The Lions finally put it all together at the end of the season, wrapping up with a four-game winning streak. The next step is to get to the playoffs, and then dare I say it, the Super Bowl. What are the steps that can be made over this offseason in order to put the Lions deep into the playoffs and make a Super Bowl push?
First they need a strong 2011 NFL Draft. Then they need to acquire two solid free agents. In order to do both there will have to be trades made and adjustments to the roster. Last they need a little luck. They need to take some calculated risks and hope they pan out. They also need to avoiding the injury bug that has hit them the last couple years. However, it all starts with the 2011 NFL Draft.
Round 7 or Undrafted Free Agent
Aldrick Robinson has been SMU's big-play receiver for the last three years. Other receivers may catch more passes, but it has always been Robinson who makes a majority of the big plays. The 5'10" speedster should have a future in the NFL as a slot receiver.
The Mustangs passing attack was extremely effective in 2010 and amazingly Robinson was third on the team with 60 receptions. However, he did lead the team in receiving yards with 1,225 and became the only player in SMU history to eclipse the 1,000-yard receiving mark in a season on two occasions. Robinson also added 13 touchdown receptions to his ever-growing resume.
He is also a track star and should run the 40 around 4.33-4.4 Has elite speed required for the NFL and very sure hands. He does not drop many passes
His negatives are that he is only 5’10” and 178 lbs. His route running could be crisper and every once in a while he has a lapse in concentration.
The Lions need a strong No. 3 slot receiver to pair with Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson. Both Derick Williams and Bryant Johnson drop the majority of passes thrown their way. It is time the Lions had a true option as a No. 3 receiver and Aldrick would be a steal here especially with his big-play ability.
Here are his 2008 highlights—the most current I could find. He has only matured as a player and gotten better since.
High Round 6/Low Round 7
The Lions have lacked a big, punishing running back and they messed up last year when they passed on LeGarette Blount three separate times. They passed on him at the end of the seventh round. They didn’t pursue him as a free agent. Then they passed on him when he was placed on waivers by the Titans.
Jahvid Best is a special player but he would be a lot more effective with a player with Blount's ability. This would be especially good for the Lions if Jahvid suffers from turf toe again in 2011. John Clay would be this type of back.
The University of Wisconsin's junior running back prospect John Clay is a strong, powerful runner who can either run guys over or make a quick cutback to run downfield. When Clay has the ball, everybody knows it. He looks like a linebacker who just got hold of an interception when he runs.
At 6’1” and 248 lbs. Clay will likely need to lose some weight and try to improve his speed at the next level. He's a tough runner at 248, and he can be a tough runner at 232. He lacks a second gear and rarely initiates contact to fight for extra yards.
Projected draft round: He was considered a first-round talent at the start of the season but has dropped rapidly, he is now projected in the sixth to seventh round and there is talk he may even go undrafted.
It would be fair to argue that Barksdale was LSU's best offensive lineman in 2009, and it would be fair to say that Barksdale was a better pro prospect than Black (who was a potential first-round pick in his own right; Black went undrafted.) While Black was a massive run-blocker, Barksdale is more versatile and better at protecting the quarterback.
Barksdale stands at 6'5'' and 315 pounds, and he runs under five in the 40-yard dash. He has even been clocked as low as 4.86 at that distance, some impressive speed for a man of his size.
Barksdale does not project as a franchise left tackle at the moment, but he has the tools to potentially switch to that more prestigious position at some point down the road.
While Jeff Backus has been an adequate LT for the Lions he is not an elite LT. Backus constantly rises above his ability level and plays with a huge heart and motor. Yet this position needs to be upgraded if the Lions don’t want Stafford to end up hurt again.
Backus has one year left on his contract and he would be a great mentor for Barksdale. Barksdale was projected as a first-round pick at the beginning of the season and has fallen rapidly. Now he is down to the sixth round and there is even talk that he may not be drafted at all. If this happens he would be a steal as an undrafted player
I watched him play in the Cotton Bowl and I was very impressed by what I saw. I think he will be a steal and will become a force for years to come. Not only that but he is from the Detroit area and would be coming home to play for his home team. Video
Round 5 or 6
Matthews’ biggest strength is his athleticism. He’s an extremely intelligent player who does well reading and reacting to the offensive play. He has a non-stop motor, playing well sideline to sideline. A very good tackler who’s very fundamentally sound.
Matthews is excellent in making plays in coverage. He covers his zone almost effortlessly, and has a knack for finding the ball. He’s an underrated pass rusher on the inside, and has the speed to maybe make the transition to the OLB position in a 3-4, although that may not utilize his skill set to the maximum. However, his versatility is fantastic and will be coveted among teams in the 2011 NFL Draft.
