Old Mother Hubbard: the Detroit Lions’ 2010 NFL Draft Shopping List (Offense & Defense)

>> 4.20.2010

I don’t know if you heard, but yesterday the Lions made a move that shook up the shopping list a little bit . . . but really, only a little bit.

Of course, all eyes are on the Defensive Tackle position.  Last season, this was the team’s most desperate need.  That draft netted Sammie Hill, an athletic big man out of tiny Stillman College; so raw he’d never attended an NFL game before he started his first.  Throughout the season, the Lions got significant contributions from Grady Jackson (since released), Landon Cohen, Andre Fluellen, Joe Cohen, and Turk McBride.

Fluellen and McBride are both inside/outside guys who saw snaps at both DE and DT.  Neither are long-term pieces of the puzzle at DT—in fact, I expect them to fight for a roster spot this summer.  Same story, I predict, for the Cohen Brothers (they aren’t brothers).  They’re similar players—but  Landon’s youth, short-area quickness, and breathtaking physical development should give him the advantage.

Then, of course, there's the new guy: trade acquisition Corey Williams.  A huge, gifted 4-3 pass rushing DT who blossomed into a franchise player in Green Bay, he went to Cleveland and struggled as a 3-4 end.  It’s presumed that a change of scenery, and a return to his natural role, will allow him to pick up where he left off—but that’s just a presumption.

If Williams returns to the form that produced 69 tackles and 14 sacks in his 3rd and 4th years in the NFL, the Lions have a natural starting DT pair: a 320-pound pass rusher, and a 330-pound run stuffer.  If he doesn't, the Lions are back to Sammie Hill stuffing the run on most downs—and rotating everyone else through both spots the rest of the way.  Either way, Hill and Williams aren’t playing 60+ snaps each, and none of the rotational guys listed above currently pass muster.  The Lions need a disruptive, starting pass-rushing 4-3 DT to rotate with Williams and Hill.

The Lions’ Defensive End depth chart is a mess right now, but summer should clear things up a bit.  The way  I believe this will work is this: Kyle Vanden Bosch will play right defensive end for all three downs, spelled by Cliff Avril as needed.  Jason Hunter and Jared DeVries will battle in camp, and may ultimately platoon, at left end; Avril may also see snaps over there in passing situations.  In running situations, McBride/Fluellen may rotate in at LE, as well.

KVB is the prototypical end for this defense; the Lions would start one of him on each side, if they could.  Avril is slightly too small to play every down at LE, and Jason Hunter isn’t a polished enough pass rusher to play every down at LE either.  Jared DeVries would have been a nice match to KVB a few years ago—but between age and injury, nobody knows how much he has left in the tank.

Obviously, with at least four players seeing time at left end, they don't currently have a long-term solution.  If either Hunter or Avril takes a big step forward this season, it could be either of them—and if not, they could be gone after 2011.  Further, KVB is no spring chicken; defensive ends rarely stay dominant deep into their thirties.  The Lions need a starting, three-down, two-way defensive end in the mold of Kyle Vanden Bosch.

The Middle Linebacker spot is a blessed island of clarity in this muddled lagoon of a defense: DeAndre Levy will start, and play well, for a long time.  Backing him up will be . . . holy crap!  Nobody!  The Lions have no other middle linebackers on the roster.  The Lions need a developmental middle linebacker.

Now, we get to the spot that was made both clearer, and muddier, by yesterday's trade: Outside Linebacker.  Julian Peterson is one starter—and, if my understanding of the defense is correct, the 6’-3”, 245-pound blitz specialist is the prototype for the defense.  Just like KVB, they’d love to have two in-their-prime JPs on either side of Levy.

Gunther Cunningham has said before that Jordon Dizon is like JP only a half-a-foot shorter; I’ve never quite believed him, but it’s possible.  Cunningham now says that he expects Zack Follett to compete for, and win, that starting role—presuming the Lions don’t draft that anonymous linebacker they’ve all fallen in love with.  The rest of the group: Landon Johnson, Vinny Ciruciu, and Ashlee Palmer are all special teams aces who may or may not be in the mix to play OLB.  Again, like KVB, Peterson’s getting up there—even if Follett, or one of the others steps up, the Lions need a starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker in the mold of Julian Peterson.

