With the draft coming right around the corner, now is a good time to look at what the Lions’ offseason has become thus far. A lot of work has been done in the trenches, and the Lions are trending upward after this past offseason.
Replacing OT Riley Reiff and G Larry Warford with OT Rick Wagner and G T.J. Lang: A-
One of the Lions biggest issues in prior seasons has been inconsistent production from their offensive line. Ranking 19th at the end of the season, Larry Warford and Riley Reiff were both expected to walk away from the Lions and replacements were needed desperately. Early in Free Agency, Detroit snatched up former Ravens’ Tackle, Rick Wagner. Wagner’s strength in protecting the run opens up a hole for Ameer Abdullah (or a potential rookie) to break out and be the Lions first legitimate Running Back in a long while.
Next to Wagner will be former Pro-Bowl Guard, T.J. Lang. Lang, who was formerly the anchor of the Green Bay Packers’ line, is headed back home to Detroit. The Michigan native was graded as the eighth best offensive guard and should accompany Wagner well to solidify the Lions offensive line and running game, which was ranked 31st in the entire league. Alongside Taylor Decker, who broke out as an above average lineman in his rookie season, Travis Swanson and Graham Glasgow, the Lions can expect to have a much more proficient wall protecting Matthew Stafford.
D.J. Hayden signs a “Prove-It” deal: C+
A former first-round pick (12th overall), Hayden has had a very rough start to his NFL career. Being hit hard by injuries since his rookie year, his incentive heavy contract is a low-risk deal for the Lions, for Hayden still has yet to really show his abilities on the field. Hayden could reinvent himself in the Honolulu Blue.
Paul Worrilow gives Lions much needed LB depth: C+
During the 2016 season, the Lions rush defense was far from spectacular. With the absence of Deandre Levy, the Lions had to rely on Josh Bynes to try to make up for Levy’s absence, to little positive gain. Worrilow, who was regulated to special teams duty for a majority of his time with the Falcons, provides a much more serviceable option in Levy’s absence. This allows Tahir Whitehead to remain on the inside (where he is undoubtedly his best spot) and hopefully solidify the Lions’ linebacking core.
Depth being added to the defensive front: C
Since the departure of Ndamukong Suh, the Lions’ pass rush has been in a stagnant state of mediocrity. Anchored by Ziggy Ansah on the end, the line suffered as he dealt with nagging injuries throughout the last season. Despite the emergence of Kerry Hyder, and the consistent play from Haloti Ngata, the Lions were still heavily lacking in the pass rush department. Cornelius Washington and Akeem Spence provide low-cost depth. The addition of another pass rusher through the draft could help bolster the Lions’ pass rush into the force that it once was.
What’s next for the draft?
The Lions biggest need is still at the linebacker position. The absence of Deandre Levy was visible every time the Lions defense stepped on the field. Their defense was far from great, and down the last stretch of the season, they were abysmal. They need somebody who can find their way into the backfield to stuff the run and put pressure on the quarterback. T.J. Watt out of Wisconsin or Taco Charlton out of Michigan would both provide a spark on the Lions defense that can keep the pocket just a little bit smaller.
On the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, the Lions running game has suffered. Since the retirement of Barry Sanders, the Lions have only had four running backs exceed 1000 rushing yards. A revolving door of names, Kevin Jones, Jahvid Best, Joique Bell, all was promised to be solid feature backs, but they all floundered. Ameer Abdullah is doomed to fall into that trend considering his injury history. Enter Joe Mixon. What he did was not something that should be praised by any means, but that does not take away the caliber of a player that he can become. If Mixon falls into the 4th round, the Lions should absolutely take a flyer on a player with a “checkered past” and set themselves up to be a team with a fierce running game. A back with size, strength, and speed, Mixon can be a force on the field, especially with the Lions’ revamped offensive line.
The Lions are just a few holes away from being a true contender in the NFC. With another strong draft from Bob Quinn, the Lions could easily give the Packers another challenge in the NFC North.