3 biggest offseason needs for the Detroit Lions

John Breitenbach breaks down the three biggest needs for the Lions this offseason, providing possible solutions.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

(AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

3 biggest offseason needs for the Detroit Lions

After emerging as one of the better teams in the NFC in 2014, the Lions have fallen away to a 4-9 record. A tumultuous season has seen offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and general manager Martin Mayhew fired. The organization seems committed to head coach Jim Caldwell, who absolved himself of responsibility for the disaster against the Vikings, a game in which Stafford was sacked seven times. Despite struggling this year, the Lions have enough talent to challenge in 2016 if they make a few minor adjustments.

Consistency at QB

The problem:

Matt Stafford can make every throw in the book, and has the arm strength that opens the eyes of NFL scouts. Yet despite his physical attributes, Stafford’s decision-making over the past two years has been less than impressive. After finishing as our 22nd overall QB in 2014, Stafford has regressed further. He’s currently our 31st overall QB in 2015, with a passing grade of just 56.5 (on a scale of 1–100). Despite some outstanding performances, such as against the Giants last year and the Eagles this season, Stafford’s standard game is below average. He has 17 negatively-graded games in the past two seasons, compared to just eight positively-graded games. If this consistency remains an issue for the soon to be 28-year-old quarterback—and with no real viable replacements in the free agency crop—the Lions will struggle to compete in the NFC North over the course of a 16-game season.

The solution

Stafford is due to make $17 million in 2016, and the Lions can save $11.5 million by cutting him. It wouldn’t be the safe option, but holding the seventh pick of the NFL draft if the season ended today, Detroit would have a shot at one of the top quarterbacks in this draft class. After six years in the league, Stafford’s image as a franchise quarterback is fading. Of teams currently slotted to select above Detroit, only San Francisco and Cleveland are likely shopping for a quarterback. It’s possible that Cal quarterback prospect Jared Goff will be sitting on the board at pick seven, or be available in a trade-up scenario.

Coverage linebacker

The problem

It’s unfortunate that DeAndre Levy played only 17 snaps before going onto IR with a hip injury. With that said, the Lions need a pair of three-down linebackers who can cover in space. MLB Stephen Tulloch has been an excellent servant for Detroit, but his injury-derailed 2014 season arguably seems like it had a lasting impact. Although he’s played well against the run this year (87.2) he’s really struggled in coverage (37.0). Overall, he’s allowed a QB rating of 127.0 when targeted (81 completion percentage, 390 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions), which is seventh-worst amongst inside linebackers. Levy’s replacement, Josh Bynes (77.7 overall), has done a solid job, especially in run defense (84.1) but has had a mixed year in coverage (71.0). He has the fourth-worst QB rating when targeted amongst 4-3 OLBs (128.0). Bynes has allowed 73.8 percent of passes to be caught, while also yielding three touchdowns without an interception.

The solution:

Interior linebackers are rarely worthy of a top-10 pick, so the Lions will use later draft picks or potentially free agency to upgrade the unit. One intriguing option is Cleveland inside linebacker Craig Robertson (65.1). Although he’s struggled as a run defender throughout his career, he’s flashed consistently in coverage (80.8 grade in 2015). Over the past two years he has allowed 36-of-43 targets to be completed for 404 yards, four touchdowns, two interceptions and five passes defensed. Or, the Lions could look for a guy with more pedigree, who can play multiple roles. Seattle’s Bruce Irvin (79.0) would fit the bill, but he won’t come cheap. He could give the Lions’ pass rush a boost on third-downs opposite Ziggy Ansah, as well as make plays in coverage standing up (78.7 coverage grade).

Complete defensive tackle

The problem:

The Lions overhauled their personnel on the interior defensive line in the 2015 offseason. They considered Ndamukong Suh’s demands too rich, and were fed up with Nick Fairley’s indiscipline. Haloti Ngata (75.2) has had a solid season, but was only ever deemed a short-term solution. Other than the former Raven, Detroit doesn’t have a defensive lineman with a positive grade. Over the past few years, mid-round investments in Caraun Reid and Gabe Wright have yet to demonstrate significant return.

