In perhaps what has been the most active offseason for the Detroit Lions, one has to wonder if Martin Mayhew and Company are actually building the team to get to the playoffs in 2010.
Before anyone calls me crazy, I'm not recanting my hope they go 8-8. I still agree with most Lions fans that a six or seven win season seems more realistic. The schedule is fairly brutal. Depending on whether Favre comes back will determine who will really dominate the NFC North in 2010.
The Packers, over the same time frame, went 4-1. No one could deny they were one of the hottest teams in the NFL in the latter part of the season.
Back to the Lions. They had a good draft, getting DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best, CB Amari Spievey, OT Jason Fox, DE Willie Young, and WR Tim Toone. Obviously, Suh, Best, and Spievey will have the most impact this year.
Fox is going to push RT Gosder Cherilus for playing time. I don't think he has what it takes to protect Stafford's blind side. His lateral range is better suited at right tackle and he needs to finish off his blocks better. The upside is his willingness to play through injuries. At 6'7" and 303 lbs., he isn't going to be easy to bull rush.
Young was drafted as a DE but he may end up being one of those hybrid players as an outside linebacker. Coverage may be an issue.
However, with his balance, speed and agility, he could develop into a top-flight linebacker. If the Lions want him at DE, he'll need to add some bulk to his 251 lb. frame. If they do see him as an outside linebacker, he's at a very good weight.
As for Mr. Irrelevant, Tim Toone, he could be the sleeper pick of the draft. Great hands and excellent route runner with decent speed, he could be a Wes Welker type of receiver for Matthew Stafford. He signed a two-year contract with the Lions but he'll need to have one helluva camp to make the cut.
Where have the Lions improved the most? Obviously the defensive line. Gone are DT Grady Jackson and DE DeWayne White. Added are DT Suh, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, and DT Corey Williams. The Lions, rated one the worst defense last year overall, hope to get more pressure on the QB and help the secondary from getting burned so much.
Speaking of the secondary, they gave up 54 passing plays for 20 yards or more and 17 pass plays for over 40 yards. The 17 passing plays they gave up tied them with the Miami Dolphins as the most in the NFL last year. Add to that the 35 TDs given up in the air and 18 rushing, teams were scoring any way they wanted to against the Lions last year.
But that was last year's secondary. Gone are Anthony Henry, Phillip Buchanon, and Ko Simpson. Coming in is C.C. Brown, Chris Houston, Jonathon Wade, Spievey, and now Dre Bly to make up a much better secondary than last year. Let's not forget Louis Delmas.
They will get burned, as all secondary’s will. However, I don't think they will lead the league in giving up the most 40 plus yards pass plays. I certainly hope they reduce the number of TDs given up by at least one third.
As for the offense, they did rank 21st in passing. I think the only reason they were even that high was due to the fact they had to throw the ball since they were playing from behind so much.
The QB situation is settled. Matt Stafford is the starter for the Detroit Lions for at least the next five years. I believe he has the capability to become a very good quarterback in the NFL. The Lions did as much as they could to get him some more weapons.
Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew, Dennis Northcutt, Will Heller, and Tim Toone. This is the group that needs to really step up this year to make all the teams pay for doubling up on Calvin Johnson. As for CJ, this could be the year he breaks out. If he does, all I can say is, it's about damn time.
Through no fault of his own, Johnson has yet to have that defining season to place him in elite status with other wide receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald, Reggie Wayne, Randy Moss, or Donald Driver. Then again, look at the teams these wide receivers play for. They have had the luxury of very talented quarterbacks throwing to them and good secondary receivers taking the pressure off them.
For the most part, Detoit should have pretty good run support, something the Lions have lacked for years. Not having a 1,000 yard rusher since Kevin Jones in 2004 has really made the Lions a one dimensional team. Kevin Smith came close in 2008 with 976 yards. Running for 1,000 yards for a 0-16 team would have been a dubious accomplishment.
Smith is coming back from left knee surgery and he says he's good to go. The Lions drafted Jahvid Best anyway. I think it was a great pick.
Best has speed to burn and could be the home run back we've been missing since Barry Sanders. No, he isn't going to be Barry Sanders. However, give Best a sliver of daylight between the tackles or some blocking when he takes it outside and he'll be gone and not a lot of people are going to catch him when he hits the afterburners.
The key to the Lions being successful is Matthew Stafford. This is his team. I think he is going to step up big time. He's got a year under his belt. He has been working on seeing the field better and not to force the ball on every single passing play.
There will be times that cannon of his will get away with some plays. He has the capability of putting the ball where only his receiver can make a play.That's all you can ask of a QB, to give your receiver the best opportunity to catch the ball.
So are the Lions poised to make a playoff run next year? They certainly have made some very good acquisitions to do so. Crazy things happen in the NFL. Teams that are predicted as locks to win falter. Teams that are picked to falter find themselves leading their division at the end of the season.
The New Orleans Saints were given 20-1 odds last year to win the Super Bowl.
The Lions? 90-1.
Just something to consider.
Happy Fourth of July everyone, be safe and be proud!