With Julian Peterson gone and Zack Follett’s neck injury the Lions have only Levy at the LB position. They have backups starting on either side of Levy. While they have played well the Lions need at least one starter and probably two.
Matthews would be a great fit here and he would also provide great value, as he is projected for the fifth to sixth round. He is a sure tackler, which is something the Lions lack. Often they make initial contact but don’t make the tackle, which leads to a big play or a touchdown. Matthews would be a big help in this area limiting the number of big plays made against the Lions.
Round 4 to 5
This guy is a physical beast. He loves to hit and hit hard. Known for his tough, physical play and hard tackles.
Johnson was named second team All-WAC after starting all 15 games at safety for the Broncos. He led the team in tackles for the second consecutive season, recording 91 (54 unassisted). He also recorded 1.5 tackles for loss and six pass breakups. Johnson was second on the team for interceptions with four. He recorded five or more tackles in 10 different games this year.
Johnson ranked sixth in WAC in interceptions, eighth in passes defended and 16th for average tackles per game with 6.5.
Johnson is a 5’10’’, 200 lb. player who runs the 40 in approximately 4.5 seconds. He has solid speed for a defensive back, and it should continue to improve as he trains for the draft down in Dallas, Texas.
It’s hard to find any particular facet of Johnson’s game that is the weakest considering how balanced of a player he is. The one thing that has stood out the most for scouts, however, is his lack of size. Standing at just under 6'0", his height can sometimes prove challenging when playing against taller receivers. He will be a great tackler and would be a beast alongside Delmas. Great value for a projected round fourth to fifth-rounder.
This guy loves to hit and hit hard. See his videos:
Projection: Second to Third Round
Weight: 323 lbs. He is a mountain of a man.
Strengths: Versatility is a plus. Can play all three interior positions (including center). Incredible strength and big frame make for formidable barrier to defenders. A nasty run-blocker, who finishes plays. Coachable.
Weaknesses: Could improve his technique, specifically his use of hands. Could be beat by quicker interior defenders.
Either Moffitt or Pouncey could train to replace Raiola at center while studying under him. Who ever doesn’t play center would go to right guard pushing Peterman to backup.
Projected Round 2 to 3
Weight: 189 lbs.
2008 Stats: 15 tackles, one INT, two pass defenses
2009 Stats: 34 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, three INTs, three pass defenses, two forced fumbles
Pros: Williams is one of a few top cornerbacks eligible for the 2011 NFL Draft. He is a very heady player that provides great leadership among his peers. He has relatively no risk of off-field issues and is praised by his coaches for his maturity.
Williams has above-average size for the position and possesses top-end speed. Williams may be one of the faster players in college football right now. He has the attitude necessary to take on the top competition week in and week out and is very confident in his skills.
He boasts all the skills needed to be an excellent man-to-man corner. He is exceptional at reading wide receivers' routes and uses a quick burst to get out of his backpedal. He swivels his hips to stay with the wideouts and if he happens to take a wrong step he has amazing closing speed
Cons: While Williams is a willing run defender he still struggles in this area. He is susceptible to jukes and cannot be counted on in to make the open-field tackle. He needs to focus on making the sure tackle and keeping his balance. In pass coverage he can fall victim to the double move. While mentioning his aggressive attacks on the ball, this can sometimes lead to biting on those double moves, which could result in a big play.
Overall this is another great pick with great value if you can get him in Round 3.
Projected Round 1 to 2
Weight: 190 lbs.
Harris has the right attitude, but he has the skills to play at the next level too.
He has a quick first step and amazing overall speed. Very few players at any level will blow by him.
For a player who relies on speed, Harris is surprisingly tough and the opposition cannot pick on him, or Harris will make them pay.
This would be a great pick for the Lions in Round 2 and would be a great consolation prize for missing out on Patrick Peterson, or Prince Amukamara with very little drop-off in talent.
Projected late first, early second round
Weight: 310 lbs.
Strengths: Quick off the ball. Stays low in the run game. Gets under pads and drives defenders backward. Excellent getting to the second level and pulling on run plays. Great footwork and positioning in pass protection; good punch. Is extremely strong and can handle much bigger defenders. Shows good ability to pick up the blitz. Plays with attitude.
Weaknesses: Has major problems snapping the football from the shotgun. Can struggle with the snap on plays where he is pulling to his right. Can get chippy when he makes a mistake or the team isn’t playing well.
This pick is ideal for the Lions, especially if they trade down in the first round to get him around picks 25-32. He is a versatile player and can play both guard and center. As with Moffitt he could study under Raiola or Peterman eventually winning the starting job. The addition of Pouncey and Moffitt would greatly upgrade the O-line and the run game.
Obviously these are more picks than the lions have. To do this the Lions would need to trade down in the first round, and might also need to trade a player. This is unless two or more players go undrafted, which is a possibility right now.
