Note: The following is a guest post submitted by SideLion Report reader Eric Ford. Please click here if you would like to have an article considered for publishing.
With high hopes heading into the off-season after a four game winning streak to end the ’10 season, in my mind the Lions are only a few key position upgrades to make the playoffs in 2011.
Assuming the season is a go, which we all pray nightly to the football Gods, the upcoming draft and free agency this year are probably the most important that the Lions have had in recent memory. Although most NFL “experts” still see the Lions in the bottom five teams in the league, I am seeing the Lions as a team that needs just a couple more pieces to fit the puzzle and make this a complete team finally.
The big question on the offense is the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford. He has shown flashes of brilliance in his 2 years, but has been unable to stay on the field because of injuries. Last year with so much promise, Stafford went out early in the first game of the year on a blind side sack by Julius Peppers. Shoulder injuries over the last two years have put the Lions behind on the offensive side of the ball. Relying on 2nd and 3rd stringers all year is not a recipe for victories. Although Hill and Stanton played rather well at times, they have nowhere near the talent and leadership that Stafford has. I believe that Stafford’s health unfortunately is one of the key factors for next year’s success or failures.
The offensive line has finally been set, playing together with the same starters for the majority of the last 2 seasons. Everyone’s favorite player to blame problems on, Left tackle Jeff Backus, had a surprisingly very good year last year. He is getting up there in age though and it would not be a bad idea to look to draft someone possibly in the 3rd round this year to possibly groom them to eventually take Backus place. Other than Backus, the guards have played solid, the center Domini Raiola is undersized but plays with a lot of heart and is a team leader. Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is coming off surgery and should be 100% by the time camp rolls around.
Running backs could use some help. Jahvid Best is a great back, when he is not injured. Turf toe problems last year caused Best to be less than 100% for most of the year, but for a rookie, he showed a lot of All Pro ability and I believe will be a top 5 running back in the league if he can stay away from the injury problems. The Lions do need a power back though. Someone to get the tough yards and short first downs. There are some intriguing free agents that could fill this role such as Mike Tolbert and Michael Bush, two big bruising backs that won’t kill the salary cap.
Wide receiver is one both key positions on offense that the Lions must address this off-season. The top two receivers in Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson are very good, but the Lions struggled all year last year trying to find someone to step up at the #3 receiver spot. There are some very good free agents this year that will definitely improve the Lions passing game. I am really hoping for the Lions to sign Steve Breaston, former Wolverine and Arizona Cardinal. As a #3 wide receiver between Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in 2008, Breaston put up over 1000 yards and had three touchdowns. His numbers have dropped a little since, but still is very fast and has great hands.