Offseason review: Detroit Lions
CB, WLB, SLB, WR (speed), RB, G (depth)
Round 1: Nick Fairley, DT
Round 2: Titus Young, WR
Round 2: Mikel Leshoure, RB
Round 5: Doug Hogue, LB
Round 7: Johnny Culbreath, OT
Potential free agents of note
Drew Stanton, QB
Kevin Smith, RB
Jerome Felton, FB
Cliff Avril, DE
Turk McBride, DE
Bobby Carpenter, LB
Chris Houston, CB
John Wendling, S
CB, SLB, WLB, G (depth)
The Lions surprised many observers by closing the 2010 season with four straight wins. But to become a true playoff contender for the first time in many years, they’ll have to improve greatly on the defensive side of the football.
While the Lions were already in decent shape on the interior of their defensive line, they couldn’t pass up a great value like defensive tackle Nick Fairley with the 13th selection overall in the first round of the draft. Fairley will team up last year’s top selection, Ndamukong Suh, to form one of the NFL’s top interior defensive line tandems. With fourth-year pro Cliff Avril expected to re-sign as a restricted free agent, the Lions should be in decent shape at defensive end. Fifth-year defensive lineman Turk McBride, who was claimed off waivers almost two years ago, has become an important part of Detroit’s depth and rotation on the defensive line. McBride, who participated in just over 42 percent of the defensive plays last season, should be a priority to re-sign.
The Lions have two big issues on defense to improve upon going forward, however.
While third-year defender DeAndre Levy will likely start at inside linebacker, the Lions have to figure out who will be starting at the two outside spots. The team parted ways with starting strongside linebacker Julian Peterson earlier this year, and his replacement is unknown. Sixth-year linebacker Bobby Carpenter, who played fairly well in limited playing time last season, could start at strongside linebacker should he re-sign with the team. On draft weekend the Lions surprisingly waited until the fifth round to select a linebacker. And that player, Doug Hogue, is considered to be more of a developmental player than a likely contributor this season. The Lions may have to look toward signing a few veteran free agents to compete for the two outside spots or to provide depth.
Both cornerback spots, a true weakness of the defense, look up for grabs this point. Re-signing fifth-year cornerback Chris Houston is considered to be a priority. He could become a restricted free agent depending on the rules of free agency, so he’s far from certain to return. While third-year cornerback Alphonso Smith played well initially after being acquired via a trade last season, his play regressed over the final portion of the season. The Lions must add at least two experienced veterans if they want to have a chance to legitimately compete for a wild-card spot.
The good news is the Lions have the makings of an outstanding offense. If starting quarterback Matthew Stafford can stay healthy for a change, the Lions should have one of the better passing games in the NFC. Mikel LeShoure and Jahvid Best should form a very solid power and speed combination at running back. And second-round pick Titus Young should give the team some badly needed speed and downfield playmaking ability at wide receiver.
The bottom line is this offense could be very tough to stop.