This is the second in a series of potential offseason paths for the Detroit Lions to consider during the 2016 offseason.
The first version was largely conservative, designing an under-the-radar scheme of stocking up on solid, second-tier free agents and building up the lines early in the draft. Since I wrote that plan, the Lions have locked up DT Tyrunn Walker on exactly what I advocated, a one-year, prove he’s healthy deal.
If new General Manager Bob Quinn wants to make a big splash, or if you’re a fan who covets the sizzle, this is the desired version.
Why load up on small potatoes when you can swallow the 68 oz. porterhouse?!
–Alex Mack. For my money, and it will cost a lot of it, Mack remains the best center in the NFL. The former Browns star will be worth every penny if he brings stability and leadership to the offensive line. Incumbent center Travis Swanson brought neither in his first year in the pivot.
Mack would instantly make the guards on either side of him better. He’s outstanding at quickly recognizing and calling out protections, and he still has the athleticism to pick off smaller targets in space to help in the run game. I’ve been a huge fan of Mack since watching him do a full splits and then popping up off the ground without using his hands at Senior Bowl practice all those years ago, and he’s still got that amazing flexibility.
His last deal in Cleveland paid him $42M on five years, and he opted out with three years left. Now 30, he’s likely angling for one last big contract. Four years and $40M is a steep price, but the Lions have some flexibility to frontload the deal and structure it so that it’s more of a two-year with options kind of contract.
–Eric Weddle. What Mack has been to the center position, Weddle has been to the safety spot in the last few years in San Diego. The 31-year-old is the preeminent safety to hit the market in some time.
While it’s true he did not have a strong 2015 campaign, he didn’t have nearly the talented cast or schematic structure around him with the Chargers. Go back a year to 2014, however, and Weddle definitely earned his All Pro nod.
Even if he’s lost a step, that’s still a step better than Isa Abdul-Quddus. He commands respect from opposing offenses the way Charles Woodson did even after he’d lost a lot more than Weddle. Two years and $22M should land him in the Honolulu Blue and silver, shoring up the back end of the defense and giving the Lions the best safety tandem in the league with Glover Quin.
–Damon Harrison. Okay, Big Snacks isn’t a household name. Yet if you’re looking for a nose tackle, Harrison is the biggest splash out there. Aside from his water displacement potential cannonballing into the pool, the 340-ish pound former Jet is a devastatingly effective run defender.
Over the last two seasons, only Aaron Donald has graded higher in run defense at Pro Football Focus. Putting Harrison next to Walker, with Caraun Reid and (hopefully) Gabe Wright rotating in gives the Lions a strong, relatively deep interior line to pair with dynamic Ziggy Ansah and opportunistic Devin Taylor on the ends. It means the end of Jason Jones and terminates the pursuit of Haloti Ngata.
There isn’t much left, other than a couple of fliers on flawed veterans. This plan says the Lions land three:
- Tight end Ben Watson, now 36 but still a reliable receiver and solid blocker
- Cornerback Jeremy Lane, he of the gruesome injury in Seattle’s Super Bowl loss in 2015
- Wide receiver Nate Washington, caught 47 passes from Houston’s awful QBs but will be 33
With the big shots taken in free agency, it’s tempting to lay back and take the draft as it comes. Not so fast, my friends…
First round–Reggie Ragland. I’ve never hidden my longing for the Alabama inside linebacker. Lions fans would quickly grow to love what he brings to the team. He’s a downhill thumper, an absolute terminator between the tackles. Ragland has shown he can also flow laterally and snuff out screens and cutbacks. His powerful build and quick reactions call to mind Stephen Tulloch in his absolute prime. We haven’t seen that Tulloch lately, and it’s easy to forget just how valuable a player with those skills can be. He’s the quarterback of the defense and a proven performer at the highest level of college football.
