Lions mailbag: Mayhew-era players will have to fight for jobs
Allen Park — Another week, another Detroit Lions mailbag. Here are this week's questions.
@Justin_Rogers Will Kenny Golladay line up with the 1s from day one?— Joel Harnack (@Lions1981) May 17, 2017
No, I don't expect Golladay to be working with the first team at the beginning of OTAs or even at the start of training camp. But by the time the regular season rolls around, he should be working a healthy percentage of snaps when the team is in three-wide sets.
@Justin_Rogers Do you think the Lions are really 'OK' with the RB situation or do you think we'll sign a vet before training camp?— Tracy H (@jockoe28) May 17, 2017
Now that the Lions have ultimately passed on LeGarrette Blount, who signed a one-year contract with the Eagles on Wednesday, it's confirmation of the confidence they've expressed in their current group the past few weeks.
Obviously, you have to be careful taking the words of the team at face value. Look at the DeAndre Levy situation. Everyone in the organization said he could return to form and he was part of the future plans up until they cut him.
I believe the front office and coaching staff believes Ameer Abdullah's injuries have been fluke issues, and he can return to play a full season in 2017. But my personal opinion is they should have added some insurance at some point during the offseason. They will have to answer for it if things don't go as planned.
@Justin_Rogers NFL owners voting on a proposal to allow a second player to come off of IR in-season, would AA have returned last year if this was in place?— Ryan Mathews (@Ryan_POD) May 17, 2017
First, let me say that I'm in favor of this rule change. There's no downside to allowing multiple players return, if medically cleared. It's definitely better for players who are on the fringes of the roster because a full year away from the practice field can really hurt your future chances.
But to answer your specific question, no, it wouldn't have changed the approach with Abdullah. The team held out hope he'd get healthy, but the broken foot didn't quite reach a point where it made sense to risk further damage.
@Justin_Rogers who are 3 prime candidates for the chopping block from the Mayhew era?— Kalsarikännit Al ❕ (@LethalSax) May 17, 2017
It's amazing how few Martin Mayhew era starters are still on the roster after just two offseasons seasons and most of the remaining group have been re-signed by Bob Quinn (Tahir Whitehead, Theo Riddick, Sam Martin, Don Carey).
In terms of this offseason, you're probably looking at cornerback as the area where some tough cuts will come. How does Alex Carter, a former third-round pick, make this roster? And while it's difficult to imagine him being cut, Quandre Diggs isn't a lock with the additions of D.J. Hayden and Jamal Agnew.
Among the other Mayhew guys who will have to fight for jobs, TJ Jones, Cornelius Lucas and Brandon Copeland come to mind.
@Justin_Rogers Do you foresee the Lions keeping 3 QBs on the roster? If not, likelihood either Kaaya or Rudock can be retained on PS w/o being poached?— Samuel Witham (@SamWitham) May 17, 2017
I've noted several times since the draft there's a reasonable possibility the Lions keep three QBs in 2017. Preseason and training camp performance will ultimately dictate the decision, not just at quarterback, but if a player at another position steps up, it could facilitate the need for the roster spot.
Jake Rudock was able to slide through waivers last year, but by the end of the year, the Bears tried to lure him away. Brad Kaaya has a higher profile, so it might be more difficult to get him on to the practice squad. And again, it all depends on the quarterback needs around the league when cuts are being made. Injuries have a way of quickly altering the landscape.
@Justin_Rogers Who is more likely to cost the Lions a game this year? The defense or a HR ball hit of Anibal Sanchez rolling in and tripping somebody?— Kirk (@KirmieB) May 17, 2017
That's just mean.
@Justin_Rogers Besides Stafford do you see any other key players being resigned before the season? I.e. Glover Quin, Ziggy Ansah?— JonJon (@LionsFan4Everr) May 17, 2017
Quin strikes me as far more likely than Ansah because of the size and scope of those potential extensions. Quin will be 32 in January, so you're not committing more than two or three years to a player at that age. Plus, safety is a more budget-friendly position when it comes to the cap. An extension for Ansah would likely top $100 million, plus the team holds some leverage with the franchise tag, so those talks will move at a glacial pace.
@Justin_Rogers What percentage of the time do you imagine the offense will be in a 2 TE set?— NightMoves212 (@NightMoves212) May 17, 2017
You're really making me do some work for this one.
OK, after plugging the data into a spreadsheet, I can tell you the Lions ran 981 offensive plays in 2016 and had two (or more) tight ends on the field for just 133 of them, or 13.6 percent. That was actually up from 11.3 percent in 2015, despite all the injury issues the team had at the position last year. I'm not certain how the NFL recorded the use of an extra offensive lineman in their data, but we know the Lions did that quite a bit.