The solution

The Lions have invested a number of high draft picks in defensive lineman over the past few years, and there are likely to be a multitude of options if they do end up with the seventh overall pick. Assuming top prospects Joey Bosa and DeForest Buckner are off the board, the Lions will have some options in the group just below them. Personal preference will dictate which way they go, considering there’s little to separate between the likes of Ohio State’s Adolphus Washington, Notre Dame’s Sheldon Day, and Florida’s Jonathan Bullard. Washington and Day are the better scheme fits, having played in the 4-3. Washington has the second-highest pass rush grade amongst interior defensive lineman, having recorded five sacks, eight hits, and 35 hurries. Day, meanwhile, ranks fourth with four sacks, nine hits, and 31 hurries. The Notre Dame product contributed more against the run than Washington, however (+23.6 grade compared with +14.0), making him perhaps the more attractive option.

| Analyst

John joined the PFF team in 2008, providing focused analysis on the NFL draft, team-building strategies, and positional value.

  • Kyle Ferguson

    Ya there should better DTs with better value in rounds 2 or 3. We have a big need at tackle in a bad way, so maybe Tunsil or ronnie

  • Zorawar Heisenberg

    Lions are not taking a freaking QB dude , get a clue .. Lions O line has been SH^T all yr .. Stafford isn’t going anywhere . Also there isn’t a QB in the Draft or FA better than Stafford… Lions sure as hell aren’t cutting him , XD … Are u kidding me ?

  • Mike

    How in the world do you not mention the OL? Your solution is to get a different, less talented, younger, less experience QB and throw him behind this god awful OL? No. Just no.

  • ToreBear

    The QB argument is Silly. PFFs grading system is not suitable for predicting QB performance or even grading previous performance. It would have been nice if there were 4 things discussed so that there would have been 3 things to improve.

    The QB position is not one of them, while coverage linebacker and DT are legitimate issues, the biggest need by far is OT. But I suspect that PFF sees problems of protection as an issue a rookie QB will solve by not being Stafford.

  • crosseyedlemon

    I’m convinced the biggest mistake the Lions ever made was moving indoors. Back in the day opponents dreaded playing in Detroit in December and the Lions teams back then were nasty. Since moving into a dome the Detroit team has gone from being ferocious Lions to tame little kittys.
    Solution: bulldoze the Silverdome.

    • Slappy san

      This is a joke, right?

  • Alex Alkafadhru

    If they get rid of Stafford. I’m done watching the lions

  • Michael Lepird

    LT, MLB and CB are the big problems… Your Dumb and don’t watch the Lions Obviously… Stafford is the best option both in FA and the Draft for our starting QB… This dude shouldn’t be writing about teams he knows nothing about well only looking at stats

  • Senk

    As a Lions fan I am done with Stafford. It’s time to move on.

  • Jay Cee

    I like your estimation of the lions situation. Bob Cooter (new OC) and with a new GM coming in the offseason it could FINALLY result in the jettison of Stafford. They have no ties to him. Payton Lynch is a top-10 prospect and would be a welcomed change to the Lions. Strong arm, size, and athleticism. There’ s also a chance we could move up in the draft slotting, higher than 7th w/Chargers ahead of us and who beat us and if we lose our remaining games (which is highly likely) 49ers, Bears, and Saints. 4-12 would give us at least top-3 pick.

  • Jay Cee

    Sidenote instead of gambling on either Tunsil, Stanley, Decker, or Conklin I say we invest in a top OT FA. Okung and Glenn who both in their prime 29 and 26 respectively would be viable options. The adage two birds with one stone, would come into play signing one of them. It would allow Riley to transition into his more natural RT position. Both grade out as GOOD from pro football focus. Then that would free us up to draft a QB or the best player avail (Ramsey FS/C Smith LB Hardgreaves CB Bosa DE)

  • Jay Cee

    My TOP FA targets list

    George Iloka 25 SS
    Prince Amukamara 27 CB or Sean Smith 29 CB

    Gordy Glenn 26 OT or Russell Okung 29 OT
    Ronaldo McClain 26 ILB

    Sign 4 of these quality affordable 6 FA we’d be a TRUE contender next year even if we go with rookie signal caller. ( Lynch or Goff or Hackenberg)


    This write up is honestly laughable. PFF should be ashamed to employ such a buffoon.


    Jared Goff is the answer to consistent QB play? Are you kidding or is this trolling on the Lions? Selecting Jared Goff would mean consistent QB play in about 3-4 years.

