• Matthew Turner

Lions 2021 Free Agency Progress and Roster Needs

Updated: Mar 28

In my post from March 1, I examined the holes in the Lions roster, along with some predictions of those players who might be leaving us.


In short, of the 17 names I predicted, 16 have now left (the only remaining player of these is DT Nicholas Williams, who took a pay cut to remain with the team - as per this piece by Jeff Risdon @ Lions Wire).


In addition, the following players have also departed:

K Matt Prater

WR/CB/PR/KR Jamal Agnew WR Mohamed Sanu

RB Adrian Peterson

C Russell Bodine

LB Jarrad Davis

CB Darryl Roberts


Allowing for the retention, and the extra leavers, this would have left the needs as so:


1 QB

4 WR

1 RB

1 TE

3 OL

1 DT/NT

1 DE

3 LB

4 CB

2 S

1 K


The Lions have been moderately busy in free agency and the trade market, bringing in the following players:


QB Tim Boyle (from GB)

RB Jamaal Williams (from GB)

WR Tyrell Williams (from LV)

WR Breshad Perriman (from NYJ)

WR Damion Ratley (from HOU)

WR Kalif Raymond (from TEN)

TE Josh Hill (from NO)

DT Michael Brockers (via trade from LAR for a 2023 7th round pick)

DE Charles Harris (from ATL)

OLB Alex Anzalone (from NO)

K Randy Bullock (from CIN)


Assuming that each of these makes the roster (which is reasonable, but not a given - Randy Bullock will find himself in a battle in camp for his spot), this gives the updated needs chart to be:


1 WR

3 OL

2 LB

4 CB

2 S


which is a total of 12 players. If Detroit does indeed draft the 6 picks that they have in the 2021 draft, that will leave 6 further spots to fill, assuming that they always draft a position of need (which again is not a given). I also believe that the above understates the number of Wide Receivers required, which I think is probably two. I'll build on this list shortly when I review the Lions likely 2021 NFL Draft strategy.


New Player Profiles


Let's have a look at your new Detroit Lions:


QB Tim Boyle (PFR stats)

The above drives are from preseason games, but his accuracy, recognition and arm talent are not to be dismissed. He threw in the 2019 preseason for 6 TDs to 0 INTs. Contrast that with his college career: Boyle went undrafted out of EKU via UConn. He threw for 12 TDs to 26 INTs, including 1 TD for 13 INTs at UConn before transferring. His contract with the Lions is 1 year, $2.5m, fully guaranteed at signing. He should be competing with David Blough for the QB2 spot which should be competative. Given the contract given, he should be the early favourite.


RB Jamaal Williams (PFR stats)

I don't think you can watch the above and not be impressed. Jamaal, in the backup role behind Aaron Jones for his entire pro career so far, has rushed for between 460 and 556 yards each season in his four years in the league, at an average of 4.0 yards per carry. He's also been productive in the receiving game, with at least 25 receptions each season at an average of 7.9 yards per reception, a 78.7 catch percentage, for a total of 18 all-purpose TDs. He's also instantly the funniest guy in the locker room, just watch his introductory presser:

The other thing that he clearly brings is absolutely the right attitude. If you don't have the patience to watch the above, the line that stood out to me was:

"[I'm] made for pass protection"


It's clear that whether in a run or pass situation, all three running backs on the roster can be used which won't be tipping our opponents off as to what is coming (unlike Adrian Peterson being on the field!).


Jamaal's contract is a 2-year, $6m contract ($3.25m GTD) which could rise to $7.5m with incentives which represents excellent value considering his age and productivity.


WR Tyrell Williams (PFR stats)

Tyrell Williams joins the Lions on a 1-year, $4m deal (fully GTD), and a voidable year brings the cap hits to $3m 2021, $1m 2022. He was cut from the Raiders where he was on a 4-year $44.3m deal to be their WR1. What's clear from the above is that Tyrell is massive. He's basically much taller and bigger than all the DBs, and often faster than them too. Tyrell ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at his NFL Combine back in 2015. As a deep threat his catch %age wasn't super-high but has steadily increased year-on-year to 65.6% in 2019 and his average per reception has been in the 15-16 range since became a starter in 2016. Given his size, he's also a big red-zone threat. It's telling that a lot of the big plays above came on slant and deep-slants as well as corner and post routes.


The big question mark here is his 2020 injury. A torn labrum ruled him out of the entire season, and he's suffered through his career with plantar fasciitis (which didn't rule him out of games, but affected him within games). At this contract value and his upside, I'm willing to take this risk!


WR Breshad Perriman (PFR stats)

Breshad joins the Lions on a 1 year, $2.5m deal ($2m GTD). He's been in the league 5 years for 4 different teams, starting only in 2020, however he's always been productive with at least 300 yards per year every season where he's had more than 10 receptions. He's a deep threat, as proven by his 17 yards per reception in the last two seasons and his 4.24 40-yard dash time, but he's not a great catcher, with about a 50% catch rate in the last two seasons. I love his body control with the ball in his hands though, very light on his feet, very deliberate and lightening quick - his poor catching ability is more than offset by the cost and the speed upside.


