On the Clock: Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions have had a tumultuous offseason after compiling a 5-11 record in 2020 and cleaning house from the Matt Patricia era. With new head coach Dan Campbell at the helm, the Lions also parted ways with former number one pick Matthew Stafford, trading him for Jared Goff and a slew of first-round picks in the process. This is one of the biggest drafts for the Lions in quite some time, and it will certainly speak to which direction the Campbell era is going to go. Will it start with the quarterback position? Will they strengthen their offensive or defensive lines? Or will the Lions throw everyone a curveball with a surprise selection? With the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, there are many paths for the Lions to travel.
Here is some quick history. The following is a list of the players the Lions have taken in the first round in the past five years:
2020: Jeff Okudah (CB)
2019: T.J. Hockenson (TE)
2018: Frank Ragnow (C)
2017: Jarrad Davis (21)
2016: Taylor Decker
Since 2009, the Lions have selected in the top 10 six times with mixed success. It’ll be interesting to see if this new regime is able to get off on the right foot in Detroit.
Currently, the Lions rank 22nd in projected cap space for this offseason, as they are over the salary cap by about $1.34 million. Here are some players that could be traded or cut in order to clear up some cap space and get back under the cap (age in parentheses):
Desmond Trufant (30)
Danny Shelton (27)
Nicholas Williams (31)
Christian Jones (30)
There are a lot of moving parts on the Lions, but there is still hope for this team to make some improvements and make a playoff run at some point in the next few seasons. The Lions have not made the playoffs since 2016. Here are some potential players the Lions could take with the seventh pick in this year’s draft:
Possibility #1: BYU QB Zach Wilson
2020 stats: 12 games, 73.5 completion rate, 3,692 yards, 33 TDs, 3 INTs, 11.0 Y/A, 70 rushes, 254 yards, 10 TDs
Why: Some draft experts think Wilson has overtaken Justin Fields as the second QB off the board after Trevor Lawrence. Assuming Fields is off the board first, Wilson will be the name to watch at the quarterback position. Despite an up-and-down first two seasons at BYU, Wilson came on in 2020 as he had a spectacular season, decimating almost any defense he faced. He made many NFL-caliber throws that left people in awe. He can fit throws into really tight windows, and he has premier arm strength. Furthermore, Wilson is very good at scrambling and his mobility is a plus.
Even with Goff now in Detroit, it is very possible that he is not the long-term option for the Lions under center. Wilson would give the Lions a very real shot to compete in the division along with giving the Dan Campbell era a face of the future. The Lions, if they re-sign Kenny Golladay, have an array of weapons for Wilson to play with, giving them a clear direction for what this team wants to do on offense for years to come.
Of course, if Wilson does go earlier and Fields is available, the Ohio State QB would be an absolute steal. Fields is a very mobile quarterback who is fully capable of making some incredible throws. He is an extremely tough player who was able to play through a rib injury in the CFP semifinal, and he still managed to torch one of the best defenses in college football. There was a clear reason Fields had 41 touchdowns to just 3 interceptions in 2019, and despite a rocky 2020 season, he is still somebody who should go high in this draft.
Possibility #2: Michigan EDGE Kwity Paye
2020 Stats: 4 games, 16 total tackles, 12 solo, 4.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks
Why: Kwity Paye is going to be a name that people will be hearing in this area, especially as the draft gets closer and closer. He is that good, and he has an array of moves that makes him one of the most defined EDGE defenders in this class. Even though Paye only played in four games in 2020, he still managed to leave an impact on every game he played.
Defensive end was one of the least efficient groups for the Lions in 2020. In fact, outside of Romeo Okwara, that position group didn’t have a single player over 3.5 sacks. With the aforementioned Okwara up for free agency this offseason, the Lions will have to reinvent their defensive line regardless of whether he is brought back. Trey Flowers has not had the greatest of tenures with Detroit, Everson Griffen’s best days may be behind him. Paye is a guy who can step in right away and help give Detroit a clear direction on this defensive line for the foreseeable future.
Possibility #3: Northwestern OT Rashawn Slater
Career: 37 games played, 37 games started
Why: Regardless of who the signal caller is for Detroit moving forward, that person will need somebody to block for him. Taylor Decker was re-signed last year, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai was also brought in on a long-term deal; however, neither of these players has played up to their contracts so far. It could still be early, but with the Lions also not being strong on the interior of the line, they could look to move Vaitai back inside after his struggles at right tackle in 2020. This is definitely a position that needs to be refined in order to keep Goff or a rookie QB upright in a tough NFC North.
Slater is a very interesting prospect, as he is capable of playing both tackle positions as well as guard (where he played in high school). So it is very possible he could play there if need be. Either way, Slater’s versatility would allow Campbell to try out many different combinations on the offensive line in order to find out what works best for his signal caller. Slater has really good strength at tackle, and he could become an anchor for this offensive line.
Possibility #4: LSU WR Ja’Marr Chase
2019 stats: 14 games, 84 receptions, 1,780 yards, 21.2 Y/R, 20 TDs
Why: Despite opting out for the 2020 season, Ja’Marr Chase exploded for the 2019 LSU Tigers with one of the best statistical seasons in college football history. Chase does a lot of the little things that make him such a successful receiver. He can throw a block for his teammates, he can make tough contested catches, and he is capable of making big plays after the catch. Chase’s route running is outstanding, and he is one of the most technically sound receivers in this class. He is fully capable of getting open against any type of coverage.
Even with some more pressing needs, the Lions could go receiver here with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones both up as free agents. With the Packers and Vikings having very good offenses, the Lions may feel that they have to get better at their skill positions in order to keep up with these teams. Although the Lions could still retain Jones and/or Golladay, they need another receiver on the outside to take some of the pressure off the aforementioned receivers and tight end T.J. Hockenson. Chase could come in right away and make a huge impact.
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