Now we get to the really, really hair-raising position: Cornerback.  Despite the trade for talented young veteran CB Chris Houston, the Lions still have zero established starters at this position.  Houston has been wildly inconsistent in his brief career, and the Falcons signed Dunta Robinson to replace him.  After him, the depth chart is a Hogan’s Alley of almost-cornerbacks: Eric King, Jack Williams, DeAngelo Smith, Dante Wesley, Jahi Word-Daniels, and Jonathan Wade.

Most of those guys are pretty young—some very young, and with some measure of upside.  However, all of these guys are, at best, young nickel/dime guys with some measure of upside.  None of them should be anywhere near the starting lineup.  Even if Chris Houston works out just fine, the Lions need at least one starting cornerback; they like ‘em smart and tough.

Finally, we get to the end of this mess: Safety.  Of course, last year’s second-rounder, Louis Delmas, exploded in his rookie year, making plays left and right against the pass and the run.  unfortunately, the other safety spot was arguably the weakest position on the roster, with Marquand Manuel, Ko Simpson, Marvin White, and some others no longer on the roster saw snaps back there.  Again, just like KVB and JP, with the symmetrical Schwartz/Cunningham defense, I think they’d like to clone Delmas and start two of him.

On the other hand, Delmas is so excellent in run support—and the cornerbacks so dire—that if I were the Lions, I’d be okay with taking a more pure free safety to pair with Delmas.  Given the quarterbacks in the NFC North, and how badly the Lions struggled to cover the pass in 2009, it only makes sense to have the best possible coverage guys out there.  The Lions need a starting safety, who’s very strong in coverage.

So, the complete shopping list:

  • A developmental quarterback who could push Stanton in camp.
  • A starting, three-down power runningback with speed.
  • A developmental power-blocking fullback, to complement Jerome Felton.
  • A left tackle, who could be groomed to replace Jeff Backus.
  • A power-blocking center, to be groomed behind Raiola.
  • A starting, disruptive pass-rushing DT to rotate w/Williams & Hill.
  • A starting, three-down, two-way defensive end, a la Kyle Vanden Bosch.
  • A developmental middle linebacker.
  • A starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker, a la Julian Peterson.
  • At least one starting cornerback.
  • A starting safety, who’s very strong in pass coverage.

What strikes you about this list?  How about the fact that it is way too long to completely cross off in one draft.  No matter what happens this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, there is no way that the Lions can “fill all the holes” or “get everything they need” or “address every question mark” or however you want to phrase the way drafts are normally graded.  When this draft is over, I guarantee that you will look at the list of draftees and exclaim in horror, “THEY DIDN’T GET A ________?!?”

Let me assure you: they know.  The Lions know where their roster holes are—maybe, believe it or not, even better than you do!  All we can hope for is that their grades are right, and the players they choose actually DO fill those needs, instead of trap the Lions yes-no-maybe-so at that position for three years.

Next up: WHO.

Technorati Tags: nfl,nfl draft,2010 nfl draft,detroit lions,team needs


A Lion in ViQueen territory,  April 20, 2010 at 3:33 PM  

My rankings based on your shopping list, regardless of who's who in the draft:

- A starting, three-down, two-way defensive end, a la Kyle Vanden Bosch.
- At least one starting corner back.
- A starting safety, who’s very strong in pass coverage.
- A starting, athletic, blitzing outside linebacker, a la Julian Peterson.
- A starting, three-down power running back with speed.
- A starting, disruptive pass-rushing DT to rotate w/Williams & Hill.
- Developmental players as listed above (scratch QB)

Merch,  April 20, 2010 at 7:05 PM  

I have feeling... barring that elusive trade for more picks (to fill more holes!)

We will be picking up a DT in round 1.

Beyond that it's impossible to tell. What if Gerhart is available with their 2nd round pick? Or if one of those highly rated OTs not named Okung fall that far. Or one of the better DBs they don't expect to be around till late in the round? I honestly fell that those circumstances will really dictate their 2nd pick, they have so many areas that could use a good young talented guy.

