The Detroit Lions began the process of rebuilding in the middle of the 2008 season by firing general manager Matt Millen. Milen was replaced by Martin Mayhew and revamping the roster began immediately.
Mayhew traded WR Roy Williams and a pick to Dallas for a package of picks in the upcoming draft. The goal, according to Mayhew was to rebuild through the draft, primarily, while using free agency to fill holes with mid-level talent.
As a part of the roster overhaul, the Lions released, traded, or did not sign the following players that started or played significant minutes in 2008:
- QB Jon Kitna
- QB Dan Orlovsky
- DT Cory Redding
- WR Roy Williams
- RB Rudy Johnson
- CB Leigh Bodden
- WR Mike Furrey
- SS Dwight Smith
- CB Brian Kelly
- TE John Owens
- FB Moran Norris
- MLB Paris Lenon
- S Kalvin Pearson
There are other players that will not be with the team this season as well. The new additions in the offseason include many new faces that should be starting or making significant contributions.
The new faces are:
- DT Grady Jackson
- CB Philip Buchanon
- CB Anthony Henry
- CB Eric King
- OT Daniel Loper
- RB Maurice Morris
- WR Bryant Johnson
- SLB Julian Petersen
- LB Cody Spencer
The Lions are looking at replacing around one-third of the actively contributing roster. That is to say, of the guys that play significant time in each game, about 13 of them are gone. With nine new guys to replace them, that would in theory leave four holes.
For the Lions, the story is much different. An 0-16 football team has holes even when a starter is playing in that spot. When looking at the current roster, it is easy to pick up on solid holes.
- MLB: There is no true middle linebacker on the roster right now that is starting caliber.
- LG: Daniel Loper and Manny Ramirez could do, maybe, but then there is no solid depth along the line. Another guard or tackle is needed.
- SS: The current roster has CB and FS covered. A big physical strong safety is still a need.
- WR: A never-ending need, it seems, despite the high draft picks that have become a common Detroit joke. Really, though, the Lions need a slot guy this offseason.
- QB: Daunte Culpepper is a stopgap at best. Maybe he rebounds this year and gives you two or three decent seasons. Maybe he never gets it back. Either way, a QB to build around is needed.
Additionally the Lions have several spots that are more of a question.
- DE: DeWayne White is a good No. 2 end. Cliff Avril came on strong last year, but can he be the man? Cliff needs a seven-sack or better season and has to hold against the run to deserve the spot. Ikaika Alama-Francis could develop into a No. 3 option that may see more time against the run, due to his 283-lb. frame.
- TE: Michael Gaines isn't bad, but he doesn't appear to be special either. It is difficult to evaluate the TE spot based off of five different QBs throwing to them and a ridiculous play selection in 2008.
- DT: Julian Peterson said some nice things about Chuck Darby, but the fact remains that Darby was not good last year. Additionally, a rotational guy for Grady Jackson is needed, and it is hard to say if a young guy like Andre Fluellen can fill that void.
- KR: Maurice Morris is the most likely return man at this point, but he is far from explosive. A real weapon to help the field position would be a nice addition.
- Depth: The Lions are lacking in depth at every position. They have players now, but not young guys that are developing. Much of the depth is comprised of career backup players that have reached their peak.
Looking at the needs and the possibility of filling those needs, conventional wisdom says that they will have to let a need (or several needs) go until next season.
The only way the Lions can fill all the needs they have is by acquiring more players and picks. Very few free agents remain, so that is not a likely solution. The No. 1 pick in the draft is nearly impossible to trade. That means that the Lions will have to look to move both the No. 20 and the No. 33 picks down for more picks.
The No. 20 slot is worth a considerable amount. Ideally, we would see the Lions trading down a few places to Atlanta to secure Brandon Pettigrew or Peria Jerry. In exchange, the Lions would get the No. 24 pick as well as the No. 55 pick this year.
At the No. 33, spot the Lions would again want to make a small trade down. Miami could move up to select Larry English, Evander Hood, or Connor Barwin, and in turn give the Lions the No. 44 and No. 56 picks.
Based on the players available and the needs of Detroit, the No. 82 is another possible trade-down pick. Baltimore may move up to get a guy like Dannell Ellerbe or Darry Beckwith, sending the No. 88 and No. 123 to Detroit.
With the newly-acquired draft picks, draft day would look like this:
No. 1 Matthew Stafford QB Georgia
The kid has the tools and the brains. With Scott Linehan to teach him, he can be a real franchise guy if he's given a chance to succeed.
No. 24 James Laurinaitis MLB Ohio State
Laurinaitis has fallen from a Top 10 prospect to a potential second-round pick. The Lions need a MLB desperately and waiting to see how far he falls is not worth the risk. He's a starter from day one.
No. 44 Duke Robinson OG Oklahoma
Duke is talented enough to start at LG from day one and adds a punch to the Detroit ground game. He also adds the bulk the Lions say they are looking to add.
No. 55 William Moore SS Missouri
Once thought of as a first-round pick, Moore has slipped considerably. He has the physical tools to get the job done. He is big, fast, and strong. If he learns to play within himself, he could be really good.
No. 56 Lawrence Sidbury DE Richmond
A monster at the Combine, Sidbury outperformed and measured the top prospects in this year's draft. He is not the biggest need, but I feel he will be special.
No. 65 Chris Baker NT Hampton
Although he's listed as a nose tackle, he should be well-suited to play the position and spell Grady Jackson. He has a big frame and will be hard to move. More bulk up front, just like Mayhew wanted.
No. 88 Brandon Tate WR North Carolina
A dynamic playmaker, Tate's stock dropped considerably due to an injury. Tate has the speed and quickness to make guys pay. He is a great kick returner and a perfect fit in the slot.
No. 123 Asher Allen CB Georgia
The Lions had a good look at this kid while watching No. 1 overall pick Matt Stafford. He is intelligent and faster than expected. Allen has good instincts and could develop into a starter in time.
No. 161 Bear Pascoe TE Fresno State
Despite a down year, Pascoe has some solid tools and is worth a try at developing.
No. 179 Nick Reed ILB Oregon
Reed has good size at 6-feet-2-inches, 245 lbs., and had a solid year with over 100 tackles. He provides depth with size and production.
No. 193 Conredge Collins FB Pittsburgh
Collins is a good pass blocker and can catch out of the backfield. He could be used more on passing downs while Felton focuses on run downs.
Compensatory Pick: Ryan Delrosal OT Dixie
A small school prospect with good size and surprising speed.
With this new set of rookie players, the Lions would have a shot at filling all the holes, assuming all of the selections are good enough to remain on the team. If even just eight of the 12 picks listed can develop into something, then the Lions would at least be competitive in 2009 and have a solid youthful base to build on for the future.