Option one is to trade down in the first round. We should trade down to picks 25-28. This trade should get us a second, third and possible fourth-round pick. This is based on the draft pick value chart. See it here.
Option two is to trade Tony Scheffler.
Option three—trade Shaun Hill.
While I love him and he is a true fighter, I think it is time to let Smith go. It saddens me but it's true. Keep Morris, as he is playing great.
I would let go of Derrick Williams and Bryant Johnson, however Nate Burleson lived up to his expectations and I only see better things for him ahead. Calvin Johnson—what can one say about him other than, "WOW." If we can continue to draw some coverage away from him he will emerge as the No. 1 receiver in the entire NFL
If the Lions draft a developmental quarterback then I say let Drew Stanton go but I like him, and I believe if he had proper preparation with the first team offense, he could be a decent No. 2 guy. Especially if the coaches show some confidence in him. I would like to see him stay though as a No. 2 QB.
I say trade Shaun Hill. We should get a lot for him: Round 3 pick or higher. Several teams are interested in him and not just as a backup, but as a starter. I liked Tim Tebow last year. Now this year I like Cam Newton as a player, not so sure about him as a person, but just a wild thought. I don't see us getting him...Also don't forget Vince Young is a free agent along with Michael Vick.
Jeff Backus has a year left with the Lions. He tries and does play above his ability. However he isn't the answer; not a true franchise LT. Dominic Raiola is a smart, feisty center and I like him a lot. The problem is he is undersized. He gets beat by the bull rush and this is hurting the run game. I think you keep him and Backus for one year to train their understudies, then it is time to part ways.
I love the pickup of Rob Sims. Keep him long term. Stephen Peterman should be a backup. Gosder Cherilus played OK this year at times, but in reality he should be a backup. The Lions need to upgrade the right side of the line badly.
The Lions are set at TE but could trade Tony Scheffler if the right offer presented itself. He seems to get hurt and dinged up often. He seems to lack that gritty toughness I look for in a football player. I feel the Lions are strong at TE. I would not trade Brandon Pettigrew; he is part of the long-term core of the team. I see he being one of the top five TEs within the NFL in the next couple years.
Lastly, I am also going to throw a name out there: Jared Gaither. What do you think of him? He worries me because he is injured a lot but he is 24 and has the skills when healthy to be a franchise LT. However he may cost to much as he would want a big, long-term contract. See this article for more on him.
D-line...I love it. Maybe get another DE for when Vanden Bosch is done but not an immediate need. Suh is a monster and should be destroying quarterbacks for years to come.
At LB we are weak with Levy being the only true starter. Peterson is gone and Zack Follett might not be back due to a bad neck injury. Sorry "Pain Train," I truly wish you well and want you to back soon. I hope this area gets addressed by free agency and drafting Casey Matthews.
Drafting Casey Matthews and adding a quality free agent should take care of this position. It is a deep class of LB free agents so this should help the Lions a lot. These moves would leave us set for starters at LB with several quality backups.
At CB we can let Houston go, as we can do well in the draft this year. I feel it is a strong class at CB and you could try for Cromartie and Asomugha in free agency but they may be too expensive. I also really like Alphonso Smith that we got from Denver. However, I prefer the draft, and I prefer big, fast corners that are physical. A CB that can play man-to-man; this is why I chose Brandon Harris and Aaron Williams in my mocks.
At safety, the Lions have Delmas and I like Spievey. Throw in Jerron Johnson and I think they will have something special here. Then they have a lot of very talented players on the IR (especially at CB and safety and also Jordon Dizon, LB). I feel that with them added back to the squad, and the draft with two bigger free-agent moves, they would be stacked.
If you see a theme here it is to be very physical, have a crushing defense and a punishing running game. I want teams and players to be afraid of the Lions.
I also went after people who could tackle. Right now we miss or don't make a lot of tackles after the initial hit. This has cost us quite a few games. If their tackling skill is questionable I don't want them.
I believe these moves with a healthy Matt Stafford would give us a year in which we go deep into the playoffs, and make a good push to the Super Bowl. If not this year then next, after a year of growth for the rookies.
If Stafford can not stay healthy next year it will be time to look for a new franchise QB and the ideal QB I would go for is one like to Josh Freeman. He has it all: the size, skill, speed and intangibles. However, I want Stafford to be healthy as I like him as a person and QB. I don’t want to see the Lions have to spend a couple years drafting and developing another QB.
I am looking to win now, not trying to rebuild for the future. I think the Lions are there and only a half a step away. I truly expect big things this year. Go Lions!
I would like to thank John the HaMMer Ferrier and Walterfootball.com, as well as various scouting reports and draft sites. I also would like to thank those who took the time to make the videos on YouTube that I used in this presentation.