In keeping with the bold theme here, we have a trade! The Lions trade the 2016 fifth round picks (they have two) and the 2017 first and fourth-round picks to jump back into the first round. They would also get back a second-round pick next year. With the traded pick, the Lions select…
First round–Josh Doctson. For my money, Doctson is the best wideout over six feet tall in this draft. He is not Calvin Johnson. Nobody is Megatron, not even the man himself anymore. However, Doctson has an outstanding blend of size, speed, burst, strength and competitive fervor that projects to him being a very successful No. 1 wideout in the NFL. The TCU product would make a perfect complement to Golden Tate. The price tag is steep, but Doctson is a dynamic enough player to make it worthwhile.
Second round–Germain Ifedi. Texas A&M has become something of a pipeline for NFL offensive linemen, and Ifedi is the latest. While the results have been hit and miss, Ifedi has two things in his favor. First, he’s a natural right tackle. That means the average Riley Reiff stays in place on the left instead of having new starters at both tackle
spots, a recipe for absolute chaos. Second, he’s got outstanding length and a very wide gait. In practical terms, even if he gets beat around the edge he’s made the angle so wide that it gives Stafford time to step up or get rid of the ball. I don’t get the first-round love some give Ifedi, but he upgrades a position of need in the middle of the second.
Third round–Nick Vannett. Just as Doctson isn’t getting the credit he deserves as the top wideout in the draft, the Ohio State tight end Nick Vannett merits more attention as the best all-around tight end in this class. There really isn’t anything Vannett doesn’t do well. He is a solid in-line blocker, even better at setting the edge from a flexed alignment. He can chip with power and release with enough burst to challenge linebackers in a shallow zone. At 6’5”, he makes a big target and Vannett has the athleticism to make the acrobatic catch. He proved during Senior Bowl week he can get open against linebackers and safeties in man coverage, and his strong hands and powerful frame make him a real handful in the red zone. Others will be better in-line blockers, faster down the seams and more elusive after the catch. But no other tight end in the Class of 2016 does more, better.
Fourth round–Javon Hargrave. Perhaps this is wishful thinking, but if the bodacious nose tackle from South Carolina State is still on the board he must be the pick here. He was the best defensive player I’ve seen in six trips to the Shrine Game, and Hargrave acquitted himself just fine when promoted to the Senior Bowl too. His powerful lower body, centered around an ample booty, makes the small-school stud an immovable object in the middle of the line. Yet he’s also got some pass rush moves and quickness for a 315-pound man. He backs up Harrison and keeps him fresh, and Hargrave presents just enough upfield punch to play them both together in certain sets.
Sixth round–Brandon Doughty. The Western Kentucky quarterback made a whole lot of fantastic NFL throws during his Hilltopper career. Check out this beauty…
College Football Focus (the collegiate arm of PFF) rated him the best QB under pressure of all draft-eligible signal callers. He’s not without faults; the field vision is lacking at times and he’s overaged, getting a medical redshirt for a knee injury and spending six years at WKU. Doughty doesn’t always throw the ball as hard as he could, or should. But he makes for a very good prospect to back up Stafford for a few years.
Sixth round–Aziz Shittu. Yes, that’s his real name. The 6’3”, 284-pound defensive end from Stanford requires careful pronunciation with his name (she-too) but he is no joke on the field. He’s under the radar because he missed half of 2014 with a torn ACL, but in watching him play last fall you would never know he was ever injured. Shittu can set the edge but also has enough strength and bulk to kick inside at times. He’s a very good all-around football player and would be a great fit this late in the draft.
Seventh round–Deon Bush. His name recognition playing safety for The U is higher than his status with NFL scouts. Yet the 6’, 200-pound Bush offers intriguing potential outside of Miami’s poorly-coached structure. He has a playmaking knack and the functional speed to have great range. I saw glimpses in St. Pete for Shrine Game practices that indicate he’ll be a better pro than collegian, including his natural leadership. At worst, he’s a fourth safety who can play well on special teams a la Don Carey. At best, he takes over a 350-snap role in the base defense in 2017. Not bad for a seventh-round investment.