The Detroit Lions had a pretty good year last season. It didn’t finish the way they wanted with a wild card round exit in the playoffs, but a lot of things went right for them to get into the playoffs.
Despite reaching the postseason, the Lions had more holes to fill than they would like to admit and they appeared to fill most of those holes but also created another. Here are the five best moves and the worst one made by the Detroit Lions this offseason.
#1. Several draft picks
The Lions did not pick early in each round but did get impact players at positions they need in more than just the first round. Jarrad Davis, taken in the first round, instantly became the most talented linebacker on the team. He doesn’t have the experience of Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow but has a better size-athleticism combination than them. Teez Tabor, second round, had a very good collegiate career at Florida but did not have very good 40-yard dash time. He still gives the Lions three quality corners right away. Michael Roberts, fourth round, was one of the better pure tight ends in the draft. He is a decent blocker with good receiver skills. Jamal Agnew, fifth round, is a small-school playmaker. Coming from the FCS-level, he is still adjusting but his ball skills give the Lions hope for the future. Finally, Brad Kaaya, sixth round; he is a quarterback that entered last season as a possible high first-round pick. He is likely the quarterback of the future, not Jake Rudock. The Lions did a lot of good things in the draft that will help with the present and the future.
#2. Signing Darren Fells
The Lions have had problems with blocking from their tight ends for several years. Darren Fells was one of the better blocking tight ends on the market this offseason. At 6-feet-7-inches tall and 281-pounds, he is built more like an offensive tackle than a tight end. With that said, he is athletic enough to run routes and does not give away a play when he enters the game. This season, the Lions will be able to mix-and-match Fells with Eric Ebron. That will allow Ebron to use his athleticism and receiving skills more often.
#3. Upgrading right guard and right tackle
Ricky Wagner and T.J. Lang are an improvement over Riley Reiff and Larry Warford, who were a terrible tandem themselves. The Lions have had offensive lines in recent seasons, but are quickly becoming one of the better units. Wagner and Lang were the top players at their positions available in free agency and the Lions went out and got them. From left tackle across the line to right tackle, the Lions projected starters are Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson, Lang and Wagner. They may be the best five-man unit in the division.
#4. Letting Riley Reiff sign elsewhere
It seems hard to imagine that a team would let a former first round draft pick walk that had gradually improved in each of his first four seasons, and be applauded for it. But that is the case with the Lions and Reiff. He struggled out of the gate at left tackle, but had gotten better each year before being moved to right tackle last season. It was just a little better than his rookie season. But, with the Lions in win-now mode, they couldn’t wait for him to get his game back to league-average on the right side.
#5. Attempting to improve backup quarterback position
Matthew Stafford hasn’t missed a game since 2010, but the worst thing a team can do is enter a season without a contingency plan at quarterback. Dan Orlovsky is an experienced journeyman backup but Jake Rudock and Kaaya are more talented and can win more games for the Lions if something should happen to Stafford.
The worst: Not re-signing Anquan Boldin
Boldin is not a burner. He is not going to get long touchdown catches but he is going to move the chains and score in the red zone. No one, especially not on the Lions roster, is as good as Boldin at finding the open areas at precisely the right distances than him. The Lions will struggle in far more third down situations without him. While he may still return, the Lions need a receiver they can rely on to move the offense.