As the 2011 NFL Draft approaches and excitement builds, there are lots of teams still with lots of questions.
Chief among these is, of course, "will there be a 2011 season?"
But that kind of thing doesn't make for very pleasant reading. And besides, I (along with most Lions fans) have a very difficult time processing that as a possibility.
The idea that I might not get to watch the best Lions team in a decade, and their first Monday Night Football appearance in a decade is one I choose to ignore.
Instead, I will operate under the assumption that the 2011 season is happening, with free agency and everything.
Because frankly, that's the only way to make a roster projection work.
Also, this is not a pseudo-mock draft. Since the draft's first round is a week from today, I will have to take into account new players acquired in the draft. I will project these as far as position, but not player.
Same goes for free agency. It's crazy talk to assume who the Lions are going to target when free agency finally does happen. But it's not hard to see where there are some needs that need filling, so I will leave space for free-agent pickups on the starting roster.
With those ground rules in place, let's start with the most obvious position.
2. Shaun Hill
3. Free Agent
Surprised? Don't be.
the Lions have said they'd like to keep him, but if Drew Stanton values his career at all, he'll be gone next season.
Stanton showed enough in 2010 to prove he's worthy of a backup role somewhere, and it's one he's not likely to get in Detroit.
Shaun Hill is signed through this season, and he's clearly primed for the No. 2 slot. That means unless Martin Mayhew is ready to work some trade magic (and don't rule him out) for Hill, Stanton is looking at a fifth straight season of being the last-string quarterback.
If not for the lockout, I would say Hill could be strong trade bait during the draft. Alas, teams are not allowed to trade players until normal operations resume, and Stanton is effectively a free agent.
In those circumstances, the Lions are likely to stick with their franchise guy, their dependable backup, and somebody they can get on the cheap with some upside.
1. Jahvid Best
2. Maurice Morris
3. Aaron Brown
4. Stefan Logan
1. Jerome Felton
I toyed with the idea that one of the halfback spots might go to a free agent or draft pickup.
Then I realized that was silly. The Lions already have their speedy home-run hitter in Best, their reliable 3-4 YPC guy in Morris, and Logan for gadget plays and situational work.
Brown is the question mark here. He spent most of last season inactive, and is effectively a poor man's Best. But his roster spot was likely saved by the release of Kevin Smith and Best's injury. He made things happen when he touched the ball in 2009, and he's worth keeping on as insurance until the Lions are sure Best has made a full recovery.
The one spot I thought might need an upgrade is fullback/short yardage back. Jerome Felton has filled that role with varying success in recent years, and while I thought it might be time to move on this season, the Lions have tendered him in his RFA year with an original-round tender.
Felton was only a fifth-round pick, so I would have expected someone to take a run at him and offer the Lions a fifth-round pick in exchange. It's likely that the lockout has thrown a wrench in that, so Felton is almost certainly looking at one more year in Detroit.
Felton likes carrying the ball and is the only thing on the roster resembling a third-down back. Hopefully he can get more work (and be effective) as a short-yardage rushing specialist in 2011.
2. Nate Burleson
3-4. Derrick Williams/Mid-Round Draft Selection (camp battle)
Given the Lions' recent roster composition and their strength at tight end, I don't expect the Lions to take more than four wide receivers into the 2011 season.
I am reasonably certain Bryant Johnson won't be one of them. He and Derrick Williams spent most of the 2010 season on the "active but invisible" list, but the big difference between the two is that Johnson is 30 and Williams is a third-year player who still has upside.
Consider also that Williams was drafted to fill a role as both a wide receiver and a kick returner. Now that Stefan Logan has nailed down the KR/PR position, this will be the first offseason in which Williams can focus exclusively on receiving.
That increased focus on his viability as a receiver makes 2011 Williams' last best chance at working out in the long term, so despite speculation to the contrary, I don't see the Lions giving up on Williams just yet.
