The Detroit Lions enter their second offseason under general manager Bob Quinn after a 9-7 season and playoff appearance in year one.
“It’s my job to build this roster for the 2017 Lions and that process is off the ground and running and looking forward to all the events that are upcoming in the next few months to build this team,” Quinn said after the season.
He is a big believer that good teams are built through the draft and supplemented through free agency, which we saw his first offseason in Detroit. The Lions’ 2016 draft class received strong reviews, and Quinn made some strategic signings in free agency – Marvin Jones Jr., Anquan Boldin and Tavon Wilson – that fit starters in positions of need.
Quinn and his staff have evaluated the roster and are preparing for free agency in March and the draft in April.
With where the roster currently stands, here are my five biggest positions of need to address this offseason:
1. Pass rusher
Starter Devin Taylor is a free agent. The Lions will have to decide if he’s part of their plans at the position moving forward. Taylor, 27, averaged a little less than four sacks per year over his first 4 NFL seasons, with 2015 being his peak season with seven.
Detroit’s 26 sacks this past season ranked 30th in the NFL, though the high ankle sprain Ziggy Ansah suffered early in the season, certainly played a factor in that number. Still, Detroit’s edge rushers accounted for just 18.5 sacks combined.
Kerry Hyder had a breakout year, leading the team with eight sacks, but is he ready to step in and be a full-time starter? Or is he better suited in the rotational role he played so very well the past year?
Armonty Bryant, who is also a free agent, showed some good things in limited action (three sacks in five games).
This is a pretty strong pass-rushing draft class, and there’s proven veterans set to hit free agency. The Lions could stand to bolster their edge opposite Ansah, and add depth to the position.
2. Run game (running back or offensive line)
This could be obtained via upgrades at both running back and offensive line, or one or the other. Do the Lions have the right backs in place with Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner? Does Quinn believe he needs to add to the position?
If Quinn does believe Abdullah, Riddick and Zenner can get it done in the backfield, and they simply need better play in front of them along the offensive line, then the focus shifts to strengthening the trenches.
Of all the linemen that started a game for Detroit in 2016, only left tackle Taylor Decker, right guard Larry Warford and center Travis Swanson finished the season with a positive run-blocking grade from Pro Football Focus.
Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff are unrestricted free agents that will likely garner some interest if they get to the open market. Are Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl or Corey Robinson ready to step in and be full-time starters? Can they help improve the run game?
It will be interesting to see how Quinn attacks a very big need of improving Detroit’s run game.
Tahir Whitehead was a tackling machine (132) this past season, but Detroit’s defense lacked impact plays from the linebacker position. In fact, Detroit’s linebacking corps didn’t register a single sack, interception or forced fumble this past season.
Whitehead, DeAndre Levy and Antwione Williams are all under contract for next year, but the unit could stand to add one more playmaker.
After missing 27 games the last two seasons, can Levy still be the All-Pro caliber player he was in 2013 and 2014 before the core muscle and knee injuries? Quinn said after the season he believes he can, but adding an insurance policy in case Levy isn’t still that player might not be a bad idea.
Williams was singled out by veteran safety Glover Quin after the season as a player expected to make a big leap in year two. If that comes to fruition, and Levy returns to form, the Lions are in pretty good shape, but that’s a lot of ifs.
Detroit’s depth at the position was exposed a bit when Darius Slay missed three games due to hamstring injuries, and when the team lost starting nickel cornerback Quandre Diggs midseason.
Nevin Lawson showed some good things in his first full season as a starter opposite Slay, but it never hurts to have competition, and depth is certainly an issue at a position that generally suffers more injuries than any other in the NFL.
5. (tie) Receiver
Anquan Boldin is a free agent. He told reporters down at the Super Bowl that he’s still mulling his football future after 14 seasons. Andre Roberts, the team’s fourth receiver and main return man on special teams, is also a free agent.
Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate are under contract for next season, and that’s a pretty good one-two punch, but the position could certainly use more speed. There’s no one on this roster that can take the top off a defense. Adding a young or proven speedster to this receiving corps would help open a lot of things up for Detroit’s other pass catchers.
5. (tie) Defensive tackle
A’Shawn Robinson looks like he’s going to be a pretty good player after a solid rookie campaign. He just kept getting better and better as the year progressed.
Haloti Ngata, 33, is under contract for the 2017 season, but he isn’t getting any younger. The Lions need to start thinking long term and who they want to pair with Robinson in the future.
Stefan Charles and Tyrunn Walker, two rotational players in 2016, are unrestricted free agents. Khyri Thornton, another member of Detroit’s rotation in the interior of the defensive line, is an exclusive right free agent.
The Lions allowed 608 rushing yards in their last four games, all losses. They could certainly stand to get more athletic and stouter in the middle.