The Lions looked like runaway favorites to win the NFC North in 2016 with a 9-4 record before turning into the Motor City Kitties and stumbling to 3 straight losses with a banged up Matthew Stafford under center. The team lost the NFC North Championship in Week 17 at home to the Green Bay Packers, snuck into the postseason as a Wild Card and was easily dismantled by Seattle 26-6.
Since the new league year started the Detroit Lions have definitely been a team on the prowl, looking to replace the 19 players they allowed to hit free agency, which included former Wisconsin Badgers and Milwaukee Vincent star LB DeAndre Levy (FA), WR Andre Roberts (Atlanta) and OT Riley Reiff (Minnesota). The Lions believe they have the roster to make a run, and with Matthew Stafford entering a contract year they made sure to make additions to help keep him upright, along with improving one of the league’s worst pass defenses by adding cornerback depth and interior pressure. While the team was able to fill in the loss of Calvin Johnson admirably, the losses of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were clearly evident throughout the season as the Lions had little interior pass rush to speak of. Entering the offseason GM Bob Quinn had $46 million of cap space, and as of today the Lions sit with $10.7 million of cap space remaining. Here are the off season signings the team has already made thus far:
OT-Ricky Wagner (previously with Baltimore, signed for 5 yrs./$47.5 million) – The best right tackle available in free agency left Baltimore to join and solidify the best offensive line in the NFC North and quite possibly one of the best in the NFL as a whole.
DT- Jordan Hill (Jaguars, terms not disclosed yet) – the former third-round pick by Seattle in 2013 has since bounced around to Washington and Jacksonville after having a solid 5.5 sack season with Seattle in 2014 and adds another solid interior pass rusher to compete behind starters Haloti Ngata and A’Shawn Robinson
DT- Akeem Spence (Buccaneers, 3 yrs/$10.5 million) – Spence, an unrestricted free agent, comes to Detroit after having started 30 of 56 games with Tampa Bay. He provides a solid rotational body to pair with Jordan Hill.
DE- Cornelius Washington (Bears, 2 yrs/$6 million) – the Lions might have stolen a rising stud pass rusher from divisional rival Chicago. While Washington didn’t fill the stat sheet, he is seen as an improving pass rushing threat who is entering the prime of his career. Washington was credited with disrupting the passer once every 7.7 attempts in 2016 and looks to team with Ziggy Ansah to form a formidable pass rush improvement in the Motor City.
CB- DJ Hayden (Raiders, $1 yr/$3.75 million) – Behind talented cornerbacks Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson, the depth at defensive back was weak going into the offseason. Hayden, the former 12th overall pick in 2013 out of Houston, looks to rejuvenate his career in a Detroit uniform. Slowed by injuries and inconsistency, the Raiders cut ties with Hayden. He brings the Lions an aggressive, competitive slot corner, if he can stay healthy.
OG- T.J. Lang (Packers, 3 yrs./$28.5 million) – The Pro-Bowl guard snatched from division rival Green Bay helps boost the Lions offensive line from good to great. Stafford will have plenty more time in the pocket in 2017 and bring about even more possibilities for Jim Bob Cooter and the offense.
TE- Darren Fells (Cardinals, 1 yr./$1.5 million) – Fells will play behind a talented, yet injury prone Eric Ebron. He’s an above average blocking tight end that comes to Detroit at a reasonable discount.
As for the draft, the Lions hold the 21st overall selection in the first round and have the opportunity to fill some depth roles more at positions than immediate needs. The Lions will look to bolster their weakest positional unit (cornerback) while also looking for some quality pass-rushers and linebackers.
Some possibilities for the Lions at the 21st pick are as follows:
DE- Charles Harris
(Missouri – 6’3” 253 lbs) – The Lions finished 2016 with only 26 sacks (ranked 30th in the NFL). Harris would help provide an immediate boost as he would primarily play end, but could also move inside to provide a force up the middle when needed. He didn’t stand out during testing at the combine, but he has a motor that doesn’t stop and finished with 9 sacks and two forced fumbles as a junior last year.
DE- Taco Charlton
(Michigan-6’6” 277 lbs) – Taco didn’t start full time until his senior season at Michigan. Has been regarded by scouts as being an ascending prospect who could pan out as an all pro or be a solid starter. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors finishing with 9.5 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. It’s hard to find athletic 6’6” edge rushers and Lions fans should be thrilled if Taco gets nabbed at pick 21, making the short move from Ann Arbor to Detroit.
LB- Haason Reddick
(Temple 6’1” 240 lbs) – Reddick had an excellent combine, which, paired with that with the fact he led the nation with 22.5 tackles for a loss in 2016, would make it very hard for the Lions to pass on him, especially after releasing former 2nd team All-Pro DeAndre Levy. Reddick is versatile and is looked at as a three down linebacker at the next level.
CB- Gareon Conley
(Ohio St. 6’0” 195 lbs) – Conley wasn’t getting much love until the combine (4.44 40 yd dash and 37.5” vertical), where Conley displayed his physical size, athletic ability and ball skills. Sometimes it can be tough to really stand out at an elite college program such as Ohio St., but come Sundays, Conley has the ability to make his mark. The fact that Conley can press guys and play tight man to man coverage is definitely a sought after attribute the Lions would look to acquire.
As for the rest of the draft look for the Lions to use a mid-round pick on a running back to compete with Ameer Abdullah, who has had an injury riddled start to his career, Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick, who aren’t your prototypical every down/lead back types. Also, look for them to snag a backup quarterback to groom in the event Stafford walks, since second-year unknown Jake Rudock is the backup quarterback right now. GM Bob Quinn and Head Coach Jim Caldwell definitely have done some things to spark interest in this Lions team and with a good draft the Lions will have the pieces in place to make a run with the Packers and Vikings for the NFC North crown.