  • Herman Moore

    I thought PFF had a clue, but I was mistaken. Cut Stafford while ignoring the awful O line play? Ridiculous.

  • John B

    I will say it again (too many times this year), whoever is grading the Detroit Lions this year should be ashamed of how poorly their doing their job. I moved to Las Vegas over 7 years ago so I could bet on sports for a living. I keep very close tabs on how each QB plays and I can tell you right now that after watching every game Stafford has played this season, he’s having an above average season overall.

    Looks like the Lions fans here are seeing this as well. Having Stafford with such a low grade makes me wonder why I even come here to read these opinions as for the life of me I can’t begin to understand who is seeing things this way.

    You guys need to look into revising the way you do things here if your coming up with Stafford is playing this poorly. Also you need to be factoring in the fact that he’s also faced the toughest defenses that any QB has faced this year in the NFL.

    This constant bashing of Stafford’s play here reminds me of those worthless arguments you hear on sports radio from those two bit fans that have no knowledge of the game and who only blame the QB for a team’s problems.

    Come on PFF. This is so weak.

  • Joe

    So… cut the Franchise record breaking QB, hope a good QB falls to them in the draft and start over. got it!

  • Joe

    I can understand them skipping the OL actually. Because they already went into a rebuild there. It should get batter through the natural order of things, but seriously that’s the “solution”?

  • Larry Burgess

    This article was written 3 weeks ago, so perhaps this makes a bit of difference. Yet, I’m amazed that the lack of a running game, the security of the QB, and the need for a hurried up offense didn’t draw the analyst to conclude that the O-Line really failed the team this season.

    It started with injuries keeping Waddle and Warford out, but the fact that two other new starters were inserted as well, definitely didn’t help matters. To add to the mess Joie Bell didn’t play the entire preseason and when he returned he failed to look at all capable of mounting any attack. Undrafted Zach Zenner was even pressed into starting duty as the teams feature back. Between the poor line play and nominal rushing threat it’s amazing Stafford didn’t get buried even more than he did this year.

    A change in the offensive coordinator proved to make considerable difference as the offensive line schemes were simplified, and eventually Amer Abdullah and Theo Riddick helped to shift of the defensive focus off of Stafford and his wide receivers.

    I really believe that the key to improving the overall play of Stafford and the team as a whole revolves around building a quality ground attack. Another quality runner, Ezekiel Elliott heads my list, is needed, as are perhaps as many as three new offensive linemen. If Elliott is drafted first, then Spencer Drango, Jack Allen, and at least one other top ranked lineman should be drafted.

    The defensive line obviously was not a strength for part of the season as Hilati Ngata missed several early games with an injury and Tyrun Walker, his supposed running mate, was lost before the season began. Caroun Reid filled in and gained valuable experience, and in my opinion performed far better his experience and draft ranking would have suggested he could. Ziggy Ansah seemed to emerge as a star with 13.5 sacks, and when pressed to fill in for James Jones, Devon Taylor showed flashes of brilliance and hope for the future.

    Some work is needed to assure that this position doesn’t fall into chaos, but if Walker, Jones, and Ngata are all resigned, and can stay healthy, I do not see this part of the team as needing emergency attention.

    A new and bigger crisis may be coming to light. Calvin Johnson may decide to retire. His departure would leave the team with a gaping hole at split end. Unless a free agent such as Alshon Jeffery could be signed I don’t believe much can be done this year via the draft. I tend to believe that the best option would be to shift the passing focus to Golden Tate, Eric Ebron, and keep the running backs involved as they have proven to be excellent receivers as well. TJ Jones and perhaps a draftee could provide and occasional deep threat. This change makes the importance of an improved offensive line and running game all the more critical in my opinion.

    Before closing, I will simply state that the linebacker corp was depleted last season after the loss of DAndre Levy, but Tahir Whitehead emerged, and although it took nearly half of a season Stephen Tulloch seemed to recapture his abilities as a good middle linebacker. There were some disappointments with the rest of the linebackers and perhaps some changes in personnel are required. However, I do not believe that there is the need diminish the focus on the offensive line and running game much if at all in the draft.

    In summary, I believe that your observations are not the culprits for the Lions’ disappointing season. I believe Stafford is the right QB for the future of this team. I simply believe we need to have a much more balanced attack and the offensive line needs to lead the way.