One of the problems with a position-by-position breakdown of a team is getting too wrapped up in the individual. We start getting obsessed with that old bugaboo, “filling holes,” and we end up wanting to spend “a second or third rounder” on every single position.
Let’s take a look at the whole.
The 49ers were the NFL’s top defense last season at +240.3, and as you see they had basically no flaws. Their run defense was the best run defense. Their pass rush was the second-best pass rush (Philly’s was top), their pass coverage was fourth-best, and they were right in the middle of the pack on penalties.
At the bottom were the Saints, who at –130.3 had nearly no strengths. Their run defense was 24th, their pass coverage was 28th, and their pass rush was dead last. Penalty-wise, though, they were neck-and-neck with the 49ers at right around the league average.
The Lions were 26th overall at -20.1. You can't see it here, but they were at the bottom of the "neutral-to-meh" tier. The next-best defense was Buffalo at -20.7, then the grades fall into the abyss with Green Bay at -60 and on down from there.
At -8.6, the Lions run defense ranked 26th, and again was at the bottom of the “meh” tier. The Rams were –10, the Cardinals twice that bad . . . and then pretty much it falls apart. In pass coverage, the Lions were graded out at -12.3, above the NFL average of –14.3 and ranked 13th overall.
Ahem. “In pass coverage, the Lions were graded out at -12.3, above the NFL average of –14.3 and ranked 13th overall.”
Actually, the Lions were ranked amongst the top ten for much of the season, as was the pass rush—which, as you might have noticed, is nothing too fearsome, either. As one began to tail off, so did the other. Ultimately, the pass rush finished 10th-best in the NFL at +22.1, well above the average of +12.4.
Does this mean there’s a correlation between pass rush PFF grades and pass coverage PFF grades? NOPE.
Remember, PFF assigns grades based on observed performance, period. If a cornerback does a good job in coverage, he does a good job in coverage no matter how good the delivered ball was—or if it was delivered at all. The Lions’ pass coverage tailed off at the end of the year because of injuries to Chris Houston and Louis Delmas, and not because the pass rush wasn’t good enough.
That said, the pass rush wasn't good enough.
Now, the shopping list:
- DTs: None, unless they choose to let Corey Williams walk.
- DEs: Re-sign Cliff Avril.
- ILBs: Re-sign Stephen Tulloch, or acquire his replacement: a high draft pick or proven veteran starter.
- OLBs: If Tulloch is retained, re-sign Levy or acquire a starter to replace him. If Tulloch is not retained and Durant is moved to the middle, re-sign Levy AND acquire a starter.
- CBs: A rookie with long-term starter potential, or a veteran starter.
- Ss: A veteran upgrade over Spievey, or a talented rookie to compete with him.