My tradar says we won't be wheeling and dealing many more players straight up since we haven't got a huge surplus anywhere, but we might be able to package late round picks for proven vets.

The free agent market could turn up a few nuggets, but unfortunately it looks more like the kind that would fill a gap for a year, but hey, that may be what we need, right?

On that note...

Anyone heard any more about Adam Jones? What about the 2 Cowboys cut away, Flozell Adams and whatever DB they wacked? Old damaged goods in your opinions or too high a price to plug a hole for a year?

Angus Osborne,  April 20, 2010 at 7:22 PM  

I saw this morning on Pro Football Focuse that Corey Williams was rated by them as the 18th best defensive lineman in the NFL last season.

Now I admit that statistics can show anything you want, but if he's 18th best after a struggling season the future's bright.

Weston Corbitt,  April 20, 2010 at 8:17 PM  

We did fill a few needs with trades, but we need more. If we cross off half of those needs, I will feel good going into this season. We shouldn't compete for the playoffs next year, but we should win 5-8 games. If not, this rebuilding project isn't going fast enough. In the NFL you can't win a few more games a year and be happy with it. Great article, Sir. One of the best reads I have had in a while.

Dr. Mac,  April 20, 2010 at 9:52 PM  

You forgut the voodoo preistess.

Merch,  April 20, 2010 at 11:19 PM  

Good point Weston, even filling half the needs would be a good start. I suspect they can do that with what they have in the draft or at least come darn close. They just don't want any gaping holes.

Those 7th round picks could be great filler for the less popular positions. You kno the ones teams don't necessarily want to burn a high draft pick on, but the Lions may not attract the best Free Agents for...

Biggest issues in my opinion...

Depth. Linebacker and Running back, even if some of our special teams LBs can be suitable starters, I worry a bit about depth with any injuries. Say Smith is slow coming back or just isn't the same, Morris and Brown aren't proven backs that can carry the load each game. Morris had some nice flashes and Brown does well on 3rd downs, but again, if we start without Smith and then either of THEM gets dinged up it seems like our drop off dropped off even further. So adding somebody that would seriously compete with Smith for carries would be wise.

LB ... well, I hear Follett could make the jump, or Dizon or.. ?? But once you get past Peterson and Levy (who is still only a 2nd year guy but a good one!) it gets a little scary. I know Sims is referred to as addition by subtraction and we may not miss much having Dizon or Follett in there instead (I'm hopeful!) but what happens if any of them get hurt or just don't perform? Our pool of quality starters is dropping off. Draft could infuse some young blood and a fresh LB in the mix at least OR you gun for the left overs on FA market, not a ton left to choose from.

DL we could live with where it's at, OL we may not be great, but they seem to like Backus well enough and with Sims coming in and hopefully Cherlius improving we'll have a serviceable line with or without addressing it in the draft at all.

DBs ... we've added young guys, but nobody proven and we seem to be competing with all the gun slingers in the NFC North here. Delmas is good, but to add a pure cover guy would be great. And I hate to beat up the injry talk, but say half of who we signed perform well and the others are OK, what happens if any of them get hurt - and I think we can all agree that one area we've seen more guys go down is in the defensive back field.

QB seems OK. TE looked thin, but I think they shored it up with a good mix now of young talent and veteran talent along with some guys they're developing, of course that came at the expense of the LBs, but I don't think it was as hurtful as some Sims fans would have us believe (see: BVO).

I know.. I'm rambling, but did I miss anything?

2 days left till the draft, I think I've followed this off season more than any in the last 5-6 year. I would love to see more W's, but regardless of what the season holds Mayhew has brought back perpetual hope. It was getting bad when it was Millen making us scratch our heads and wonder "What were they thinking?!" every draft day in addition to "Why did they sign him?" in the off season - was it just me or did it seem like we could only attract aging veterans looking for a team stupid enough to pay them that one last big pay check!

