Lions mailbag: Damon Harrison deserves Pro Bowl nod
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have been eliminated from postseason contention, but the mail is still coming in.
The FB that got hurt in camp. How is he doing? Will he be back next year ?— Aviationut1977 (@LionsFan1977) December 20, 2018
That would be Nick Bawden, who suffered a torn ACL during OTAs. I see him from time to time in the locker room. He's walking fine and regularly attending team meetings, getting those mental reps, but there's little else to report at this time. He recently declined an interview request, per team instruction. I would imagine he'll be ready to go when the Lions return for the offseason program next April.
If you could give one #DetroitLion a present from Santa Justin, who gets the present and what would you get them?— DetroitSportsPodcast (@DetroitPodcast) December 20, 2018
I'd give Damon Harrison an invite to the Pro Bowl. It's tough to argue against the three interior lineman who made the game — Aaron Donald, Fletcher Cox and Akiem Hicks — but Harrison is consistently dominant as a run-stuffer. That's an important skill that doesn't draw attention like sacks. And it's pretty mind-blowing that he leads all defensive linemen with 74 tackles this season.
I don't understand how Harrison never made it, even with the bump from playing in the New York market most of his career. The fact he's not even an alternate this year is confounding.
What players do you not expect to be back next year even though they are still on contract.— Joe Sailus (@JoeSailus) December 20, 2018
It's probably still a little too early to say on some of the borderline decisions, which I plan on exploring shortly after the season, but two veterans I don't expect back are Glover Quin and T.J. Lang.
It starts with the potential cap savings, $6.25 million and $9 million, respectively. Plus, with Quin, he simply didn't deliver on the field this year and the team has a replacement in waiting in Tracy Walker. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the veteran safety hangs it up after this season, just reading between the lines with some of his comments throughout the year. But that's pure speculation.
As for Lang, you can't pay that much given his durability. He's been good when he's on the field, but the injury list is lengthy and the concussion concerns are mounting.
Do you think the Lions need to draft a MLB, or has Davis shown enough to keep the spot for next season?— Marc Waite (@WaiteMarc) December 20, 2018
It's a coin flip. Davis gives you everything you want from a leadership perspective at the position, but the play has remained inconsistent. He's definitely in the middle of one of his better stretches, so maybe you ride that momentum into 2019, counting on the development to continue to progress positively.
That said, if there's a great talent to be had at middle linebacker in the draft, such as LSU's Devin White, there's nothing wrong with taking that player and letting the two sort out their roles on the practice field.
How did Crosby look in his first start?— NwardA (@GoSparty04) December 20, 2018
I saw more good than bad. He did have a couple of whiffs, getting blown past by Jerry Hughes on one snap and badly executing a cut block on a screen attempt to LeGarrette Blount on another.
Where I thought Crosby thrived was with some of his down blocks on run plays. He consistently got good drive, getting his hands into his assignment and steering them inside, away from the ball carrier's path.
Golladay is strong and all that, but will he ever learn how to get separation? Until that happens, I think the ink on him may be little more than hype.— rhoneyman (@rhoneyman) December 20, 2018
Most receivers have a weakness, and at 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, Golladay, like many big receivers, is a slow accelerator. That limits his ability to get big separation against more agile cornerbacks, but doesn't exclude him from being a productive NFL receiver. He knows how to use his frame to his advantage, much like teammate Marvin Jones, plus has adequate long speed for deeper routes.
He's a 1,000-yard receiver in his second year. That shows he's more than hype. If you're expecting him to be an elite receiver, like Julio Jones, you're probably setting the bar too high. He's probably more Muhsin Muhammad, maybe Keyshawn Johnson, which is pretty great value for a third-round pick.
Stafford won’t sit because of his start streak, but could he take some early reps and then sit if the Vikings pass rush is hot?— Barry (@crossnoe7) December 20, 2018
Matthew Stafford isn't likely to come out of the game unless his injury becomes unbearable.
Do you have a favorite holiday drink or is it just more of the same?— Mike Wilder (@Cartinthewater) December 20, 2018
I mean, as long as it's not my good stuff, I'm not opposed to putting bourbon into some hot chocolate.
Chances Lions land: Flowers, Clowney, or Lawrence?— Snake Fooley (@SnakeFooley) December 20, 2018
I can't imagine a scenario where Dallas lets Demarcus Lawrence get away and Houston has the cap space lined up to make Jadeveon Clowney a strong offer, assuming they don't use the franchise tag.
For obvious reasons (cough, New England connection, cough), Trey Flowers seems like the best possibility from that group to land in Detroit. But how much are you willing to pay for a guy who, while an above-average pass-rusher, has never had more than seven sacks in a season?
As one colleague recently pointed out, the Lions already have a decent pass rusher in Romeo Okwara who will cost $10 million less in 2019, plus a potential top-10 pick to address the need with a more explosive talent.
If the Lions are going to spend big in free agency, Flowers doesn't feel like the best choice for those dollars.
