Are the Lions bad? They probably aren't good, so...yes? This team -- and roster -- is confusing.
Things I like: Matt Stafford in a non-Jim Bob Cooter offense, with some good weapons in Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. We've gotta add more to that, and we will, but the Lions offensive line is strong, and while Stafford isn't a top quarterback in the league, he's more than enough to put some points on the board. A second season of Kerryon Johnson -- hopefully healthy -- could also provide a boost.
Things I don't like: Matt Patricia as the head coach. They have no corners after Darius Slay
Things I don't know how to feel about: Is Da'Shawn Hand really a thing? Why was Romeo Okwara suddenly good? Is this team ready to admit Jarrad Davis isn't what they hoped he'd become? Can Tracy Walker fill Glover Quin's shoes? Oh, and how are they supposed to fill any of these spots with free agents when Matt "Grumpy Gills" Patricia is their head coach?
Fortunately for the Lions, they have a healthy nine selections in the 2019 NFL Draft before comp picks roll through. With the TDN Mock Draft Machine, set to be launched for the public on February 25th, I did my best to plug the numerous holes on a barren defense, while giving Matt Stafford the pass-catchers he needs for a late-career bloom.
Round 1, Pick 8: Jachai Polite, EDGE, Florida
Detroit's dance with Ziggy Ansah finally comes to a close, as Ansah hits the free agent market in 2019. As I said above, I really think Detroit will struggle to attract big free agent names on the market, which means a lot of their $40M in cap space must be allocated to depth and role pieces.
But they can't go that direction at EDGE, where they already have some good situational players in Romeo Akwara, Da'Shawn Hand, and Kerry Hyder. That's all the depth you need -- but there isn't an Ansah, an elite starter who will win one-on-one consistently for you.
Enter Jachai Polite, a worthy Top-10 pick even if his name lacks the buzz of a Josh Allen or Brian Burns. Effective rushing with his hand in the dirt or standing up, Polite will benefit from the various alignments and looks that Matt Patricia's defense will give him. With a lightning first step and a natural bend around the EDGE, he slides right into the weakside end role opposite Da'Shawn Hand.
Round 2, Pick 43: Hollywood Brown, WR, Oklahoma
A good fall here for Detroit, who capitalizes on a thick WR class by grabbing whoever's left over in Round 2. Brown brings game-breaking speed to the position as his trump card, which will provide a nice foil to the size of Jones and Golladay.
Warranted concerns about the Lions' distribution of targets here, for sure -- Jones and Brown are both players who are most dangerous on deep balls, and Golladay is nothing to sneeze at either. But Golladay's being developed into more of a short/intermediate receiver, and Brown should also warrant a heavy number of underneath touches to maximize on his YAC ability.
Oh, and my TE pick will help a lot as well.
Round 3, Pick 89: Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
This is later than I wanted to go on the CB pick, but Ya-Sin can still offer starting reps in Year 1. He gets grabby down the field, especially with his back to the football, so you have to protect him in man coverage by giving him a large cushion at the snap.
As a zone defender through, Ya-Sin has explosive change of direction and good ball skills closing downhill. He needs technical refinement, as a late convert to the position, but the strides he has shown in his time at Temple provide an encouraging outlook. A high-upside selection, Ya-Sin probably won't solve the problem in Year 1, but he could prove the answer in 2020 and beyond.
Round 4, Pick 105: Dax Raymond, TE, Utah State
Big time selection here, grabbing a starting-caliber TE outside of the Top 100. While I wouldn't turn my nose up at any TE pick for the Lions, starved for talent at the position, it makes sense to wait on a deep class and snag a good player on a bargain. Especially when you need starters the way Detroit does.
I'm bullish on Raymond, an ex-QB convert who brings the same field vision and savvy to the TE position. Raymond can't blow by guys the way Noah Fant might, or bowl over defenders like T.J. Hockenson, but he has ideal catch-through-contact ability with snappy routes and nice adjustments to the football. I liken him to Trey Burton: a player who shouldn't be stuck in-line blocking down on defensive ends, but can win in space and with the ball in his hands.
Round 5, Pick 136: Delvon Randall, S, Temple
I had to bring in some depth now that we know Glover Quin is gone -- and if a veteran isn't brought in to help ease that transition, the Lions should probably go even earlier than this at safety. But as it is, you have to imagine they drafted Tracy Walker to step into Quin's shoes, so I'm going just for depth at this juncture.
Randall has endured a fall from grace this season, but that doesn't mean he can't offer anything. A limited athlete, Randall still has plus ball skills and coverage recognition ability from single-high, and can offer snaps in Big Dime/Quarter packages wherein the range he's responsible for is limited.
Round 6, Pick 171: Terrill Hanks, LB, New Mexico State
I think a team is going to bite on Hanks' upside long before this, but he profiles nicely as the pick that Detroit needs to make at the position.
With Jarrad Davis struggling in his first two seasons, the Lions should look for a big, rangy LB like Hanks late in the Draft. If he can provide for you the same reps you're getting from Davis right now, then dangle Davis on the trade block in 2019: teams will bite on the first-round pedigree, believing they can make Davis into something that you couldn't.
Round 6, Pick 191: Michael Dogbe, iDL, Temple
Feels like a Patricia pick, this one. Dogbe isn't a snug fit at any particular alignment on an odd or even front -- not a true 3-tech, not a true two-gapping 4-tech -- but he is strong like bull, with good length and some pass-rush upside in an undeveloped bull-rush.
Though he played an entirely different alignment at Temple, he does bare some similarities on film to what I saw from Da'Shawn Hand, a player I did not value highly coming out of college. Hand has found a good role for the Lions; I think Patricia could do the same with Dogbe.
Round 7, Pick 202: Shareef Miller, EDGE, Penn State
Once you get this low in the Draft, you're just throwing darts and hoping to cash in. Shareef Miller is as good of a bet as you're gonna get: a RS Junior who could have returned to Penn State and developed further, Miller comes in as an undisciplined and untrustworthy run defender who will not warrant Round 1 snaps.
But you can't teach length and you can't teach bend, and Miller has both. He had a few games this season that really illustrated his promise if he pans out over the next couple of seasons -- Wisconsin is a good start if you want to get acquainted.
Round 7, Pick 212: Saivion Smith, CB, Alabama
We...did not expect Saivion Smith to declare this year.
I mean, the dude started only one season with the Tide; originally an LSU Tiger before a stint at JUCO to transfer to the Tide. And his season wasn't great at all by Alabama standards -- but he's was once a 5-star recruit, and has good physical tools in terms of length and quickness. Those Alabama boys are often worth checking out, I've heard.