Merch,  April 20, 2010 at 11:23 PM  

You'll have to excuse my occasional typos here. I'm so used to auto-spell checking and the little comment box isn't enticing me to proof read! ;-)

LionsFanRoc,  April 21, 2010 at 12:03 AM  

Couple things to add...

1) Ashlee Palmer played some LB for the Bills last season and was OK, but it was his rookie season. He's only gone because he doesn't fit their new 3-4. My guess is Palmer, Follett and maybe a draft pick compete for that starting spot.

2)A power fullback can be found in the 7th round. Look for John Conner (the guys nickname practically writes itself!)

3)Obviously the team will go BPA, but even if they were drafting for need getting four starters again like last season won't happen. We will get lucky to have a starting DT, CB/DE/RB/S in the first two rounds anything after that is gravy.

4) It's unfortunate but I think the starting safety opposite Delmas is going to be a tandem of Bullocks/Simpson.

5) The Lions have ways to get more picks: Trade down from the #34 overall pick and possibly trade Cliff Avril.

Bill,  April 21, 2010 at 7:09 AM  

The reality for a team as bad as the Lions is you can't get good at all phases of the game in one off-season. What the Lions must do is establish at least a few position groups that are key strengths. You want to be able to build from some positions of power, and this will help to forge the identity of the post-Millen era team.

In my view, the best chance the team has to do that this off-season is with the DL. With the additions of Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams (who was statistically better than 85% of 3-4 DE last year in spite of playing out of position), this group already stands to be much better. Assuming the big stud DT (Suh, McCoy) arrives in the draft, the DL has a chance to be dominant. That will take pressure off the LB and DB groups, and begins to shape the look of the team.

On offense, the additions of Burleson and Scheffler in the WR/TE group can help this group to become a key strength. Without all the double and triple-team coverage, CJ is likely to have his best year, and having this group on the field will open up the running game as well, forcing opposing safeties to respect the passing game.

The other part of the off-season equation for Mayhew is to at least begin to fill the gaping holes in the other position groups. My biggest worry heading into the draft is the DB group. There isn't a CB on the roster today who is a definite starting-caliber guy. The reports I've read about Chris Houston are not favorable, and even Wade was statistically better last year. If they can draft a starting-caliber CB and sign Lito Sheppard, the defensive backfield will at least have a chance on passing downs.

So to summarize, you can't try to fill every void when there are as many as the Lions had going into this off-season. But you can establish strengths, and build from those. With that accomplished, the Lions will be a much more competitive team this season.

Bill,  April 21, 2010 at 7:42 AM  

It might also be instructive for readers to check out this article from OurLads -http://www.ourlads.com/dayone/default.aspx, which discusses what round of the draft produces the quality talent at various positions. Although it's a bit dated, it does provide some really useful food for thought (and is a rather ugly history lesson for Lions fans).

With that info in mind, the DT, RB and CB needs should be first priority on Mayhew's shopping list.

NorthLeft12,  April 21, 2010 at 7:57 AM  

I agree with Bill. I think the Lions are in position to make a couple of units on this team relatively "strong", and hoping those units somewhat cover for the glaring weaknesses of the remainder.
It appears that the secondary will be the weakest unit........again. This could change depending on who is available when the Lions choose in the second and third rounds. If a first round rated CB falls to # 34 and a second round S falls to # 66, that unit could be much stronger than originally thought. At least on paper. I would expect with 75% turnover back there that there will still be major growing pains. I expect that we will take Suh and have a defensive line that could be one of the top ten in the NFL. They will be relied on to shut down the opponents run game and apply some pressure to the QB to take more of the heat off the secondary. Hopefully, a strong DL can make it easier for Gunther to scheme to cover for the secondary.
On the offensive side, the passing game looks to be much improved on the receiving side and the blocking side too. The question will be with the run game. Again, if a quality RB falls and is the pick at # 34 or # 66, this part of the team could be much improved over last year. And last year was an improvement over 2008.

Anonymous,  April 21, 2010 at 10:09 AM  



TylerDurdan,  April 21, 2010 at 1:24 PM  

Excellent Article!

