Detroit Lions mailbag: How Brad Holmes, Dan Campbell should proceed at QB in 2022 & beyond

Detroit Free Press

I wrote about Jared Goff’s future being potentially something more than a bridge quarterback last week, and Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledged that possibility in his weekly interview with WXYT-FM (97.1) on Tuesday.

“I don’t see why not,” Campbell said. “He’s playing pretty good ball now. I mean, he’s coming off of his best performance of the season and then unfortunately he had COVID and he kind of had the knee injury, and so had to sit out last week. But yeah, there’s no reason why not.”

That’s not a ringing endorsement, but it’s a good jumping off point for this week’s mailbag, where @RobV15416341 asked how the Lions should play out “their search for a QB.”

Rob’s premise is the Lions won’t take a quarterback at the top of next year’s draft and likely will not be in position to take Alabama’s Bryce Young or Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud in 2023.

I tend to agree with both those assumptions. The Lions likely will have a top-two pick in April, where defensive ends Kayvon Thibodeaux and Aidan Hutchinson are the big prizes. Next year, the Lions should be competitive enough to be picking somewhere towards the middle of the draft.

That makes finding a franchise-caliber quarterback more difficult, but it’s not impossible. Patrick Mahomes was the 10th pick of the 2017 draft, and Josh Allen (seventh) and Lamar Jackson (32nd) were the best QBs taken in 2018.

BIRKETT: Why Lions have a brighter future than Bears and Vikings

LIONS MAILBAG: Merits of taking QB in 2022 draft vs. 2023’s exciting batch of talent

Obviously, the Lions will do thorough diligence on every quarterback coming out this season and next, and if they identify a quarterback they think has the ability to become a franchise player, they should take him.

I do think Goff returns as starter in 2022, but I’m not sold he’s the long-term answer. The Lions have enough young players on their 53-man roster that they can take a forward-thinking approach to trading draft picks this spring. With the Los Angeles Rams’ 2023 first-round pick already in the coffers, perhaps they end up with enough draft capital to be a player for Young or Stroud, regardless of their record.

This probably isn’t what a lot of Lions fans want to hear, but a Goff-Tim Boyle tandem could be how the Lions roll at quarterback again next fall given the strides both players have made since the bye week.

Onto the rest of your mailbag questions:

What do you attribute most to Goff’s improved play recently and how will that impact coaching moves and free agency/the draft? — @jimtreacyjr

Sticking with Goff for a minute, it’s undeniable that he has played his best football since the bye. In four starts since he returned from an oblique injury, Goff has averaged 224.5 passing yards per game, completed 69.5% of his passes, thrown nine touchdowns and two interceptions and posted a 105.7 passer rating.

In his first nine games, Goff threw eight touchdowns with six interceptions, completed 66.1%, averaged 234.3 yards per game and had a poor passer rating of 84.

There is no doubt Ben Johnson’s influence as a pseudo pass game coordinator has impacted Goff’s play, but I don’t think his improvement is due to one thing. Dan Campbell’s influence as play caller is a factor, as is Amon-Ra St. Brown’s emergence as a viable and versatile weapon. The Lions have played pretty well on the offensive line the second half of the season, and Taylor Decker’s return has made the unit whole.

As for what it means for the future, Johnson is in line for a promotion. He’s not a big name, but he’s young and innovative and deserves a chance to be offensive coordinator or quarterbacks coach with pass game coordinator in his title. I still think the Lions need to add help at receiver and tight end this offseason, but if they re-sign Josh Reynolds, bringing in another receiver can wait until the draft.

LIONS MAILBAG: Why a Detroit-born WR may be an option in 2022

Amon-Ra St. Brown Hype…Is he good because he really is that good or is this a Travis Fulgham and the Eagles situation where he is good because he is the only quality answer we have right now? — @Dk8769190

I thought St. Brown would be a solid slot receiver when the Lions took him in the fourth round out of USC, but he has exceeded my (and I think their) expectations as a rookie.

I don’t know that St. Brown will ever be a true No. 1 downfield threat, but he is a football player. He blocks, runs smooth routes, has good hands, and has shown the past few weeks he can beat defensive backs in different ways.

