Allen Park — The Detroit Lions still are winless, the bye is in the rear-view and you have questions.
Welcome to the mailbag.
►Question: Has tight end now become a position to look at, either right now on waivers, or in the offseason, with only having T.J. Hockenson and Brock Wright there? — @sodenad
►Answer: I don’t see the release of Darren Fells changing Detroit’s immediate need at tight end, given his block-first role within the offense. But it doesn’t alter the fact the position was lining up as a hole heading into this offseason, given Fells’ age (35) and pending free agency at year’s end.
Listen, we all know how good of a player Hockenson is and can be, but there continues to be plenty of value in two tight end formations. And while a block-first option to replace Fells would be sufficient, it would even be better to find an option with a well-rounded skill set who provides more flexibility with play-calling because defenses would have to account for that versatility.
As for the resources I think should be committed to the wish list item, probably nothing more than a fourth-round or later draft pick. And that’s assuming the team doesn’t feel like Wright can be that piece. I know they’re high on him and feel his athleticism as a route runner/pass catcher wasn’t fully utilized coming out of Notre Dame.
►Q: Is it possible to target two wide receivers in the first four picks in the draft? — @ET100907
►A: When we consider how much of a talent injection the Lions need at the position, of course it’s possible, but I can’t say it’s the best strategy. When you get to the draft, you don’t want to have this specific of a plan because it will cause you to reach to fulfill it and potentially leave better prospects on the board.
Instead, considering the way the NFL calendar is set up, the team should look to add a veteran in free agency prior to the draft, and hope the board falls in such a way that they can add another receiver in the first three rounds.
Although the Lions aren’t in position to be adding top-of-the-market talent in free agency, it’s lining up to be a loaded class of free agents. I like the idea of looking at someone like Michael Gallup, a young player who hasn’t had an opportunity to show his true potential because of the loaded depth chart in Dallas.
►Q: What are your expectations for the WR group rest of the year? Do we see more KhaDarel Hodge and Trinity Benson? — @Komen3k
►A: There’s not much reason to believe the corp’s inconsistencies and ineffectiveness will be resolved in the second half of the season. The most likely scenario is the team will continue to lean heavily on Kalif Raymond and Amon-Ra St. Brown, with both having a decent game here or there that will have us wondering whether they’re turning a corner before they go out and catch one pass for 6 yards the following week.
I expect even less from the remaining group of Benson, Hodge and Geronimo Allison. The inefficiency of the two you mentioned — 12 catches on 29 targets with four drops — is staggeringly bad. They can’t be much worse, but I’m also not sure what kind of opportunities they should expect since they’ve done nothing to merit quarterback Jared Goff’s trust.
The best-case scenario for some late-season production would be the return of Quintez Cephus. With the projected recovery time for a broken collarbone around eight weeks, it’s a long shot he sees the field again this season.
►Q: How do you think the Lions should balance the need for a QB vs. this poor QB class? Do you see them gambling on one with the Rams’ late(first-round- pick? — @ReineltTyler
►A: I don’t want to dismiss the possibility that the Lions are higher on one or more of the quarterback prospects than the consensus opinion of the pundits, but it sure feels unlikely the team uses their own first-round selection on a passer, particularly if they end up with the No. 1 overall choice. I’ve watched a little bit of each of the top prospects and I haven’t anyone stand out as an obvious choice like an Andrew Luck or a Joe Burrow.
The better option remains surveying the scene in the back half of the first round, and either letting the board fall to you or using that pick from the Rams — acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade — along with other assets to move up and get your guy.
If Sam Howell, Matt Corral or Malik Willis make it to No. 15, and the Lions think they’re capable of being the guy long-term, swing a deal. I’m also intrigued by Kenny Pickett, just behind those guys.
►Q: Is the Sewell/Decker tackle argument becoming overblown or is there a legit concern from you with this? — @LouisMazzei
►A: Not sure who you’ve been listening to or reading, so I can’t speak to whether it’s being overblown, but the reason the topic has generated so much conversation is because Sewell is a high first-round pick and Decker is one of the team’s better players.
I’ve always believed the Lions intended to move Sewell back to right tackle when Decker was ready to return, and I also believe the rookie’s quick adjustment after some struggles on the blindside suggests he’s a quick and capable learner who will similarly adjust through any early issues on the right side.
Now, if we get to the end of the season, where Sewell has played between seven and nine games at right tackle and it’s gone miserably, OK, let’s have an offseason conversation about adjusting the long-term plan. That might mean shopping Decker on the trade market or convincing the veteran to switch sides. Of course, that might be equally disastrous, given how much longer he’s had his muscle memory ingrained by playing on one side for the past eight years.
►Q: What kind of identity do you see the Lions building under Holmes/Campbell? Using Sunday night’s contest, do you see them being more like the Rams or Titans? — @trumanfrancis
►A: It’s cliché, but the Lions are looking for an identity that matches the city of Detroit. Think the “Going to Work” Pistons with Ben Wallace, Chauncey Billups and Richard Hamilton. They want to load the roster full of relentless competitors who play for each other. They don’t want literal knee-biters, but they embrace players who enthusiastically stand up to any challenge and pop back up every time they’re knocked down.