Merch,  April 21, 2010 at 8:57 PM  

OK, everyone enticed by Ty's shopping list and interested enough in the comments section, I need something to help pass the next 20+ hours...

Gerhardt - Do you spend a #2 on him (the Lion's #2 that is) or hope you get him at a 3? I've seen mocks that put him in the 2nd round, but others suggest he could slide into the 3rd and of course if he hits the 3rd round, Detroit has a chance to draft him.

Also Bill's commment about making some positions relative strengths is a good one. It's a dream to fill all the holes and not a realistic one, but that mentality never stops me from buying a lottery ticket every now and again.

But when we go back to reality and realize they'll hopefully have a few strong units on the team this year and will be better than the Lions of last year and the year before. I love the idea of doign it in the trenches. It surprised me that Rod never did that, but maybe he never had that kind of input.

I think Denver really helped to illustrated this with their rotation of running backs breaking the 1000 yard mark over a string of years.... great backs? The system? Or maybe that O-Line was good.

Maybe for the Lions the same will be true if our D-Line really turns it up a notch. The pressure on the QB and the crushing run stoppers will make our DBs and LBs better. Guess if we see Suh in the silver in blue then we'll be looking at a well rounded group.

Merch,  April 21, 2010 at 9:07 PM  

Oh and to illustrate the state of Lions running affair.....

2009 Kevin Smith 747 / 3.4
2008 Kevin Smith 976 / 4.1
2007 Kevin Jones 581 / 3.8
2006 Kevin Jones 689 / 3.9
2005 Kevin Jones 664 / 3.6
2004 Kevin Jones 1133 / 4.7
2003 Shawn Bryson 606 / 3.8
2002 James Stewart 1021 / 4.4
2001 James Stewart 685 / 4.8
2000 James Stewart 1184 / 3.5
1999 Greg Hill 542 / 3.8
1998 Barry Sanders 1491 / 4.3
1997 Barry Sanders 2053 / 6.1
1996 Barry Sanders 1553 / 5.1
1995 Barry Sanders 1500 / 4.8
1994 Barry Sanders 1883 / 5.7
1993 Barry Sanders 1115 / 4.6
1992 Barry Sanders 1352 / 4.3
1991 Barry Sanders 1548 / 4.5
1990 Barry Sanders 1304 / 5.1
1989 Barry Sanders 1470 / 5.3
1988 Gary James 552 / 3.0
1987 James Jones 342 / 3.6
1986 James Jones 903 / 3.6
1985 James Jones 886 / 3.6
1984 Billy Simms 687 / 5.3
1983 Billy Simms 1040 / 4.7

Wow is all I can say. I know Barry was great, but this just hammers the point home. But the other backs just didn't cut it consistently...

Compare to Denver...

1998 Terrell Davis 2008 / 5.1
1999 Olandis Gary 1159 / 4.2
2000 Mike Anderson 1487 / 5.0
2001 Terrell Davis 701 / 4.2
2002 Clinton Portis 1508 / 5.5
2003 Clinton Portis 1591 / 5.5
2004 Reuben Droughns 1240 / 4.5
2005 Mike Anderson 1014 / 4.2
2006 Quentin Griffin 1025 / 4.4

Now some of these guys were so injury plagued they either petered out with Denver or went elsewhere and rarely played. Portis - one exception, interesting that 2 years in Denver were @ 5.5 per carry and in Washington he's had 1k+ seasons, but his BEST was 4.3 per carry. A big drop. But if you get in the 4.5+ range (aaah, Barry) you're doing really well. Drop into the 3's and your running game is suffering a bit. Note our pattern.

Kris,  April 22, 2010 at 12:03 PM  

I don't agree with developmental quarterback... isn't that what Stanton is? If they don't believe that Stanton is the guy that could take over if Stafford went down (and if they're drafting another QB, that would seem to be the case), they should get an experienced veteran that can come in and hold his own for a few games as needed.

Also Stafford is young... why develop a new QB? To be a backup? Those are easy enough to find already with experience. They'd never take someone now with the intent of him starting over Stafford some day.

somebody,  April 26, 2010 at 10:45 AM  


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