My first article in a build-up to the draft is an in-depth look into the state of the Lions franchise, looking at the roster as it stands after the first wave of free agency.
The roster and my grades on offense currently stand as follows:- (players listed according to my perception of the depth chart as it stands)
Chase Daniel (FA signing from CHI)
Matt is an elite starter but the broken back has to be a worry from last year. If he stays healthy, this team will have a chance in every game and would merit an A. Chase Daniels is an inexpensive backup who has shown he can win a few games (albeit with an elite Chicago defense behind him). David Blough showed promise last year in relief of Stafford, another year in the playbook will not hurt him in the fight to be QB2.
Kerryon has been excellent when he's been on the field. Unfortunately he's missed a good deal of his first two seasons, which means year 3 is very important as to whether he's going to be around long term. Bo Scarbrough was the surprise package last year in relief for the injured Kerryon and deserves to go in as RB2. Ty Johnson and Tra Carson have both shown flashes without too much on field time. Wes Hills played one game last year at 2.1 yards per rush but contributed well on Special Teams at college, he may well be a cut candidate, more on that later.
Nick was a 7th round pick in the 2018 draft, but tore his ACL shortly afterwards and was out for that season. He went on to play in 10 games in the 2019 season before going on IR again, making 4 receptions for 17 yards. He was a quarterback in college and I wonder if the Lions should use that to their advantage for a trick play or two this year. His blocking ability was outstanding in college, but he hasn't had much time to show that ability in games. Possible cut candidate but I expect him to make the roster.
Paul Butler (now released per Pro Football Talk)
Hockenson was the no.1 rated tight end in the 2019 draft, becoming the third Lions tight end selected in the first round in the last 11 years (Pettigrew 2009, Ebron 2014). After an incredible game 1, he fell away in the receiving game in the rest of the year. As one of the positions with the steepest learning curve in the pro game, I expect him to take it to the next level this year. Jesse James was a bust last year, but I don't expect Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn to give up on him too quickly, he still easily stands as the TE2. He needs to be more involved this year. Issac Nauta was selected in the 7th round of the 2019 draft and has a shot to get on the roster this year at TE3. Paul Butler and Matt Sokol are signed to reserve/future contracts.
Marvin Jones Jr
Geronimo Allison (FA signing from GB)
Geremy Davis (FA signing from LAC)
Jonathan Duhart (now released per Pro Football Talk)
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones Jr are two excellent WR1 receivers. Marvin Jones is arguably one of the best free agent pick ups the Lions have made in the last 10 years. Both players were in the top 7 in touchdowns last year, Golladay top with 11TDs. Danny Amendola had an excellent year in the slot receiver position last year, enough to be brought back for another season. Geronimo Allison is a streaky player picked up from Green Bay for the veteran minimum deal which represents excellent value if he can make the roster but was prone to drops last year. Marvin Hall didn't see much time on the field in 2019, but when he did, his 7 catches averaged 37.3 yards per catch. This didn't qualify for ranking, but the highest yards per catch player last year among qualifying players was Mike Williams of LAC with 20.4 YAC. Lacy, Fulgham, Kennedy and Bolden face an uphill battle to make the roster.
Frank Ragnow had an excellent year last season after moving from left guard to the center position which he played mostly at in college. He was often ranked the number 1 centre by PFF last season. This group only gets an A- because there is no depth behind Frank. Bodine is on a reserve/future contract.
Josh Garnett (FA signing)
Josh Garnett is a former 1st round pick of the San Francisco 49ers in the 2016 NFL draft but was released at the start of the 2019 season. Given how valuable offensive lineman are, even bad ones, he qualifies as a huge bust in SF, mainly plagued with injuries. He gets a chance to resurrect his career in Detroit, especially given the current lack of competition. Kenny Wiggins was resigned yesterday officially and is a serviceable guard, as is Joe Dahl and Oday Aboushi but they are not going to be setting the world alight. Beau Benzschawel was signed as an undrafted free agent after the 2019 NFL draft, but did not see an offensive snap. He showed promise in college and did play a handful of special teams snaps. Benenoch has played a full season for Tampa Bay in 2018 but struggled greatly. He could find a way on the roster given the level of competition.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai (FA signing from PHI)
Taylor Decker holds the starting left tackle spot, with Detroit having picked up his fifth year option being a 1st round pick in the 2016 draft. He played at an elite level in his first year before suffering a major injury and his production has never recovered to that level, but is serviceable. Vaitai is a high priced free agent signing from Philadelphia at $10m a year, offensive tackles don't come cheap! His play in Philly was good, but not great as a rotational 3rd tackle but was graded more highly than Rick Wagner who was released. Tyrell Crosby will provide relief at either tackle position and across the line but is not a good player. Dan Skipper has played 7 games in 3 season in the league but is now under a reserve/future contract, Nelson was on the practice squad last year, as was Tucker.
The team, if healthy, can be elite at the QB, RB, WR, TE and C positions, but badly lack at OL and OG. If the Lions want to contend, they need possible a more reliable RB2, and starting calibre offensive lineman. Without that, watch out for Stafford continuing to get hit and the running game going nowhere.
That said, if the line produces, this could be one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, but it is a big IF.