Given the addition of Darren Fells, a blocking-first tight end, and rookie Michael Roberts, who will see some playing time, I wouldn't be surprised to see that percentage be closer to 20 percent by the end of this year. Remember, Anquan Boldin isn't in the equation this year, so there will be some more snaps in the slot, some of which will likely go to Eric Ebron or Roberts.
@Justin_Rogers What do you think the Lions will do with Ziggy if he has a mediocre year?— Nick Zimmerman (@nzimmer3) May 17, 2017
It's a good question and one that's tough to forecast, but I imagine the franchise tag is still in play. Ansah has a proven skill set, and you'd have to consider a mediocre year, not caused by injury, a performance outlier.
@Justin_Rogers why do people keep bringing up Abdullah's height when Barry was 5'8", Emmitt Smith was 5'9" & Sweetness was only an inch taller?— Chozen One (@ch0z3n1) May 17, 2017
I don't know which people you're talking about, but Abdullah's height isn't something that concerns me, it's his overall build. It's the body's ability to absorb punishment and Abdullah's height-weight ratio are fine, but trust me, he doesn't have tree trunks for legs like Sanders did.
There are many ways to do this, but here's how I'll choose to answer. Let's pretend the NFL is throwing their rosters back into a giant pool and re-drafting the league. Here are the first 10 Lions players I believe would be selected.
1. Matthew Stafford
2. Taylor Decker
3. Ziggy Ansah
4. Darius Slay
5. Rick Wagner
6. A'Shawn Robinson
7. Ameer Abdullah
8. Jarrad Davis
9. Theo Riddick
10. Eric Ebron
I don't think there's much to debate about with my top four, although you could arguably move Ansah up or down a spot, depending on how you view his injury history. There's more to discuss with the next six. Golden Tate was a tough cut, but as a 29-year-old receiver, you're not going to get a long-term return on the investment. Same with Quin at safety. Obviously, if we were talking about the 10 best Lions players right now, both would be on the list.
@Justin_Rogers When should we start worrying about Stafford deal not being done?— Mike Shibz (@lionsfan245) May 17, 2017
Next year. Seriously.
The Lions would love to get it done this summer, but they're not going to let him get to the market. It's only an issue if the team gets to free agency next year with no long-term deal in place for Stafford or Ansah.
@Justin_Rogers will pat o’connor make the 53-man roster?— Travis (@iTravisWade) May 17, 2017
It's really impossible to say right now. I haven't seen him play one snap against an NFL-caliber offensive lineman. He'll have to have an exceptional training camp and preseason to crack the 53. The Lions might not have much elite talent at defensive end, but there's plenty of quality depth on the roster with Cornelius Washington, Armonty Bryant and Anthony Zettel starting ahead of O'Connor on the depth chart, not to mention special teams standout Brandon Copeland.
@Justin_Rogers Little late to the party, but what are the reasons/thoughts NFL owners changing OT to 10 mins? Looks like it may pass later this month.— John Popovits (@The_Johnny_Pop) May 17, 2017
I'm against anything that would lead to more tie games. Ties are the worst. I'd rather see something similar to college overtime, where teams start at the 40- or 50-yard line, as opposed to the 25.
@Justin_Rogers Any traction for a NFL Draft Lottery?— Woodsy (@radatzd1) May 17, 2017
There hasn't been a form of lottery for the NFL draft since the 1950s, and I haven't heard any recent proposals to bring it back. I'm surprised, for two reasons.
1. The NFL loves to dominate the conversation year-round. The schedule release is a thing, free agency, draft, minicamp, it just never stops. A draft lottery is one more event the league could market.
2. Hypothetically, it curbs the desire for teams to tank, maintaining the integrity of late-season matchups, especially those involving teams on the playoff bubble.
Obviously, a draft lottery would open the door for conspiracy nuts who believe everything is rigged against their team. But if that's the only downside, I don't see why the league hasn't considered it more seriously.
@Justin_Rogers Do you think Davis or Whithead is more likely to end up moving to outside backer?— Bill Isanhart (@waisanhart) May 17, 2017
It's a reasonable question, but one we can't really answer until we see them on the field. I wouldn't have guessed Decker starting at left tackle from Day 1 last year.
Both middle and weakside are three-down positions in the scheme, but there are more assignment responsibilities at the Mike, particularly in regards to getting your teammates lined up. Given that, it might be better to ease Davis into the role over time. But he's a smart kid and natural leader, so I can't rule him out as starting in the middle right away.