Lions mailbag, Part 1: Shopping the No. 3 pick might be wise move
Allen Park — Welcome to the offseason. While we wait for the next round of playoff games, or in the Detroit Lions' case, the Senior Bowl, let's check the mailbox and see what's on your mind.
We're still planning on doing the mailbag in two parts, but given the slowdown in news, we'll push Part 2 to Friday. Make sure to come back and check out a second wave of Q&A on Friday.
► Question. In your opinion, what would be the dream “trade/draft” scenario for Lions fans? And I don’t just mean the immediate result — how they would use it in the next draft? — @Kwolv35
► Answer. I subscribe to the idea that the more picks you have in the first three rounds, the better. I'm aggressively shopping the No. 3 pick and hoping someone is willing to pay the bounty required to move up. The focus is squarely on the Dolphins, Chargers and Panthers, at slots five through seven, for a potential bidding war.
Miami has the most to offer, without question. They hold three first-round selections after acquiring one each from Pittsburgh and Houston via trades. If they offered the Lions the No. 5 and the Houston pick (currently slated to be No. 27 based on the result of the playoffs), I'd jump at the offer.
With Carolina or Los Angeles, they'd need to offer their first-, second- and third-round selections (or a future second) to get me to bite. That would potentially give the Lions five picks in the top 75, greatly increasing the odds of finding multiple impact contributors.
As for what I'd do with those picks, it's tough to project out a full draft board. While I would rule out one of the top offensive tackles, I'd still lean toward defense in the first round, whether it's Derrick Brown, Jeffrey Okudah or A.J. Epenesa.
► Q. Why do you think Hockenson had so little production after the first game? It's hard to follow his blocking on TV, but in the pass game he rarely seemed to be targeted. — @MiState4Ever
► A. When you have as many viable pass-catching options as the Lions had on the roster year, starting with their established trio of receivers, T.J. Hockenson's targets were always going to be subject to fluctuation. Still, in the 11 games after the debut, he was targeted at least five times in five of those games.
Part of the decline in his production can be attributed to defensive adjustments. Lions coach Matt Patricia likes to keep a lid on the abilities of younger players within the scheme, hoping to catch opponents by surprise. It worked particularity well with Kerryon Johnson in 2018. But once the team established what Hockenson could do against Arizona, opponents had film to utilize in their game planning.
Additionally, Hockenson had some surprising ball-security issues early in the year. Drops are a subjective stat, and most services didn't tag the rookie with many during his debut season, but he did let several tough catches slip free from his grasp, including a couple in the end zone. I have to wonder, had he completed the process in those instances, would Hockenson have commanded more steady attention from Matthew Stafford.
Finally, speaking of Stafford, Hockenson played his final four games with Jeff Driskel and David Blough under center. That talent drop at quarterback naturally hinders production of all the pass catchers.
► Q. Do you see Isaac Nauta being a combination H-back/fullback? Or is Bawden going to be coming back? — @SFHCommish_1
► A. Nauta played 34 snaps in the backfield. That's not the kind of sample size you want to use when projecting a position switch. Had the Lions been in playoff contention, I imagine they would have signed one of the several veteran fullbacks they worked out after Nick Bawden's injury, instead of giving the rookie tight end a trial run in the role.
The Lions really like Bawden, and even though he had the inconsistencies you might expect from a young, developing player, his professional approach and skill set are appealing to the coaching staff.
Injuries are obviously a concern, after ending his first two seasons on injured reserve, but with a dirt cheap contract, I imagine it's still going to be his job to lost this offseason.
► Q. Do you see Patricia hiring a defensive coordinator with their own system (i.e. Wade Phillips) or rather a placeholder to execute Patricia's master plan? — @mdjaxon
► A. I'm not sure I'd call any new hire at defensive coordinator a placeholder, but the team is more likely to hire someone who is willing to keep rowing the boat in a similar schematic direction. They've spent two years building out the personnel to be something specific, so they're not likely to make a sudden conversion to an attacking front, with speed-and-space linebackers and a reliance on zone coverage in the back end.
You mention Wade Phillips, and I don't think the suggestion is outlandish. There's enough schematic overlap there, and people probably don't remember, but when he was head coach of the Cowboys a little more than a decade ago, he employed former Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni as both a linebacker and defensive line assistant.
I know Phillips is 72, and he's probably more media friendly than Patricia would like to see with his coaches, but the Lions could really benefit from someone with his credentials. The Rams defense wasn't the problem last year. The unit impressively finished eighth in DVOA, a metric that measures down-by-down efficiency.
► Q. Why do they Lions always let their homegrown talent walk if they aren't superstars? — @taltytim
► A. I don't think that's accurate overview of the situation. Bob Quinn has re-signed several homegrown talents during his tenure as general manager, including Theo Riddick, Quandre Diggs, Sam Martin and Joe Dahl, none of which I would consider stars.
Other players, the Lions have let go in free agency because they weren't willing to match the price tag. Often, that can be a smart strategy, but it's occasionally backfired for Detroit. Guys like Cliff Avril and Larry Warford have gone to have as much or more success elsewhere, validating their cost.
Your underlying point is on the right track. The best teams do tend to draft, develop and retain their talent. The Lions haven't done a good enough job drafting and developing over the years, making most free agent decisions easy. This year, they face a tough one with Graham Glasgow. Which leads us to...