Fulgham was nowhere near as polished a player, and I always thought his production last year in Philadelphia was a product of the Eagles needing someone to throw the football to. St. Brown is a bona fide NFL receiver whose production should last.

Lions GM Brad Holmes needs to trust himself and pick more receivers in draft ]

Dave, can you rank these players in order of MOST likely to be Lions in 2022? Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Charles Harris, Alex Anzalone, Michael Brockers & Tracy Walker Thanks! — @FriedrichsJk

Jeremy always sends me good questions, and this one made me think. Reeves-Maybin, Harris, Anzalone and Walker are four of the Lions’ top free agents, and Brockers is due a large 2022 salary but has been important for the Lions off the field.

I wrestled with this quite a bit, but I’m going to put Brockers No. 1 because he is the only one of that quintet currently under contract. He has not been an impactful player this season, but Campbell mentioned him Monday unprompted when asked about the most valuable, reliable players on the Lions roster outside of Goff.

“Michael Brockers has been steady all year long, man,” Campbell said. “He’s been a force for us and just a steady, constant, reliable force for us.”

Reeves-Maybin, the first player Campbell mentioned when asked that question, checks in at No. 2 on my list. He won’t cost as much to re-sign as Harris, who’s No. 3 on my list, but he has played well in an expanded role and at a minimum has great value on special teams.

Harris should be a priority re-sign as well, but the Lions have a couple young rushers in the pipeline (Austin Bryant, Julian Okwara), should be getting one of Hutchinson or Thibodeaux and return Romeo Okwara from injury.

Walker (No. 4) and Anzalone (No. 5) round out my list. I can see both players in the plans for the Lions, but there are other free agents at the safety and linebacker position who might have more impact in 2023.

STOCK WATCH: Jalen Reeves-Maybin may play himself into starting role in 2022

BIRKETT: Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux? Lions’ options at top of draft

Given the current state of things is there a better chance for tight end help in the draft or free agency for next year? — @hawk48025

The Lions need an infusion of defensive playmakers this offseason, and I would expect at least one to come via free agency. Offensively, receiver is the biggest need, but a solid blocking tight end is not too far behind.

Maybe Brock Wright develops into that player, but given what the Lions want to be on offense, I don’t think they leave that to chance. This is supposed to be a good tight end class, but I see the Lions signing a reliable veteran tight end to fill that No. 2 role opposite T.J. Hockenson.

They don’t need to spend top-of-the-market money on a player like Mike Gesicki or O.J. Howard, but should have solid options from the next tier of players like Maxx Williams and Geoff Swaim.

IF the lions were to fall out of the top 2 spots in the draft do you think they trade down to get more picks? — @Reeshy

The Lions will be locked into a top-two spot if they lose one of their final two games, at the Seattle Seahawks this week and home against the Green Bay Packers next, or if all three of the NFL’s four-win teams — the New York Jets, New York Giants and Houston Texans — win a game.

This sounds weird to say, but picking No. 2 might be the optimal trade spot. If you’re a team that needs a pass rusher and don’t see there to be much difference between Thibodeaux and Hutchinson, you’d happily take whoever is left at No. 2 for a discount of what it would cost to move up to No. 1.

The Lions’ needs don’t end at pass rusher, so falling out of the top two won’t crush their draft board. There’s a chance one of those ends falls to No. 3 (if a quarterback or offensive lineman comes into play for another team), and if that doesn’t happen, Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton would be a nice addition to the secondary and I imagine the Lions could find a place for LSU cornerback Derek Stingley or Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd on their defense.

I’ll grant you the Lions might be more apt to trade out of No. 3 if there’s a team that wants to move up for, say, Alabama tackle Evan Neal. But it’s far too early to have clarity about anything in the draft.

I refuse to believe the NFL doesn’t hire paid actors to dress up like idiots to be shown on camera “fan shots” during a broadcast. Am I crazy? — @silverati

The camera does weird things to people. Just watching how hyped people are when they get a few seconds on the Jumbotron, I don’t understand it but I can’t hate people for it, either. Everyone needs a passion or hobby or something to keep them balanced. My kids do it for me. For some folks, it’s their local NFL team.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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