The Detroit Lions are coming off a 3-12-1 season, and appear to be in “win-now” mode or else, given the ownership’s expectations made public last season.
But, what about the season after that? And, after that?
That likely will take young building blocks and, as it stands right now, the Lions appear to be short, at least in how they stack up to the rest of the NFL.
That’s according to ESPN, which on Monday ranked the Lions No. 26 out of 32 NFL teams in their under-25 talent for this season. That’s a drop of eight spots from a year ago.
The good news: They’re ahead of NFC North rivals Chicago (No. 27) and Minnesota (30), and also are ahead of perennial playoff participants such as the Los Angeles Rams (28), Philadelphia Eagles (29), and New England Patriots (31).
According to ESPN, the Lions boast two “blue-chip” players in center Frank Ragnow and cornerback Jeff Okudah, two of Detroit’s last three first-round draft choices.
The addition of Okudah and edge rusher Julian Okwara (third round) in the draft are two reasons why the Lions could make strides on defense, writes Scott Spratt of Football Outsiders and EdjSports.
“Okudah has the ideal physical traits to become a shutdown corner,” Spratt writes, “and if his brother and Lions teammate Romeo is any indication, Okwara could quickly add the size and strength to become a prototypical NFL pass-rusher.
“Middle linebacker Jahlani Tavai and strong safety Will Harris have already demonstrated their three-down abilities with strong 59% and 53% respective coverage success rates as part-time players in their rookie seasons. Add to them a healthy pass-rusher in Da’Shawn Hand, who missed the majority of 2019 with various elbow and ankle injuries, and the Lions are poised for rapid defensive improvements.”
Offensively, Spratt added 2019 first-round pick T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift, taken in the second round of the 2020 draft, as young players with plenty of potential.
“An ankle injury cut Hockenson’s rookie season short, but his pre-draft promise offers hope that he can become a plus contributor as both a receiver and a blocker,” Spratt writes. “Ironically, Swift does not possess the top-end speed to score from anywhere on the field, but he is quick and decisive and provides a three-down ability that the Lions have lacked despite recent draft investments in backs including Kerryon Johnson and Ty Johnson.”