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Detroit Lions mailbag: Line upgrades, offensive potential and more
To improve the run game, it isn’t necessarily one thing for the Detroit Lions.
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It’s the calm before the storm that is the NFL draft. We’re three weeks out from the crown-jewel event of the NFL offseason, so while we’re waiting, let’s knock out a mailbag.
What do the Lions really need to improve the run game? Better O-line, blocking TEs, scheme, or of course trading up to number one overall to draft Saquon?
— WMckinley (@willmckinleyy)
First and foremost, they could use better luck with health. Taylor Decker missed half the season, T.J. Lang was banged up a good chunk of the year and Rick Wagner and Travis Swanson both missed multiple games. It’s difficult to get chemistry established when the starting lineup is a revolving door.
But health isn’t something that can be controlled. Injuries are going to happen and you need to be able to roll with the punches. To improve the run game, it isn’t necessarily one thing. The blocking scheme could be better, the blocking execution could be improved — both at the line and on the perimeter with the tight ends and receivers — and the backs could be upgraded.
On the latter, we’ve already seen some effort there with the addition of LeGarrette Blount. He brings some much-needed size and physicality to the rotation. And, as we’ve discussed before, the team would be wise to continue improvements to that position group through the draft.
The team should also be looking for an interior lineman in the first three or four rounds of the draft, a prospect who can step into the starting lineup in his first season. I’m just not convinced Joe Dahl or free-agent addition Kenny Wiggins is the solution to rounding out the starting five.
Scheme could be the biggest difference. The Lions largely kept their offensive coaching staff in place, but there’s a new face in charge of the line. The blocking struggled under former assistant Ron Prince. His replacement, Jeff Davidson, will be charged with getting the group functioning at a higher level.
What’s a realistic expectation for this team in 2018?
— Dan Edelstein (@iamdanedelstein)
It wouldn’t be reasonable for me to tell you the Lions have Super Bowl talent. I think the franchise’s current ceiling is a postseason berth with a playoff win, which would likely need to come on the road.
The NFC North is brutal this year. The Vikings are the class of the division and have loaded up to make another run at the Super Bowl. And Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers. As long as he’s healthy, regardless of the other shortcomings on the Packers’ roster, they’ll be tough to beat.
Where the Lions have the potential to be very good is on offense. They were a top-10 scoring unit last year, return almost every starter, and as mentioned above, have the potential to improve their ground game with an injection of talent at running back and a blocking scheme overhaul. The defense has some talent, but it could take some time to adjust to significant schematic changes under coach Matt Patricia.
How do you see the Center/ LG positions need? Is it enough for 1st round?
— Sweta Patel (@sweta2311)
As mentioned above, it’s a significant need. You could make a strong argument it’s the biggest hole on the roster heading into the draft. As for spending a first-round pick on addressing that hole, a case can be made.
Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson will be long gone by the time the Lions are on the clock at No. 20, but UTEP’s Will Hernandez and Georgia’s Isaiah Wynn would both merit consideration at that spot. General manager Bob Quinn has shown a propensity to address the team’s biggest need in the first round, but guard would likely take a back seat to defensive line, if a quality edge rusher or tackle is on the board.
Do ever get frustrated with the sports world? i.e. ownership, front office, fans, etc. Can you realistically see the Lions trading down? If so, partner and for who?
— Chad Stewart (@Chef_Chadley)
Chad is coming in hot with the non-sequitur two-parter.
Like most people, I deal with day-to-day job frustrations, but I do my best to not let them impact me. Would I like it if my texts and calls were always returned? Sure. Would I like more access to the people I cover? Absolutely. But many of these things are outside of my control and I gain nothing by being upset about it. I do my best with the resources I have available.
As for your football question, I could see the Lions trading down in the first round to pick up another pick or two. The team is tied for the fewest selections entering the draft and Quinn has said he’d like to add more selections. To project a trading partner now is difficult, because you have to know how the first 19 picks are going to play out, and whether the team feels they can still get a player they want with a lower pick.
I would definitely keep my eye on the Patriots at No. 23, though. Quinn has made a few trades with his former employer, that’s a modest drop, and there are rumblings New England might have an eye on a QB. I could see them pushing forward a few spots to secure a guy like Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph.