WR Damion Ratley (PFR Stats)

Damion was a 6th round pick of Cleveland in the 2018 NFL Draft. He has a total of 407 yards in his career on 29 receptions for 1 TD and a catch rate of 53.7%. Contract terms have not yet been disclosed. He runs a 4.39s 40-yard dash, and so is in keeping with the other pick-ups so far - he's speedy! I think he will be an outside bet to make the roster but he's got plenty of upside too.


WR Kalif Raymond (PFR Stats)

Kalif, primarily the kick returner for the Titans over the last two years, joins the Lions (contract details have not been disclosed yet) after the best offensive year of his career, with 187 yards on 9 receptions at a catch rate of 60% (the previous season was 9 catches for 170 yards and a 1TD on a 75% catch rate). He's pure speed too, like the above receivers, running his pro day 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds. As a returner, he's primed to replace Jacksonville bound former All-Pro Jamal Agnew, and averaged 9 yards per punt return and 18.3 yards per kick return in 2020. I can't wait to see what he can do on the team as a gadget receiver with good hands - he's also got better route running than he's been given credit for in his career.


TE Josh Hill (PFR Stats)

Josh Hill rejoins his former TE coach Dan Campbell in Detroit, on a 1-year $1.2125m deal ($987.5k GTD). Josh's production doesn't jump off the stat sheet, but don't let that fool you. In 2016, when Hill was a restricted free agent, and tendered by New Orleans on a right of first refusal tender, the Chicago Bears signed Hill to a 3-year offer sheet worth $7.5m and New Orleans matched it. Sean Payton said in January 2020 of Hill "[losing him is like] losing the front door of your home" in that, you can get by, but it's going to much more difficult (excerpt taking from Saints Wire). Even as the TE2 in NO, he played between 32% and 62% of offensive snaps in a season, and 16% to 39% of special teams snaps in the last 5 years. He's a blocking machine, both in the run and pass games - and we're going to see a massive improvement in both offensive phases of the game.


DT Michael Brockers (PFR Stats)

Michael Brockers joined the Lions via trade with the LA Rams for a 2023 7th round pick in a cap dumping exercise. The Lions then instantly agreed to a new contract with Brockers, signing him to a 3-year, $24m deal ($11m GTD). In this deal, the cap hit in year 3 is almost $12m, with $10m cap savings if cut so, in reality, this may well be a 2-year, $14m deal.


Brockers has played 138 games in the last 9 seasons, all with the Rams, missing just 6 games. He's made 28 sacks and 395 tackles in his career, including 5 sacks (2nd highest in career) in 2020. On tape, he's an aggressive, twitchy 1-5 technique defender, excellent in both run and pass defense with very active hands. He was a captain with the Rams every year since 2018 and an excellent locker room presence. The Lions culture is growing with this acquisition.


DE Charles Harris (PFR Stats)


Charles Harris is a former 1st round pick of the Miami Dolphins in 2017 (22nd overall). He was largely poor in Miami and was traded to Atlanta in 2020 for a 7th round pick. He had what was described as a "revival" there, gaining 3 sacks - although PFF say that it was the worst year of his career. The deal is 1 year, $1.75m (fully GTD), and at that value, there's very little downside, however, I'm not expecting much from here. He'll compete with Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant for backup reps.


OLB Alex Anzalone (PFR Stats)

Alex also rejoins former coach Dan Campbell from New Orleans, on a 1-year, $1.75m deal ($1.5m GTD). His career has been injury-hit since being a 3rd round selection of New Orleans in 2017, missing 26 games in his career, but playing every game in 2018 and 2020. He has 1 interception, 2 passes defended, 3 forced fumbles, 4 sacks and 123 tackles in his short career. He has played the majority of his snaps at inside linebacker, he's got excellent speed (a 4.63s 40-yard dash) and a good nose for the ball. He's someone who tends to be a reactor rather than proactive in defense but his speed makes up for it. Bottom line: We needed bodies at LB, he comes cheap and he's better than Christian Jones.


K Randy Bullock (PFR Stats)


Randy joins the Detroit Lions on a 1-year $1.75m contract ($750k GTD), and fills the void left by Matt Prater's departure. He has a career field goal average of 83.2%, but this rises to 88% within 49 yards, and 95.6% on extra points. He's also a kickoff starter with a 60.1% touchback rate in his last four years with Cincinnati. He will compete with Matt Wright for the kicker's spot.


Summary


Hopefully, you're now more acquainted with the new additions to the Lions team - I must say that I'm excited by the team actually having speed for the first time in 5 years, especially at the wide receiver position and I feel it fits well with Goff's skillset.


How do you feel Detroit have done with the above? Are they filling holes effectively? Or are they just signing cheap bodies who might be unproductive or not see the field through injury?

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