If you missed Part I of our Detroit Lions mailbag today, make sure to check it out. There were a few virtual letters stuck in the bottom of the sack, so here’s a fresh batch of questions and answers.
► Question: Coach Campbell said early on that if nothing changes the team will be better just because they’ll be better coached, which seems plausible and encouraging. Any chance the Lions can be respectable this year just because they have coaches who care about players as people more than scheme? — @TheKurtHoffman
► Answer: We’re treading into a psychological study at the end of you question, so let’s focus on the heart of the matter; can Dan Campbell and his coaching staff help the Lions exceed expectations simply through quality coaching?
The answer, unequivocally, is yes. Doesn’t mean it will happen, but it’s absolutely possible via both schematic and cultural improvements.
If you’re looking for a model for the Lions to follow, the Miami Dolphins might be a good starting point. When the team fired Adam Gase, their 7-9 record from the 2018 season was a mirage. The Dolphins ranked bottom-three in both offense and defense that year.
A roster purge immediately followed with the release of several veteran starters and trades shipping out quarterback Ryan Tannehill, wide receiver Jarvin Landry and defensive tackle Robert Quinn. All signs pointed to a team tanking for the No. 1 pick in the 2019 draft.
But new coach Brian Flores rejected that narrative, the same way Campbell is rejecting the idea the Lions are rebuilding. Flores was able to quickly establish a culture and working schemes in Miami, and his team finished 5-11 his first year, far exceeding expectations.
A year later, the Dolphins won 10 games and now sit in prime position to build long-term success from the draft assets they acquired during that initial roster overhaul.
Purging veteran starters? Trading away the quarterback and stockpiling draft picks? The Lions are following the blue print.
► Q: What will the draft war room look like? Who’s making the final calls? Who’s giving input? Is this Holmes’ show or will he be seeking input from Campbell or anyone else? — @thenders
► A: We can only infer the setup based on comments that have been made by various members within the organization, but here are the basics:
Holmes will be making the selections on draft day, but he’ll be making those selections in lockstep agreement with Campbell, with input coming from many voices in the organization.
The opinions and analysis of the scouts, personnel executives Rag Agnew and John Dorsey, special advisor Chris Spielman, as well as the assistant coaches will all be weighed in the draft process.
The Lions are heavily pushing a collaborative approach with their front office.
► Q: Am I the only one that thinks a small wide receiver in Jaylen Waddle or a slight wide receiver in DeVonta Smith is a reach at No. 7? — @Kfletch300
► A: No. In fact, there are probably a lot of people in your camp because small receivers, regardless of how fast or productive they were in college, carry the perception of added injury risk.
That said, every prospect must be weighed individually, while also considering the game’s schematic evolution. Both Waddle and Smith fit the modern NFL, as speed and space grow increasingly important across the league with the proliferation of quick-pass attacks.
Yes, Smith is small, and there isn’t a tremendous track record for guys with his body type, but there are successful examples. Marvin Harrison, DeSean Jackson, Steve Smith, just to name a few off the top of my head.
And to be fair, you’re also not likely to find many better route runners than last year’s Heisman winner. In fact, the nice thing with both Smith and Waddle is they’re not strictly deep threats. They’re well-rounded and versatile offensive weapons.
► Q: Rod Wood mentioned the league making media changes. I didn’t follow what those were. Can you tell me what they changed? — @AWard86
► A: I believe you’re talking about the media deals the league recently agreed to with their broadcast partners. Wood noted, “significant changes to how the game is going to be presented.”
The primary changes with the new 11-year agreement is the expansion of streaming rights, headed by Amazon Prime becoming the exclusive home to Thursday Night Football.
Additionally, Paramount+, ESPN+, Tubi and Peacock steaming services will gain more NFL content. The goal is to obviously reach a greater audience as traditional television metrics shrink in favor of mobile and streaming devices.
► Q: What do you expect from Quintez Cephus year two? — @drewmet_FF
► A: It’s a good question, but a little difficult to assess until we see whether the Lions add another receiver in the first two or three rounds in the draft.
