The Detroit Lions: Look How Far We've Come

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The Detroit Lions: Look How Far We've Come
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The Current Evaluation Process

With the draft finally over and free agency slowing down, it’s now time for the evaluation process.  Everyone tries to put a value to how their team did in the offseason, the most common way being in the form of draft or off season grades. 

Love him or hate him, there is one thing that ESPN Scouts Inc’s Todd McShay and I do agree on, that assigning a letter value to judge how your team is doing really doesn’t mean much at all.  It’s just opinion and speculation as quantifying offseason progress rarely can be done immediately.

You need a solid three years before you can really judge a draft class and you never know how free agency moves pan out until the season starts.  It’s not always about how good a player is; it’s also about how well they fit into the system, how coaches utilize them and how well they mesh with the rest of the locker room.  Things that can’t be measured when a name is called on draft day or a free agent inks a contract.

Take this example everyone can remember all too clearly, in 2007 our Detroit Lions finished the season 7-9.  After the draft and free agency most had the feeling the team improved itself and had the good fortune of playing in a division that at the time was not very dominate.  Afterall, almost no one feels their team gets worse after the draft and free agency right?  I even read one sports writer (not from Michigan) who picked the Lions to win the division in 2008.  Well, his crystal ball must have been malfunctioning because instead, the Lions, at 0-16, had one of the few perfect seasons in NFL history and not in the way we would have liked.

Changing It Up

So how do you really evaluate the off season moves a team makes?  It’s hard to say.  The Colts typically don’t get stellar draft grades, are criticized for consistently overlooking team needs (cough**offensive tackle**cough) and yet remain one of the best teams in the league year in and year out because they believe in their value first strategy.  Well, that, and they have Peyton Manning.  No one predicted the Miami Dolphins of a couple of years ago to go from 1-15 to a playoff team in one year.

What McShay and Scouts Inc attempted to solve this problem was derive a formula to evaluate the drafting process and rank all teams against each other.  It takes into account all trades involving a team’s draft picks (not just draft day trades), how the team addressed its key needs as well as the value associated with where a team drafted a player.  It’s also an imperfect system but is at least an interesting idea if nothing else.  And for those wondering, the Lions were 4th on the list.

I wanted to take a different approach in evaluating this Detroit Lions team and offseason.  Instead of just focusing on the new players from this draft class and free agency, I wanted to look at how far we have come since the Millen era.  What has changed between 2008, possibly the worst team in NFL history, and today?

 I analyzed the two rosters and this is what I found.

Defense

Starters in 2008:

DE – Dwayne White

DT – Corey Redding

DT – Chuck Darby

DE – Jared DeVries

WILL –Ernie Sims

MIKE – Paris Lenon

SAM – Ryan Nece

CB – Leigh Bodden

CB – Brain Kelly

FS – Kalvin Pearson

SS – Daniel Bullocks

Projected starters for 2010:

DE – Kyle Van Den Bosch

DT – Ndamunkong Suh

DT – Corey Williams

DE – Jason Hunter

WILL – Zack Follett

MIKE – DeAndre Levy

SAM –Julius Peterson

CB – Chris Houston

CB – Amari Speivey

FS – Louis Delmas

SS – Ko Simpson

What’s the most noticeable thing about these two lists?  Well, for what could arguably be one of the worst defenses of all time 2 years ago, not a single starting player is at this point going to be the same.  There are only two players that are on the team that now have a chance to start again: Jared DeVries and Daniel Bullocks.  Turnover needed to happen, and happen it did in a big way and quickly.

Are there still some weaknesses? Absolutely.  However, when you compare the names side by side, I would argue that we have improved or at least stayed the same in every position except for maybe WILL.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if Willie Young is tried out there with a chance to contribute if no free agent is signed.

Corner still needs help, but I’d rather have the current combo than what was on the team two years ago.  Ko Simpson is no worse than what we had before in Bullocks (who at this point still has a chance to start barring injury) but Delmas is a marked upgrade for the safety position.

Defensive line is vastly improved although I would love to see a huge step forward in Hunter or Avril if not acquire another pass rusher to compliment KVB, maybe in next year’s draft.  Besides, Kyle is not young and will need to be replaced shortly. 

Are there still weaknesses?  Yes.  Are we laughable anymore? No.  It’s a defensive overhaul that is quickly moving in the right direction, and moving with a purpose.

Offense

Starters in 2008:

LT – Jeff Backus

LG – (revolving door)

C – Dominick Raiola

RG – Stephen Peterman

RT – Gosder Cherilius

TE – John Owens

QB – Dan Orlovsky

RB – Kevin Smith

FB – Moran Norris

WR – Calvin Johnson

WR – Shaun McDonald

Projected starters in 2010:

LT – Jeff Backus

LG – Rob Simms

C – Dominick Raiola

RG – Stephen Peterman

RT – Gosder Cherilius

TE – Brandon Pettigrew

QB – Matt Stafford

RB – Jahvid Best

FB – Jerome Felton

WR – Calvin Johnson

WR – Nate Burleson

My one complaint about the Lions last two off seasons has been the offensive line.  After two years, we will still have 4 out of 5 starters back from 2008.  Yes, the weakest position on the line of left guard received a huge upgrade in Simms, but in my opinion more needs to and should have been done there.  If this were a dominate oline, I could concede the point, but they have been subpar at best.

Besides that, we have found a quarterback (this writer believes in Stafford) and provided him with all new weapons and have kept one of the best young wide receivers in the game.

Overall

Looking beyond the starters, from top to bottom this team is better.  As vanilla and general of a statement as that seems, I didn’t want to list the entire roster and go through individual second teamers.  I’ll just say this, before, we had backups playing a starting role, and our backups shouldn’t have made an NFL roster.  Now, the team has a sense of depth.  When the Lions had injuries in 2008, it forced them to play people who had no business being on an NFL field.  Injuries are a part of football and fielding quality backups is just as important as preserving a good starting lineup.

Besides offensive line, only 1 starter remains from the 2008 team.  Mind you, this is not just change for the sake of change; these are personnel changes where players have been sought out by the coaching staff.  They were brought in through draft and free agency with a specific purpose in mind and fit the direction management has for this team.  They are players the Lions staff believes in.

The number of leftover Millen players is shrinking every year.  By my current count, only 17 players remain that played in Detroit during the Millen era, and that number will likely be dwindled down more once final cuts roll around in August.

This team needed a new attitude and identity, leadership and character.  It wasn’t going to get that with the locker room attitude left by one of the worst run organizations ever.  We needed a fresh start and we as Lions fans have not been disappointed.  Something needed to change and for Detroit, change is good.

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