I do, however, see them spending a pick in the draft to help bolster the bottom half of the depth chart. It probably won't be in the top half of the draft, so whoever it is won't necessarily storm up the depth chart.
He will, however, push Williams for his spot. The Lions would like to be able to put a field-stretching WR opposite Calvin Johnson and let Nate Burleson settle into the slot.
It's also worth noting that Tim Toone will be hanging around this year as well. He's an unknown quantity, so it's irresponsible to put him on the opening day depth chart, but he could be a surprise this year. Nobody knows how well he developed last year except his coaches, so we'll be able to tell how much faith the Lions have in him by their actions regarding in the draft.
1. Brandon Pettigrew
2. Tony Scheffler
3. Will Heller
The Lions' tight end position is perhaps the deepest and most talented group in football. All three players are under contract until at least 2013, and any they are all of starting quality.
Even better, each player fills a niche role. Scheffler is the receiving specialist, Heller the blocking specialist. Pettigrew is the all-around talent and future star who excels at both.
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan knows how to use tight ends, and as a result, all three saw significant action utilizing their particular skills in 2010, and likely will again in 2011.
The Lions have this position exactly where they want it from top to bottom and I see absolutely no reason to change a thing.
1. Jeff Backus
2. Jason Fox
1. Gosder Cherilus
2. Jason Fox
3. Free Agent
Let me clear up a couple things here.
First, Jason Fox is going to be the Lions' primary depth at tackle next season. My feelings on the Lions drafting an offensive tackle this year are well documented, and Fox is a big reason why.
In the same way that the Lions drafted Sammie Hill as a project in the fourth round in 2009 and turned him into an invaluable depth player for 2010, I expect the same result this year from Fox.
I actually expect that Fox is being groomed to take Jeff Backus' left tackle position in 2012, but there are those who believe he is better suited for right tackle. For now, he will be the primary backup at either position.
Of course, the Lions will need at least one more option at tackle, but I believe they sign one, not draft one (unless they draft an interior lineman with tackle experience, like TCU's Marcus Cannon), and I expect him to be primarily a right tackle.
The Lions need to focus more on right tackle depth anyway, considering that Backus is an iron man and Cherilus is coming off a major surgery.
Frankly, I wouldn't mind seeing Corey Hilliard make a return, but I'm not sure how feasible that is.
1. Rob Sims
2. Free Agent
1. Stephen Peterman
2. Early-Round Draft Selection
I fully expect the Lions to spend an early pick on an interior lineman in this year's draft. That pick is likely to be centered around the right guard position.
Of course, most guards coming out of this year's draft dabble in another line position. They could draft a C/G prospect or a G/OT prospect, but the Lions value versatility on the line, so either will work, since the Lions are in need of depth at both right tackle and center.
I would like to say that Peterman is immediately displaced by the new draft selection, but I'm not convinced it will happen that way. I don't rule out the possibility that Peterman loses his starting job as the season, but as of week one, I think Peterman probably has it nailed down.
On the left side, Rob Sims was a steady 16-game fixture in 2010, and his steady presence made that entire side of the line better (yes, I'm primarily talking about Jeff Backus). I expect a low-level free agent to come in for depth, but nobody to seriously compete for his position.
1. Dominic Raiola
2. Dylan Gandy
The Lions are nearing the point where Dominic Raiola, the long-standing fixture in the middle of the offensive line, needs to be replaced.
The said, he's under contract through the 2013 season, so I don't imagine the Lions are in any great hurry to move him out of his role.
Gandy was signed last season and provided depth at both center and guard. He has been tendered for 2011 as a restricted free agent, but he is a five-year veteran, so whether that RFA tender remains valid will depend on the terms of the new CBA.
Even if Gandy enters the market as an unrestricted free agent, I expect him to stay in Detroit. He has not had much success hanging on with a team lately, and the fact that the Lions want him back at all should be reason enough for him to stay.