Here’s where the Lions roster is most vulnerable, and how they can fix it.
The Detroit Lions have a “finalized” roster, but that was just phase one in building a 53-man roster ready for Week 1 of the regular season. Now that over 1,000 new players are available on the free agent market or the waiver wire, the Lions must do their due diligence to see if any of those players can improve the roster.
But before haphazardly adding players left and right, Bob Quinn must recognize the team’s weaknesses and focus there first. So let’s take a look at where the roster needs to improve and some available players that can help them there.
From the minute Kerry Hyder was injured, Defensive end became the Lions’ top need. In fact, prior to the Hyder injury, it may have already been Detroit’s biggest need.
As the roster currently stands, the Lions have two undrafted rookies set to play at defensive end. Considering how much the Lions like to rotate their players on the edge, at least one of those players, either Jeremiah Valoaga or Alex Barrett, is set to get a hefty portion of playing time.
That simply shouldn’t happen this early in the season. Most rookies that weren’t selected on the first or second day aren’t ready to step in immediately and make an impact, let alone a guy who went completely undrafted. The Lions need to find a player that can step in Week 1 and push one of those UDFAs to the practice squad.
One of my favorite names out there on the market is veteran Jaye Howard, who was released by the Bears.
Chicago has a pretty deep defensive line full of young talent, so it wasn’t a huge surprise Howard was released. But Howard isn’t exactly an over-the-hill guy. He’s still just 28 years old and has a good 27 starts under his belt.
Howard has spent his entire career in a 3-4 defense, so there would admittedly be an adjustment period in Detroit. But look what NFL analyst Greg Cosell said about Howard. “He’s played as a one-technique, he’s played as a three-technique and he’s played as a five-technique, and he’s played all well,” Cosell said. “I wouldn’t say he’s necessarily the same kind of pass rusher as a Malik Jackson, but I think he can be used in a similar fashion where you can line him up inside in a nickel or a dime. I think he does have pass-rush ability, but I think he’s a really good player who can fit in a 3-4 or 4-3.”
Howard could provide some much-needed versatility on the Lions defense line, whether that means backing up the closed defensive end spot, or shifting inside to play the three-tech role that would have been taken by injured Jordan Hill.
Other names: DE Devin Taylor (Giants), DE Geneo Grissom (Patriots), DE George Johnson (Buccaneers)
The Lions’ need for a defensive Tackle is being overlooked, likely because of the slightly bigger need at defensive end. Detroit is currently only carrying four defensive tackles, which is both out of the ordinary for the team and extremely frightening. The Lions rotate their defensive tackles even more than they do their ends, so if even one injury happens, they’re in big trouble.
To make matters worse, one of those top four tackles is sixth-round rookie Jeremiah Ledbetter. Oddly, Ledbetter did not even play in the Lions preseason finale, either because Detroit was so worried about losing their only viable option at DT4 or because he’s dealing with a mild injury. Either way, I don’t expect Ledbetter to be a world-beater in his first game on Sunday.
Joe Vellano is my favorite name on the market. First and foremost, Bob Quinn knows the guy. The Patriots swiped up the defensive tackle after he went undrafted in 2013. That year he ended up starting eight games (and played in all 16) for New England after Vince Wilfork went down with a season-ending injury. He pulled in a whopping 54 total tackles and 2.0 sacks that season. Since then, however, Vellano has only played in five games, bouncing around the rosters of the Colts, Patriots (again) and Falcons. (Sports Illustrated has a great profile on Vellano.)
The Falcons had no room on their roster for Vellano after investing highly in their defensive line for the past few years. Vellano is still not considered an NFL veteran, even though he’ll turn 29 in October, so if the Lions want him, they’ll have to put in a claim and hope the 20 teams above them don’t do the same.
Other names: Ahtyba Rubin (Seahawks), Xavier Cooper (Browns), Caraun Reid (Chargers)
The Lions are currently only carrying nine offensive lineman, and one of them may be injured for the first few weeks of the season. Corey Robinson was taken off the Physically Unable to Perform list on Saturday, despite there being no indication he will be ready to play. Even Cornelius Lucas’ status is unknown, considering he left Thursday’s preseason finale with an injury.
But the Lions’ real need is in the middle of the offensive line. Detroit’s situation at left guard has been abysmal all preseason. The Lions’ presumed starter, Graham Glasgow, has been horrible and his backup, Joe Dahl, has been just as bad.
And on the other side of the line, Detroit should be careful with T.J. Lang. Coming off hip surgery, the Lions eased him back into the lineup very slowly. It’s yet to be seen if Detroit can rely on his health long-term.
The Lions did keep Brandon Thomas as a backup, but they could certainly use some more reinforcements in case things go sour.
Former Bronco Michael Schofield—no, not the “Prison Break” guy—is at the top of my want list. While the Broncos’ offensive line isn’t at all considered a strength, Schofield may have been cut for a reason completely unrelated to talent. He wanted out of Denver and reportedly asked for a trade after the team added pieces that may have pushed him off the roster anyways.
Schofield started 29 games in the past two seasons, both at tackle and guard. He’s much more successful as a guard, earning a solid 77.3 pass block grade from Pro Football Focus last year (38th out of 73).
He is not yet a veteran, so he, too, is currently on waivers. But the Lions could use an experienced lineman that could provide both depth at offensive tackle and guard.
Other names: G Alex Boone (Vikings), OL Orlando Franklin (Saints), OL Emmett Cleary (Cowboys)