A Painful Look at the Needs of the Detroit Lions (2009)
It’s that special time of year again when fans from around the NFL gear up in hopes that their teams have a shot at making the playoffs, clinching a division title, ruining a divisional rivals chance at a playoff berth or making a Super Bowl run. But as a Detroit Lions fan, it’s the special time of the year where (if you haven’t given up hope yet!) we play mock draft 20xx.
Thanks in part of the wonderful way the organization has been run over past few years, this makes this edition number nine, since the year 2000.
We’re halfway home to figuring out what pick in the top ten we’ll have this year (or top three, but I’m trying to be optimistic), so let’s analyze or top needs:
As much as I’d like to place every position on the Lions under a critical need (yes, Jason Hanson, you too are replaceable), to be fair we don’t have nearly enough picks over the next three years to correct all the wrong that has been done to the franchise. Therefore, we’ll examine them piece by piece, starting with the team’s critical needs. These positions have to be addressed because the starters are not of the NFL caliber.
You would have to try very hard to create a secondary worse than last year’s debacle, but never count out your Detroit Lions. Phillip Buchanon has to be the biggest bust of our season, showing off his best Mr. Hyde impersonation (like he has throughout his career). I thought Will James was two random first names thrown together, but he seems to “play” for the Lions. Anthony Henry is a ghost. This 2009 botchery has given up 30 yards more in the air this season compared to last year’s team. Come on. The Lions have to revamp their whole secondary once again, but at least we got Louis Delmas! Therefore, we’ll only have to find three new starters new year!
Last year, I thought this was the biggest hole in the entire team. This year, I think this is the biggest hole in the entire team. Some would argue that our secondary is in a lot worse shape than the D-line, but putting pressure on the quarterback and stopping the run will fix a lot of the problems with the secondary. When healthy Sammie Lee Hill has been a pleasant addition to this team, but the rest of the D-Tackles are a joke. I only know that Grady Jackson is on the team because you cannot possibly miss him on the sidelines. Landon Cohen/Andre Fluellen = Marinelli guys = pure garbage. The Lions cannot go through another offseason without addressing this hole.
When your best player is an outcast from another team or playing the wrong position (not Julian Peterson, FYI), you got some serious troubles. Jason Hunter has played great for the Lions when healthy but he isn’t the answer at the right end. Dwayne White has regressed even further this season and it would be a shock to find him on the roster next year. Jared DeVries may be the best the Lions have as a Defensive End, but no where near a talent to start for an NFL team. Yikes.
Before anybody gets pissed off and mentions the “great” Cliff Avril, I got news for you… he’s playing the wrong position. A classic tweener, he is too small to play upfront and should split time as in Outside Linebacker and Defensive End with Julian Peterson. I’d eventually look for him to take over as the team’s Strongside Linebacker.
Offensive Tackle *
Finally we arrive to everybody’s favorite player, one Jeffery Carl Backus. As much as I cannot stand the Lions offensive line, if the Lions address either the left OT or left OG during this offseason, it will solve many of the lines problems. Jeff Backus is an average Left Tackle at best and the Lions need to find their left tackle of the future sooner rather than later to protect their 70-million dollar quarterback. As for the right side of the line, we’ll have to take the good with the bad with Gosder Cherilus and examine the position next year. If he doesn’t produce, look for the Lions to move him to the inside, eventually.
The following positions do need to be address with position starting implications or depth for the team.
Coach Jim Schwartz doesn’t believe in his Safeties having an actual position (i.e., Free/Strong Safety) and Louis Delmas has one of the positions locked down for many years to come. The other Safety spot is up for grabs. Ko Simpson and Daniel Bullocks are two young talented kids and I look for one of them to step it up next season and lock down the other position. Behind them, there isn’t much depth on the team. But, if Eric Berry (University of Tennessee) is the real deal and could be the next Ed Reed/Sean Taylor, can the Lions pass him up?
It has taken many years but Stephan Peterman has seemed to have locked down the Right Guard position and looks like to be a brilliant resigning by Martin Mayhew. The left side is a joke though. Daniel Loper was extremely overrated as the “best backup lineman” in the NFL. Manny Ramirez should stick to playing baseball. And its no accident that the Washington Redskins cut Jon Jansen (hmmm… a common theme for the Lions, bad U of M linemen). Once again the Lions will go into this offseason looking to solve issues on the left side of the line.
Once again, if the team addresses either the Left Tackle or Guard, many of the lines issues should be solved creating a less of a need at the conjoint position.
