Now that the Super Bowl has been played and free agency is approaching, Last Word On Pro Football will be looking at the top three off-season needs for each team. Today, the Detroit Lions are the focus. The Lions have the 21st pick in the 2017 NFL Draft and a few key players will hit free agency this year, most notably right tackle Riley Reiff and guard Larry Warford.
Detroit Lions 2017 Off-Season: Top 3 Needs
This need is purely speculative, but with both of the aforementioned Reiff and Warford set to hit the market the Lions could very well lose the entire right side of their offensive line and the results of this would be absolutely disastrous for this franchise. In 2016, the Lions did a respectable job of keeping Matthew Stafford on his feet, and that resulted in one of the better seasons the former number one pick has ever produced. A loss of continuity along the line would be a huge step back for this team.
After the Lions drafted Taylor Decker with their first-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, Reiff, a 2012 first-rounder in his own right, was shifted to the right side and the results were encouraging. Warford, on the other hand, shook off a couple of rough years and put a season of solid play on tape in 2016. Both men will likely be paid handsomely this off-season, and that may or may not happen in Detroit.
If one or both of Reiff and Warford’s contract demands exceed what the Lions are willing to spend to retain them (very likely), the team could be left scrambling for replacements, and this could ultimately prove to be a daunting task. The Lions’ 2015 first rounder Laken Tomlinson is a candidate to move to the right side and compete for the job with 2016 fifth-rounder Joe Dahl in the event Warford leaves, and quality guard prospects can often be found in the middle rounds of the draft. Finding a starting right tackle in the event of Reiff’s departure, on the other hand, could be a much more difficult proposition.
Yes, the free agent class at offensive tackle has some talented players, but the majority of them aren’t going to be interested in playing on the right side. Mainstays at left tackle like Andrew Whitworth and Russell Okung are highly unlikely to be interested in making the move. Furthermore, Ricky Wagner, the top right tackle on the market, will likely be out of the team’s price range. Ryan Ramcyzk and Cam Robinson could be options in the draft, but they could both very easily be off the board by the Lions’ first-round pick. Quality play at both tackle spots is a must for this franchise to take the next step forward, and general manager Bob Quinn‘s handling of this situation will likely define his second off-season in Detroit.
Darius Slay has proven to be a Pro Bowl caliber corner, but behind him, the Lions cornerback group is still an enormous question mark. Nevin Lawson took a step forward in his third season, and the team likes Quandre Diggs, but both players are largely unproven and neither of them has intercepted a pass in the NFL. Clearly, this is a position the Lions will look at in great detail this off-season.
Fortunately for the franchise, there will be a much deeper pool of solutions available at corner than along the offensive line. With players like A.J. Bouye, Trumaine Johnson, Logan Ryan, Stephon Gilmore, Morris Claiborne, and Prince Amukamara set to reach the open market, there is a surplus of quality free agent options in 2017.
The Lions could also opt to spend a high pick on the position in the NFL Draft. The cornerback class is very strong in 2017, and in fact, upwards of five or six of them could come off the board in round one. Through free agency and the draft, a weakness at the position could become a strength in no time.
The Detroit Lions and a consistently successful running game haven’t been synonymous since the day Barry Sanders retired in 1999. While the team has a stable of talented young backs on the roster, the pieces simply have not come together to form a productive rushing attack. Ameer Abdullah has flashed remarkable ability, but has struggled to stay healthy at the NFL level, missing all but two games in 2016. Theo Riddick is one of the best pass-catching tailbacks in the league, but isn’t heavily utilized as a runner. Zach Zenner impressed down the stretch last season as a do-it-all runner, but his 2017 role has yet to be determined.
Smart money says that the Lions will invest in the position this off-season, but free agency, likely won’t offer the solution to this problem. The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t let Le’Veon Bell get away, and it would be a shock to see the Lions throw money at Latavius Murray, Eddie Lacy, or LeGarrette Blount with the surplus off talented players set to enter the league.
The 2017 running back draft class is incredibly deep, and ultimately, the best place to address this need. It’s highly unlikely the team would invest a high draft pick on a featured runner, and it’s equally improbable that impact player like LSU’s Leonard Fournette or Florida State’s Dalvin Cook will be available when the Lions make their first selection, but there will be many quality options available for them on day two and three of the selection extravaganza. It would be an absolute shock if the Lions didn’t spend a day two or three selection on a ball-carrier.