Midway through the season, I was adamant about the Lions drafting interior linemen in the upcoming draft. However, since the secondary debacle that started at Lambeau and ended in the Big Easy, I’ve teetered back and forth whether Detroit should indeed address their line concerns in the draft or look at prospects that can make a stop when it really counts. After much consideration, I’ve made up my mind. However, before we get to that, one must consider all options. Before you bash me for my final decision, please consider the following.
I can hear it already: “Go after Courtland Finnegan”, or “Go after Brandon Carr”, or “Go after (Insert Big Name Free Agent )”. The problem with big name free agents is that they also want big contracts. Why is this a problem? Well, with Megatron establishing himself as the Master of the Universe, he has set himself up to cash in on a “Fitzgerald-esque” contract. (Thanks Larry) Also, Stephen Tulloch has just completed a productive one year contract, and Pro-Bowl snub Cliff Avril is also looking to cash in on his big season. With these and other contacts to fill, there’s only so much dough to go around. Let’s not forget that Matt Stafford had to re-structure his contract to help the team out financially during the off-season. Which brings us back to the draft. With the new CBA, combined with the Lions not having to pick in the top ten, we should be able to find reasonable talent without breaking the bank. So the big question: Who do we draft?
A Case for Linemen:
With Jeff Backus at age 34, and Dominic Raiola at age 33, the two most important components of the offensive line are way past their prime. Gosder Cherlius has been as consistent as the stock market since the year he was drafted. On top of turning 30 before the next season, Stephen Peterman has battled injuries since arriving in Motown. Rob Sims has been the only competent lineman since arriving from the great northwest, yet at age 28, he’s no spring chicken either.
Combined, the Lions have the most experienced o-line in the league at 523 starts between the five of them. (The next closest team is the Giants at 496). However, they allow the 12th most hits on the QB, 16th most sacks, and have the 4th worst rushing attack. For a line to have that much experience, I’d expect a lot more.
The unit as a whole isn’t atrocious but, it isn’t a strength either. It’s not that the Lions brass hasn’t addressed the o-line; it’s just that they haven’t put as much emphasis on it as they have other positions. When you consider mid to late round picks addressing any positional group, you’re in trouble. It’s been a patchwork system that is falling apart. Infusing youth and talent along the offensive front would go a long way to keeping Stafford upright and more importantly, would set the foundation for a running game. Could you imagine the offense with a decent rushing attack? SCARY GOOD
A Case for Cornerbacks:
No disrespect to Matt Flynn, but when you’re heading to the playoffs and a backup QB shreds your starting secondary to the tune of 480 yards and 6 touchdowns, something is just not right. A decent 250 to 300 yards is digestible but, 400+ is straight up ridiculous. People will defend the secondary saying that it was banged up. Well, then there’s no excuse for the outing against the Saints. All starters were healthy but simply did not perform when it came down to it.
The secondary looked lost and confused at times. Let’s be honest, nobody expected the secondary to be out of this world good when the season began. Much of the success enjoyed by the secondary was directly attributed to the ability of the d-line to collapse the pocket. The inability to get to Drew Brees exposed the Lions secondary for what they really were, mediocre to average at best.
Much like the o-line, the Lions front office has chosen to do a patchwork job of putting together role players in the secondary. Since taking over, Mayhew and Schwartz have only taken one Cornerback in the first three rounds (Amari Spievey). Spievey; however, was converted to Safety so a total of zero draft picks have been used to address the Corner position. In fact, the last time the Lions took a corner in the first two rounds was Terry Fair back in 1998. Although, I liked the moves to acquire Houston, Wright, and Smith; sometimes, you need to stop patching the leak and just change the whole pipe.
Houston and company are nice role players but, at this point, you gotta spend some to get some. With the league going pass happy and elite receivers like Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, and Julio Jones coming out more frequently, a legitimate shutdown corner is almost a requirement these days. Can you imagine a shutdown secondary to complement the d-line? SCARY GOOD
So without further ado, here is my unofficial 2012 Detroit Lions Mock offseason…
1) Re-sign Cliff Avril. He’s earned it. With all the talk of Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, Avril quietly put together one of the best seasons in the NFL. He was 2nd in the league/1st among DE in forced fumbles, tied for 11th in the league/5th among DE in sacks, and came up with an INT for TD. He may not be elite…yet, but he’s only 25 and has improved each season. He gave the Lions a break by signing the one year tender, now it’s time for the Lions to show him some love. He’s already expressed his desire to remain in Detroit but money talks. This is how a mid-round pick is supposed to turn out.
2) Franchise Tulloch. He will not like it but the number one priority will be to clear enough room for Megatron when talks begin. The question is: Who do you like better? Tulloch or Avril? Basically I like the fact that Avril is younger, has paid his dues in Detroit, and has improved each year. There’s only so much dough to go around. Unless the players agree to take pay cuts, there will be salary cap casualties. I like Tulloch but he becomes my number one priority only after Johnson is resigned. If Tulloch is franchised, he will be 28 and ready to sign one last long term contract. The Lions can deal with that bridge when they get there. If he decides to sign elsewhere, the Lions can always revert back to Levy or draft a player in next year’s draft.
