The Lions have a few areas in the position groups where there are big needs. Unlike the last few years, however, they are not far off from being a legitimate playoff contender. That’s right, I said it, playoffs! I can hear the infamous Jim Mora press rant now. I have looked at the roster in-depth, and paid very close attention to the progress of the team throughout the course of this season. One thing is undeniable, there is growth. Now I have the blueprint for what moves this team from 6-10 to 10-6 or better.
First, Matt Stafford is not going anywhere. There is far too much invested to even entertain the thought of a buyout, or trade, or bringing in a blockbuster free agent. I know I had written earlier on the subject, but that was merely taking a “devil’s advocate” approach to the subject. Stafford is the guy, now the Lions have to keep him upright.
That being said, let’s backtrack and talk about the most critical needs the Lions have. The defense and O line. I read an article Tom “Killer” Kowalski had written for MLive.com that broke down the Lions position-by-position. It was an interesting read, but I have to disagree with a lot of the content. I think it is seriously misguided and I kept reading a lot of, “makes his share of mistakes, but…”. The Lions are not going to be legitimate contenders if they don’t commit to eliminating the inconsistencies that a lot of the players demonstrated, especially on the defensive side of the ball.
In my perfect world, the Lions draft heavily in defense and use a couple picks to build depth on the offensive line to ensure the protection of the team’s most heavily invested asset. Their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford.
Round 1-This is a no-brainer. Either LSU CB Patrick Peterson, or Nebraska CB Prince Amukamara. Now that little win streak has probably eliminated the Lions chances of getting Peterson. They’d have to trade up to get him. They may have to trade up a couple picks to get Amukamara as well, but he may be there at #13. The Lions have to get a shutdown type corner back. These two are elite and they must do whatever it takes to get one of them. At that point, the Lions could start Smith or Vasher on the other side and have Spievey and Delmas at safety. There would still be room for improvement, but that secondary would be pretty talented. Champ Bailey is also a free agent and maybe they sign a guy like him for veteran leadership, and a guy that a young talented secondary could learn from. Bailey is a no doubt a hall-of-famer.
Round 2-Another no-brainer. The Lions must select DE/OLB Jeremy Beal from Oklahoma. I understand that he is a hybrid and may be more suited for a 3-4. But hear me out. The Lions major struggle at LB is lateral pursuit and the ability to cover the middle and flats. Beal is an ideal candidate for that role. The Lions have found a good MLB with DeAndre Levy. He just has to stay healthy. If he does, he will flourish in his third year. The Lions should also re-sign Landon Johnson. If for nothing else, he has talent and would add to depth. Beal is complete and NFL ready. He has some pass rush ability and he would do well behind the current Lions defensive line.
Round 3-They could go a number of ways from the third round on, but I think the Lions should select G John Moffit from Wisconsin. Stephen Peterman is a liability on the right side. This is one of those things I disagree on with Kowalski. He thinks Peterman was simply limited by injury and as the season progressed, he got better. In my opinion, he was a weak spot and was beaten on a consistent basis. Moffit is a guy that could fill the need nicely.
Round 4-SS Jeron Johnson Boise St. Spievey is a work in progress at the position, Johnson is very talented and a instinctual player. Spievey is still thinking too much. Competition makes them both better and depth is needed in the secondary anyway.
Round 5-OLB Lawrence Wilson UConn. There is a distinct need for two OLB on the Lions roster. This kid a overachieving hustler. He is an expert running sideline to sideline and has the athleticism for coverage. He would be a great addition to the Lions LB corps. Bear in mind that Julian Peterson will not be re-signed.
Round 6-OT Jason Pinkston Pitt. Jeff Backus can’t play forever. Thank God! But it’s time to take a kid in the draft that can take his role, especially if Backus were to struggle badly protecting Stafford’s blind side. Pinkston could be a steal in the April draft. He is a kid with first or second round talent. His drawback was a knee injury. From everything I have read, he will recover from the injury, and be productive moving forward. The advantage of taking him this late, is the Lions would eliminate the risk. They would have the time to make sure he can stay healthy and slowly transition him to the starting role.
Free Agency-I think the Lions should address WR and LB in free agency. There is a real need for a fast, deep-threat #3 WR on this team. Bryant Johnson hasn’t fit the bill. Burleson is a fantastic #2 slot/possession receiver, but lacks the downfield vertical speed that the offense needs. Upcoming free agents that could fill the need are James Jones, Steve Breaston, Devin Aromashadu, Lance Moore, Johnnie Lee Higgins, or Ben Obomanu.
The Lions could also stand to fill out at LB. I have them addressing this in the draft, but they desperately need depth and competition at the position group. Potential free agent candidates include: OLB Rocky McIntosh, OLB Ernie Sims (who was drafted and traded by the Lions). Sims may fit because his contract would not be nearly as bad as his rookie deal that paid him 1st round money. He has talent and could fit well for the right price. Another person I really hope the Lions go after is ILB Desmond Bishop. He could be the best available ILB in free agency, and rotated with DeAndre Levy would make for a really good anchor in the defense.
My optimal 2011 starters:
QB-Matthew Stafford RB-Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith FB-Jerome Felton
WR-Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, (sign FA Devin Aromashadu, James Jones, or Ben Obomanu), Derrick Williams
TE-Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler
LT-Jeff Backus, Jason Pinkston(rookie) LG-Rob Sims C-Dominic Raiola RG-John Moffit (rookie) RT-Corey Hilliard, Gosder Cherilus
LE-Cliff Avril LDT-Ndamukong Suh RDT-Corey Williams RE-Kyle VandenBosch
LOLB-Ashlee Palmer, Lawrence Wilson (rookie) MLB-DeAndre Levy, Desmond Bishop FA ROLB-FA Rocky McIntosh, Jeremy Beal (rookie)
LCB-Prince Amukamara (rookie), Alphonso Smith FS-Louis Delmas SS-Amari Spievey, Jeron Johnson (rookie) RCB-Nathan Vasher, Alphonso Smith
K-Dave Rayner P-Nick Harris KR/PR-Stefan Logan
Now it’s quite likely the Lions roster doesn’t look exactly like that on opening day. I do however, think they need to make some personnel moves in that direction. If the Lions can draft well, sign lucrative free agents, fill needs and get deeper. This is a playoff team. No kidding! Think about how close the team was in 3-4 of the losses this season. With a more consistent defense, a full season with Matt Stafford under center, a turf-toe less Jahvid Best, and pressure off of Calvin Johnson, this team is primed for a three or four-year run as a really good contender in the NFC.