In terms of how that plays out schematically, it’s not limited. The defense is already making a slow shift to more speed-and-space personnel. Offensively, it’s easy to see Campbell being more drawn to the Titans’ brand of football because of his roots, but his experience with the Saints has rounded his understanding that there’s multiple ways to win in this league.
►Q: Is Campbell guaranteed to comeback if they finish 0-17? — @Downtown814
►A: Yes. He got a six-year deal for a reason. Whether they said it publicly or not, everyone knew this type of season was in play once they committed to a rebuild.
►Q: If Swift has the speed and quickness, do they split him wide and in the slot at times to give him space to create? — @JoelDoepker
►A: They’re already trying it to an extent, with 50 of his 381 offensive snaps (13.1%) coming in receiver alignments. Now, there’s a difference between being in space with the ball and without the ball.
The key to Swift being successful as a receiver is having a mismatch with the defender. If he motions out of the backfield and draws a linebacker, that’s a win. But if lining up in the slot has him seeing more of the nickel corner, his route running isn’t refined enough to beat that assignment consistently, negating the advantage.
►Q: If the Lions end up with the first or second overall pick, do you think Holmes trades down in an effort to add more young talent to a talent-deprived roster? — @bryant_cross_
►A: I think he would listen to any offers, but history suggests that most of the movement inside the top-3 picks is for quarterbacks. So if the Lions, with a clear need at the position, don’t deem any of the prospects worthwhile, what makes you think another team would?
There just isn’t much to suggest that a team will pay the premium cost to move up for a defensive end or offensive tackle.
►Q: If the Lions and the Texans both end the season with one win, who would hold the first pick? — @BicMoneyPapi
►A: The tie-breaker is strength of schedule, with the team having the more difficult schedule picking lower. The logic there is having the same amount of wins against an easier schedule means you’re the worse team.
Currently, Lions’ opponents have had a .548 winning percentage, while the Texans have had an easier slate, with their opponents sitting at .514. Plus, as it currently stands, Detroit’s remaining schedule is much more difficult.
Obviously, a lot can change in nine weeks, but it’s tracking toward the Texans winning that tie-breaker and selecting first.
►Q: Which players are free agents after this season? — @lanehofman
►A: There are too many to list. How about I give you the starters and select key contributors? Tracy Walker, Alex Anzalone, Nick Williams, Charles Harris, Kalif Raymond, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Da’Shawn Hand, Tim Boyle and Tyrell Crosby are all set to be unrestricted free agents.
Subscribers: Justin Rogers’ 2021 Detroit Lions midseason grades
►Q: I hate the idea of trading Hockenson or Decker, but what do you think of trading away good younger guys for draft picks when you know you’re in year one of a rebuild? — @DirtyJerzFinest
►A: The most important part of the initial stages of a rebuild is establishing a foundation to build upon. So if you have a good, young player you shouldn’t trade them for draft picks. In that case, you’re acquiring a lottery ticket you hope turns into a good, young player.
That’s why I liked the decision to extend Frank Ragnow. Similarly, Hockenson is the type of guy you want to retain. Decker is more of a borderline conversation. He’s not exactly young, but he has a few prime years remaining. Additionally, since he’s in the first year of a contract extension, there are financial ramifications that would have to be considered with moving him. Personally, I think he fits the mold as a foundational piece, but if someone bowled you over with a first-round pick, it’s worth listening.
►Q: Explain to a fan how you evaluate Goff fairly when I think everyone knows he has no true WR1? Can drafting or getting a legit No. 1 change everyone’s perception in one offseason if we don’t take a QB early? — @MarshRondel
►A: The evaluation of Goff has to extend beyond this year, to what he was doing with the Rams. What Matthew Stafford is doing in L.A., with pretty much the same supporting cast, highlights Goff’s limitations as a quarterback.
Do I believe Goff been put in an unwinnable situation here in Detroit? Yes. Would a true No. 1 receiver help? Sure. But there’s nothing in his scouting report that makes me believe he’s the long-term solution.
►Q: What is the chance that Boyle legitimately pushes Goff? — @ch0z3n1
►A: Almost none. Goff is under contract beyond this season, Boyle is not. Benching Goff essentially signals an intent to move on this offseason, and there’s nothing that points to the Lions being at or near that point.
►Q: I want to give Brad Holmes the benefit of the doubt, but his wide receiver signings have been massive failures. Beyond his ability to draft, how else is he being measured? — @shmaraksmpr
►A: A general manager is evaluated primarily by his player acquisitions, which I will continue to argue starts with the draft. And since we won’t really have a full understanding of this first draft class for another year, the evaluation of Holmes is going to be tough. And it’s even more difficult since his free agency moves were so obviously a slew of stopgap measures.
That said, the majority of those stopgaps failed to accomplish what was intended. Of the more than a dozen free-agent additions, only Jamaal Williams, Kalif Raymond, Charles Harris and Alex Anzalone have met or exceeded expectations.
In terms of trades, the return Holmes got for Stafford was solid, but both Goff and defensive tackle Michael Brockers (added in a separate deal) have fallen short of on-field expectations. Brockers gets credit for being a stellar leader for the team’s young defensive linemen, but he hasn’t made a meaningful impact on Sunday.
Then there’s the Benson acquisition, which has been a bust this first half-season.
Overall, it’s been more bad than good from Holmes to start, but it’s going to be what he does with those four first-round picks the next two seasons that will likely define his tenure.
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