Lions mailbag (continued): Isaiah Simmons fits in Detroit, but is he worth No. 3 pick?
Allen Park — We had some leftover questions from Monday's Detroit Lions mailbag, so here's a second batch of Q&As.
► Question. If the Lions are two players away, like Dan Orlovsky said, crushing the first two picks with impact rookies, along with T.J. Hockenson and Da'Shawn Hand making a big jump could be like adding two extra picks! What do you say? — @DirtyJerzFinest
► Answer. Even before making this comment, I would have told you Orlovsky is an optimist. And as an analyst, he focuses on positives and sees the world with a glass-half-full perspective. There's nothing wrong with that. Everyone knows there are plenty of critics putting negativity out in the world every day, so his approach is a welcomed departure from that pervasive toxicity.
That said, this take is still the most optimistic view of the 2020 Detroit Lions.
I would never outright dismiss the idea that this team can't have a worst-to-first turnaround. We've seen far more unlikely things happen in sports, including a 16-seed winning in the NCAA Tournament. Despite the Lions' history, landing a couple of impact players and having better injury luck could easily flip several of those close losses from last season into victories.
As for being two players away, we're left to assume the Lions re-sign or replace other roster spots, both starters and depth, with equal talent in this scenario. Right? For example, Graham Glasgow isn't an impact player, but his departure would leave a troubling hole up front.
Also, cornerback Darius Slay can't be traded.
Working with those assumptions, scoring an impact defender in free agency and the first round of the draft — such as a tandem like Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and Ohio State cornerback Jeff Okudah, or Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones and Ohio State defensive end Chase Young — could quickly lift the defense from being one of the league's worst to the middle of the pack in a hurry.
► Q. Can you tell me why Isaiah Simmons isn't the Lions pick at No. 3? — @gavin3000
► A. It's a completely reasonable question. For Patricia, who preaches schematic flexibility on defense, is there a better option than the versatile Clemson linebacker? He's shown he can rush the passer, play the run and excel in coverage.
Why more people aren't talking about the possibility at No. 3 probably has something to do with positional value. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers selected Devin White No. 5 overall last year, and he was the first off-ball linebacker taken that early since Aaron Curry in 2009.
You remember him? The guy many fans wanted the Lions to take instead of Matthew Stafford. But I digress.
I've noted before, I think Simmons would fit well with the way the Lions used Tavon Wilson last season. Most of the time, the veteran safety lined up in the box or along the line of scrimmage, but he'd occasionally flex outside and cover a tight end in the slot. Simmons can do all of that, and projects as a much better coverage option than Wilson.
► Q. Is any corner worth $16/17 million per year? — @DaveyB007
► A. Yes, and over the next three years, you'll see several top that arbitrary threshold. This is the nature of a rapidly rising salary cap. What you're really asking is if an elite cornerback, one of the most important positions on the field, is worth between 7-8 percent of a team's cap space over a four-year stretch.
Several current cornerback contracts met that standard when they were signed. You have to remember, the cap has gone up nearly 30 percent in the past five years. As I noted in a column about Slay a week ago, his current deal, with cap inflation, would be nearly $16 million per year.
► Q. Since the season was certainly not much fun to cover for a beat writer, is this situation with the Lions holding the No. 3 pick in a top-heavy draft at least more fun than what it was in recent seasons? — @IgorPetrinovic
► A. Yes and no. The downside with the Lions picking so early in the draft is it seems like the options are limited. When they're picking in the middle of the round, there are so many more possibilities, which makes it easier to write in the months leading up to the event. Thankfully, there are several realistic trade scenarios percolating that should help fill that void.
And when the topic well runs dry with the No. 3 choice, the second-round pick carries plenty of intrigue, as well.
The best part about the team selecting at the top of the draft is fan interest after the pick is made. Outside of a quarterback, that player will be expected to play and contribute early, offering plenty of opportunities to write about their role and development.