► Q. Would you please explain the Glasgow situation. Why does it appear that the Lions have no interest in re-signing him? — @dbrez4
► A. I wouldn't say they have no interest, but there is a reluctance to pay the market rate for a position the organization doesn't see as a good use of cap space. Glasgow is a good player, but not a great player. He's above-average, not Pro Bowl-caliber. He's durable and versatile, which increases his value, but the Lions don't necessarily see him being worth the potential $8 million per year he could command on the open market.
Dahl might not be at Glasgow's level, but the team was able to ink him to a two-year, $3.6 million extension. When you consider the performance-to-cost ratio of the two linemen, the Lions would rather try to find a second Dahl and spend that $5-7 million in cap savings at a position that has more perceived value.
► Q. Second half point discrepancy to me says coaching. How does Detroit compare to the rest of the league? — @bringbkdropkick
► A. While there are a lot of factors at play, I tend to agree with your overall sentiment. Even if we point to late-game execution failures, if they're repetitive, that is also a reflection of coaching.
To answer the specific question, I created a quick spreadsheet. Detroit was outscored by an average of 4.6 points in the second halves of games this season. Only Denver, Oakland and Miami were worse.
In 2018, the Lions were outscored by an average of 2.5 points in the second half, ranking 27th in the league.
► Q. How much will what the Lions do in free agency tell us about their potential draft plans? — @MichaelFick1
► A. It never tells the entire story. Last year, for example, the Lions spent big money on a tight end and cornerback in free agency, then drafted two tight ends and a cornerback. Safety also looked like one of the deepest spots on the roster heading into the draft, but the Lions then spent a third-round pick on the position.
Obviously, there are a handful of positions where the Lions could tip their hand with their free-agent spending. For example, if they sign an established veteran backup quarterback, they're probably not going into the draft looking to address that position.
► Q. Why would the Lions fire the offensive line coach and then promote his assistant? Are there differences that Hank Fraley might bring to the role to make this move an upgrade? — @nuzach
► A. Let's clear up a misconception, Jeff Davidson was not fired, he resigned. And unlike Pasqualoni, who stepped down the same day last week, there is less of a sense Davidson was forced into the decision.
The Lions offensive line has been far from perfect under Davidson's watch, but when assessing all the things that went wrong in 2019, the performance of the unit would have been pretty far down the list. In fact, there were a few bright spots, namely the notable development of young building blocks Frank Ragnow and Dahl.
Fraley, as a former interior lineman, likely played a role in the development of the team's younger linemen. It's too early to suggest any differences he might bring to the table. Even though he's been on staff for two years, assistant position coaches are background figure who aren't required to meet with the media. It will be something to dig into deeper the next time we get the chance to talk to returning players.
► Q. Are you excited about the Titans-Lions game next year when we have a week to compare Patricia and Vrabel as Patriot disciples? — @Tim1213
► A. I'm more excited about making the trip to Nashville, where I haven't traveled as an adult. Even though I typically only get Saturday evening to enjoy a city during road trips, I try to make the most of it.
But when the time comes, we'll undoubtedly compare and contrast what Mike Vrabel has been able to accomplish during his two-plus years with the Titans to Patricia's time in Detroit. The Lions took a long look at Vrabel during their coaching search a couple of years back, interviewing the former Texans defensive coordinator, but no matter how much Quinn says otherwise, I believe the general manager was locked into his choice before the process began.
The parallels between the two teams is incredible. Both front offices are run by former Patriots staffers who followed similar paths through the organization, although Jon Robinson got some experience with a second organization (Tampa Bay) before taking the Titans general manager job.
And both Quinn and Robinson stuck with the head coach they inherited for two 9-7 seasons before making a switch to a more-familiar, Patriots-rooted option. The Titans have continued to be a 9-7 team the past two years, but that was good enough for a playoff berth in the AFC this year. And we all saw what they did to New England last week, so I imagine Robinson is feeling pretty good about his choice.
► Q. What’s the timetable on filling the open coaching positions? — @dfaes
► A. No official timetable, but I'd expect most, if not all the hires to be in place before the team travels to coach the Senior Bowl a little more than a week from now.
► Q. Do you think we will hear any rumors of interview or will a hire just be announced a la Bevell last year. — @cardsglory88
► A. It's a smart observation. As you know well by now, this Lions regime does everything it can to operate in secrecy, and on many fronts, they've been successful keeping things in-house.
When the team hired Darrell Bevell a year ago, the news seemingly came out of nowhere. After the fact, the coordinator revealed he was secretly interviewed in Orlando, of all places.
And you know the Lions did a good job keeping it secret when word didn't even leak to ESPN or the NFL Network, the two organizations that are partnered with the league.
At this point, I have no reason to suspect any chances to their process this year.
► Q. Specific guys that will be at the Senior bowl we should be focusing on? — @j_Borders
► A. Stay tuned. It's an annual tradition to produce a researched list before the week of practice. Last year, I highlighted Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye and Wes Hills, all who ended up on the Lions roster.
► Q. If the Lions go 18-0 next season will you get a Matt Patricia tattoo? — @nates888
► A. Sure, if the Lions win their first 18 and don't play the 19th game, the Super Bowl, because of some kind of apocalyptic occurrence, I'll get some ink.