State of the NFC North: The Detroit Lions

Nov 15, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah (30) before the game against the Washington Football Team at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With free agency dying down, now is time to take stock of where each team in the division stands. This article will be part one of a four-part series where we will look at where each team in the NFC North stands in terms of roster build and how their outlook for the future looks. The Detroit Lions finished last in the NFC North in 2020, with a 5-11 record. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

The Detroit Lions don’t have many strongholds on their roster right now. With the front office cleaned out after 2020, this is looking to be year one of a rebuild under new head coach Dan Campbell. The Lions do, however, have some talent on the offensive side of the ball. Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker are the centerpieces to an above-average offensive line. TJ Hockenson and D’Andre Swift are young skill position players that look to have bright futures. On the defensive side of the ball, Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara are a solid pass-rushing duo. This team is not devoid of talent, but the new management still has much work ahead.

The Lions do have a lot of weaknesses elsewhere, though. Jared Goff is not a long-term solution at quarterback, and Tyrell Williams is their number one receiver. These are two of the most critical positions on offense and must get addressed as soon as possible. The defense last year was also abysmal, especially on the back end. The secondary needs renovation, but there is hope that Jeff Okudah can take a step forward. Tracy Walker also has shown glimpses of talent and could be in a position for a bounceback year. This roster has some talent but has more holes that need to get filled. 

Draft Outlook

In a way, the Lions are in good shape heading into the draft. With so many roster holes, they don’t need to have a tunnel vision for who they end up selecting. If they draft the best player available at each pick, they will be filling out many needs. With the #7 overall pick, there will be plenty of talent for the Lions to draft. It’s unlikely, but if a quarterback such as Justin Fields or Trey Lance is available at the 7th overall pick, the Lions will select them without much hesitation. In the scenario that doesn’t happen, however, there isn’t a need to despair. It is a loaded receiver class with prospects such as Devonta Smith or Jaylen Waddle who may be available. If the Lions want to focus on defense, there is a ton of talent at cornerback and linebacker. Players such as Patrick Surtain II, Jaycee Horn, Micah Parsons, or Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, should all be there for the Lions to grab. 

No matter who the Lions draft in the first round, they should get great value. Brad Holmes is also a general manager that understands how the draft works. As a college scouting director for the Rams, he was able to find middle to late-round value picks to help build the Rams roster, despite them not having a first-round pick since 2016. Holmes likely played a crucial role in the Rams drafting players such as Cooper Kupp, Cam Akers, John Johnson, and Tyler Higbee, who have all been key players for the Rams over the last couple of seasons. Lions fans should be excited to see what he will do in the draft this year, especially as there is no pressure for him to draft for need. 

2021 Season Expectations

This team is in year one of a long-term rebuild. With no quarterback of the future at the moment, there should be no expectations for this team to be seriously competing in 2021. But keep an eye on the young talent the Lions will draft and have drafted the past few seasons. Strong play from the young nucleus of players the Lions are creating will be an indicator of the rebuild heading in the right direction. If all things go right, the Lions should be ready to contend for an NFC North title in 3-4 years. Until then, Lions fans should enjoy watching their young players develop. And if they can hit on quarterback, they might be a serious contender even quicker than that timeline.