► Q. In your heart of hearts, who do you think are the Lions’ top three cornerbacks Week 1 of 2020? — @FriedrichsJk
► A. The only certainty is Justin Coleman, who signed a big contract as a free agent last year and has enough dead money still on the deal that he's not going anywhere.
And while it's a coin flip on Slay's future with the Lions, I'd lean toward the team's rightfully high asking price being enough to keep him in Detroit through the offseason. If he's playing well and the team isn't at the deadline, they can always revisit trading him.
For the third spot, I'd need a crystal ball. Of the guys currently on the roster, Amani Oruwariye is the best bet, but there will almost certainly be an addition in the draft or free agency. Given where the Lions are drafting, Okudah seems like the best bet.
If Slay is traded, I'm buying on Byron Jones as the logical free-agent target. He's not a playmaker like Slay, but is nearly as sticky in coverage.
► Q. Let's play the backup QB game again this year. Is he on the roster, about to be drafted, or a free agent? — @JacobMusic88
► A. You didn't get enough of that game last season, when they had nearly dozen contenders vying for the role?
Here's a quick recap of the current setup. Matthew Stafford is the starter, obviously. David Blough and Kyle Sloter remain under contract. Jeff Driskel is a free agent.
After the way last season ended, it would be tough to justify Blough sticking at the No. 2. I'd love to see what Sloter brings to the table, but the Lions might not be able to afford waiting to find out.
Driskel, with his experience and mobility, could be worth bringing back. Some other veteran options that will cost more but provide more stability behind Stafford would be Case Keenum, Chase Daniel or Mike Glennon.
The draft probably isn't going to provide a solution, unless the team takes someone like Jordan Love or Jake Fromm at the top of the second round. Finding a quality backup in the middle and late rounds is consistently a long shot. For every Dak Prescott, there are 10 quarterbacks selected after the second round who are out of the league or clinging to a spot at the back of a roster.
► Q. With it being NBA All-Star Weekend, which Lions player is the team’s best basketball player? — @drdougiefresh
► A. My first instinct would be Tracy Walker, who was really good in high school and has that Tayshaun Prince-like wingspan to help him defend on the perimeter. But another publication in town polled several players in the locker room last year and tight end T.J. Hockenson was the runaway winner.
► Q. Could a Dolphins-Lions draft trade include Josh Rosen? — @MichaelJStark
► A. I'm starting to think there's a Josh Rosen truther contingent out there. I've received a few emails and tweets about the Lions making a play for the former first-round pick.
His early career has been a disaster, in large part due to circumstance. He went to an awful Arizona team in the draft and predictably struggled as a rookie, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns in 13 starts.
After the Cardinals shifted gears, drafting Kyler Murray, Rosen was shipped to Miami for a couple of draft selections. The change of scenery didn't help, and he actually posted worse numbers in six appearances, including three starts. To put his 2019 production into perspective, Blough was better for the Lions last year.
At this point, Rosen would be a reclamation project. With nearly $5 million in guarantees remaining on his contract, I'm not sure you can justify the experiment.
► Q. Do you and other local reporters actually research draft candidates by viewing game film and talking to their coaches? Or do you just read the latest gossip from the major draft experts? — @palebluedot8366
► A. I cannot speak for other reporters. My process for studying draft picks is to read a few trusted national sources and watch some film. Given there are hundreds of credentialed NFL reporters, I do not reach out to their college coaches before the draft, out of respect for their time. I have and will continue to reach out to some after the draft.
► Q. When was the last time a city was able to draft in the top-three in all four major sports within the same calendar year? — Royal Saxon
► A. I appreciate the question, but that's a staggering amount of research. Maybe it's something our sports staff can collectively revisit this summer.
► Q. What are the chances Austin Bryant will be a significant part of the defensive line rotation next season? — R. Ottenwess
► A. It will be easier to answer this question after free agency and the draft. For example, if the Lions were to land Chase Young, that would significantly impact Bryant's ability to see the field.