper, we can see that there is more here. Decker has not been given a contract extension and is in the last year of his deal. He has been pretty inconsistent, but is a solid left tackle overall. The Lions not extending him is a bit curious, unless they think they can potentially upgrade on him. With Big V, they did just give him a rather generous contract, especially for a player who has never begun the season as a starter. I’m guessing new DC Cory Undlin must have seen something from him in person over the last few years with the Eagles that gave Quinn the final confirmation he needed to dole out this deal. But Quinn has mentioned that Big V might actually play guard for the Lions. If so, this could open up a spot for Crosby as a starter, and a need to get a new swing tackle, OR it could open up a starting spot that the Lions look to fill with a premium pick. I think Quinn is entering this draft, banking on that flexibility, and this could lead to the Lions pulling a trigger on a tackle earlier than anyone is anticipating. Oh and Skipper … Well Quinn clearly likes him. He’s bounced around on our practice squad and roster the last few years and and held off Ryan Pope, our prized UDFA pickup from last year, who is now a Jaguar.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 10%
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 30%
Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 30%
Possible targets: The Lions will likely carry 4 tackles. Adding up the percentages, I do think it’s likely the Lions add someone here on Draft Day. On Day 1, I think it’s very unlikely, but it’s a banner year for offensive tackles, so who knows ? Jedrick Wills (BAMA) is outstanding and the #1 tackle on my board. Andrew Thomas (UGA) is the best pass protector in the class with outstanding feet and punch. Tristan Wirfs (IOWA) is hands down the best athlete and comes complete with Iowa OL coaching for 3 years, which is the best you scan get. And Mekhi Becton (UL) has the most upside, standing a towering 6’7 350 lbs, with massive length and great feet for a man his size, and with tape where he absolutely bullies other players and makes them look like children.
If the Lions address tackle on Day 2, Isaiah Wilson (UGA) and Austin Jackson (USC) are two interesting prospects. Jackson is highly athletic, but needs to work on his strength and technique. Wilson is massive like Becton, but is not as good in pass protection, nor does he have the same athletic tools. He is a road grader though and can move people off the ball.
If they wait until Day 3, I’ll be honest, I wasn’t very enamored with a lot of prospects available here. I actually like Jon Runyan Jr. (UMICH) on Day 3, although he is mostly projected to move inside to guard due to length limitations. That being said, Runyan absolutely ate AJ Epenesa’s (IOWA) lunch in the Michigan-Iowa game and survived against Chase Young (OSU) when matched up against him in the Michigan-Ohio State game. Those are probably the Top 2 defensive ends in this draft and Runyan doing what he did against them lends credence to the fact that he might be able to hack it at tackle at the NFL level. He’s worth a 5th or 6th round pick for sure.
Roster Outlook: C is Strong …. G is HORRIBLE
This is the worst position group on the Lions and it’s not close. Let’s remove Center from the discussion. Frank Ragnow has been every bit as good as I thought he would be (although I STILL would have taken Harold Landry with that pick). Benschwazel was their second most-prized UDFA from last year and showed very little (but is at least still on the team). They should be good here as Ragnow enters his 3rd year and I hope takes that next step to Pro Bowl/All-Pro status.
Oh, but Guard. I would not be comfortable with any of those 4 players starting for my NFL franchise based on what I have seen so far. Wiggins and Dahl were part of that weird platoon situation the Lions used at RG last year so I assume they are both underwhelmingly penciled in as starters for now. Aboushi is just depth, and Garnett is a former first round pick reclamation project from the 49ers. San Fran salvaged our first round bust, Laken Tomlinson and turned him into a top shelf guard. So perhaps we return the favor with Garnett ? Don’t hold your breath.
I expect that we address guard in the draft, but don’t know if it will be addressed Day 2 or 3. I think Big V’s flexibility and the presence of Crosby does allow them some options here. But they absolutely cannot enter the 2020 season with those 4 as their answers.
Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 0% (Although some think Wills, Thomas and Wirfs should be guards .. Those people are not very smart)
Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 60 %. They absolutely have to pull the trigger on a Guard and they need an instant starter. That’s even if they move Big V to Guard. There are a number of possibilities on Day 2. I’m not too sure what new OL coach Hank Fraley is going to want in his offensive line, but there certainly are a lot of options.
Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 40%
Possible targets: They have to take care of this in the draft. Not just because they have a major hole right now, but because Ragnow is the only interior OL they have under contract after 2020.
Some may accuse this portion of the post as being victim to my Michigan bias, but Michigan has 4 quality interior offensive linemen in this draft, all of whom the Lions could use. Cesar Ruiz (UMICH) is the highest rated of them all, and is the highest rated interior offensive lineman in the draft. If he makes it out of the 1st round, he would be an excellent pick. He can play Guard or Center and is athletic, powerful and intelligent. Ben Bredeson (UMICH), another Michigan guard, is not as athletic as Ruiz, but is a great OL prospect in his own right. He’s comfortingly consistent. He’s a “set it and forget it” type of player that will not wow you with devastating blocks, but maximizes his length and athleticism, plays intelligently and with good technique, and just does things well. He should be available in the 2nd round and would be a great pick, but if he somehow fell to the 3rd round, he would be excellent value.
Depending on if Fraley wants more athleticism out of the interior, then a guy like Matt Hennessy (TEMP) would make sense in the 3rd round, but he would need to add some more strength. Same for Jonah Jackson (OSU) if they waited until Round 4 or 5. On the flip side, if they are looking to add more power, than Damien Lewis (LSU) would be a great find as well. He’s not very mobile, but he can root players out of the dirt as he did during LSU’s championship season. His teammate Lloyd Cushingberry (LSU) would also be a good pick, although I think he’s more of a pure C, and we are covered there. Ditto for Tyler Biadasz (WISC), the # 2 C in the draft. But you never know. They could grab one of them and move Ragnow to Guard. There is also John Simpson (CLEM), who is another athletically limited G that is a good run blocker. Runyan , as we discussed earlier, is projected at this position, but is tape is really good at tackle, and picking him here on Day 3 may give you depth at both spots. Finally, I am a big supporter of Mike Onwenu (UMICH). He is a massive young man with surprising athleticism for his size. While he doesn’t always use his strength like he could, he has moments when he absolutely jolts defenders. A 6th or 7th round pick on Big Mike could pay real dividends in a couple of years.
QB and OL play are the most important elements of any offense. Skill position guys grow on trees. They are easy to find, and you use them until their athletic ability runs out. But your QB and OL are the foundation of your team’s offensive success. The Lions currently have a stud, Top 10 QB but a very disappointing offensive line with just 2 players I could say I’m confident in. This is disappointing after all the resources that have been poured into it the last few years. The Lions must use Day 2 to address this issue, specifically in the middle of the line or we can expect this to be another disappointing season.