Lions add Clinton-Dix. #KRM
Pleased to welcome Bluedog93 to the draft board. Here’s his splendid piece on the Lions.
There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Detroit Lions as they go into the 2014 NFL year. Long one of the most hapless franchises in NFL history, with only one playoff victory in the past 50 years, two years ago they appeared ready to step up and become a team capable of competing for the playoffs, if not more, every year. But any hope that the 6-10 team of 2012 was a momentary step back turned into more serious concerns following the 2013 season. After week 10 the Lions were 6-3, first in the NFC Central, and (with Aaron Rodgers injured and a sweep of the Chicago Bears already finished) ready to take the division title. Instead, the Lions lost six of their last seven, to finish with their twelfth losing season in thirteen years.
Head Coach Jim Schwartz was fired, replaced by former Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell, but General Manager Martin Mayhew remains with the team. Mayhew believes that the team is ready to win now and does not need to rebuild. In the offseason, owner William Clay Ford passed away, leaving his daughter, Martha Ford, the principal owner.
Most draft analysts see the Lions adding to the secondary, most fans are hoping (or dreaming) of a wide receiver. There’s good reasons to support each option.
The Lions finished the 2013 season 3rd in passing yards, 17th in rushing yards, 6th in fewest rushing yards allowed — and 23rd in passing yards allowed. It wasn’t hard to see that the team needed serious help in the secondary even before safety Louis Delmas was cut for salary cap reasons. Both safety and cornerback are major areas of need.
On offense, the collection of wide receivers that lined up on the opposite side of the field from Calvin Johnson were such an unforgettable group that their names disappear from the computer in the time between pressing CRTL-C and CTRL-V.
Beyond those glaring problems, the situation is somewhat better. In each of the last three seasons, quarterback Matthew Stafford has played 16 games and thrown for between 4,650 and just over 5,000 yards. But after throwing 41 touchdowns in 2011 his totals remained in the 20s in each of the last two seasons, and the interceptions are creeping upwards: 16, 17, 19. The Lions aren’t anywhere close to thinking about replacing him, but it’s probably time to start wondering whether he’s ever going to be more than a solid NFL starter who can win with talent around him but can’t make good players great.
The offensive line is reasonably solid, and on defense the front seven has no holes and some impressive players (Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy). What problems there may be in these groups that the team would like to address won’t be addressed in the first round of the draft.
The Lions signed Golden Tate from Seattle. With the Seahawks last year, Tate had 64 receptions for 898 yards and 5 touchdowns, and with the history of wide receivers leaving successful teams in free agency for big money, the Lions would be wise not to put too much hope in him. Meanwhile, receivers Nate Burleson and Micheal Spurlock were let go.
Tight End Brandon Pettigrew was re-signed to a four year contract. Pettigrew had 41 catches last year and has never caught more than 5 touchdowns in a season, and isn’t much of a blocker besides. It seems a curious decision.
Constructing the Big Board
The Lions pick is likely to be one of the following players: Calvin Pryor, Justin Gilbert, Mike Evans, Eric Ebron, Darqueze Dennard, and Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix. I’m going to try to reason my way through the group to put them in the order I would see the Lions ranking them.
There’s a real debate whether Gilbert or Dennard is the better cornerback, but Gilbert (6-0, 202 lbs, 4.37 401 ) has better measureables than Dennard (5-11, 199 lbs, 4.51) and will probably appeal to the Lions on that basis. Of the two safeties, Clinton-Dix is favored by most over Pryor among the safeties for having a “rare combination of size, speed, ball skills and football instincts”, although there are a handful that prefer Pryor as the bigger hitter. The Lions may like big hitters, but they’ll need Clinton-Dix’s overall skills more.
Traditionally the safety position is undervalued in the draft, but after the success the Chiefs and Seahawks had spending high draft picks on Eric Berry and Earl Thomas, and after an offseason where teams spent freely on safeties, conventional wisdom may be changing, and given the weaknesses the Lions have spending a top 10 pick on a safety is perfectly justifiable. So I’ll rank the defensive players in the following order: Clinton-Dix, Gilbert, Dennard, Pryor. Now there are two offensive players – Mike Evans and Eric Ebron – to fit into that list.
