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Rogers: Quinn’s debut a success, but Lions need more help

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford with Lions GM Bob Quinn.

Arlington, Texas – However the Detroit Lions finish this season, it’s safe to qualify Bob Quinn’s first season as the general manager a success.

Quinn executed a plan, putting together a roster capable of winning the NFC North in Week 17. His two primary tenets, improving the team’s depth and the trenches, are areas he must have continued success during his second year on the job if the Lions hope to perennially contend for the postseason, and ultimately a Super Bowl.

The 2016 draft class has paid immediate dividends in both areas, especially the trenches. With his first three selections, Quinn landed a trio of players who proved capable starters out of the box. But short-term issues have lingered with both fronts, emphasizing the demand for additional and immediate long-term investment.

The offensive line has shown significant improvement this season, primarily in pass protection. The team is on pace to reduce sacks 20 percent and hits on the quarterback by 27 percent. And at the end of the day, keeping Matthew Stafford upright and healthy is the most important key to the offense’s success.

But the group continues to struggle opening up consistent lanes in the ground game. Some of that has been the absence of starting running back Ameer Abdullah, sidelined since Week 2 with a foot injury, but that doesn’t account for the 23 percent of the team’s runs that have resulted in no gain or a loss of yardage. That’s simply a lack of running room.

 

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Barring two incredible performances to close the season, the Lions will again finish as a bottom-five rushing team, averaging fewer than four yards per carry for the third time in Jim Caldwell’s three seasons as coach.

No position group received more attention from Quinn. He spent three of his first five picks on offensive linemen, with Taylor Decker and Graham Glasgow looking to be long-term solutions.

This offseason, the general manager will be faced with staying the course, spending to retain free agents Riley Reiff and Larry Warford and relying on improvement through continuity. Quinn could also continue to retool via the draft while leaning on young, inexperienced players Corey Robinson and Joe Dahl to replace his veteran right side. Or, there’s always some combination of the two.

Regardless of the choice, an improved run game is the key for the offense to reach the next level, from consistency and production standpoints. It’s Quinn’s job to find the solution.

As for the defensive line, the general manager found some long-term pieces, but the unit needs far more attention in year two.

 

DT A’Shawn Robinson - Robinson led the defensive tackles in tackles (30), sacks (two) and batted down passes (six). He’s still a better run defender than pass rusher, but he made positive growth in both areas as a rookie. GRADE: B+

Second-round pick A’Shawn Robinson has delivered a strong rookie season and offers plenty of room to grow as a pass-rusher. And bouncing Kerry Hyder from the bubble on to the 53-man roster was one of Quinn’s best decisions all offseason. A restricted free agent, Hyder is a near-lock to return next season.

But even with Hyder’s eight sacks, the Lions are on pace to finish the year with 27, the team’s fewest since 2009, and well off the 42.5 they’ve averaged the past two years. The Lions have also been average against the run, allowing opponents to gain 4.2 yards per carry.

Devin Taylor, Tyrunn Walker, Stefan Charles are all scheduled to be free agents and none have proven particularly deserving of an extension. Haloti Ngata has been as solid as could be expected, when healthy, but turns 33 in January and offers nearly $6 million in cap relief if he’s released. That’s setting up to be one of Quinn’s tougher offseason decisions.

All things considered, Quinn might have to focus on the defensive front in this draft the way he did with the offensive line the year before.

As for overall depth, Quinn didn’t hit on enough of his free-agent signings, but the few that stuck, as well as some late-round draft picks, have played key roles in the team’s success.

Wide receiver Andre Roberts has two of the biggest receptions of the season. Cornerback Johnson Bademosi, beyond being a standout on special teams, has filled in admirably when hamstring issues have sidelined Darius Slay. Plus, rookies Miles Killebrew, Antwione Williams, Anthony Zettel and Dwayne Washington have all played meaningful snaps and should be ready for bigger roles in 2017.

On the flip side, the Lions need to avoid situations like they had at linebacker and tight end this season, where depth wasn’t properly addressed and the team was scrambling to fill holes.

Quinn just has to keep building. He wasn’t perfect, far from it, but he added important pieces to the Lions’ foundation in his first year calling the shots. If he has similar success this upcoming offseason, there’s no reason the Lions can’t be in position to be competing from a division crown, maybe even defending it, in 2017.