Lions mailbag: OL outlook, Stafford’s future, Oliver’s impact and more

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — We've moved past the NFL draft and fan emotions from the event have hopefully cooled. Now the focus shifts to the offseason program, which seems like a great time to knock out a Detroit Lions mailbag. 

Kenny Wiggins

What is the biggest hole in the roster? — @LWKMatt

Before the draft, I wrote it was right guard. With the draft in the rear view, and zero offensive linemen drafted, it stands to reason my opinion is unchanged on the matter. 

The Lions have a number of contenders for the starting job on the roster, including a couple with plenty of experience. Kenny Wiggins is popular with the coaching staff and his teammates, but you're lying to yourself if you didn't see an inconsistent performance after he took over for T.J. Lang last year. Joe Dahl also returns, but he's three years into his career and has yet to grab the brass ring when there have been opportunities. 

The newcomer to the mix is Oday Aboushi. Coach Matt Patricia is a big fan of the journeyman's toughness. Personally, I've seen very little of the veteran lineman's work on film, but Pro Football Focus thinks highly of his pass protection, while grading his run blocking out below average. That's a curious scouting report for a team that is building around it's ground game. 

The sleeper contender, and one I'm still not certain is being seriously considered, is second-year man Tyrell Crosby. He's making steady developmental strides as an offensive tackle, and could find himself in position to be starting there in 2020. Do you push that plan aside and move him inside, where you reset his muscle memory to play with completely different footwork? 

When will get some decent owners/ leadership so we stop making stupid draft picks? — @LonnySanford

To this point, I'd say general manager Bob Quinn has been an above-average drafter. All three of his first-round picks are unquestioned starters, he's hit on two of his three second-round choices, potentially all three of his third-round picks and found some Day 3 gems in players like Da'Shawn Hand, Jamal Agnew and Anthony Zettel (before he was no longer a scheme fit). 

Ideally, that's what you want. Fair complaints would be more playmaking from the first-rounders — although that's tough to do with offensive linemen — and a little bit more production out of the late-round selections. 

Teez Tabor

That's not to say there haven't been some bad choices. The Teez Tabor pick continues to look awful, and we will probably know in a few months whether all hope is lost there. And taking a long snapper his rookie year in the general manager seat will always look a little silly. 

All things considered, Quinn's done enough in three years to have built some equity in his college talent evaluation. I get it. You didn't know much about this draft class. I readily admit some of the names were off my radar as well, including second-rounder Jahlani Tavai. But our opinions of prospects are largely formed by the consensus opinions of people who write for a living, which is poor perspective. 

That's not to disrespect draft analysts, many who work their tails off year round to provide thorough assessments, but they don't share the level of accountability as someone who actually works in an NFL front office. If Mel Kiper messes up, maybe we laugh about it for the next 20 years (Mike Williams to the Hall of Fame), but he'll be right back to mocking the next draft. If an NFL GM messes up, it can cost his team wins and ultimately his job. 

Like all draft classes, I'm content to take the wait and see approach. I think the concerns being raised about the value of tight end in the top-10 and taking a bigger, slower linebacker in Round 2 are valid. We note those now, but I'm never going to dismiss a plan without seeing its implementation first. 

If the lack of hot takes makes me boring, I'm sorry. 

What are the chances Dontrelle Inman or TJ Jones is a Lion in 2019? — @extrapointIan

Probably pretty low, but one injury changes a team's needs quickly. The Lions are set at the top of the depth chart with Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola, and my early impression is rookie Travis Fulgham will be in the mix to be that fourth guy, capable of playing both inside and outside while contributing on special teams. 

Other contenders for receiver snaps: Tommylee Lewis, Andy Jones (outstanding blocker), Brandon Powell and Chris Lacy. Lewis or Powell would probably need to win a return man job to ensure their spot. 

Would Van Noy now fit our system again under Patricia? I’m confused as to what is and what is not a good LB fit in this defense. — @jeffreyharley

Nothing wrong with that, Jeffery. Understanding a new scheme, and the personnel that is required to run it, can be a complex discussion. And when your team doles out minimal morsels of information, you have to lean on studying player acquisition trends. 

One piece of information Quinn did share early during the coaching transition is Patricia prefers bigger linebackers. The front four's playing style is fluid, but there's an emphasis on controlling multiple gaps. The idea of having bigger linebackers is they are better equipped to come downhill and enforce their will when stopping the run. 

Patricia also likes versatility in the second level. He wants to be able to situationally move his linebackers to the line, where that extra size prevents them from being overwhelmed by a tight end at the point of attack, but also have enough speed to situationally blitz or handle coverage assignments. It's that last part that's the question with Tavai, and many larger linebackers. They simply aren't as nimble in space when they don't engage their assignment early in routes. 

Van Noy, at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, with that versatile skill set, would absolutely be a fit in the current scheme.  

Brandon Fanaika from Stanford tweeted out something looking like Lions signed him. Any news? — @AlexHook1231

I don't know whether Fanaika is signing a UDFA contract or coming into next week's rookie minicamp on a tryout basis. The Lions will probably release a full list of their undrafted signings early next week. They don't formally acknowledge tryout players. 

In your opinion, if Stafford struggles this season, do we look at next year's draft for our future QB? — @ld5215

Let me put it this way, they should.

I respect what Matthew Stafford has accomplished in the NFL, the slew of statistical milestones, the unquestioned toughness, the calm under pressure to lead dozens of fourth-quarter comebacks, and the fact he's rarely been surrounded with the right mix of coaching and talent. But if his 2019 production is similar to last season, it's time to seriously start considering alternatives. 

