At Some Point Soon, the Detroit Lions Will Be Damn Good
The Matt Patricia era for the Detroit Lions is over. That in itself is a reason to be optimistic if you’re a fan of the Lions. Before the draft both general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell were relative unknowns, having been a first time either has had that position. We knew that Holmes was a scouting director for the Rams, who have had successful drafts the last few years without first-round picks, so there was a belief he would be a successful bringer of talent to Detroit. However, Campbell was a complete unknown. All we knew was that Campbell had promised to bring toughness to this team, even if he had a bit of an unconventional way of saying so.
Toughness would be a way to describe the approach the Lions took to the 2021 NFL Draft. They went into the draft with a plan, knowing that they had a multi-year rebuild, and executed it well.
Building the Trenches
The old adage is that football teams are built in the trenches. It is clear that the new Lions front office believes in this as well, and that’s where they focused their early draft capital. In the first round, they selected LT Penei Sewell, who is considered by many a generational left tackle. They did this despite having options at receiver and quarterback, showing that they were focused on solidifying the offensive line in this draft. They have now completed the framework for what looks to be a young and promising line.
With the offensive line solidified, the Lions then turned to the defensive side of the ball. With Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara on multi-year deals, the defensive end positions were locked up for the team. However, they needed help on the interior of the defensive line. Earlier in the offseason, they traded for Rams DT Michael Brockers, but they continued to build their depth. In the second round, they took DT Levi Onwuzurike. They followed it up by taking NT Alim McNeill in the third round. With these additions, along with former fourth-round pick Da’Shawn Hand, the Lions have built a solid rotation for the interior of their defensive line. With Flowers and Okwara on the edge, and linebacker Jamie Collins having pass-rush upside, the Lions have filled out their depth on the defensive line.
Building Around a Quarterback
The Lions currently have Jared Goff starting at quarterback. It is clear he won’t be the long-term answer at quarterback, but the Lions aren’t rushing to find their franchise quarterback. Instead, they want to fill out the rest of the team before they draft a quarterback early. The logic makes sense, after all. Instead of drafting a quarterback such as Fields this year and having him suffer from a below-average roster around him, they can first build the team, and then give a rookie quarterback the best chance for immediate success.
To do this, the Lions first worked on building the trenches, as we already saw. The rest of the defense, however, was the next need. So with their second third-round pick, the Lions selected cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu. He will be a nice addition to the cornerback room which already includes last year’s third overall pick, Jeff Okudah, and free agent Quinton Dunbar. Dunbar had an injury-marred season with the Seahawks in 2020, but in 2019 he graded out as the second-best cornerback in the league per PFF. And while Okudah had a rocky first season, a lot of that could possibly be explained by former head coach Matt Patricia. In fact, Okudah seems to think the same, from a quote he told reporters on Thursday.
Just sitting down with them, within the first couple meetings I was picking up so much things that I thought to myself, like, it would have just been nice to have these tools in my toolbox going into my rookie year,Jeff Okudah
The defense is by no means complete, with many questions at the linebacker and safety positions. But this is a long-term rebuild, and the front office is committed to it. And so far, the product that they are projected to put on the field next season should be miles better than last year when the Lions gave up 519 points, the most in the NFL.
Trust the Process
The Lions won’t be good in 2021. But the goal of the new regime was never to win in 2021. This regime is committed to long-term success, and to do so they are taking the rebuild methodically. It has already been a successful offseason in terms of this. By solidifying the trenches and adding cornerback depth, the Lions have already made their team better. Look for them to focus on the receiving core, which is currently headlined by Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams, next. And once they fill out the rest of their defense, only then will they look for a quarterback.
Goff will be good enough to keep the offense afloat for the next two years as the Lions fill out their team. Look for the Lions to draft their successor in 2022 or 23. By then we will have an idea of how well the rebuild has progressed. And if it goes to plan, the Lions should finally have hope. After suffering through three years of Matt Patricia, Lions fans finally have something to look forward to. Patricia did a great job of stripping down a roster he was supposed to take to the next level. However, it may have been worth it. Holmes and Campbell now have a blueprint to give Lions the long-term success that they have been craving for decades. The key is to just be patient with them.