I teetered back and forth for the longest time but I feel Konz is the best bang for your buck prospect. He is hands down the top center prospect in the draft. Let me first state why I went o-line over corner in the first round.
In my opinion, there are 7 starting caliber Corners in the upcoming draft (Morris Claiborne, Dre Kirkpatrick, Alfonzo Dennard, Janoris Jenkins, Chase Minnefield, Jayron Hosley, and Stephon Gilmore) There are also a number of big name Corners hitting free agency this year (Courtland Finnegan, Brandon Carr, Carlos Rogers, and Brent Grimes) Between free agency and the draft, there are at least 11 players that look like legitimate starters. Of the 7 draftees, maybe 3 look like they have elite potential. By the time the Lions pick near the end of the first round, the elite corner prospects should be off the Board. Unless the Lions reach for the elite corners earlier in the draft, they will not be able to land one.
We’ve all heard Schwartz’s theory of drafting the best player available. This is where Konz comes in. If he is available at this point in the draft, he will be the best player available. In comparing three separate mock drafts Konz figured to go anywhere between the 28th and 50th pick. If this is truly the case (I don’t think so) the Lions could actually trade down and acquire additional picks. Acquiring additional picks could be key for Detroit. With guys like Levy, Delmas, Suh, and Stafford all looking to cash in over the next few years, it could be prudent to stock up on developmental talent before those players hit their prime and start demanding the big bucks.
The great thing about Konz is he immediately fills a great need in the middle of the line. Konz will be a staple on the o-line for the next decade. He should be ready to play right out of the gate, but he will also have the luxury of studying under Dominic Raiola for a year or two. If necessary, the lions can line Konz up next to Raiola for a year before taking over. The knock on Raiola has always been his lack of bulk. However, he is one of the smartest Centers in the league. Allowing Konz to be tutored by Raiola could pay major dividends in the future. Konz‘s physical tools paired with Raiola’s mentoring could be the start of a hall of fame career.
Other Possibilities: Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State; Alfonzo Dennard, CB, Nebraska
Surprise Pick: Vontaze Burfict, ILB, Arizona State
After Morris Claiborne and Dre Kirkpatrick, the CB rankings get kind of jumbled. Chase Minnifield, Janoris Jenkins, Jayron Hosely, and Alfonzo Dennard go anywhere from mid-first round grades to late second round pickups. At this point, it really depends on preference.
Stephen Gilmore has seen his stock rise and fall throughout the season. When comparing him among the three mock drafts, he went as high as pick 34 to as low as pick 66, yet in other mock drafts, I’ve seen him as high as a mid-first rounder. His pro day and combine workouts will play heavily on his draft position. However, according to the three mock draft average, he currently hovers around pick 47. A perfect spot for the Lions to jump up and nab him. Claiborne and Kirkpatrick may be the consensus best CB’s in the draft. However, Gilmore has the tools to be just as good if not better than either of them.
Other Possibilities: Andrew Datko, OT, Florida State; Ben Jones, C, Georgia
Surprise Pick: Lamichael James, RB, Oregon
Similar to Sammie Lee Hill in the 2009 draft, Johnson is a small school prospect with huge physical tools. At 6’-2”, 205 lbs, and a 4.5 40-yard dash, Johnson is the perfect developmental player. Questions always arise with small school prospects. However, with small school standouts like Joe Flacco, Brent Grimes, Miles Austin, and Ladarius Webb leading the way, the stigma of small programs not producing quality talent is slowly being erased.
Some will say this is a bit of a reach but, I have a feeling that once the combine rolls around, he will shoot up draft boards. With the string of injuries to the secondary this past season, any additional depth would be more than welcomed. With Johnson’s size and speed enabling him to play multiple positions in the back seven, this pick has Schwartz written all over it.
Other Possibilities: Kevin Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin; Cam Johnson, DE, Virginia
Surprise Pick: Marvin McNutt, WR, Iowa
Coming into the 2011 season, Reynolds was regarded as a late-first round/early second round talent. However, due to a disappointing season, his draft stock plummeted. He actually reminds me a lot of Jeff Backus. He is fundamentally sound but a bit undersized for the position. He has the capability to play Tackle but may eventually be moved in to play Guard. With Reynolds, you get a high character guy with a solid skill set. He will fill the role Fox was never able to.
Other Possibilities: Cliff Harris, CB, Oregon; Lucas Nix, OT/OG, Pitt
Surprise Pick: Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami
If the mock offseason goes the way I had outlined, Detroit will have addressed their Center for the next decade, a potential franchise Corner, either a starting Safety or number 2 Corner, and a left Tackle while also securing a pass rusher and franchise superstar for the long haul. This does not even include free agent signings, and draft picks 5 through 7. Let the debate begin. Let me know what you think. How would you handle the offseason?