Matthew Stafford

The Lions enter 2019 with a viable running game, a potential top-10 defense, a reliable trio of receivers and ponied up major resources for a pair of quality tight ends. Stafford's defenders will always find excuses, such as the uncertain right guard situation, or having to learn a new scheme, but there's enough there for team success. If he can't get a playoff berth out of this roster, despite being paid elite quarterback money, you have to consider doing things another way. 

Whether it's Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes, there's precedent of drafting and developing a future franchise quarterback behind an existing one. It's something the Lions should consider if Stafford doesn't rebound this year. 

Any reason why the Lions didn’t want to take a flyer on Rodney Anderson? I get the injuries, but when he is a 1st round talent that would pair well with KJ... Could have been a steal in round 5 or 6. — @spray_richard12

It could be a number of reasons, but injuries are probably near the top of the list. There's literally a banner hanging above the training tables at the Lions' practice facility that reads, "Durability is more important than ability." 

Rodney Anderson

Personally, I liked what Anderson brought to the table, from a skill set standpoint. But the addition of C.J. Anderson (not related), lessened the Lions' need for a rookie running back. The player they did add via the draft, Maryland's Ty Johnson, brings a different skill set to the table, namely elite speed and the ability to return kicks. 

Did you see that video of Buffalo’s front office celebrating when we didn’t draft Ed Oliver? — @Endzoneblog

I did. I love these inside looks at war rooms and I can't say I'm surprised by their reaction. Although a somewhat polarizing prospect, due to his size, Oliver was probably pretty high on many draft boards and the Bills felt fortunate he was there at No. 9 after reportedly consider options to move up to get him. 

At some point, talent wins out, but I always struggled to see Oliver fitting in Detroit. I don't question that he could have conformed to the techniques the Lions play up front, but those techniques would have also devalued his best skill, the ability to penetrate the backfield. It would have been a square peg in a round hole, and while it's OK to adjust a scheme to talent to some degree, it's less reasonable to overhaul a foundation philosophy for an unproven rookie. 

Ed Oliver

Do you get a break before OTAs and training camp? — @CallMeDJM

There's a nice little summer break for the NFL between mid-June and late July. It's the true offseason, barring any massive contract extensions. For writers, it's a good time to travel, but we'll be hanging around town this year, working on some projects around the new house. 

Extensions not picked up that the Lions maybe should think about trading for? I like Robert Nkemdiche and Shaq Lawson. Laquon Treadwell? Thoughts? — @nicktomfoolery

Quinn is always scouring the trade market for opportunities to improve the roster. The best trades are when you get a player with more than one year remaining on his deal. Obviously, you highlighted a bunch of expiring contracts, so while I wouldn't rule that kind of deal out, those scenarios are less than ideal. 

How many TEs can we realistically keep on roster? — @rbtwothree

Three is standard, although you can find room for a fourth, especially if they contribute on special teams. That's a good path for a guy like Logan Thomas or seventh-round draft pick Isaac Nauta. 

Seeing how (Jarrad) Davis and (A'Shawn) Robinson fit so well in this defense, is there reason to believe that Quinn was drafting for this defense all along? — @ch0z3n1

I don't, and Quinn explained this in a recent interview with 97.1 that he was fortunate to have drafted those two players who are versatile enough to fit any defensive scheme. 

If Quinn was planning for this transition all along he wouldn't have drafted Jalen Reeves-Maybin, traded away Kyle Van Noy or signed Akeem Spence to a three-year contract. Quinn made every effort to give Jim Caldwell the pieces the coach needed to succeed. 

It's 4th and 2, 4th quarter, on the Lions 45 yard line. Lions with the ball, down by 4. Three minutes left. Next year. Do the Lions have enough confidence in their running game to run it? Or go to TJ in the flat? Do the opponents fear the running game? — @JoeBeernink

Tough to know right now, Joe. I'd feel more confident saying yes with one yard to go, but Patricia is pretty conservative in those situations and would probably punt the ball away and lean on his defense and timeouts to get the ball back. 

Are Quinn and Patricia untouchable regardless of record next season? — @JustinBracy2

No. The heat under those seats is probably more of a gentle simmer at this point, but if things go off the rails this year, and the Lions win five or fewer games, I wouldn't rule out sweeping changes at the top. Martha Ford does not share her husband's patience. 

Beau Benzschawel

Thoughts on Beau Benzschawel and O-line in general. — @Durkee971

As far as undrafted free agents go, Benzschawel is a good marriage of need and talent. He was a solid college player at a program that runs a pro style offense. But Quinn, in that interview with 97.1, specifically said he didn't expect any undrafted rookies to compete for starting jobs right away. Given the experience ahead of Benzschawel on the depth chart, it would be a pretty dramatic climb to make in just one offseason. 

Week 1, who’s starting opposite Slay? — @joshb_916 

Having not seen them on the field, this guess lacks critical information, but if we were wagering $1, I'd put my money on Rashaan Melvin. He has size, experience and ball skills you're looking for at that spot. His performance in Oakland last year wasn't good, but that team also had near-zero pass rush, affecting the play of the secondary. 

How many games into the season until you hear "I KNEW the Lions should have drafted _________" and who will it be? — @Rwingswin

Oliver, approximately 1.5 quarters into the first preseason game. 

How secure are Prater and Martin? Will kickers/punters be brought in to seriously challenge either one or both? — @ngelfond

The Lions already brought back Ryan Santoso, last year's camp competition for Martin. If the challenger seriously improved his consistency, he could push the veteran for his job.

My favorite thing about Santoso is he's built like a defensive end (6-foot-5, 258 pounds). He's got a pretty good leg, but didn't come close to Martin's consistency or punt placement last year.

I don't see anyone pushing Prater. He's about as close to a roster lock as there is on the team right now.