Is Sam Martin finally getting over the injury from last year? He’s starting to rank out in top 10 categories for punting after slow start. The Lions have 2 legit weapons at the kicking position?— Ace Walker (@ENova4) December 20, 2018
Martin's one of those borderline cases I mentioned above. Cutting him in favor of a rookie would save the Lions around $1.5 million in 2019, but relying on a first-year player at any spot carries added risk.
Martin's coverage units haven't done him many favors this season, and that will be part of the evaluation. His distance and hang time remain behind his 2016 numbers, when he posted the best punting season in franchise history.
Bigger need in the offseason/draft: secondary, LB, DL?— Marty Stouffer (@Martifilus) December 20, 2018
The Lions need an edge rusher. That could be a linebacker or a defensive end, it doesn't matter. The priority is getting someone who can consistently disrupt the pocket.
If Santa was in a giving mood, what one free agent and one draft pick would he gift us that would immediately make us better?— Ken Fletcher (@Kfletch300) December 20, 2018
Kansas City edge rusher Dee Ford and LSU cornerback Greedy Williams sure could turn the defense around in a hurry.
The knock on Ford, in Detroit's scheme, would be his length. He's on the short side at 6-foot-2, with shorter than average arms. But he gets after the quarterback with the best of the them, with 11.5 sacks and nearly seven times as many total pressures.
As for Williams, he's a long, rangy cornerback who has operated at a shutdown level in the SEC. Putting him opposite Darius Slay would make it far tougher to pass against the Lions.
It never hurts to be closer to home for the holidays. The Lions played in Cincinnati on Christmas Eve last year and I hitched a ride home with Chris Burke that night. Normally, that drive wouldn't be too bad, but we hit a pretty bad snow storm early, adding a few, white-knuckle hours to the trip. If I remember correctly, I walked in my door at home around 2 a.m., but it was worth it to be home for Christmas morning with the kids.
Plus, Burke and I shared an awesome dinner of gas station snacks.
Who is still on the team that went 0-16?— Zippy (@claypot2) December 20, 2018
Long snapper Don Muhlbach. That's it.
Too early to pull the plug on the Teez Tabor experiment? A move to S might help?— JonJon (@LionsFan4Everr) December 20, 2018
Tabor's lack of speed isn't going to help him at safety. He's at his best when he can be physical within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and you take that away playing safety, outside of the occasional slot snaps covering up a tight end.
Depending on the depth the Lions can add at cornerback this offseason, it wouldn't be a surprise to see the team cut their losses.
It feels like whenever the Lions are in 3rd and long (which happens a lot), it feels like they either run it up the gut or throw it well short of the sticks hoping someone makes a play. Why Justin? Why?— Josh Kornoely (@JKornoely) December 20, 2018
Depends on field position, to a certain degree. Say it's third-and-15, there are only a handful of options in the playbook that are going to have a chance to convert that and opposing defenses know that, so they'll be sitting on many of those routes.
Making a deep pass into a defense expecting it is a quick way to turn the ball over, and while it's never ideal to punt, it can certainly be the lesser of two evils. Running a draw or screen against a defense dropping deep can pick you up 7-10 yards, which should help in the field-position battle, if nothing else.
Is there another starting QB in the NFL on any team that could succeed in this current Lions offense with limited WR separation, meh running game, and zero creativity? If so, who is that guy, and why? I'll hang up and take your comments off the air. Thanks.— Stafford Defender (@kjb1030) December 20, 2018
I think a veteran quarterback with top-tier mobility could have some success. Sub out Stafford with Russell Wilson (we're assuming full schematic knowledge in this hypothetical swap) and I'm confident the current Seahawk could make things work better with these pieces.
Wilson has succeeded with worse offensive line play and inferior weapons in the past. His ability to extend plays with his feet, operate from a moving pocket and scramble when necessary would be enough to keep the chains moving more consistently, and the value of his feet increases in the red zone, where the Lions have struggled this year.
If you could clone one player on the Lions that would make the team immediately better, who would it be?— Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) December 20, 2018
(This is a good question. You're welcome Justin.)
Even if there's some schematic issues to be sorted out, I'd love to see the 700-pound Harrison twins dominating the middle of the defense. But the better answer would undoubtedly be Slay. If you could have a second cornerback with his ball skills and confidence, it would give opposing offenses fits.
Just for fun, I would love to have your best starting XI for the Lions from the players of past 20 years.— Pranav (@porbandar123) December 20, 2018
Oh my. OK, let's do it.
QB: Matthew Stafford
RB: Barry Sanders
WR: Calvin Johnson, Herman Moore, Golden Tate
OL: Taylor Decker, Rob Sims, Jeff Hartings, Larry Warford, Jeff Backus (moving him to right tackle)
TE: Eric Ebron
DL: Robert Porcher, Ndamukong Suh, Harrison and Ziggy Ansah
LB: DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch
CB: Darius Slay, Dre Bly, Chris Houston (this is a nickel team, sorry Stephen Boyd)
S: Glover Quin, Louis Delmas
A few guys that just missed the cut because of the 20-year limit were Chris Spielman, Bennie Blades and Lomas Brown.
I'm not overly confident with the offensive line and I feel I might be missing a better option at safety over Delmas, but that's a roster that can win a Super Bowl.