>\n\nWorst to First: 2. Detroit Lions \n\n\n\n

Worst to First: 2. Detroit Lions

Written by Ben Morgan on 02/13/2010

Rodeo Clown, Mike Tyson's sparring partner, The Bengals lawyer. These are 3 of the toughest jobs in sports. The toughest job in sports? Detroit Lions fan. Congratulations to the Lions for actually winning not just 1 game, but 2! After the most futile season ever recorded by an NFL franchise in 2008 the Lions beat 2 opponents. OK so they were squeakers at home to the Redksins and the Browns but that's comfortably better than last year. Matthew Stafford is already as good as Daunte Culpepper, which is not anything to really write home about but it's a better start to an NFL career than many have managed. There are some signs of the green shoots of recovery and with another early draft pick this team is again going to be in a position to draft some serious talent. The ghost of Matt Millen still haunts this team and will for some while to come, especially given his replacement's close links to a catalogue of poor decisions on draft day. However, there's some reason for optimism in Motown, even if it isn't about the Motor Industry. Mayhew's first draft netted some promising looking players. Matthew Stafford, a potential franchise QB and Louis Delmas, a star in the making at Safety. Throw in DeAndre Levy, Sammie Lee Hill and Aaron Brown... if a couple of them develop beyond promising rookie seasons this would be Detroit's best draft in a loooong time. If ever a city needed a team to come through it's Detroit right now. Don't expect it this year, but every year a team or two comes off big losing seasons to threaten the playoffs. With the level of youthful talent the Lions are going to be able to boast in 2010 I wouldn't rule them out of surprising a few teams and a lot of experts. Everyone's seen what the Saints story has done to help regenerate New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Detroit is every bit as in need of hope from it's sports teams. It's time for things to turn around for the Lions. Can Mayhew follow up what looks like a good draft last year? Can the Lions take strides on the field as well? I think there's a lot of neutrals that are sick of seeing the Lions so low. I know I'm one of them. But let's dress down the roster and see how far they are away from postseason Nirvana.

2010 Free Agent Losses
2010 Free Agent additions
To be updated
Ashlee Palmer LB (Bills)
2010 Unsigned Free Agents
2011 Potential Free Agents
Copeland Bryan DL (UFA), Daniel Bullocks S (CBA-RFA), Jerome Felton RB (RFA), Zack Follett LB (XRFA), Larry Foote LB (UFA), Dylan Gandy C (CBA-RFA), Corey Hilliard OT (XRFA), Kevin Hobbs DB (RFA), Jason Hunter DL (CBA-RFA), Adam Jennings WR, Daniel Loper OG (CBA-RFA), Jake Nordin TE (XRFA), Cedric Peerman RB (XRFA), Manuel Ramirez OG (XRFA), Ko Simpson S (CBA-RFA), DeAngelo Smith DB (XRFA), Cody Spencer LB (RFA), Daunte Culpepper QB (UFA), Will Heller TE (UFA), Casey Fitzsimmons TE (UFA), Jon Jansen OT (UFA), Damion Cook OG (UFA), Anthony Henry CB (UFA), Patrick Ramsay QB (UFA), Marquand Manuel S (UFA), Will James CB (UFA), Jared DeVries DT (UFA-cut) Cliff Avril DE (XRFA), Phillip Buchanon CB (UFA), Landon Cohen DL (RFA), Andre Fluellen DT (RFA), Eric King CB (UFA), Turk McBride DT (UFA), Kalvin Pearson DB (UFA), Ernie Sims LB (RFA), Kevin Smith RB (RFA), Drew Stanton QB (UFA), Brian Witherspoon DB (XRFA)

Roster Breakdown
Quarterbacks No Need
Detroit got their franchise QB last year in Matthew Stafford. As you'd expect from an early draft pick in his rookie year he struggled at times but he also flashed some ability. That bodes well, now the Lions just need to continue building around him. Daunte Culpepper was the sometime starter and primary backup, he'll be a free agent this year. Whether he'll be back or not may depend on whether at this point in his career he's happy backing up a potential young star or if he thinks he can still start in the NFL. With that in mind a later round choice on a project QB wouldn't be the worst use of a draft pick the Lions have ever managed (oh hai Matt Millen!) but they're still keen on developing Drew Stanton so if Culpepper does leave they'd be well served to check out free agency for a veteran backup to Stafford. Pickings are fairly slim this year though. No draft need but a vet backup is a big need should Culpepper depart. Patrick Ramsay was added late in the season too. He may even be a better option than Culpepper for them in a reserve role. He's a free agent as well.

