LIONS FILL HOLES AND MORE WITH DRAFT PICKS
The Detroit Lions ended the regular season on a high note making the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Their playoff run ended abruptly with a 45-28 loss to the New Orleans Saints and with that loss the Lion defense came under close scrutiny. Their inability to stop the Saints in the second half raised eyebrows around town and, coupled with a 45-41 loss to Green Bay in the regular season finale, the defense would be a target for improvement in the off season. GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz addressed those needs in the draft, but also filled some troubling holes which hounded the Lions earlier in the season.
Early in the 2011 season the supposed big problem with the Lions was the lack of a running game. After a loss to Atlanta which dropped the Lions to 5-2, the talk was that the Lions were going to go right down the tubes if they couldn’t find a running game. This topic du jour quickly faded as the defensive woes took center stage as the season progressed. The Lion brass did not forget about addressing the running game topic in the draft by selecting Riley Reiff with their first pick. Reiff, who has played every position on the offensive line, will bring energy and attitude to a Lion offensive line which has been affected by age and injury. Reiff and a healthy Jason Fox should bring some added depth and talent to an offensive line that will have to remain on the field longer if the running game is to improve. An improved running game will also keep the defense off the field for longer periods of time in the upcoming season helping out in that area as well.
The Lions also had to pick up some help for their special teams in the off season. Detroit’s special teams ranked 30th of 32 teams according to footballoutsiders.com. The Lions gave up to many yards to field position with their special teams last season so Mayhew and Schwartz went out and heavily scouted for special teams talent. By drafting cornerbacks and linebackers in the later rounds and signing undrafted free agents, the special teams instantly got faster and stronger. A special team role is a way for players drafted in the later rounds to gain a spot on the roster and be there for the added depth an NFL roster needs.
The defense got the help it needed when the Lions drafted defensive players in rounds 3-7. Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green will all be given a chance to crack the starting lineup at cornerback. The Lion secondary was torched in the final two games of the season so these incoming rookies know they are going to receive a decent shot at getting into the rotation at defensive back. There should not be any odds on favorites for starting positions in the secondary with what the fans were shown at the end of last season. If the rookies are talented enough, they can earn a spot and stick in the Lion secondary. The linebackers, Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis, along with DE/LB Ronnell Lewis will be valuable additions to defensive depth and special teams.
I have vainly searched for the crystal ball that will allow me to see how these players perform in the future. Since the rookies are entering into uncharted areas, predictions are just that. Circumstances beyond control can affect anyone in the world and these circumstances will affect the Lion draft picks as well. All you can say at this point is that the Detroit Lions draft looks good on paper and hope the rookies perform as advertised. And if I do find that crystal ball, I promise to share it with the Lion staff.
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