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The Lions addressed needs early but left some things undone as well.
The Detroit Lions came into the 2020 NFL Draft with two fairly obvious needs: cornerback and edge rusher. They addressed the first by taking Ohio State corner Jeffrey Okudah, widely considered the top defensive back prospect in the class. They addressed the second by nabbing Notre Dame edge rusher Julian Okwara, a strong athlete who also produced at an above-average level in college.
You could possibly criticize the Lions for not recognizing that they had many more needs than just those two and leveraging the No. 3 overall pick into a trade for several additional assets, but given all the pre-draft smoke about how they had interest from every team under the sun, it sure seems like they tried their damnedest to drum up interest in the pick and it just wasn’t there — at least not enough of it to actually make a deal.
Despite addressing the team’s two biggest needs on the first two days of the draft, the Lions did still leave some stuff undone. That’ll happen when you enter the draft with several glaring needs, but it’ll also happen when you spend a premium pick on a player at a position that both isn’t an obvious need and also does not tend to have as strong an effect on team performance as others. (Running back D’Andre Swift might very well be productive, but it’s difficult to say that a running back was what the Lions needed at that spot.)
1. Finish addressing the secondary
Detroit’s pass defense was a bit of a disaster last season, finishing the year 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA. The Lions traded their best safety (Quandre Diggs) midway through the season, then traded their best cornerback (Darius Slay) in March. They replaced Diggs by trading for former Patriots safety Duron Harmon and filled Slay’s roster spot by taking Jeff Okudah with the No. 3 overall pick, but that’s not nearly enough of a makeover to fix what was wrong with this pass defense last year.
Perhaps they feel Desmond Trufant is enough of an upgrade at the No. 2 corner spot to make an impact, but A. the version of Trufant that they’re getting is not the same as the one who was a Pro-Bowler five years ago; and B. this is still an extremely thin group beyond the top couple of players. It was pretty surprising to not see the Lions take another defensive back after picking Okudah at No. 3.READ MORE: Police: 2 Stable After Detroit Shooting
2. Solidify up-the-middle defense
Detroit was a bit better against the run last season than the pass, but the Lions also cut ties with just about every interior defensive lineman who was actually in the rotation last year. None of A’Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels, or Damon Harrison is on the team anymore. Of the players who are returning, only John Atkins played a non-trivial number of snaps, and he was not particularly effective during his time on the field.
The Lions added former Patriot Danny Shelton in free agency, but that doesn’t seem like enough to solve the team’s issues up the middle, and he is also not much of a help in the pass rush department. The only interior lineman the Lions added in the draft was John Penisini, who they took in the sixth round and who ranked near the very bottom of the class in Adjusted Overall Win Rate (which is a combination of Pro Football Focus’ Pass Rush Win Rate and Run Stops, weighted so that pass rush is more important than run defense).
3. Identify quality successors at wide receiver
Kenny Golladay will likely be around for quite a while but the rest of Detroit’s starting wide receiver corps is both getting older and coming up on the end of their contracts. Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola are each on expiring contracts, while Jones is now 30 and Amendola is 34.
It’s unlikely to be a good use of resources to pay Jones into his mid-30s, and Amendola seems more likely to be on his way out the door than a long-term answer in the slot. In one of the best receiver drafts in years, the Lions’ only move at the position was to use a fifth-round pick on Quintez Cephus, the 32nd-ranked wideout in our prospect rankings.
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