Runningbacks Minor Need

Kevin Smith may begin the year on the PUP list following on from his injury this season. Maurice Morris isn't bad, and filled in well, but finding another back to compliment Smith, keep him fresh and stand in for him at the beginning of the year is something of a must. We've seen in the draft the past few years though that RB is becoming an undervalued pick, at least as far as draft picks go. Not many backs going inside the Top 10 these days, not as many even in round 1 as in the past. Teams have also had success as they more and more to RB by Committee approaches in picking up guys on Day Two who can come in and make a splash in relief of a Top RB. That's realistically where the Lions should look IMO. The offense is starting to click but the Lions focus this offseason should be in seriously upgrading on the Defensive side of the ball. They've brought in DeDe Dorsey from the UFL. That screams camp depth but there's always a chance the Lions go into the season with the guys they currently have on their roster. If it's an early pick Jahvid Best is unlikely to fall to round 2 but you never know. Considering Curt has compared Best to Willie Parker it's probably prudent to point out Parker is very likely to be a free agent.

Wide Receivers
Major Need
When you have Calvin Johnson (who I rate as one of the top 5 WRs in the NFL) whoever plays opposite him should be making hay against single coverage. The Lions have a number of guys who just aren't doing that job. Bryant Johnson had some good years in Arizona as a #3 WR but having left there he's failed to surpass his Cardinals production despite a promotion to starter. Dennis Northcutt has always been a useful NFL receiver but he's never risen above complimentary level. Last year's 3rd round pick Derek Williams hasn't shown anything like the ability to start yet but rookie WRs who show big time ability are very few and far between. Both Northcutt and Bryant Johnson are due big paydays in 2010, way more than either of their production really warrants. So the chances of both being back are pretty limited. Donte' Stallworth is coming in for a look. He's also supposedly being tried out by the Bengals (anyone surprised by that?). I'm not sure he's really a great option. He's spent a year out of football, has a few strikes against him and he's never had a 1000 yard season. Then I hear that the Dolphins are set to offer as little as a 3rd round pick for Anquan Boldin. That to me is outrageously cheap. More than that, would provide a bigger impact on a young team than any player picked in the 3rd round is likely to do. Boldin's that rarest of things, a talented WR who's hard working, tough and relatively low maintenance. He's also a guy who is going to rip opponents apart if he's left in single coverage. Boldin is of course in the final year of his current deal and any trade would no doubt require a long term (and expensive) deal. But this is a guy who's worth it. Giving a young QB every opportunity to succeed is an imperative. A shotgun set of Calvin Johnson, Boldin, Pettigrew, Bryant Johnson and Kevin Smith gives Matthew Stafford that.... improving pass protection wouldn't hurt either.

Tight Ends
Minimal Need
Brandon Pettigrew showed some promise as a rookie, like most guys he struggled at first but he was really starting to flash some of the talents he showed in college when he was sadly lost for the year to injury. Will Heller and Casey Fitzsimmons filled in pretty well but both of them lack the potential of Pettigrew. Both Heller and FItzsimmons are free agents this year. There's bound to be a good chance of getting at least one of them back, if not both of them. If they can that's a pretty handy group. 2009 7th rounder Dan Gronkowski is still on the roster too. There'll be a definite need for a blocking #2 TE if Will Heller goes elsewhere. He's a good all-round TE but with a young QB and a suspect OL an excellent blocking TE is an essential thing to have around.

