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Detroit Lions’ position-by-position needs in 2018 NFL draft
Bob Quinn said he takes an 18-month outlook when analyzing his team’s long-term needs
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Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia talks about the upcoming NFL Draft and drafts picks he think will help his team.
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said he takes an 18-month outlook when assessing his team’s needs in the NFL draft. That means projecting not only what spots the Lions must fill this fall, but which players they’ll re-sign or move on from next spring and after the 2019 season as well.
“We kind of look that far,” Quinn said at his annual pre-draft news conference last week. “There’s a really good balance there that we have to talk about and kind of envision our needs not just for today but in years and years ahead.”
With that in mind, we ranked the Lions’ biggest needs heading into draft, both short- and long-term. On a 1-5 scale, five is the Lions’ biggest need, and the year after each player’s name denotes the final season of their contract.
On the roster: Matthew Stafford (2022), Jake Rudock (2018), Matt Cassel (2018).Short-term need: 1Long-term need: 2What happens in the draft: With Rudock and Cassel vying for the backup job, it seems unlikely the Lions spend a draft pick on a rookie. There’s a good chance they sign an undrafted free agent, however, and after spending the season on the practice squad, that player could be in the mix for a backup job in 2019 when one or both of Rudock and Cassel is gone.
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On the roster: LeGarrette Blount (2018), Ameer Abdullah (2018), Theo Riddick (2019), Zach Zenner (2018), Tion Green (2019), Dwayne Washington (2019).Short-term need: 3Long-term need: 5What happens in the draft: The Lions have enough running backs to get by for this season if they want, but their one- and two-year outlooks are bleak. They need a starting-caliber running back to take over for Blount and Abdullah in 2019, and if that player happens to do it sooner so be it. There’s a very high probability they draft a running back this week, and the smart money says it happens before Day 2 is over.
On the roster: Golden Tate (2018), Marvin Jones (2020), Kenny Golladay (2020), TJ Jones (2018), Jace Billingsley (2019), Andy Jones (2019), Dontez Ford (2019), Bradley Marquez (2018).Short-term need: 1Long-term need: 3What happens in the draft: Tate, Golladay and Marvin and TJ Jones form one the most complete receiving units in the NFL, but there’s trouble brewing down the line as two of those four players will be free agents after the season. If the Lions think they can re-sign Tate, they don’t need to force a receiver with just six picks. If they aren’t sure, they’d be wise to get one on Day 3, where it’s good business to take one anyway in just about every draft.
On the roster: Luke Willson (2018), Michael Roberts (2020), Levine Toilolo (2018), Hakeem Valles (2018), Brandon Barnes (2018)Short-term need: 3Long-term need: 4What happens in the draft: Next year’s free-agent tight end class is even worse than this year’s (unless you think Rob Gronkowski will be released), so the Lions would be wise to add a tight end somewhere in the draft. One caveat: They’d have to be comfortable carrying four tight ends on their 53-man roster, as both Willson and Toilolo should have roles this fall. Roberts is still an unknown after playing a bit part last season, but his development is key to the long-term outlook of this position.
On the roster: OT-Taylor Decker (2019*), Rick Wagner (2021), Corey Robinson (2018), Brian Mihalik (2018), Dan Skipper (2019). OG-T.J. Lang (2019), Kenny Wiggins (2019), Joe Dahl (2019). C-Graham Glasgow (2019), Wesley Johnson (2018), Leo Koloamatangi (2019).Short-term need: 3Long-term need: 4What happens in the draft: Building a solid offensive line requires constant reinvestment, that’s why the Lions could be in the market for an interior lineman early in the draft and/or a swing tackle in the middle or late rounds. All three of the Lions’ top guards have contracts that expire in two years, and both of the Lions’ top backup tackles are in the final season of their deals. Projecting ahead, the Lions will use the fifth-year option on Decker, so the starting tackle spots aren’t an issue, and Glasgow could be in line for an extension next summer. But there’s a reason they brought three mid-round tackles in for pre-draft visits.
On the roster: DE-Ziggy Ansah (2018), Kerry Hyder (2018), Anthony Zettel (2019), Cornelius Washington (2018), Alex Barrett (2019), Jeremiah Valoaga (2018), Cam Johnson (2018). Short-term need: 4Long-term need: 5What happens in the draft: The Lions return starting ends Ansah and Zettel, but Ansah hasn’t looked right in two years and Hyder is coming off a torn Achilles. Can the Lions get by with their current roster setup? Of course, but why chance it? Ansah is likely to play this fall on the franchise tag, and could be down to his final 16 games in Detroit. It would be foolish to pass up a chance to get his replacement early in the draft. If nothing else, the Lions should take a rotational end in the middle rounds.
On the roster: DT-A’Shawn Robinson (2019), Sylvester Williams (2018), Akeem Spence (2019), Jeremiah Ledbetter (2020), Christian Ringo (2018), Toby Johnson (2019).Short-term need: 3Long-term need: 4What happens in the draft: Matt Patricia wants to build through the middle of his defense, and that means adding more help to the defensive tackle spot. Both Robinson and Williams have the size to be impact run defenders, while Spence is the only true pass-rushing interior threat. Given Williams’ contract status and the depth at nosetackle, the Lions could attack the position a number of ways, including in the first round.
On the roster: Jarrad Davis (2020), Devon Kennard (2020), Christian Jones (2019), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (2020), Steve Longa (2018), Jonathan Freeny (2018), Nick Bellore (2018), Brandon Chubb (2018).Short-term need: 2Long-term need: 3What happens in the draft: The Lions have four potential contributors singed through at least 2019, so their needs at this position are in the eye of the beholder. If Jones can handle the weak-side linebacker spot, they have their starters. But Patricia loves his linebackers, and since Reeves-Maybin doesn’t exactly fit from a body-type standpoint, it wouldn’t be a surprise in the least if they draft one.
On the roster: CB-Darius Slay (2020), Nevin Lawson (2019), Teez Tabor (2020), Jamal Agnew (2020), DeShawn Shead (2018), Raysean Pringle (2018).Short-term need: 2Long-term need: 3What happens in the draft: Cornerback is one of those positions where the need is always greater than it appears given the dearth of good cover men in the NFL and the high injury rate at the position. The Lions have five or six corners worthy of roster spots, depending where they slot Quandre Diggs. It’s a deep draft at the position, though, so there may come a point in the middle rounds where a corner is simply the highest player on their board.
On the roster: Glover Quin (2019), Tavon Wilson (2019), Quandre Diggs (2018), Charles Washington (2018), Miles Killebrew (2019), Stefan McClure (2018), Rolan Milligan (2019).Short-term need: 3Long-term need: 5What happens in the draft: Using Bob Quinn’s 18-month outlook as a guide, there’s not a safety on this roster who you can safely say will still be a Lion come 2020. Again, whether Diggs is a safety or slot cornerback, he’ll be on the field in nickel packages this fall. The Lions do have to prepare for his potential departure after the season, and account for Killebrew’s stagnation. It’s a potentially deep free-agent class at safety (Landon Collins, Jimmie Ward, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), but Patricia values safeties to the point the Lions could draft one to be part of their rotation on Day 2.
On the roster: K Matt Prater (2020), P Sam Martin (2020), LS Don Muhlbach (2018)Short-term need: 1Long-term need: 1What happens in the draft: Absolutely nothing. The Lions need a replacement for Muhlbach, eventually, but they won’t try to draft one again, at least not this year. And Prater and Martin (when healthy) are one of the better kicking combos in the league.
Contact Dave Birkett: [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
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