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Lions mailbag: When to draft RB, Manziel and more

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Ronald Jones

Time for another Detroit Lions mailbag. Let's get to it.

If you had to guess, what round will the Lions take a running back in?

— Fratt Stafford (@faux__stafford) 

After signing LeGarrette Blount to a one-year contract, the Lions could still stand to add talent to the backfield rotation. This is a deep class of prospects, but if you wait too long, you're liable to miss out on the right fit. I would expect the Lions to take a back on Day 2 (rounds 2 and 3). That's where you could land a Ronald Jones, Rashaad Penny, Sony Michel, Nick Chubb or Royce Freeman, depending on stylistic preferences.

Where do you estimate the cap after Sylvester Williams signed? Any word on Jordan Hill from last preseason? He was a stud before the bicep tear.

— Cory Schmidt (@cschmidt3238) 

I keep a pretty thorough database of Detroit's cap space, which you can view here. With all the current contracts accounted for, the Lions have a little more than $11 million in space remaining. But remember, they'll need approximately $2.5 million for their upcoming draft class, plus a buffer for the regular season, when the cap calculation includes all 53 players on the roster, as well as the 10-man practice squad, as opposed to the current tabulation of the top-51 contracts.

Going into draft, taking all FA signings, all players gone for greener pastures into account, roster better or worse compared to end of season?

— Vincent William Law (@vincewlaw) 

The draft is an important part of the equation for offseason improvement, probably the most important, so let's not lose sight of that. That said, as of today, the roster talent has stayed close to level. The Lions are better at running back, while making lateral moves in the secondary, along the defensive line and at linebacker. If anything, we can say the pieces they added at linebacker, namely Devon Kennard, is schematically different than the player they lost, Tahir Whitehead.

The Lions are worse at tight end and on the offensive line, regardless of what you thought of Travis Swanson. But those are two areas they could shore up with rookies next month.

Is the OL set?

— Michael Trumbell (@michaeltrumbell) 

I would hope not. The team should be looking to add additional competition for the starting guard opening.

Did the Lions propose any rule changes? After getting burned by the 10-second runoff against Atlanta, that seems like an obvious one.

— Phillip (@phllp581) 

The Lions did not propose any rule changes and no team proposed anything to do with the runoff at the end of the half/game.

Do you think that the Lions leaked the news that Hankins and Branch were going to visit in order to get Williams to bite? Is there still a legitimate shot at Hankins?

— Kenneth L. Moore Jr. (@MooreStampsinMy) 

I do not. Sylvester Williams had already visited at that point and had the basic parameters of an offer. He also reportedly had at least one other offer. He was weighing his options and was already back in Detroit to sign his deal when the Jonathan Hankins' visit was first reported.

Everyone keeps saying you build a team through the draft, not big FA spending, is their actual data showing that successful teams seem to be built that way? What's your thought?

— A.Smiley (@minister_smiley) 

There's no one way to build a winner, but consistently good franchises have a tendency to draft and develop well, giving them a wealth of reasonably-priced contributors, which allows them to be able to spend aggressively on a narrowed focus in free agency.

There have been studies done on roster building and the importance of the draft. Here's one from 2016.

Is this a team capable of winning now or are we in for a slight rebuild?

— BRick (@ch0z3n1) 

The Lions are not rebuilding. They have a quarterback, a left tackle and some Pro-Bowl-caliber defenders. They don't have as much talent, top to bottom, as some of the other top teams in the NFC, namely Philadelphia and Minnesota, but there's enough to make the playoffs and compete.

Johnny Manziel

Manziel + Lions would = ?

— Mike Popiel (@MichaelPopiel) 

It would generate a lot of headlines, but he'd enter the offseason program as a third-string quarterback, with a lot of work to do to pass Jake Rudock on the depth chart.

Because of who Johnny Manziel is, and what he's gone through the past several years, it would still be a constant story. You'd be reading updates on his progress almost daily, especially from the national media.

Is an extension for Golden Tate possible, or is that a 2019 issue?

— Kelly Murdock (@KellyMurdock) 

Financially, yes. In fact, it would probably lessen the cap hit in 2018. That said, the team has yet to engage on that front, last I checked in. With hiring a coach, free agency and the draft, that's understandable. If it happens, it would likely go down in August or September. That's when Bob Quinn extended Matthew Stafford, Darius Slay, Glover Quin, Theo Riddick and Sam Martin.

Do you see the Lions moving more towards two-back sets with this many RBs to choose from? Also, Tion Green or Washington?

— Drean (@aj_kraus) 

It depends on how much influence Matt Patricia exerts on the offense. New England ran more two-back looks than anyone in the NFL in 2017, more than 10 times the number of snaps as Detroit. It will interesting to see if the Lions add a fullback to the roster, or attempt to convert Zach Zenner or Green to more of a lead back.

As for the option of Green or Washington, give me Green. Washington is an elite athlete, but in two years, hasn't shown the patience or vision required to be effective at the position. Plus, Green offers more on special teams.

Do you think it is necessary for the Lions to draft a TE in the first two days?

— Walker Kelly (@walkerkelly13) 

I wouldn't rule it out, but I don't believe it's necessary. Luke Willson essentially replaces Darren Fells and Michael Roberts will obviously have a bigger role in his second season. The Lions still need a third piece to the rotation, but with so many other passing options on the roster, getting a one-to-one replacement for Eric Ebron isn't critical.

If the Lions draft a RB in the early rounds (2 or 3) like expected, do you think that’s the end of AA in Detroit? What would the savings be trading him or letting him walk?

— Jay Taff (@jaytaff77) 

It's a valid question and one I've thought about more than once this offseason. Ameer Abdullah is in the final year of his contract, so cost isn't an issue, but he's flashed enough talent that he could generate some interest as a trade chip. If the Lions find themselves in a position to get a back they want, I could see Abdullah being used in a pick swap to help the team move up the draft board in the middle rounds.

Do you think Dahl has a shot to compete for a starting role next season?

— James Spalding (@gundamshark) 

As of right now, I would put Joe Dahl firmly in the mix for that job, along with free-agent addition Kenny Wiggins. But as mentioned, it would be ideal to add a rookie in the first four rounds to round out the competition.

LeGarrette Blount

Do you think Caldwell was a reason Blount wasn’t signed last year when he was available? He seems to have an edge that wouldn’t have fit in Caldwell’s locker room.

— Too Fly T (@fly3491) 

I intend to ask Quinn why the team didn't make a play for Blount the past two years when we talk to the GM at the league meetings next week. It's not fair to pin it on Jim Caldwell, without more information. The former coach hadn't shied away from strong personalities or checkered backgrounds, in the past.

Who is your favorite left guard this year for the Lions to draft?

— Sweta Patel (@sweta2311) 

I don't know if he'd be the right fit for whatever the Lions' new blocking scheme will look like, but I'm partial to mauling guards. Will Hernandez is a monster who plays with a mean streak. That gets my vote.