Offensive Line
Major Need

This is still an area of major concern after the Lions failed to do an awful lot about it last season. Ultimately they probably made the correct pick with Stafford, but it's a long term committment. What they need to do now as well as giving him more weapons is keep him vertical. The Lions line gave up 43 sacks. On the surface that's unacceptable. A closer look though shows that the Lions were forced into passing too much last season after getting behind early and often in games. Add in a rookie QB (who often struggle to adjust to the speed of the NFL) and Slow-motion Daunte and that's going to make life tough for any OL in the league. That's not to excuse the Line, they didn't do a good enough job either run blocking or pass blocking. They've got problems on the inside and the outside, Jeff Backus at Left Tackle gives up a lot of sacks pretty much every year but he's not totally lacking in talent, there were whispers prior to the draft last year about drafting Eugene Monroe or Jason Smith and shifting Backus inside to LG. But you also hear news that his coaches consider him a pro bowl level talent at LT, so the likelihood is he'll stay at LT. Hopefully the Lions can find that LG they've been missing and that will help out Backus in pass blocking too. On the other side former first round pick Gosder Cherilus has struggled as well. He's inconsistent and has so far looked like a bust. 2010 probably represents his last shot in Detroit. It's doubtful he could ever make the switch to LT and as such finding a good LT must be a priority for this team. There's a couple of good ones who wouldn't look out of place with Detroit's first pick, notably Russell Okung, but with the biggest need being the Defense I'm not sure the Lions FO will pull the trigger on a LT that early.

Inside on the line is not exactly glory and light either. The return from injury of Stephen Peterman wil help the run game enormously but he's had injury problems before. How long he stays healthy in 2010 is anyone's guess. Depth would be pretty good if they could establish a line of genuine starters. Daniel Loper and Jon Jansen represent a couple of players who a lot of teams would be happy to have as backups. Dominic Raiola is a serviceable Center. He's never going to be a probowler but he's not a liability either. He's also signed long term so is probably not going anywhere. The interesting thing for me regarding Lions draft picks on the OL was the Lions coaching team coaching the North at the Senior Bowl. Mike Iupati was in great form there and impressed the staff. The ideal position for the Lions to find for me would be a LT, shift Backus inside and give themselves a line of Draft Pick, Cherilus, Backus, Raiola and Peterman. Some think Iupati could play any Guard or Tackle spot. If the Lions think that too and Iupati makes it to round 2 he's the logical pick. One thing I'd rarely recommend for most teams is mortgaging their future by trading next year's first rounder for another pick this year, but... well this is a real outside chance but if Suh is still there at #2, I can see no-one else the Lions should even consider. That said they really do need a Left Tackle. You grab Suh with the #2 but then where do you find that LT to protect your expensive investment at QB? Tough call to make, especially given how disappointing Detroit's Front Office has been in the recent past. Only a year into the job I'd expect Mayhew to take a conservative approach and not even consider such a risky move, especially as this is perhaps not the best Tackle class in recent years. But LT really is an immediate, and major need. Trading next year's #1 , if they could find a partner might get them a second pick in round 1 high enough to get one of the top 5 Tackles in the draft.

Defensive Tackle
Major Need
Let's not sugar coat this. The Lions defense is awful. They can't stop the run, they can't stop the pass. 31 points per game conceded, 126 rush yards per game, 265 pass yards per game... these are all the worst, or near worst in the league. It all starts up front. The Lions had a tough time stopping the run and that's really where any Defense, especially one that plies it's trade in the NFC North, has to begin. You stop the run you force the pass. You force the pass your pass rush has a shot at hurrying the QB. You hurry the QB your secondary can dominate and take the ball away. The problem for the Lions in run defense is on the whole, they're a little small. Notable exception is Grady Jackson who looks like he may have eaten one of the other smaller Defensive Tackles. He's 37 as well, his time in the NFL is short. This is presumably why the Lions thought to draft small school NT type Sammie Lee Hill out of Stillman College (where?) last year. For a rookie out of a small school there's genuine reason for excitment about him. Mayhew noted a distinct drop off in DL play when Hill was not in the game. That's big. He's big and his future impact could be much bigger as he adjusts to better players both around him and against him than he had at Stillman. I note with interest the Lions have also signed Colts 4th rounder from last year Terrance Taylor. Another big guy, shorter and stockier than Hill, he should help stuff the run when (if) he's in the game. It's tough to tell if he'll amount to much but he'll challenge a bunch of guys who have little to show for themselves over the first few years of their careers. Guys like Andre Fluellen and Landon Cohen. Whether Grady Jackson comes back is unsure at the moment. I guess at 37 retirement is always a possibility. At 37 and 345lbs it should probably be mandatory. That leaves the Lions with a promising sophomore player and a lot of question marks. This is why if Ndamukong Suh is available at pick #2 the Lions shouldn't waste a second in picking him. He'll instantly upgrade the entire defense and playing next to Hill Detroit might actually frighten a few opposing Offensive Lines and opposing RBs. But what if Suh goes #1 overall? Well obviously Gerald McCoy enters the fray. Some people rate him even higher than Suh so picking him at #2 makes sense. But the second overall pick costs a hell of a lot of money. Do franchises want to invest that in the second best DT? Quarterbacks and Left Tackles are popular picks and the top ones command contracts befitting a top 3 draft pick. So perhaps Detroit would look at Okung if Suh is gone and hope a top end DT falls to the second round? Unlike Left Tackles who you tend to find 4 or 5 gone inside the first 20 picks, DTs can spread a little further. After Suh and McCoy you have a collection of guys with questions but still lots of talent. Brian Price, Jared Odrick, Dan Williams and perhaps the most interesting prospect, Terrence Cody. A man mountain who looks soft and overweight but is unblockable when he plays at full effort and can be a genuine difference maker. His Senior Bowl weigh in has created a similar buzz to Andre Smith's moobs at the Combine in 2009, though Smith's stock didn't end up slipping much, Cody's might. So second round is a distinct possibility should they pass on Suh/McCoy with the #2. It wouldn't hurt to find another guy late on, like they did with Hill, who could play in a rotation too.

