A healthy Jahvid Best will be key to balancing the Lions' offense throughout the 2011 season.
So the Lions were able to close the gap this year despite the loss of Matthew Stafford for most of the season. They played hard every week and were competitive. There were a few games they should have won if only they were able to finish them. They managed to finish the season on a high note though, winning four straight.
Now Lions players and staff have confidence heading into the offseason. A lot of people believe that the Lions are a healthy Matthew Stafford away from making noise in the NFC North and becoming a playoff-caliber team. I agree with these thoughts, but I also believe the Lions need to fill in a few more voids in order to become a complete team that can compete for the next decade.
This starts with the 2011 NFL draft.
The Lions have a cornerstone in middle linebacker DeAndre Levy. The outside linebacker play for the Lions has been inconsistent, part of the reason why the Lions allowed 124.9 rushing yards per game, 24th in the NFL. They have multiple proven backups but not a guy that can start and play well every week, except possibly Bobby Carpenter. Julian Peterson's pending release increases the need to draft an OLB.
The Lions have a tremendous defensive line, so they need a linebacker that can drop back and play good coverage more than they need a pass rusher. This would help the Lions further improve a middle-of-the-pack pass defense anchored by the pass rush up front. It wouldn't hurt if they could also stuff the run.
How many games will the Lions win in 2011?
The Lions offense played well this season regardless of their quarterback. The Lions offensive line can use upgrades, especially at left tackle and right guard. Pass protection is important, but the Lions also failed to run the ball consistently because the offensive line did not get much of a push at the line of scrimmage, resulting in many runs of fewer than three yards. This forced the Lions to rely on the pass too often and converting short yardage situations was not easy in 2010.
The Lions were ranked 23rd in rushing offense last season. Improving the run blocking will decrease the workload on Stafford, help keep him healthy and help set up the dynamic passing attack the Lions already have.
Signing Nnamdi Asomugha or even Champ Bailey would be a dream come true. The Lions need a shutdown corner to complement the young safety tandem of Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey. The Lions have a promising corner in Alphonso Smith but he gave up several huge plays to receivers he covered in 2010. His development will be crucial to the team moving forward. Prospects like Prince Amukamara deserve a nice look from the Lions front office.
Detroit can fill some not-so-urgent gaps like a slot receiver and a power running back to complement Jahvid Best. But OLB, offensive line and corner are the top three issues the Lions need to address this offseason to move towards having a great 2011 season.
Who do you believe the Lions should draft in April? Should they take the best player available regardless of position, or should they grab somebody that fits their schemes perfectly? Who should the Lions go after in free agency? Will the Lions have a record above 6-10 in 2011?