Oh, Look. The Lions are Rebuilding.
It’s no secret that the 2020 Detroit Lions were not a pretty sight to behold. The Matt Patricia experiment backfired immensely, and the Lions are now at their lowest point since 2012. A complete overhaul of the team has happened, and Lions fans are back to wondering just how long it will take for them to get their first playoff win since 1991.
By trading away Matthew Stafford and cleaning out the front office, the Lions have made it clear that they are starting over. There is no quick fix either. With players such as Darius Slay, Kenny Golladay, and Stafford all recently leaving the team, this is a roster that is devoid of talent.
The question is, where do the Lions begin to rebuild?
If GM Brad Holmes and Head Coach Dan Campbell want to rebuild this roster, they must get this decision right. Over the past decade, we have seen many teams successfully build around cheap rookie quarterbacks. The Lions are likely following suit. Jared Goff is a good stopgap player to keep them mildly competitive, but if the Lions want to be a serious contender, they will have to build around a rookie who won’t have a 25 million dollar cap hit.
They have a couple of options. This draft is top-heavy at the QB position, and with the 7th overall pick, one of the top 4 quarterbacks may fall to the Lions. If that is the case, the Lions will have their guy to build around. He may not start this season, as the Lions could roll with Goff while having their QB sit and learn from him and then transition to the rookie in his sophomore season. However, a quarterback might not fall to them. If this is the case, the Lions can tank in 2021.
With a high pick in the 2022 draft, the Lions can find their quarterback of the future. With the first-round picks they have received from the Rams, they can then infuse talent into their roster. We must, however, trust that the Lions nail their quarterback selection. If not, they may be looking like their division foe who missed on a quarterback in the 2017 draft.
Once the quarterback position is solidified, the next step should be to surround him with as much talent as possible on offense. Firstly, they must make sure their offensive line is good enough to keep their quarterback safe. PFF ranked the Lions offensive line as 13th this year, behind stellar play from center Frank Ragnow and left tackle Taylor Decker. With improvement from 2020 rookie Jonah Jackson, this could turn out to be a solid unit, capable of making sure the Lions young quarterback does not meet the fate Joe Burrow did this year for the Bengals.
The Lions skill position players, however, are not in good shape currently. TJ Hockenson is the bright spot of this group, coming off a stellar 2020 where he was graded out as the 11th best TE according to PFF with a 75.4 grade. As he continues to improve, he could soon see himself in the conversation of the best tight ends in the league. However, the rest of the Lions’ receiving core is not pretty. Star receiver Kenny Golladay left for the Giants in free agency last week, while Marvin Jones left for the Jaguars.
Their current WR corps consists of Tyrell Williams, Geronimo Allison, and Breshad Perriman. They must attack this position heavily over the next couple of drafts, or else they will be setting themselves up for failure by not giving their quarterback the best chance to succeed in the league. At running back, the Lions have Kerryon Johnson, D’Andre Swift, and Jamaal Williams. This should be a solid group for now, especially if Swift continues to develop as a player.
The Lions could also spend some more late-round picks here to bring in some more talent. The Lions have some work to do on offense, but it should be more easily fixable than their…
This side of the team is where things get ugly. Matt Patricia’s defense in 2020 was abysmal. There are many stats out there that could show just how bad the defense was. But this chart of the worst defenses via EPA/play is probably the most enlightening.
For someone who was brought in as a defensive-minded head coach, Matt Patricia did a truly awful job running this defense. And if the Lions want any chance at being successful, they have to find a way to get talent onto their roster. Their #3 overall pick last year, cornerback Jeff Okudah posted a 42.5 PFF grade, which was good enough for 115th out of 121 eligible corners. Outside of Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara, the Lions were missing out on talented players. It’s possible that with better coaching, they could see improvements from Okudah, as well as other players such as Tracy Walker and Jamie Collins.
The Lions also recently traded for Rams interior lineman Michael Brockers. The Lions don’t need an elite defense. But to be successful, they must be above average. And for that, they need to have a couple of successful drafts in a row where they can focus on adding talent to this defense, along with the expected improvements in coaching that the new staff should bring.
If the Lions can nail all three things mentioned here, we just might see the Lions becoming relevant once more.