Defensive End
Major Need
Teams with a poor pass rush always struggle. The Lions had high hopes for second year man Cliff Avril. He disappointed. Following 5 sacks as a rookie double figures were, I'm sure, hoped for. He finished only half a sack better than 2008. When he came out I felt like Avril would be better suited to playing OLB in a 3-4 Defense rather than as a downlineman in a 4-3. Jury's still out on him and his role seemed to decrease to that of a 3rd down specialist at times during the year. By contrast Jason Hunter's role seemed to increase and he finished with 5 sacks too. 3 in the Lions last 3 games. I have a feeling both of these guys could be very handy in a DE rotation but neither's done a lot yet to convince me they can be amongst the top pass rushers in the league. Giving them more chances to chase a Qb would be nice though. Not enough 3rd and longs. DeWayne White was another disappointment and they lost Jared DeVries before the season even began. Julian Peterson ended up moving to DE on passing downs at times. He also finished with 5 sacks. The Lions desperately need to get a top end pass rusher from the DE position. I think Avril is too small to be in on first and second downs and no-one else whos much ability at all. This is not a great year for pass rushing DEs either. There is no doubt in my mind the addition of a Suh or McCoy would improve the existing pass rushers ability to get to the QB too but I can't see Detroit looking any earlier than round 2 for a pass rusher. Perhaps an Everson Griffen or a Greg Hardy? This is the problem when you have a lot of needs and not enough picks. You have to at some point sacrifice something and hope you can cover for it with other team's cast offs or improved play elsewhere. There are some options if the Lions were prepared to look outside. Most notable for me is the potential of Aaron Kampmann, he did ok in Green Bay's new 3-4 but there's no doubt i my mind he can still be a top end DE in a 4-3 and I would be surprised if he heads back to Green Bay. Detroit has seen firsthand over the years what Kampmann can do off the edge. I expect he wouldn't come cheap but there is something of a glut of DEs potentially hitting free agency this year including Julius Peppers, Adewale Ogunleye, Elvis Dumervil and Ray Edwards. Though the latter 2 are restricted free agents unless a new CBA is signed. With all that said, I can see the Lions just hoping for more from what they already have and addressing other problems first.

Linebackers Minimal Need
Ernie Sims, Julian Peterson, 2 time Superbowl winner Larry Foote and promising rookie DeAndre Levy? Linebacker is really a bright spot for the Lions. If the men in front of them could keep blockers off them better this could be amongst the eilte groups in the league. Larry Foote will test free agency but even if he comes back he could end up a backup. Levy could be ready to assume Foote's MLB role and he gives the Lions a guy much better in coverage than Foote too. Foote's a Detroit guy though and left the Steelers (who I must say, missed him in 2009) so he could play for his hometown team. He may be willing to come back in a part time role to remain in Detroit if he's unable to nail down a long term deal elsewhere. If he comes back he's excellent depth. Julian Peterson is still one of the better all round LBs in the league in that he'll make his tackles but he'll also get to the QB and drop into coverage. He is getting up there in years though. 32 by seasons start. There is also a possibility that the Lions won't eat his $7.5m salary this year. That's a lot of money but the Lions don't have a ton of talent so I'd expect them to keep Peterson, particularly if 2010 remains uncapped. Former second round pick Jordon Dizon has been a bust so far. He's small and very athletic, I don't see his role on the Lions D, at this point he's the 5th LB on the roster, with a possibility he'll be pushed lower during training camp. Zack Follett offers better size but he was only a 7th rounder and may not amount to anything ultimately. Using a draft pick is dependent on what happens with Foote and Peterson.

