It is my humble opinion that the Detroit Lions can get back into contention with the skill position players they currently have.
I know there has been a lot of talk in getting rid of QB Matthew Stafford but I think that would be a mistake. No quarterback would be successful under the conditions that Stafford has had to play since he was first drafted in 2009.
He has been sacked 183 times in 86 games he has played for an average of 2.12 per game. Over the last 3 years, he has been sacked 90 times. And all of the hits he’s had to endure because the O-Line just can’t give him the protection he needs to allow plays to develop. On the occasions that they do protect him, he is just as good as any quarterback in the NFL.
And the Lions have not been able to protect Stafford or open enough holes for the running game to work as it should for the last 5-6 years.
I do believe the Lions need to address two areas, both the offensive and defensive sides. And I also believe the offensive line is the more urgent of the two.
Stafford needs better protection…while I like Reilly Reiff, I think he’d be better off on the right side and we can part ways with LaAdrian Waddle. Lions have 3 choices here:
Laremy Tunsil – Ole Miss
Tunsil is 6-5, 305lbs of quickness and agility, just what Stafford needs to protect the blind side. He will need to add more power to play in the NFL but he already knows how to use his leverage. He’s played most of his college career on the left side and Reiff did very well at right tackle.
Spencer Drango – Baylor
At 6-6 and 310, Drango is a strong run-blocker and has improved each year as a pass blocker. Prior to being injured in 2103 with ruptured disc in his back, Drango was a dominate pass-protector. While the medical history is a concern, Drango has a lot of upside with his combination of strength and athleticism.
Tyler Johnstone – Oregon
While he missed all of 2014, Johnstone played well in 2015. He is 6-6 but light at 295…I’d like to see him put on 25-30 pounds to play at left tackle. He is quick and nimble but he needs more power to play in the NFL…he protected Marcus Mariota well but he just needs to bulk up.
Turning to the interior of the O-Line, I think the Lions can keep Manny Ramirez at center for at least one more year. But to take some of the pressure off him, Lions need a couple of road-graders to open holes for Joique Bell and Ameer Abdullah
My 3 choices to help out here are:
Vadal Alexander – LSU
This is a big man…6-6 and 320 lbs., he has played right tackle for LSU but has looked slow-footed in pass protection. I doubt that he would be able to adjust as a tackle at the speed of the NFL so he would be better suited for right guard. He can be a powerful run-blocker with his quickness and athleticism but he will need to watch his weight…If he can stay between 320 and 325, he will be a very productive right guard.
Joshua Garnett – Stanford
6-5” and 325 lbs., putting Garnett next to Tunsil or Drango would give the Lions a very big O-Line. Garnett is well-balanced in both pass-protection and run-blocking and his technique would fit well in the NFL. He has the strength to be a difference maker in the run game.
Denver Kirkland – Arkansas
Kirkland has been a very tough run-blocker for the Razorbacks…while he has been playing at left-tackle, he would be more at home at left guard in the NFL as he has problems with speed rushers. 6-5” and 340 lbs., he is a prospect that hasn’t gotten much attention but could easily rise in the draft.
So imagine this offensive line starting the 2016 season:
Laremy Tunsil – LT (6-5, 305 lbs.)
Denver Kirkland – LG (6-5, 340 lbs.)
Manny Ramirez – Center 6-3”, 325 lbs.)
Joshua Garnett – RG (6-5, 325 lbs.)
Reilly Reiff – RT (6-6, 308 lbs.)
Big interior to open the middle for the run game and to stop pressure coming straight at Stafford and well as the ability to pull for those sweeps and screens to move the chains and eat the clock.
Fast, athletic tackles to take care of Stafford’s blind spot and right side that will give the WR’s time to run their routes so that we can get more explosive plays when we need them.
As for the defensive side, Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones are capable pass rushers from the outside. Where the Lions get pushed around are on the inside. Tyrunn Walker hasn’t impressed me and Haloti Ngata, while capable, isn’t the answer for replacing Nadmukong Suh. Cut ties with Walker but keep Ngata for another year to help develop one or two of these guys:
Robert Nkemdicher – Ole Miss
I don’t believe the Lions will have a shot at this guy but it he sure would look good in the Honolulu blue and silver with Ngata mentoring him. He is 6-4 and 296 lbs. with tremendous speed and the agility of a linebacker. He would be a disruptive presence at the point of attack.
A’Shawn Robinson – Alabama
For a person who is 6-4 and 320 lbs., Robinson is very quick and incredibly strong for a man his size. Many believe his is the best defensive lineman that Bama has produced since Marcel Dareus.
Hassan Ridgeway – Texas
6-3 and 314 lbs., Ridgeway can be overwhelming for the interior of an offensive line with his size and strength. He has put together some great games for the Longhorns where he has beaten offensive tackles and guards to make plays in the backfield. He can be a stout run defender and collapse the pocket in the pass rush. He has the ability to beat double-teams and is a well-balanced defender.
Adolphus Washington – Ohio State
Growing up in Michigan, it’s natural to hate any player from Ohio State, right? It’s probably the only time I root for Michigan when they play every year. But this is the NFL and one must turn the page once a talent is available. Washington is 6-4 and 295 and was part of an excellent Ohio State defensive line. He can be disruptive and has JJ Watt ability to bat down passes while rushing up the middle.
Here’s what I’d like to see for the starting D-Line:
LDE – Jason Jones (6’5”, 275 lbs.)
LDT – Hassan Ridgeway (6’3”, 314 lbs.)
RDT – Adolphus Washington (6’3”, 320 lbs.)
RDE – Ziggy Ansah (6’5”, 278 lbs.)
With Ngata to spell on the inside along with Corey Wooten and Phillip Hunt, the Lions could have a great 1st and 2nd line to rotate this line to keep them fresh and the intensity level high.
As for the talk of cutting ties with Matthew Stafford, that would be a mistake. Given the proper protection, he can produce as he did on 2011 and 2012 in yardage but also cut down on his INT’s since he would be able to scan the field and make better decisions on his throws.
I also know there is talk in letting Calvin Johnson go. While I am a huge fan, I can see the logic here. He is a large hit to the salary cap and is 30 years old. Though we aren’t seeing it just yet, his body is beginning to break down. He doesn’t have the speed that he once had and I have seen him shut down in games by elite cornerbacks. Lions should trade him to a team that he can get to a Super Bowl with (preferably somewhere in the AFC…perhaps the Patriots?) but give the Lions more draft picks to get a suitable replacement. Maybe one of these players:
Corey Davis – Western Michigan
Davis is long, fast and athletic, all the things you want in a 6-3, 205 WR who can run a 4.52 40. He has good hands and route-running and is sneaky fast.
Josh Doctson – TCU
Has the ability at 6-4 and 195 to make acrobatic catches. He has good hands and exceptional leaping ability to go along with his 4.56 speed.
I would like the Lions 2016 draft to take this direction or something similar. They need to get the offensive line shored up to keep Stafford upright and open some holes for Bell and Abdullah.
The top priorities for the Lions are to protect the QB to allow him to get into a passing rhythm and to open holes to give the running game a chance to actually be effective.
They need to be a better balanced team offensively.
I know that what I proposed in this article may not be the answer. However, every Lions fans has to admit that what the organization has done for the last 5 decades hasn’t worked. So for crying out loud, why do they keep doing it over and over and expecting different results? That’s the base definition of insanity!