Detroit Lions: Ranking Remaining Offseason Priorities
The draft was fun, but between now and training camp is the dry season. There isn't a stitch of activity surrounding the Detroit Lions to overanalyze and grade.
It's a tough time to be an NFL Featured Columnist. My editors found me in my bunker, unshowered and unshaven, grading Tom Lewand press conferences. So they threw me a bone.
They decided, in the interest of my well-being, that I should spend that energy in the worthwhile endeavor of power ranking the Lions' priorities moving forward.
I'm focusing solely on questions that concern the current roster. There aren't many moves that can be made so far as adding talent at this point and breaking down potential NFL trades this late in the offseason is a fool's errand on par with analyzing a team president's public appearances.
Now that we have the field of possibilities narrowed down, we have to determine how they will be ranked because everything is better in power-ranking form. Therefore, I took into account how uncertain the answer is (the more confusing, the higher the ranking) and the importance of the question to the team when slotting the priorities.
The result is a piece of literary genius that should keep you entertained and enlightened for at least 47 seconds.
5. Is Nate Freese the Answer?
The question is who will succeed Jason Hanson, if you hadn't put that one together.
David Akers gave it the old college try last year that ended with a less-than-stellar result. He converted on just 79.2 percent of his attempts last year. But some of the ones he didn't convert were quite costly, including two missed (one was blocked) field goals in a four-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals and one whiff in a three-point defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Apparently, nobody in the front office was too excited to just hand the job to Giorgio Tavecchio, the Italian rookie who played at Cal. And, despite the constant calls from fans, Detroit seems all set on bypassing Harvard Rugland, aka Kickalicious.
So general manager Martin Mayhew turned to Nate Freese from Boston College in the last round of this year's draft. Freese, who was kicking in the New England elements, nailed all 20 of his field goals in 2013 and posted 94.6 kicking percentage over the past two years, according to NFLDraftScout.com.
The competition is on between Tavecchio and Freese, but it would take a minor miracle for Tavecchio to earn the nod. It's barely a question heading forward, so it falls down the rankings here, but the importance of having a kicker who can consistently put points on the board could be the difference between a winning and losing team.
It was last year.
4. Who's Your Quarterback?
Dan Orlovsky should have the second-string spot all sown up, but there are a couple questions surrounding the last spot.
Will the Lions carry a third quarterback? And will that quarterback be Kellen Moore or undrafted free agent James Franklin?
The southpaw Moore has taken a lot of heat from critics and fans alike due to his limited arm strength. Others insist that Detroit should keep the Boise State grad due to his winning ways and leadership. Personally, I don't think there's enough arm talent with Moore for him to hold down an NFL gig. NFL defenders are too quick for an inexperienced starter to bank on his smarts.
The kicker might be that Moore is a different coaching staff's developmental quarterback. Head coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi don't carry any allegiance to him.
Franklin is an interesting prospect who brings athleticism to the table. He peaked his sophomore year with a 63.3-percent completion rate and 36 total touchdowns.
The Lions haven't carried a third quarterback in quite some time. If they do, Moore will need to show some serious progression to hold on to that last spot.
3. What Happens to Joseph Fauria?
Last year brought unprecedented success for Detroit in terms of undrafted free agents. The Lions snagged not one but two major contributors in LaAdrian Waddle and tight end Joseph Fauria.
While the former is likely to hold onto the right tackle spot where he started eight games in 2013, Fauria's role in the offense is a source of confusion.
Fauria made his bones as a red-zone assassin, racking up seven touchdown on just 18 receptions last season. He also performed quite well in the end-zone-dancing facet of the game. I couldn't find any stats, but Fauria easily checked in as a top-five entertainer.
However, with the addition of Eric Ebron in the first round, Fauria no longer seems destined for the Jimmy Graham role in Lombardi's offense. It was questionable whether Fauria had the between-the-20s game to excel at the position, but we won't be finding out anytime soon.
Fauria hasn't shown enough blocking chops to take sustained minutes away from Brandon Pettigrew. Yet, his size and receiving abilities will put him in the mix to split out or line up in the slot next season.
2. How Will the Wide Receiver Depth Chart Shake Out?
There's only one spot that has more questions than the wide receiver position. Currently, the Lions have nine players who will be vying for maybe four roster spots.
I say maybe because there's a good chance the Lions keep four tight ends on the roster. Ebron, Pettigrew and Fauria are seemingly locks at this point while last year's seventh-rounder, Michael Williams, will at least garner serious consideration.
Just like quarterback Kellen Moore, Ryan Broyles won't find any loyalty among the current staff. He's suffered three season-ending leg injuries the past three seasons and has to prove he can stay on the field to warrant cutting anybody else.
Veterans Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree will face a pack of young, hungry wideouts who offer some value. The group is led by recent draftee T.J. Jones, who has 4.48 speed and reliable hands, and returner Jeremy Ross, who has vision and speed but must prove he's a viable receiver.
If my life depended on it, I'd expect Ogletree to be sent packing along with Corey Fuller, Patrick Edwards, Naaman Roosevelt and Andrew Peacock. That leaves Jones to fight it out with Broyles, Durham and Ross for the honor of being a 2014 Lion.
1. Is There One Starting Cornerback on the Roster?
There will be no curveballs here and there certainly wasn't any suspense. The biggest question/concern/problem facing the Lions today and for probably the next year at least is who will start at cornerback.
Chris Houston finally underwent toe surgery just a couple weeks ago, leaving uncertain his status both for training camp and the season opener. No specific timetable for his recovery has been released, but anytime you're trying to recover from an injury to the foot, your only option is to stay off it and hope everything heals up nicely.
Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis both return after splitting time last year. However, Mathis will be 34 when the season kicks off, and Slay was extremely inconsistent as a rookie. The ideal situation would be Mathis backing up a much-improved Slay, but if it were that simple, Detroit wouldn't be looking for a starting cornerback for the 36th consecutive year (number is approximate).
Bill Bentley will take challenges from a slew of new recruits, from fourth-rounder Nevin Lawson to veteran Cassius Vaughn. In between those two, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood will be trying to cash in on their athletic ability but face the same hurdle as other Jim Schwartz disciples.
The Lions won't have a shortage of bodies at the cornerback position, the question is if any of them will be capable.