NFL

What The Lions Need To Do To Take The Next Step

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The NFL playoff field has narrowed from 12 teams to eight, to four and we’re finally left with the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons as the final two teams standing.

We’re going to look at each of the losing teams in the playoffs and figure out what they need to add to its existing core to take the next step toward championship contention.

We already looked at the Oakland Raiders and the Miami Dolphins, and now we’re moving on to the Detroit Lions.

The Lions fell apart in spectacular fashion down the stretch of what, in November, seemed like it was ticketed to be a great season for the franchise. They lost four straight games, including last Saturday’s blowout at the hands of the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round and seemed less and less competitive in each contest than the previous. Now Detroit enters another offseason with more questions than answers.

We know Matthew Stafford will be back, though his lack of consistency calls into question how long this marriage will ultimately last, especially with the quarterback entering the last year of his contract. An extension will be on the table this offseason, and though Stafford hasn’t taken Detroit as far as they liked or as far as maybe he should’ve by now, when you consider the alternatives teams without a quarterback are facing, there’s no way they can let him go now. What they need to do is put better talent around him. Particularly in front of him.

They have a great base there in left tackle Taylor Decker, who had a very strong rookie campaign and should be the anchor for the Lions line for years to come. Of course the same was said for Riley Reiff not too long ago and now the team’s 2012 first round pick is a free agent who Detroit isn’t sure whether or not to keep. Reiff was average at best this season, his first at right tackle, where he moved after the team drafted Decker, but average isn’t easy to find at the tackle position and might be enough to make him worth holding onto. If Detroit is able to do that, they’ll have to pursue upgrades on the inside of their line, where the 48 starts were split between four young players: Laken Tomlinson, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson and Larry Warford. Three of those four were third round picks of the Lions, while the other, Tomlinson, was a first rounder. Warford is a free agent, likely to depart. Glasgow, a 2016 third rounder, who started at center and guard during this season should figure into the team’s plans for the future. That leaves Tomlinson, the former first rounder who was benched late in the season, and Swanson, who finished the season on the sidelines with an injury while Glasgow took his spot at center. Detroit can likely get away with keeping one of the two up front, but they must upgrade at the other guard position for the offense to improve on their 21st ranking for the 2016 season.

If Detroit is able to do that, they’ll have to pursue upgrades on the inside of their line, where the 48 starts were split between four young players: Laken Tomlinson, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson and Larry Warford. Three of those four were third round picks of the Lions, while the other, Tomlinson, was a first rounder. Warford is a free agent, likely to depart. Glasgow, a 2016 third rounder, who started at center and guard during this season should figure into the team’s plans for the future. That leaves Tomlinson, the former first rounder who was benched late in the season, and Swanson, who finished the season on the sidelines with an injury while Glasgow took his spot at center. Detroit can likely get away with keeping one of the two up front, but they must upgrade at the other guard position for the offense to improve on their 21st ranking for the 2016 season.

Otherwise, there isn’t much Detroit can do to upgrade on offense. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones will be mainstays at the top two receiver spots, with the team likely to seek another veteran to fill the third receiver role Anquan Boldin did in 2016. Tight end Eric Ebron has been a huge disappointment, but it likely to get one more chance to fulfill his potential. And at running back, the Lions have talent with Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick due back and Zach Zenner having emerged as a legitimate option at the position as well.

On defense, Detroit needs to get better up front first and foremost. Ezekiel Ansah struggled to stay healthy all season, which was the crux of the Lions’ problem up front, but in the game against Seattle, the Pro Bowler showed he still has plenty left in the tank. However, Detroit needs to give him some help. The team got great production out of Kerry Hyder this season, and though should absolutely retain him as an exclusive rights free agent, it remains to be seen if he’s more than a rotational talent at defensive end. They need a splash type player, either through free agency or the draft, to address that position opposite Ansah. The Lions are also due for some upgrades on the inside of the defensive line, where 2016 first rounder A’Shawn Robinson struggled at times during his rookie year and veteran Haloti Ngata is a serious candidate to be cut.

The full-time return of DeAndre Levy to the middle of the Detroit defense should be a big boost next season, as the franchise cornerstone linebacker finished the season healthy and should be ready to go full bore next season. Tahir Whitehead also remains in place as a steady presence in the linebacking corps, but the depth beyond that is minimal, making it still and area of severe need for Detroit. The same can’t really be said for the backend of the defense. The safety duo of veteran Glover Quin and young up and comer Tavon Wilson has the potential to be among the league’s best, and if Darius Slay can stay healthy, he and Nevin Lawson can lock down the top two corners spots. Adding some rotational corners, including a slot specialist, could only help.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys