Tuesday, January 2, 2018

2017 Detroit Lions Player Eval (and other tidbits)

The Flip Side.

Here we are, what is known in the NFL as Black Monday. That is, the day after the regular season ends. The day when many coaches are fired in the NFL. Yesterday a couple teams started Black Monday a day early, similar to many Black Friday sales after Thanksgiving start on Thanksgiving day. This morning though the Detroit Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell. They also fired the assistant head coach, who is also the offensive line coach, Ron Prince. Ron was the one coach I wanted the Lions to fire, so that didn't take long. Now the Lions are setting up interviews for the head coach position. I'd put money on the Patriots DC Patricia but it remains to be seen who will end up with the job.

Meanwhile, there are a number of other tidbits in the news today. For example, the Lions will be drafting 20th overall. It is likely they will have only 5 draft picks in 2018 as they have a couple pending trades (called conditional picks at the time) that will be going through, unless they make other deals before the end of April. www.prosportstransactions.com/football/DraftTrades/Future/Lions.htm

Another news item is it now know who the Lions opponents are for 2018:

Home: Bears, Vikings, Packers, Rams, Seahawks, Patriots, Jets, Panthers
Away: Bears, Vikings, Packers, Cardinals, 49ers, Bills, Dolphins, Cowboys


At first glance it would appear it's going to be an interesting year.

2017 Player Review

At quarterback Matthew Stafford hit over 4,000 yards for his 7th straight year, only Drew Brees has a longer streak going at present. He is also the quickest to obtain 3,000 completions. www.espn.com/blog/detroit-lions/post/_/id/32779/matthew-stafford-fastest-quarterback-in-nfl-history-to-3000-completions His yearly completion percentage exceeded 65% for 2017 and his contract is such he is going no where. Meanwhile, his backup, Jake Rudock, briefly showed why Stafford continues to play even when he is not at 100%. Brad Kaaya, the Lions 3rd QB drafted in 2017 was cut and placed on the practice squad, the Panthers signed him, later cut him, the Lions claimed him, cut him, put him on the practice squad, and a bit over a week ago the Colts claimed him. So no 3rd QB exists for the Lions at this point in time. In fact, no backup either for 2018 as Rudock is a free agent, but I assume he'll be re-signed. I imagine a 3rd QB will be drafted to compete against Rudock in camp.

At running back Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, and even Theo Riddick had to watch undrafted 2016 free agent Tion Green be active when they were not, or at least take snaps away from them. Mike James ended up on IR and as far as I know didn't ever see a single snap in a game. Riddick, Abdullah, Washington and Green all have 2018 contracts but I'm not so sure they will all make the 2018 team. Zach Zenner may be offered a minimum contract to compete in camp. Mike James probably won't be back. It's also possible the Lions will either pick up a cheap free agent or draft a RB to compete with the rest of them. The Lions are now going on 4 years without a 100 yard rusher, but is it the RBs or is it the OL blocking?

At wide receiver the Lions had Marvin Jones Jr, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, and Kenny Golladay. TJ Jones ended up on IR and Jace Billingsley was re-signed to take his place but was inactive. Andy Jones and Bradley Marquez never saw the field. TJ Jones is also a free agent now. I expect TJ will get re-signed and they will look for a 5th WR in camp. The two already on the roster will be competing against free agents and maybe even a draft pick to make the roster. I doubt the Lions will carry more then 5 WRs and they could go with 4 but that too is doubtful. The WR corp for the Lions is decent, not talking about super stars but Golden Tate regularly leads the league in run after the catch and towards the end of the year both Marvin Jones Jr and Golladay were showing they can go deep and make plays.

At tight end the Lions had Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, and rookie Michael Roberts. Roberts played like a rookie, Fells did okay but is now a free agent who I think the Lions will try to re-sign, and Eric Ebron started doing better as the year went along. He was even the top receiver in a number of games late in the year. Ebron is signed for one more year, but the contract is for $8.25 million... so it's possible the Lions might try to sign him longer term to lower the 2018 cap hit. It's also possible they will allow him to play out the year as is to see if he is worth signing longer term. Hakeem Valles was recently signed too, but again as far as I know he didn't see any playing time. So he'll start the camp competition at TE along with whoever else is picked up.

The offensive line was the real problem with the Lions this year. Ranking 32nd at run blocking, allowing over 60 sacks (a Stafford record for one year) and 31st overall in the league. The OL coach has already been fired, but was that the whole issue? At tackle there was Taylor Decker who missed half the year but came back strong and will be the mainstay at LT as long as he is healthy. Rick Wagner was signed to take over the right tackle spot and played okay (not great) when healthy, but he missed a number of games. The Lions traded for Greg Robinson to play in place of Decker but he ended up on IR, so that, along with the Wagner injuries had the team scrambling to sign depth, and found Emmett Cleary (who did okay then got hurt) and Brian Mihalik (who also did okay but got hurt) and finally had to play Corey Robinson... the only guy on the OL who Quinn did not personally find (sign). At guard Graham Glasgow played left guard and T.J. Lang was signed to play right guard (after signing a monster sized contract for a guard) they were backed up by Joe Dahl who I think should have played instead of Glasgow but the Lions like their vets (or maybe it was the recently fired coaches who did). Glasgow is also the backup center so he at times had to move out of the guard position. Lang was injured a number of times as well. The added backups of Don Barclay and Zac Kerin ended up on IR, so at times one of the tackles played guard. Travis Swanson was the only center other then Glasgow, and he ended up on IR with another concussion. Swanson is also now a free agent and may not be back. Heck, with two big time concussions he may be done in the NFL for all I know. Kerin and Robinson are also now free agents. I don't know if the Lions will sign any of the three back, and I don't think Glasgow is the answer at center (but he makes a great backup at center and guard) so it's possible the Lions will look to free agency for a new center this year.

Kerry Hyder Jr was supposed to start at right defensive end but ended up on IR to start the year. Ziggy Ansah had 6 sacks in the lst two games for 11 total on the year (if memory serves me correctly) but is now a free agent along with Hyder and Brandon Copeland. In fact, ALL the Lions DEs are free agents except for Cornelius Washington and tackle turned end Anthony Zettel. Ziggy Ansah only really started doing well when Dwight Freeney was signed, and it was mentioned that moves Ziggy made in the last game of the season were nearly trademark moves last seen done by Freeney. It's my estimation that Freeney is the reason Ziggy started to pour it on and he should either be kept or hired as a coach! The Lions need to re-sign at least a couple of their free agents or go shopping as they can't play with only the two remaining that they have and draft picks have a tendency to take more then a season to learn the position.

Starting defensive tackles A'Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata started the year causing all kinds of problems for teams, especially against the run, but when Ngata went on IR early in the season the entire defense went down hill, fast. DC Austin was unable to find a means to bring the defense around, despite some pretty good play by the back 7 (at times). Ngata is also now a free agent and in his mid-30's so his NFL career may be over too, probably depends on him. I suspect the Lions will sign another free agent DT and probably draft one as well, as backups Rodney Coe, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Christian Ringo, Akeem Spence and Jordan Hill (another who went on IR) don't appear to have the same starting quality as Ngata has and Austin needs to make the defense work. Plus three of those backups are also free agents (Coe, Ringo, and Hill).

Rookie Jarrad Davis had a rocky start but learns fast and showed everyone why he was drafted in the first round. Nick Bellore did some good stuff as a backup and on special teams but really helped out by playing full back from time to time on offense. He's one free agent I hope the Lions do re-sign for sure. Draft pick Jalen Reeves-Maybin started to pick up the art of being a LB toward the end of the year and Steve Longa did some special teams work. Tahir Whitehead did okay at times and stuggled at other times, not sure what to think about him yet... but he was better at weak side then middle linebacker. Paul Worrilow also contributed on the strong side when the Lions weren't in nickle, which they were a lot. Both Whitehead of Worrilow are free agents along with Bellore, so the Lions need to re-sign or replace at least 3 guys and it wouldn't hurt to have a draft pick to compete for the final spot against Longa and Brandon Chubb (who I don't think saw the field this year). At least this LB corp was able to get some sacks and some tackles for a loss on running backs... last year's corp got nary a single one of either.

At safety Glover Quin did his usual good showing, while Don Carey is especially important for special teams. Miles Killebrew got a lot of playing time but seems to be having problems learning or maybe he just needs more time. Charles Washington made too many errors to see the field a lot. Tavon Wilson went on IR early in the year so there was a bit of a scramble to fix the safety position until Quandre Diggs was moved from cornerback to safety. He needed a game to get the swing of it then excelled. I suspect safety will be his full time position from now on. Carey and Wilson are free agents and should be re-signed.

Cornerback Darius Slay is the only Lions to make the pro-bowl this year, so that explains how good of a year he had. Jamal Agnew was the return man and a good one, he also got time in playing CB but he's a rookie and they take time to learn the position. DJ Hayden, played a lot due to injuries and is now a free agent. Not sure if he'll be back and he certainly doesn't play like the first round pick he is (not picked by Lions, they got him later) but he can fill in well. Nevin Lawson started opposite Slay for most of the year and did okay with a few weird games here and there. He too is a free agent now. Rookie Teez Tabor eventually saw the field, but not until injury made it happen. If the Lions re-sign Hayden and Lawson they will probably be set at CB, or nearly so. They'll still load up for camp just in case of more injuries.

I updated my estimated depth chart today and the link is towards the top right, and also can be found on my website and in my forum. I show the free agent with an orange background and where the Lions might draft in yellow... along with the names of those who will likely be fighting for a roster spot on the right side. After finishing it up I found out the Lions signed 10 guys (9 from their practice squad) to future/reserve contracts. They are:

Barnes, Adairius CB
Barnes, Brandon TE
Barrett, Alex DE
Ford, Dontez WR
Johnson, Toby DT
Koloamatangi, Leo C
Milligan, Rolan S
Skipper, Dan T
Torgersen, Alek QB
Valoaga, Jeremiah DE

All ten will also compete for roster spots now, with the center perhaps having the best odds of making the team, imo.

In addition to my estimated depth chart I updated my salary cap chart for the Lions. They have 40 others under contract for 2018 and about 34 of them I expect will be making the team unless something odd happens. Of course, if the Lions do re-sign the 15 free agents and select 5 in the draft they would have over 53 players to keep so someone who might otherwise make the team will be cut... and that doesn't count undrafted rookies, other free agents they may sign, and some of the other names I listed above. I estimated the team cap to increase by about $11 million over last year, and the Lions have $4.1 million left in 2017 cap space to roll over into 2018, so that would give them about $53.5 million in cap space to work with. Plenty to re-sign their guys, sign their draft picks, even franchise tag Ziggy Ansah if need be and have cap to work the season. All this is assuming that these players will fit whatever system the new head coach installs (if any new systems are installed). More on Salary Cap space later, this blog post is getting rather lengthy and it's time to turn in for the night. See you all on the flip side (that means tomorrow lol).

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