Just deciding between the two would be a fascinating choice even if they didn’t have to be ranked against the other players as well. The prospect of putting the 6-5 Evans opposite Megatron ought to make defensive coordinators tremble and Stafford drool. When the Lions meet the Browns this preseason in the Great Lakes Classic, Joe Haden (5-11) would be giving up 6 inches to Calvin Johnson, and Buster Skine (5-9) would be giving up 8 inches to Evans. The offensive game plan? Throw the ball high.
Ebron might be even more tempting when you take into consideration what the Patriots and Saints have done with their tight ends. Imagine sending Ebron, Pettigrew, Tate, Johnson, and Reggie Bush out as your offensive package, then, depending on the personnel the defense picks, having the choice between lining up anywhere between a single-back, two tight end set to an empty backfield with Bush and Ebron split wide – and any possible permutation in between. I didn’t know much about Ebron before getting this assignment, but the more I look into the possibility the more I realize that I like it. But as tempting as the prospect might be, logic dictates that Evans is a conventional, and better, choice.
So how does he compare to the defensive players?
Mayhew drafted QB with the first overall pick of his first draft as GM, and then went defensive line on three of the next four picks. With this many high end draft picks invested, the defense should be better than it is. But with Mayhew’s history, a good guess is that he’s going to stay focused on defense until it gets to where it should be.
There’s additional considerations that suggest as much. You may not be aware of this, because absolutely no draft analyst anywhere has been willing to say it out loud, but this year’s wide receiver draft class is Really Deep™. And with a Really Deep™2 wide receiver class available, the obvious temptation is to go defense first, then grab a serviceable receiver (or tight end, if the right one falls) in a later rounds. It’s such an obvious temptation, in fact, that there’s also the temptation to do the opposite: grab an elite receiver with the first pick, then when all the other teams that passed on wide receiver early because of the Really Deep™ class available enter the resulting scrum for pass catchers in the third and fourth round, sit back and take the defensive players that the receiver-hungry teams are ignoring.
Ultimately, though, it’s the Lions’ free agency moves – especially the Tate signing – that suggests that the front office is going to be looking defense in the first round. The revised Lions draft board thus looks like:
With three quarterbacks likely to be taken in the top 8, the Lions won’t have to worry too much about how the bottom part of that list is organized. Either Clinton-Dix, Gilbert or Evans should still be on the board, and if there’s a choice I expect them to take in that order.
What It Means for the Browns:
Basically nothing. In this draft Robinson, Watkins, Clowney, Mack and Matthews were five of the first six picks, but if one of them fell to 7, 8 or 9 the Lions might be tempted to trade up. As the draft went they could also trade down four or five picks if they don’t have any strong feelings about the order of the players left on their board, especially given the team needs elsewhere. If they stay put, they could go offense or defense, and if they go offense they could go receiver or tight end, while if they go defense they could go cornerback or safety. A good case could be made for any of these options. But if they do go defense as I expect, especially if Evans is still on the board, it could signify a larger trend in the draft of teams willing to wait for later rounds to draft receiver. Given the Really Deep™ wide receiver draft class, such an overall trend could make things interesting.
What I Think About It:
This is predictive, based on Mayhew’s history and the free agency signings. There’s probably not a clearly wrong way the Lions can go, but it still isn’t what I would do. My view is that you’re more likely to get to the Super Bowl by being great on one side of the ball that very good on both, and the Lions are closer to greatness on offense than defense. To me this means that they shouldn’t fix the defense to bring balance, but that the offense should be brought up to the point where it can support the defense. Draft Evans — or Ebron, I’m still tempted there — and say to the opponent “try and outscore me.” You’ll give up some big plays, but there’s enough talent on the defensive line that, if you score enough that the other team has to throw, they can make enough stops to win the game.
With the Tenth Pick in the NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions Select:
Ha’Sean “Ha-Ha” Clinton-Dix
Ok… Kanick is up next picking on behalf of the Titans.
- Kanick note: In addition to the sub-4.4 speed, Gilbert also has 33+” arms; second longest arms for d-backs in the combine. Worth noting: even though Joe Haden is only 5-11, he too has long — 32.75″ — arms. [back]
- Note: Really Deep™ is the property of James Tiberius Kanicki Enterprises, L.L.L.L.C. [back]