Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 2/27/13
The Detroit Lions endured a painful season, one wrecked by injuries to the receiving corps and secondary, the lack of push in the interior running game, extremely inopportune turnovers and the propensity of the defense and special teams to give up huge scoring plays. As they entered this off season, with a sliver of cap space, and a slew of free agents, it would appear that the Lions had a difficult off season ahead of them. In the words of Lee Corso "Not So Fast My Friend!" After restructures to the contracts of C Dominic Raiola and WR Nate Burleson, and the releases of DE Kyle Vanden Bosch and RG Stephen Peterman, the Lions are actually somewhat healthy financially. After Matthew Stafford gets his eventual extension and lowers his cap number from 20 million into the 10-12 mil range, the Lions will actually be reasonably flush with cap room. This doesn't mean they should go blow it on a ton of overpriced free agents, but it means that they should be able to fill all of their holes and add some badly needed depth to the roster. GM Martin Mayhew has done a terrific job in transforming a talentless bunch of saps when he took over, into a team with very good top end talent; they just need to add talented depth as well that will allow them to withstand injuries as well as move on from expensive, older players when the time comes. Here's a brief  breakdown of each position group for the Lions and how we can expect them to address each: OFFENSE QB The Lions have their franchise signal caller in Stafford. He's just some added consistency away from being elite, and at age 25, his best football is still ahead of him. Behind him is Shaun Hill, the quintessential back-up QB. Hill knows how to run the offense, and doesn't make mistakes. He is one of, if not the top back-up QB in the NFL. Currently Kellen Moore is the 3rd string QB. He has a weak arm, but is accurate and has good anticipation.Unless a very talented signal-caller falls to them in the mid-rounds, don't expect the Lions to use a draft pick on the QB position. They may add another arm to challenge Moore, but it will probably be an UDFA (Undrafted Free Agent) or a camp arm. Looks like the Lions will give Moore every opportunity to develop into Stafford's long term-back up, and replace Hill when he hangs it up.  Need Priority : None RB Mikel LeShoure is the talented back that Stafford and the offense need to really open things up. Last year was an inconsistent one for him, as he showed flashes of big-time talent, and was just another back at time. My naked eye says that his inconsistency is more on the Offensive Line and OC Scott Linehan's play-calling than LeShoure, but this upcoming season will be a big one for him. Behind him, Joique Bell emerged as a very good young back last season for the Lions. He was especially adept at catching passes out of the backfield, and he also was hard to bring down at times. I feel like the Lions have a good combo of backs, but they should look to the mid to late rounds of the draft and add a big - play back with some speed. That is the role they had hoped Jahvid Best would play, but injuries look as if they may force him to retire. A burner from the draft like a Kenjon Barner (Oregon) (pun not intended) in the 5th round would be a great value pick and would both give the backfield a needed dimension, and be a huge upgrade on Stefan Logan as a returner. Need Priority : Minimal OL This is the most interesting position group on the Lions' offense to watch. They have already cut Peterman, who while the best run blocker of the line, was awful in pass protection, and heavily penalized. They will probably not re-sign RT Gosder Cherilus , who actually had a very good season, but at his best is a mediocre run blocker. In their places, pencil in T Riley Reiff and C/G Bill Nagy. Nagy is a young player the was highly sought after when he hit the waiver wire, that the Lions were able to secure by virtue of being so bad last season. Reiff is last year's 1st round pick, who in limited snaps showed terrific run blocking, and so-so pass blocking ability. This line has versatility, as Nagy has the ability to play both guard and center, and Reiff can play both guard and tackle. Throw in T Jason Fox, whom they have been grooming for a few years now, and it will be a free-for all battle to start between the 3 youngsters, and the 3 incumbents on the left side and at center: Raiola, LT Jeff Backus and LG Rob Sims. Backus and Sims are still both playing at a high level, but this is likely Backus' final year, and Raiola may be nothing better than a good back -up at this point, so the Lions will still need to address this position in the draft. They could address it as early as No. 5 with franchise T's like Eric Fisher (Central Michigan) and Luke Joeckel (Texas A and M) possibly options, and G's like Chance Warmack (Alabama) rated by respected draft guru Mike Mayock as the best player in the entire Draft, and Jonathan Cooper (North Carolina) making their cases to be top 10 picks as well. Or maybe they wait until the 2nd round and draft a versatile and talented G-C like Barrett Jones (Alabama), or the super athletic T Terron Armstead  (Arkansas Pine-Bluff; ran an OL combine record 4.71 40 yard dash!). Because of their pressing needs on defense, I expect the Lions to wait until the 2nd or 3rd round to draft an OL, but I also expect them to grab one interior C-G to groom behind Raiola and compete with Nagy, and an athletic LT prospect who can compete with Jason Fox for Backus' spot when he retires and keep Reiff on the right side where he could dominate. Need Priority : Moderate WR /TE The Lions are pretty set at this position group if everyone stays healthy. Megatron battled broken fingers during his record-breaking season, and Burleson and Ryan Broyles were both lost for the year with injuries. The hope is that they all stay healthy this season and continue to power a prolific throwing attack. Add in Mike Thomas, a slot guy with some speed as the 4th WR, and special teams ace Kasim Osgood, and the Lions are stacked at the position. And no more idiotic Titus Young - Yay ! At TE, the Lions have a great duo, in Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew, but they need Pettigrew to do a much better job of holding onto the ball. His drops and fumbles cost the Lions at least 2 Ws last season, so he really needs to figure this out. TE Will Heller is a free agent, but he should come back relatively cheap. Even if they replace