Four Downs: Lions' draft stock, 'Hard Knocks,' and Andy Jones
Allen Park — Here are four observations after having a night to ponder the Detroit Lions' 14-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
There will be no more checking the scoreboards and standings, trying to figure out the (however unlikely) path for the Lions to sneak into the postseason. Even prior to kicking off against the Bills, the playoff odds were hovering around two percent, and peaked at approximately one in six had the Lions managed to run the table and finish 8-8.
Now, the only standings that matter are the draft order, and Sunday’s loss was worth four spots in the first round. As it currently stands, the Lions are in a clump of five teams sitting at 5-9, but hold the strength of schedule advantage (when factoring in future opponents) over all of them except Atlanta.
That means if the draft were today, the Lions would be selecting No. 7. Had they beat the Bills, who are also now 5-9, the Lions would be picking at No. 11.
For what it’s worth, here are the past five players selected No. 7 overall: quarterback Josh Allen, wide receiver Mike Williams, defensive lineman DeForest Buckner, wide receiver Kevin White and wide receiver Mike Evans.
Even though the playoff chase is over, don’t expect any coach or player to be thinking about draft considerations the next two games. That’s not how these individuals are wired, nor should we expect them to be.
In fact, for many players the next two games are an audition for the 2019 season. Scanning the roster, you’ll find fewer than two dozen locks beyond this season, so many guys will be looking to lay down some meaningful tape heading into the offseason.
Defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, a 10-year veteran on a one-year deal, said it best.
“You don’t know who is looking at you, so you’ve got to come out there as if you’re going to the playoffs or you’re trying to win a division title,” Francois said. “You have to put everything out on film, because, like you said, most teams, most coaches, most GMs are going to look, ‘OK, this team is out of the playoffs, let’s see how they play. Let me see how this guy plays when he has nothing to play for.’
"That’s when you can tell a lot about an NFL player.”
Even though the season has gone down the tubes, it’s only fair to tip your cap to receiver Andy Jones, for what he’s giving the Lions down the stretch.
A practice squad player for the majority of the 2017 season, Jones spent a huge chunk of this year’s offseason program sidelined with an unknown injury. The Golden Tate trade cleared a roster spot just as Jones was coming off the physically unable to perform list, but that stint lasted all of two days.
Back on the practice squad, Jones earned a second shot on the active roster a month ago and largely has contributed by doing the dirty work, blocking and special teams. There’s no wrong way for a guy to make a living in the NFL, but Jones’ efforts are largely of the thankless variety. So it was nice to see him have his moment in the sun against the Bills, hauling in a 4-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter, the first of his career.
Jones wasn’t the first read, but he ran a good route and found space in the back of the end zone, making himself an option as quarterback Matthew Stafford worked through his progressions.
Of course, it was a lane-sealing block by Jones on Theo Riddick’s 19-yard run that set up the receiver’s score. And immediately after the touchdown, Jones appropriately came up with a big special teams tackle, dropping Bills return man Isaiah McKenzie at the 13 after an 8-yard return.
Consider this a quiet reminder that good NFL teams have a lot of players like Andy Jones populating the bottom third of their 53-man rosters.
Given Detroit’s elimination from the postseason, I had a passing thought the team might be destined for the HBO series “Hard Knocks” in 2019, but closer inspection suggests that remains highly unlikely.
Yes, the Lions meet the qualifications to be forced on to the program by the league. They won’t have a new coach, haven’t been to the playoffs the past two years and haven’t appeared on “Hard Knocks” in the past 10. But why would HBO choose the Lions?
The team isn’t compelling and there’s little question Matt Patricia would bristle at showing the public another side beyond the super serious football coach. This is a guy who got angry about NFL Films cameras encroaching too closely on his team’s pregame stretching at Ford Field earlier this season.
Other potential options for the show include the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland Raiders, New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Baltimore Ravens and Indianapolis Colts, pending playoff berths and coaching changes, obviously. Each offers more compelling reasons to choose them, whether it’s big-personality coaches like Jon Gruden or John Harbaugh, superstar players such as Giants running back Saquon Barkley or Broncos edge rusher Von Miller, franchises on an obvious upward trajectory like the Colts, or simply the appeal of a coastal market.
We’ve talked about this, but the Lions have a boring roster, and the only thing that would save them from being boring is winning.