Cornerback Major Need
This one has ouch written all over it. Go back to the start of 2009 and you look at Anthony Henry allied to Phil Buchanon and figure they're gonna be pretty handy at CB. Fast forward and yeuch... In addition to poor play all through 2009 Anthony Henry is a free agent as well. Both Henry and Buchanon were benched at least once during the season and the only guy who really came out with any credit was unheralded Will James (also a free agent!). At this point in time it's hard to tell just who'll be back, it's tempting to clean house completely but the thing is, it's not like Buchanon and Henry lack talent, they've both performed well in the past. So this is a really tough call. Do they stick with what they have? A rookie CB is not likely to help much anyway. But it's clear that they need to draft someone at cornerback and bring them through. Free agent CBs are expensive and often highly over-rated (as they've found to their cost). I find it hard to see the Lions being able to use anything higher than their 3rd rounder on a CB. There's just too much to fix on the lines. And without pressure from up front a CB is dead in the water anyway. So what do you do if you're the Lions? They could do a lot worse than bring Will James back. He shouldn't be too pricey in the grand scheme of Cornerbacks. He should be able to be a stopgap. Buchanon is under contract but it's not like he's ever really lived up to expectation. Henry on the other hand may have struggled badly last year but he's been a ball hawk in years past. To make matters worse there's really not much underneath James and Buchanon either. With a lack of draft picks from recent years I think they're going to have to look both into free agency and the draft to paper over some cracks here.

Safety Major Need
Louis Delmas is one of several good looking draft picks from last year. There's Daniel Bullocks and Ko Simpson but both have been injury plagued. Bullocks has had microfracture surgery so you have to fear for his career at this point. Which is a shame, when he's been healthy he looked pretty promising but he's missed 2 full seasons in his short career. Not good. Ko Simpson, like Bullocks has missed major parts of 2 of his first 4 seasons to injury. He's a restricted free agent and the Lions may have to bring him back simply because of lack of numbers. Marquand Manuel played in parts too, he's a free agent and he's not exactly a world beater. This factors Eric Berry into discussions for the #2 pick. Especially if Suh goes #1. Berry allied to Delmas would give Detroit the best young safety combo in the league. Not to be sniffed at. I feel like Detroit really needs to address Safety, if they can keep Simpson healthy for a year he could do a decent job and let Delmas make some plays but again lack of depth says they could do with drafting a project Safety on day 2 with a view to that guy stepping into the starting lineup in 2011.

Specialists Major Need

There's no escaping the fact that Jason Hanson had a very disappointing season and it seems the Lions will bring in some competition for him. He's 39 now and whilst he's been a very good kicker in years past the NFL is very much a "what have you done for me lately" league. For Hanson, the answer is "not much". A late rounder on one of the best kicking prospects is a possibility. If they go that way you can probably expect the rookie to win the kicking job. On the punting side we have Nick Harris. A teenager by punting standards at 31, but he's a below average punter. I find it pretty doubtful the Lions would use draft picks on both a kicker and a punter, maybe one or the other and look for the best UDFA kid they can find for the other? Might depend on how many compensatory picks the Lions get. They'll probably have one of the last picks in the draft. There's are worse ways to spend your Mr Irrelevant picks than on specialists. I'm going to list this is a Major Need, both guys are serviceable but they're both, based on last year, borderline NFL footmen.

Return Game
Minimal Need
Aaron Brown, Derek Williams, Dennis Northcutt, Brian Witherspoon, Phil Buchanon. The Lions don't lack for options in the return game and between those guys I'm sure the Lions return game in 2010 is there somewhere. No-one stood out, no-one took one to the house (even though the Lions played Pittsburgh!) so there's huge room for improvement. There'll no doubt be a couple of people brought into camp with return skills too but if the Lions draft anyone with return ability it'll probably be a bonus skill.

Dream Day One

1.2 Ndamukong Suh DT Nebraska
2.34 Mike Iupati OG Idaho

Player Visits
To be updated

Last Edited: 02/07/2010

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