him, they really don't need to use a draft pick to do it, as there are tons of TE's available on the market for the league minimum. Need Priority : None DEFENSE DT This may rate higher than you expect. Of course it is not a pressing need because of the presence of studs Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. However, Sammie Lee Hill is a free agent and he may get  a big pay-day from someone. He has ton of talent and he has played well alongside the big 2 guys. Hopefully the Lions can re-sign him to a reasonable deal and solidify a strong DT rotation. Corey Williams is likely gone, unless he is willing to take a major pay cut. If they stand to lose Hill in FA, he may be a cheaper alternative then trying to bid for Hill's services. Expect the Lions to bring back at least one of the 2, and also add another stop-gap veteran to the mix. Need Priority : Moderate DE Vanden Bosch is gone and if Cliff Avril doesn't tone down his contract demands, he will be gone too. Working in the Lions favor is that at the 5th pick in the draft,  there are a bevy of young pas rushers whom they can select. Ezekiel Ansah (BYU) seems like a great fit for the Wide - 9 defense the Lions use, but don't sleep on Dion Jordan (Oregon) or Barkevious Mingo (LSU). Both are light for DE's, but in the Wide - 9 that may not be as much as a problem. Like Ansah, they are terrific athletes, but they have more experience against better competition. The Lions MUST re-sign Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young. Jackson was their best two way DE the last couple of seasons and he has really found himself in Detroit. Young flashed elite pass rusher potential two seasons ago, but had a disappointing year last season. He still has a lot of talent, and hopefully his bad season will just make him more affordable for the Lions. Jackson is unrestricted and Young is restricted, but both need to come back. Behind them is Ronnell Lewis, a kid the Lions are pretty high on. They think he can develop into a very good DE in time, so hopefully that time is this season. There is a chance the Lions work out a deal with Avril, and in that case, they may be able to hold off on using their high picks on a DE. But failing that, which I think is likely, they will be using either their 1st round pick or their 2nd round pick to get an impactful DE. Need Priority : High LB The Lions are set at MLB with Stephen Tulloch but both OLBs, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are set to be FAs. I'm personally not very high on either, as neither is capable of making big plays, and both miss too many tackles. The Lions may bring one of the 2 back, but not both. If I had my druthers, I'd say Levy as he is capable of also playing MLB in the case of an injury to Tulloch. Really though, it will come down to who is cheaper. The FA market is always littered with LBs, as unless you are elite like the Patrick Willis' or Navorro Bowman's of the world, LB is an extremely easy to replace position. The likely scenario is the Lions sign a couple of cheap veterans, and allow youngsters Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis to compete with them, for the SLB and WLB positions. Both drew rave reviews in training camp last season. The Lions may also expend a mid round pick on a LB as well. Need Priority : Moderate   CB On one hand, the Lions have a group of young talented corners in Bill Bentley, Jonte Green, and Chris Greenwood. But Bentley and Greenwood missed essentially their entire rookie seasons with injuries, and Green, while looking a lot better as the year progressed, still has a ways to go to be considered an option to start at CB. The Lions MUST re-sign Chris Houston. He's never going to be confused with an elite corner. But he is a very good one, and one that must be signed or else this Lions secondary will fall apart. Also under contract is Ronald Bartell, an alumni of THE Detroit Renaissance High School, and at one time a very good CB in this league. He is signed to a cheap deal, and the hope is he can regain his form. Even if they re-sign Houston, the quartet of Bartell and the second-year guys is a risky proposition to rely on, especially in a division that houses QBs like Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler. They don't really need any more depth, so expect them to target starters only. The FA market is littered with some intriguing names, so this may be a position to watch the Lions attack in FA. Or they could use a draft pick, like say the 5th pick on Dee Milliner (Alabama). I like Milliner, but there are questions on whether or not he is a true lock - down CB. If so, then I'd strongly be for taking him at 5. Need Priority : High S This is the scariest position for the Lions. Louis Delmas is a player whom the Lions have identified as a key cog. He is a playmaker, but can't stay healthy, and even when he does can sometimes give up huge plays. As a Safety, the chief priority is to NOT give up big plays. I am indifferent about re-signing him, as I think he can be replaced. But it seems as if he may be the Lions chief priority to re-sign. I'm fine with it, as long as it isn't for too much money, and doesn't come at the expense of losing Chris Houston or Lawrence Jackson. Besides Delmas, there is Ricardo Silva, who has some talent, but probably is best suited for a reserve role, and Amari Spievey, who is the same, with the added concern of injury issues. Both are restricted free agents, but the Lions shouldn't have any problem bringing both back, and hopefully only as back-ups. I think the Lions MUST get a starter out of the draft. It is a deep class of safeties. Kenny Vaccaro (Texas) is the only one worth using a 1st round pick on, but at 5 that would be a reach. However in the 2nd or 3rd rounds, a S like Matt Elam (Florida) could be just what the doctor ordered. They may also go the free agent route. They pursued George Wilson when he was available, but unfortunately he chose the Tennessee Titans. There are other veteran safeties on the market that may be attractive to the Lions as well. They must upgrade this position more than anything . Need Priority : Highest K/P/LS Don Muhlbach was a Pro Bowl alternate at long snapper. Jason Hanson is still Mr. Consistent, and here's hoping he comes back and kicks for at least one more season. And Nick Harris isn't a great punter, but he's OK. We probably will return with all 3 intact next season. Need Priority : Depends on Hanson, but probably None
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