What is the league-wide perception (aka, trade value) of Rudock? Possible 1st round move up with Cassel on board?
— Jason Michelsen (@JTMichelsen)
As a rookie, Jake Rudock was cut before the start of the season and went unclaimed on waivers. He then spent 11 weeks on the practice squad, free to be poached by another franchise at any time. The Bears finally made overtures and the Lions cleared a spot on the main roster for the young QB. That’s a decent reflection of Rudock’s value around the league.
It’s probably a bit higher now, given he has another year of seasoning under his belt, but he hasn’t had the opportunity to show his talents in a meaningful situation, outside of five passes late in a loss to Baltimore, one of which was intercepted.
All that to say, no, no one is going to be asking for Rudock in a deal that involves moving up in the first round. He could conceivably net a Day 3 pick, but until I see Matt Cassel’s contract, I’m not convinced the Lions are giving up on the idea of the former Michigan standout backing up Matthew Stafford again in 2018.
Any anticipated changes in offensive scheme? Will it be tweaks or a total rebuild?
— ptsawyer (@patricktsawyer)
It will be more about tweaks than an overhaul. The most significant changes will come with the blocking. Patricia also hinted to some variance in situational play-calling, which I would especially expect to see on third-and-short with Blount in the fold.
Lions lose Ngata, get a backup to replace him. Lions get rid of Ebron, get a backup to replace him. They waited 2 years to overpay for Blount. They are weak at DL and safety. They did improve at LB . I feel like Quinn and The Patriot Way are becoming exhausting and underwhelming, agree?
— Popkie (@thePOPkie)
That’s probably the most cynical way to view the offseason.
Here’s a retort. Haloti Ngata is well past his prime and Sylvester Williams is a comparable player, especially against the run. I don’t agree about the team’s talent at safety, but obvious upgrades are needed up front, which should be coming via the draft. The Blount deal is one-year, $2 million, so hardly an overpay. There’s potential for him to double the contract’s value if he has a monster year, but that would be a good thing, no?
Your most legitimate concern is the tight end situation. Dumping Eric Ebron has been called a financial decision, but the replacement plan is underwhelming on the surface. Luke Willson offers some untapped potential, but he’s not likely to produce anywhere near Ebron’s level.
I see that many coaches have had the title ‘Quality Control Assistant’ in their job history. What exactly does a quality control assistant do?
— ck (@ckief)
It’s the professional equivalent of a graduate assistant at the college level. Quality control coaches have extensive duties scouting the film of future opponents. During practices, they often work as an assistant with a specific position group, sometimes two.
Do you feel the lack of picks this year in the draft might have a large impact on how Quinn goes about his business this year on draft weekend? He was kind of spoiled walking into a franchise with more than 7 picks the last 2 years.
— Beer Worshiping Cult (@cerevisi)
I don’t believe it alters the plan. The goal is always to add as much quality talent as possible. If trading down to add picks costs you the opportunity to add a better player at your original draft slot, there’s no reason to make that move.
At what point is the playbook updated and given to players? With new defensive philosophy coming in, curious to know how much time players have or have had to study prior to the beginning of the season.
— Mike Popiel (@MichaelPopiel)
My understanding is players are not allowed to interact with coaches on football-related matters (scheme, play books, etc..) until Phase 2 of the offseason program in May.
What were the best tacos you tasted last week?
— Greg Durkee (@Durkee971)
Background for those who don’t follow me on Twitter, a friend came through with a ticket to the NCAA championship game in San Antonio on Monday. I flew down the day of the game and for the 50 or so hours I was in the state of Texas, I committed to eating tacos for every meal. In hindsight, it was the right decision.
I tried a number of different varieties, but I still prefer a basic, traditional taco with steak (asada), cilantro and diced onions.
Also, breakfast tacos are a game-changer. I need more of these in my life, and I’m not talking about the abomination Taco Bell rolled out, where the shell is a fried egg.
Do the Lions select a RB or a TE first in the draft? Which round does each occur?
— BLT1980 (@blewist1844)
My meaningless guess, running back, sometime in Day 2.
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