The Biggest Needs the Detroit Lions Still Must Address After 2013 NFL Draft
In terms of addressing needs, the Detroit Lions hit a home run in the 2013 NFL draft. That might surprise fans who are all too familiar with general manager Martin Mayhew's proclivity for drafting the best player available, regardless of positional needs.
Mayhew would never admit he swayed from his stubborn philosophy, but he doesn't have to. It's obvious.
Defensive end, cornerback, offensive guard, wide receiver, punter (groan). One could argue the talent of these selections all day, but one cannot argue that each of them filled a positional void.
Yet the Lions are not done. They didn't fill all their holes in the draft.
Here are the Lions' biggest needs remaining after the NFL draft.
5. Strong-Side Linebacker
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Ashlee Palmer appears to be the Lions' choice to replace Justin Durant as their strong-side linebacker this year.
Palmer has been a special-teams stalwart for the Lions for three years, but nothing more. He started two games at linebacker last season, but no one should feel safe with him penciled in as the starter this year. Until he proves his ability, he's a downgrade from Durant.
Unfortunately, the Lions don't have anyone that's more proven than Palmer. Second-year players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis didn't play a snap at linebacker last year.
The Lions found themselves in a similar situation last year at safety. They decided to start John Wendling, another special teams ace, because he had a great preseason and appeared ready to assume the starting role.
He was overmatched and the experiment only lasted three games, and it could be the same story with Palmer. He is an adequate fill-in, but there is no indication he's suited to be a starter.
If the Lions can't at least replicate Durant's production this season, with Palmer or someone else, they will be in big trouble.
4. Kickoff/Punt Returner
Edwards might be the best returner the Lions have, and that's scary.
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Currently, the Lions have no clear-cut return man.
Stephen Logan is no longer on the roster, and while it was clearly time for him to go, the Lions have done nothing to upgrade the position.
Unless you count drafting Theo Riddick out of Notre Dame.
There have been whispers that he could assume the return role. It's a risky proposition to put all of one's eggs into the basket of a sixth-round draft choice, though. On the other hand, he does have return experience.
Patrick Edwards is a player who was talked about last year as someone who would compete with Logan for the job. Edwards ended up on the practice squad, but perhaps he'll be ready this season.
Another lesser known possibility is Devin Moore, whom the Lions signed last November. He's been an NFL journeyman for four years but made his biggest impact with the Colts in 2010, returning 12 kickoffs for an average of 21.4 yards per return.
If all else fails, Titus Young is still available.
3. A Deep Threat (Not Named Megatron)
Thomas' speed could make him a deep-ball threat.
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On paper, Corey Fuller looks like he could be the deep threat the Lions have been looking for. He's got top-end speed and great hands and flashed big-play ability at Virginia Tech.
On the other hand, he's a sixth-round pick who used to run track and has one good year of college football under his belt.
In other words, counting on Fuller to be the weapon the Lions need would not be a wise decision. If it happens, great, but they need to be ready with Plan B.
According to ESPN, the Lions currently have 16 wide receivers on their roster, and they'll look to one of these players to assume the role once bestowed upon Titus Young.
The aforementioned Patrick Edwards is a player who has 4.45 speed, according to SI.com, and he could stretch the field if he's developed the other aspects of his game. There's no guarantee he'll make the roster, though.
Mike Thomas is a good bet to make the roster and certainly has the speed, but he failed to make an impact last season after the Lions signed him.
Mayhew won't likely seek a receiver on the free-agency market. The ones that fit what the Lions are looking for would be too pricey for this cap space-challenged team.
More than likely the Lions will make do with what they have and hope somebody emerges as the clear favorite.
2. Develop Team Leaders
Stafford needs to become more of a leader in 2013.
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About three months ago, I wrote an article in which I alluded to the importance of the Lions developing new leadership in 2013. That was before free agency and the draft.
If you look at their roster today, it's easy to see this is an even more pressing issue now than it was then.
Every notable locker room leader is gone. Kyle Vanden Bosch was the voice of the defense and set the tone each and every game. Veteran voices like Corey Williams and Justin Durant were important as well. Even guys like Jason Hanson and Jeff Backus, who weren't very vocal, led by their actions on and off the field.
They're all gone.
In their place are players who have yet to make a name for themselves. In a matter of months, the Lions have become an extremely young team, and those youngsters are going to look to Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh to lead them.
Unfortunately, none of those three have proven they can be leaders. They're superstar players no doubt, but it remains to be seen if they can do what it takes to keep players in line and focused on the ultimate goal.
That's essentially what leaders do in the NFL, but it's no easy task. Even with all of their veterans last season, the Lions still had locker room turmoil that impacted their success.
That's why leadership is so important. Success can be derailed too easily.
The Lions know that all too well, and if they are hoping to rebound from 4-12, they better start developing leadership somewhere.
Without it, they don't stand a chance.
1. Depth at Offensive Tackle
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A fairly large portion of Lions fandom was hoping they would draft a franchise left tackle in the first round this year.
It makes sense. Blind-side stalwart Jeff Backus had announced his retirement, and there were three tackles on the board projected to be elite talents in the NFL—Luke Joeckel, Eric Fisher and Lane Johnson.
Of course, befitting of the bad luck that has plagued this franchise for years, all of them were off the board by the time the Lions selected.
So they understandably went in another direction, and the opportunity never presented itself for them to grab another one.
Needless to say, left tackle is a big need, but so is right tackle. Gosder Cherilus, a four-year starter, signed with the Indianapolis Colts.
The Lions currently have three tackles on their roster, and of the three, only Riley Reiff is remotely proven. Depth is needed badly. Evaluating what's left of the free-agent pool is a must.
The Lions don't have a lot of wiggle room as cap space goes, but the best of what's left would be Eric Winston or Bryant McKinnie.
Further down the list are players like Tyson Clabo and Jared Gaither.
Gaither is an intriguing player. He might be the most talented tackle on the market, and that's why the Chargers gave him a $24.6 million contract a year ago. However, according to Rotoworld, he essentially "quit" on them and only appeared in four games.
That led San Diego to bite the bullet, release him and take a $6 million cap hit.
No one is going to give him big money again, so perhaps the Lions could sign him to an incentive-laden contract and let him be a depth guy until he proves otherwise. Make him work for his money.
Whether it's Winston, Gaither or someone else, the Lions need to address their depth at tackle ASAP.