The Detroit Lions weren't exactly movers and shakers this offseason. They weren't major players in the free-agent market and there were no trades made. They returned 21 out of 22 starters, so they really had no reason to make any big moves.
With that said, Lions GM Martin Mayhew did make some under-the-radar moves that could pay huge dividends, even if they failed to make front-page news.
Of course, when talking about additions one can't overlook the Lions' haul from the 2012 NFL draft. They brought in eight rookies who could take on big roles this season.
Training camp hasn't started yet, so it's impossible to determine what the final roster will look like. Nevertheless, here are some early predictions for which new Lions will have the biggest impacts this season.
By now, everyone probably knows Joique Bell's pedigree. He was an elite Division II rusher at Wayne State—gaining over 2,000 yards two out of four years—but didn't get drafted in 2010. He's bounced around the NFL and hasn't made an impact on any team, usually landing on practice squads.
He made an impression on Jim Schwartz at the Senior Bowl, though. When the Lions had a chance to sign him away from New Orleans, they jumped at it.
He's now part of a crowded Lions backfield, fighting for a job as he's done every year. He will likely be behind Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith on the depth chart.
But with their injury histories, seeing Bell on the field isn't hard to imagine. He's a tough runner similar to Leshoure, capable of breaking tackles and pushing the pile in goal-line situations (cbssports.com).
Bell could be a godsend should the Lions run into injury problems again. They won't be left scrambling should one or two rushers go down.
Fans will get a chance to see what he can do this preseason, and the security he will bring to the running game might be his biggest impact.
It shouldn't surprise anyone if he gets regular playing time on Sundays, though.
I'll be the first to admit that Patrick Edwards is no lock to make the Detroit Lions' active roster. As an undrafted free-agent wide receiver, making an impact in a group with Calvin Johnson, Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles is no easy task.
In fact, it's impossible. Edwards has no chance of unseating any of those four players.
Needless to say, he has been impressive so far in practice. Edwards has top-level speed and quickness, and according to MLive.com, he's surprised Lions' coaches and players with his abilities.
Here's what Megatron had to say about the rookie:
"Dude is incredibly fast, incredibly quick [...]. If he can just keep everything under control ... He's already incredible in and out of his routes. I just look forward to seeing him grow with us, or wherever it may be."
Coming from the Lions' Pro Bowler, that is some high praise.
Edwards does have the talent and potential to make the active roster, and the Lions will utilize his skills as a punt/kickoff returner. According to CBS Sports, there's been mention of Titus Young being used in this role as well, but Edwards makes more sense.
Why risk the wear and tear on Young who is a key piece of the Lions' offense?
The addition of Edwards would mean that Stefan Logan's days in Detroit would be over, but that's been a foregone conclusion for some time. Edwards could be an upgrade based on Logan's pedestrian return numbers last season.
All arrows point toward Edwards being on the final roster. If so, he'll bolster the floundering return game and break off some highlight-reel runs along the way.
Jacob Lacey was an undrafted free agent in 2009 for the Indianapolis Colts but quickly made an impression. He started nine games his rookie year and recorded three interceptions—one he returned for a touchdown.
He went on to start 18 games over the next two seasons and was solid but not spectacular. Towards the end of 2011, he was benched due to performance issues. According to Pro Football Talk's Josh Alper, he had a high burn rate.
That's in the past and he probably won't be in a position to get "burned" all that often with the Lions.
They signed him in May and he won't challenge Aaron Berry for the starting outside cornerback position. They plan on playing to Lacey's strengths and using him in the slot.
He's a superb tackler and plays well against the run. If he can upgrade this position, the Lions will benefit greatly given their own "high burn rate" against the run last season.
Here's what Martin Mayhew had to say about Lacey courtesy of MLive.com:
"I just like the way the guy plays. He's very physical; a really good zone defender; has been a starter; has started in big games; has made plays in big situations. We think he has a chance to come in and compete to start for us."
Playing underneath will also give Lacey a chance to use his blazing speed—4.4 40-time—to blitz the quarterback and, if he should get his hands on an interception, run one back for a score.
The Lions drafted Dwight Bentley in the third round, and many would like to see him start in the slot. Lacey's got the edge, though. It's no knock against Bentley; he's a good player and he's got a great future with Detroit. But Lacey's in his fourth year and is simply a more polished NFL player.
Bentley's selection might have gotten more headlines, but Lacey will have the most impact this year.
Ryan Broyles' talent is unquestionable. He reminded ex-Colt and current Oklahoma Sooner receivers coach Jay Norvell of former Colt Marvin Harrison (Detroit Free Press). The Lions have said that Broyles is a faster version of Wes Welker (cbssports.com).
Those are certainly high expectations. Especially since Broyles is only six months removed from a serious ACL tear and hasn't played a down of NFL football yet.
The high expectations are warranted, though. He would have been the first or second receiver taken in the draft if not for the injury, and he was highly underrated. Despite the angst in Detroit, he was a steal in the second round.
The Lions are expecting him to be ready to participate fully by training camp. He participated in most of OTAs earlier this month and showed no ill effects from the injury. At this point, there's no reason to think he won't be active when the pads go on.
With Broyles healthy, the Lions have the deepest receiving unit they've had in years—perhaps ever. That's a scary thought given their dominance in the passing game last season.
He will only bolster this unit's effectiveness. He's a highly skilled route-runner and pass-catcher and he'll make his living finding seams and open spaces out of the slot. He might take snaps away from Nate Burleson, but that was bound to happen sooner or later.
Burleson is a very good player and a great leader for the Lions but he's a bargain for them this year.
In 2013, his cap hit is nearly $6 million and it's nearly $7 million the following year. Detroit will give Broyles every opportunity to demonstrate he can take over for him. If so, the Lions would likely move Burleson before his cost becomes prohibitive.
With this in mind, Lions fans will get a healthy dose of Broyles this year. He'll make a major impact in the passing game and will be an upgrade to Burleson.
When the Lions added Riley Reiff with their first-round selection in the 2012 NFL draft, they addressed arguably their biggest need: upgrading the offensive line and getting a legitimate replacement for Jeff Backus.
Reiff will not replace Backus this year. All indications are that Backus is fully recovered from the biceps tear he suffered in New Orleans, and he still has enough left in the tank for one or two more quality years.
With that said, if the Lions needed to replace him, they could. Having that luxury is huge. If Backus gets injured, look for Reiff to be his replacement, and he won't be much of a downgrade.
The plan is for Reiff to have a year or so to develop before inheriting the left tackle duties. He won't be sitting on the bench, though, in the meantime. He will be used early and often and is particularly good at run-blocking.
With Mikel Leshoure finally active, the Lions will be running more plays between the tackles and will need quality blockers to move defenders off the line of scrimmage. Reiff excels at this and will take time away from either Gosder Cherilus or Stephen Peterman.
He'll have a major impact and be a big part of the Lions' improved rushing attack in 2012.