Showcasing Biggest Strengths and Draft Needs of Detroit Lions
The 2012 season was one to forget for the Detroit Lions. For Jim Schwartz's struggling club, which lost its last eight games, 2013 couldn't come soon enough.
Pass-heavy Detroit was doomed from the very beginning, it seemed, after a 1-3 start had the Lions fighting an uphill battle all year long. After winning three of its next four, Detroit looked ready to contend. However, the second half of the season produced zero wins and eight losses for the Lions, as they enter the offseason with more questions than answers after a dismal 4-12 campaign.
One of the league's most disappointing teams this past season, and arguably the most undisciplined, the Detroit Lions will need to target a few high-character players in the 2013 NFL draft in order to adjust the culture in the Motor City.
With Detroit's offseason having already begun, let's take a closer look at some of the Lions' biggest strengths and what positions they need to address through the draft this coming April to turn things around.
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Only Drew Brees threw for more yards this season than Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, but then again, no quarterback (not even Brees) attempted as many passes as Stafford in 2012, who finished the year with a ridiculous 727 attempts (that's 175 more passes than Aaron Rodgers attempted).
Despite the incredible lack of balance from Detroit's offense, Stafford has proven to be a capable NFL passer, throwing for more than 10,000 yards and 61 touchdowns combined over the last two seasons. Plus, he's under contract with the Lions through the 2015 season.
Therefore, Detroit doesn't need to target a quarterback this spring, unless it is looking for a solid backup in the later rounds.
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The Lions certainly have potential at running back with Mikel Leshoure (215 carries, 798 rushing yards and nine touchdowns in 2012) set to return in 2013, but that shouldn't stop them from going after a talented back early in the 2013 NFL draft.
Jahvid Best's future remains up in the air because of his concussion issues. Plus Joique Bell and Kevin Smith are both free agents this offseason. Bell averaged five yards per carry in 2012, but only had 82 attempts.
Leshoure will be the likely starter come Week 1 in 2013, but it would be nothing short of stunning if Detroit didn't look to bolster its running back corps through the draft.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
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The Lions have the best wide receiver in football in Calvin Johnson (who now holds the NFL record for most receiving yards in a season with 1,964), and he's under contract until 2020, which means that they will have a go-to guy on the outside for years go come.
Unfortunately, Detroit must still find another strong wideout to pair with Johnson on the outside. Titus Young looked to be that player before falling victim to countless disciplinary issues this past season. Young was asked to stay away from the team's facility three times in 2012, but according to CBS Sports' John Kreger, Young could be back with Detroit in 2013.
If the Lions are willing to take a gamble on Young, then perhaps they can focus their attention to other areas on draft day. Otherwise, they need to target a No. 2 wide receiver this spring.
As far as tight ends are concerned, Detroit has two solid options in Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler. Both Pettigrew and Scheffler surpassed 500 yards receiving last season and are set to return to the team in 2013.
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Detroit's offensive line wasn't the reason for the Lions' struggles in 2012.
Center Dominic Raiola and company ranked first in the league in adjusted sack rate (pass blocking) and a respectable 15th in adjusted line yards (run blocking) this past season, according to Football Outsiders.
Raiola will be back at center for Detroit next season, joining the rest of the Lions' starting offensive line. Right and left guards Stephen Peterman and Rob Sims, as well as right and left tackles Gosder Cherilus and Jeff Backus, are signed through next season or beyond.
With both Raiola and Backus in their mid-30s, though, it may be wise for Detroit to look to the future this offseason, perhaps acquiring a talented young center or blindside protector to replace either Raiola and/or Backus, as both of their contracts expire after next season.
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Detroit has two young superstars on its defensive line in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, yet the Lions ranked 20th in sacks last season, recording just 34 in 16 games, and 16th against the run, surrendering 118 yards on the ground per game.
The Lions will have to make a move on defensive end Cliff Avril (9.5 sacks in 2012), who is a free agent this offseason. On the other side of the D-line, fellow defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch is under contract through next season, but will turn 35 this year, meaning that his best days are likely behind him.
With two young talents at the defensive tackle spots anchoring their 4-3 defense, the Lions will need to address their defensive end issues in order to guarantee success on the D-line in 2013.
Detroit should definitely look at a few defensive ends in the draft this April, especially considering how many great ones will be available.
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Starting outside linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy, Detroit's second- and third-leading tacklers respectively this past season, are both free agents, meaning that Stephen Tulloch is the only solid 2012 starting linebacker who's a lock to return in 2013.
It's possible that the Lions will look to re-sign both players, but if not they should look to draft some fresh new faces at outside linebacker.
Durant and Levy have proven to be sure tacklers and capable defenders, but Detroit may be interested in acquiring a player or two with more upside at the position.
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The Lions weren't terrible defending the pass in 2012, ranking 14th in passing yards allowed, but they rarely made big plays in the secondary. Detroit forced just 11 interceptions all of last season, ranking 23rd in the NFL in that category.
As far as their cornerbacks are concerned, the Lions will need to decide on Chris Houston, who is a free agent and has been with the franchise since 2010. On the other side of the field, Drayton Florence will return, but he's 32 years old and not getting any younger.
At the safety spot, the Lions have some work to do as well. Both Don Carey and Louis Delmas are free agents this offseason. Detroit has plenty of options here, though. It could opt to re-sign just one and perhaps target a young safety in the draft, re-sign both or look to free agency to sign a veteran or two.
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The Lions will need to make some moves this offseason in order to shore up their special teams.
Veteran kicker Jason Hanson, who connected on 32-of-36 field goals in 2012, will be a free agent this offseason, as will punter Nick Harris, who averaged just 41.5 yards per boot last season (dead last in the NFL among qualified punters).
Hanson will turn 43 this coming June, however, which means Detroit would probably be best suited to let him walk and instead draft a stud kicker in the later rounds this spring. Harris' poor production also means that the Lions will need to bring in a punter, preferably a veteran free agent.
Return man Stefan Logan, who will be a free agent as well this offseason, ranked just 23rd among qualified kick returners last season, averaging 21.3 yards per run back. Logan also ranked 16th among qualified punt returners in 2012, averaging 9.1 yards per return.
Clearly, Logan wasn't overly impressive last season, which means that Detroit could very well look elsewhere for a return man in 2013, perhaps the 2013 NFL draft.
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