Currently, the linebacking core is the strength of the team, which is a complete 180 from last year’s team. Julian Peterson went from the most overrated player on the team, to arguably the best player in a few weeks. Ernie Sims still is too overaggressive, but he is talented enough to start on most teams throughout the NFL and DeAndre Levy has spelled well for him during his injury absence. Jordan Dizon has looked solid, not spectacular, and may even push for playing time at the Weakside position if Sims is moved in the offseason. Cliff Avril looks to be an Outside Linebacker of the future, but will the Lions commit to such a switch?
Only the Detroit Lions could select 4 WRs in the first round of the NFL draft in a 5 year span and still have holes with the position. Calvin Johnson is a freak of nature and has the potential to be one of the greatest Wideouts in the league. Yet, unlike many of his counterparts, he doesn’t have a sidekick to help him out (Andre Johnson & Owen Daniels, Larry Fitzgerald & Anquan Boldin, Reggie Wayne & Dallas Clark). Outside of Johnson (Calvin), the Lions have a bunch of number 3 Receivers in Bryant Johnson, Derrick Williams and Dennis Northcutt’s rotting corpse. As sad as it seems the Lions dearly miss the services of Mike Furrey, who could catch anything thrown his way.
As much heat as Kevin Smith is taking from Detroit Lions fans, it’s unwarranted. No he is not Barry Sanders. He is not a blazing runner. He is not a bruising tailback. He is not a top-ten (or top-15) Running Back. But he is a passionate, hard-worker that doesn’t give up and many teams would want in their backfield. Plus, the Lions have many more issues to address before tackling a new starting Running Back. Maurice Morris is a good number two man in Detroit, but doesn’t get enough carries to make an impact. I look for this to change over the next eight games, as the Lions morph into a two-back team. Jerome Felton looks to be a good Fullback; regardless that the position is being phased out of the game, and he should come in handy when he gets healthy to provide a bruising 3rd down back.
The following positions have been address fully, yet may need a tweak here and there.
The team’s real strength over the years has been their special team’s core (not to be confused with the special teams unit). Jason Hanson is one of the best Kickers in the league, but has wasted his entire career for terrible teams. Has he ever had a “real” pressure kick in his career? Nick Harris is a solid Punter, but has been inconsistent in past few years. Not too much of a concern, though. Outside of one botched extra point attempt, that nobody can forget, Don Muhlbach has been solid.
By drafting Brandon Pettigrew in the first round, the Detroit Lions have locked up the Tight End position for many years to come and only need to address the position for specialists (i.e., Catching/Blocking Tight End), but as of now, they have the core setup very well. Casey FitzSimmons has survived many cuts over the years but adds a great presence in the receiving game. Will Heller is a great addition to the team as a blocking Tight End, and has even shown some touch during the passing game. Dan Gronkowski should push for a roster spot next season.
Regardless of whatever bum is behind Matthew Stafford currently, the position is locked up for the next five years (hopefully, the next 12 years, if he hit right on the lottery). As much as the fans, I included, did not want to draft Stafford, he looks like the real deal. *I realize I’m writing this after the disastrous 5 interception game in Seattle, but he has shown enough signs to be good in the future* Daunte Culpepper will not be back next season, and the Lions will look to address the position with a free agent number two. Martin Mayhew will have to evaluate Drew Stanton in the offseason to see if he has a future with the team.
Last year, many would argue that the greatest need for the team was an inside linebacker, as many fans screamed over the fact that the Lions drafted Quarterback Matthew Stafford over In(out)side Linebacker Aaron Curry. Yet, some how the Lions have already address this position for the present and the future with the addition of Larry Foote and DeAndre Levy. Both players have been pleasant surprises for the team, with Foote showing he still has enough gas in the tank and Levy showing promise, for many (including myself) who thought he was drafted too high. Foote should be resigned in the offseason and look for Levy to take over at Middle Linebacker in a few years, if not sooner.
Lastly, we get to target number two on every fans hate list in Dominic Raiola. And I realize I may take a lot of heat for this, but true be told he’s not going anywhere, anytime fast. Raiola is not the biggest Center in the game, but he is the leader of the offensive line; And without a doubt, the best player on the line. What he gives up in the lack of his size, he makes up with intelligence and smart plays. Look for Raiola to be the constant holdover in an offensive line that will be changed between 2010 to 2012.
Now that its all been said, these troubles will still keep me up at night, terrorizing my dreams. Gentleman (ladies too), we’ve still got a long ways to go… before we can once again claim respectability.
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