I liked the way Cephus finished last season, showing promising development through the course of his rookie campaign. We know he’s not the fastest option, in stark contrast to the team’s recent additions, but he’s a savvy route runner who uses his frame to his advantage.
He’ll probably be coming off the bench, behind Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman on the outside. None of those three are traditional slot receivers, but each of them has taken reps there during their careers.
Cephus is probably good for 30-35 catches, 400-500 yards and a couple scores with the room for more production if injuries ahead of him on the depth chart increase his workload.
► Q: How long will Jared Goff be here? — @2thorough_
► A: Again, the crystal ball is cloudy without knowing who the Lions will draft at the end of this month. If they surprise us and snap up Trey Lance or Justin Fields in the first round, that pretty much locks Goff into two or fewer years in Honolulu blue.
My gut continues to tell me the Lions don’t go quarterback in the first round this year. That gives Goff one year, unchallenged, to show he can recapture the form that made him a Pro Bowler in 2017 and 2018.
If he does that, the Lions could aim to build around Goff. I wouldn’t call that the likely outcome, but it’s definitely on the table. Best bet, with the currently known factors, Goff is the starter here through the 2022 season.
► Q: Since Goff got (restructured), most consider it a foregone conclusion the Lions will go wide receiver in round one. But with the team seemingly preferring Vaitai at guard, and the depth at receiver in the class, shouldn’t we consider Penei Sewell? — @apendygraft
► A: Um, yes.
I’m not convinced Sewell, Kyle Pitts or Ja’Marr Chase will make it to No. 7, but if any of them do, they all merit strong consideration. While most can agree the offensive line is one of the few spots on the roster that isn’t concerning, the ability to add another long-term, high-ceiling piece could push Detroit’s front into the realm of dominance.
I’m not going to say much more on the topic because it’s the one position group I have yet to cover as a possibility at the top of the draft and I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself. If my schedule works out the way I imagine, check back tomorrow.
► Q: What are your thoughts on how the team has been addressing its needs and filling roster holes? — @thespartyabides
► A: It’s been predictably conservative, at least outside of the decision to re-sign Romeo Okwara (three years, $39 million).
With the salary cap sharply decreasing in 2021, and the team eating a lot of dead money tied to the necessary release of underperforming veterans, as well as the Stafford trade, the Lions weren’t in a position to spend aggressively in free agency.
And why would they want to? They’ve tried for the quick fix on the free-agent market and it hasn’t worked. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, this roster isn’t close to competing for a championship, so it’s better to save the ammunition, given unused cap space rolls over.
The Lions need to continue to stockpile draft assets, build up their young core and look to spend aggressively to fill holes in two or so years.
► Q: My optimism is far too high about the Lions this season. Bring me back to Earth. What is the worst-case scenario for the draft? What’s the worst-case scenario for the season? — @mattdh602
► A: Seems like a cynical way to end a mailbag, which I’m sure many readers feel is a perfect fit for my personality.
OK, I’ll bite.
Worst-case for the draft, only three quarterbacks are selected ahead of the Lions and they still can’t find a trade-down partner. That likely means Pitts, Chase and Sewell are off the board, forcing Detroit to settle for Waddle, Smith or reach for a defensive player like Micah Parsons.
And for those of you who would be happy to see the Lions take Lance or Field there, no, this is worst-case and you don’t get what you want. You can have Mac Jones.
Obviously, any long-term, worst-case vision also involves that pick being a bust.
As for the worst-case scenario for the season, the roster is shaping up to be one that could win three or fewer games. I noted above, Campbell and his staff should be able to milk more than that through their cultural vision, but that’s no guarantee.
But let’s make it more frustrating, having the Lions win the last game of the season, costing them multiple spots in the draft order where they miss out on whoever ends up being the franchise QB du jour of that class.
Also, Rams win the Super Bowl with Stafford, dropping the pick the Lions are getting to No. 32.