Table of Contents

    Evaluating the Detroit Lions’ future

    Something changed overnight in Detroit: The ghosts are gone. What comes next?

    By Scott Valentine

    I’ll go back to where we started with the Lions mid-season — the narrative. The first thing I have to report is that the story that has been in place for 30 years changed overnight. You can hear it in the way people are talking.

    These are not your dad’s Lions. They don’t find ways to lose. They don’t hire the wrong people. They draft smartly. They show up ready. They play all four quarters . . . this was the new, normal narrative in Detroit as of the moment the Lions defeated the Packers at Lambeau Field to end their 2022 campaign.

    Lest this seems a trifle irrelevant in the context of the ongoing NFL playoffs, be assured it is not. Hope rewarded, especially when it is long and selflessly held, is always significant. And Lions fans have hoped, tolerated, and just plain suffered for a long time. But today is a different day.

    Lion’s nation has changed, man! People are high-fiving and honking horns and bopping around with more bounce in their step today. The sports radio chatter is all ‘Can’t wait till next year!’ instead of ‘God, how long can this go on?’ There is, in short, bright optimism where a persistent fog of pessimism long hung.

    Now all that put together isn’t going to help the Lions win any more games in 2023. The Vikings are now the team to beat and the Packers aren’t going anywhere, and that’s just in the division. The Eagles and 49ers also look like budding powerhouses that stand between the Lions and a shot at (dare we say it?) the Super Bowl.

    So, good vibes aside, how do the Lions sit as they enter this NFL off-season? Here’s a brief evaluation.

    Offense

    The Lions’ offensive line is truly the core of this offense and this team. Led by C Frank Ragnow, there are no low-grade starters on this unit, which cleared the way for the NFL’s 11th-ranked rushing unit (#6 at Home), and limited opposing pass rushers to just 24 sacks, second-best in the league. Only RG Evan Brown’s contract is expiring.

    At the skill positions, the only notable player scheduled for free agency is WR DJ Chark (30/502/3), with plenty of depth behind him that can step up. Jared Goff has two years remaining on a 4 year, $134 million contract (an average of $33.5 million per year). That is yet a far cry from what top QBs earn and Goff is coming off a Pro Bowl year. Don’t be surprised if the Lions try to extend him sometime before the 2024 season.

    Defense

    The Lions finished the 2022 NFL season dead last in total defense, 3rd last in passing defense, 4th last in rush defense, and 4th last in points allowed. That said, there were some bright spots. LB Alex Anzalone put up a career-best 125 tackles, while DE Aiden Hutchinson registered 9.5 sacks and 3 INTs. Rookie DL James Houston notched 8 sacks in just 7 games.

    The defensive backfield, on the other hand, may need a complete rehaul to compete in the pass-happy NFC North in 2023. While free agency losses aren’t concerning, a complete lack of talent behind S kerby Joseph is. Expect the Lions to direct their 2023 free agency spending directly at this problem. The other place we can look for the Lions to make a personnel splash is in the upcoming 2023 draft.

    2023 Draft

    In the 2023 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions own picks #6, 18, 49, and another somewhere between #s 56 and 60, based on how the Vikings finish in the postseason (part of the TJ Hockenson trade). That’s enough to add a couple of starting-caliber defenders and some key depth.

    Recent picks at the #6 overall include Miami WR Jaylen Waddle, QB Justin Herbert, and G Quenton Nelson. Recent picks at #18 overall include DE Jaelan Phillips and CB Jaire Alexander. So, there should be some talent there when the Lions pick. Certainly, CB will be a point of focus, with perhaps six CBs poised to go in the first round of this year’s draft. 

    The Coaching X Factor

    Teams that rise and units that punch above their weight tend to suffer a certain siphoning of talent in the off-season. That’s not really a concern for Detroit player-wise in 2023 – the exposure is limited – but coaching-wise, the Lions may be in for some off-season changes.

    After finishing last in total D, the Lions must upgrade at the Defensive Coordinator position. That will likely entail an overhaul of the entire defensive staff, making for a rough transition for current players. Likewise, OC Ben Johnson, though he’s only been in the role for a year, may get some interview opportunities, not necessarily for HC jobs, but other plums OC or OC+ jobs that he is not contractually prohibited from pursuing. If that happens, the Lions O will have a gap to fill.

    Finally, we need to wait and see which Dan Campbell turns out to be the bonafide long-term version of the Lions Head Coach — the fiery, courageous, charismatic leader of the second half of 2022, or the cheerleader apologist cum poor game manager of the first half.

    Detroit Lions fans ecstatic with this new day are praying for the former.

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