Yesterday, I posted the final post-draft “awesomeness” heat map of the Lions’ current depth chart. I didn’t really analyze it, per se, just provided a list of clarifying/qualifying bullet points. The coolest thing about data visualization is that it simply is, and anyone can understand at a glance what’s going on. That said, I slaved over making the thing, so you folks are probably curious about what caught my eye in the process.
The offensive line needs help. Clearly, the center and right guard were well below average last season; Stephen Peterman in particular played poorly (no doubt due to myriad injuries, as he was much much better in 2009). With the exception of right tackle, there isn’t a quality backup anywhere along the line. The left side of the line is actually quite good, though; if Peterman and Raiola return to their usual standard of play, the starting five should be one of the better lines in the game. If not—or if the injury bug bites—the Lions’ line could be in big, big trouble. I also have big concerns for 2012 and beyond; Hilliard, Fox, and/or Culbreath need to stake their claims on future starting roles.
Calvin Johnson is so good. Megatron was the Lions’ best player in 2010, and it wasn’t close. He was the third-best graded WR in the NFL, and two-and-a-half standard deviations from the mean! I think Lions fans forget how good he is, because they know how good he can be. We keep waiting for him to haul in 140 catches for 2,400 yards and 30 touchdowns—and if anyone ever could do that, it’s him—but maybe we should stop a minute to appreciate 77 catches for 1,120 yards and 12 touchdowns, especially given the quarterback situation.
Non-Megatron receivers need to step up. It’s no secret that Bryant Johnson and Derrick Williams simply haven’t produced. Johnson has struggled mightily to catch the ball, and Williams, when used, isn’t getting open. Nate Burleson is dangerous with the ball in his hands, but isn’t a threat to stretch the field. If Titus Young can make an immediate impact, Johnson and Burleson should have much more room to operate. I’m counting the tight ends here, too; Tony Scheffler had a mysterious stretch of poor form after an electrifying first few games, and Brandon Pettigrew dropped an awful lot of balls he got his hands on (and got called for ten penalties!). Both of them have the ability to be top ten receiving TEs—if either of them can play like it, it’ll be a huge boost to the offense.
The defensive line is strong and deep, but wasn’t invincible last season. Ndamukong Suh likely won’t improve his sack total from last year—in fact, I’d expect a regression—but his overall effectiveness should be better than we see here. Corey Williams played like a man possessed, but his horrific penalty total (15 called, 2 declined/offset) put a huge damper on his final grade. Nobody had more penalties called, or assessed, than Williams. Nobody in the NFL, at any position. That’s not just aggression leading to the occasional jump—that’s a chronic problem that extends drives, in a defense built to stop them.
The much-maligned back seven is just below average. As much as observers like to pretend the Lions’ back seven consists of Louis Delmas and six tackling dummies, none of the presumed starters were more than a standard deviation below NFL average. Amari Spievey actually turned in the best grade of the back seven, and Louis Delmas was playing through a severe groin injury. The Lions added Erik Coleman to the safety corps, and should add a corner and/or linebacker in free agency. If they can get a little better in a couple of spots, the excellent defensive line will be backed by a perfectly average ‘backer corps and secondary.
That said, the back seven dominates the remaining shopping list:
An impact two-way defensive end to rotate soon, and develop for 2012[Upon further review, Lawrence Jackson fits this bill].
- A credible backup middle linebacker.
- An athletic, pass-rushing OLB ready to start right away.
An athletic, pass-rushing OLB to rotate soon, and develop for 2012[I'm giving Doug Hogue the benefit of the doubt here].
- An athletic cover corner, ready to take over one side in 2012.
- If Chris Houston leaves, a complete two-way corner, ready to start right away.
- A left tackle who can be groomed to replace Jeff Backus [I like Culbreath, and have hope for Jason Fox, but calling this need "filled" is too much of a stretch].
- A center who will be ready to rotate at guard soon, and compete at center for 2012.
A field-stretching #2 WR. A power back to complement Jahvid Best.