The Detroit Lions enter the 2023 offseason with playoff aspirations for the upcoming season. After starting 2022 with a 1-6, the Lions rebounded and finished with a 9-8 record. In two years at the helm, general manager Brad Holmes has built one of the NFL’s most promising rosters on the rise. However, the Lions have key positions to address this offseason.
The free agency frenzy is just around the corner. Starting March 13, teams can negotiate with pending unrestricted free agents. On March 15, the new league year begins. Teams can officially sign players and make trades at 4 p.m. EST.
The Lions currently hold the 10th most projected cap space entering free agency. The team opened up roughly $10 million in space after cutting defensive lineman Michael Brockers. Detroit could open up even more space with cuts to edge rusher Romeo Okwara and guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai.
Most of Detroit’s roster building with come via the draft. The Lions hold eight picks in this year’s draft, including four in the top 60. The Lions can address pressing needs with those four top-60 selections. They can find four starters with those four picks. The draft kicks off on April 27.
The Detroit Lions boast a strong defense but struggle on a weak defense
The Lions have needs on both sides of the ball, but defense is where the team is most desperate to improve. Detroit ranked 28th in points allowed this past season and dead last in yardage allowed. Injuries to key starters punctuated the team’s lack of depth at certain positions. Poor performances highlighted the lack of high-end talent at others. The entire Lions’ defense could use an overhaul.
That does not mean the Lions are without their needs on the offensive side of the ball. However, under offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, the Lions boasted one of the league’s most potent offenses. Detroit ranked top five in both points scored and total yardage. It is likely the team looks to more or less reload for the 2023 season.
If the Lions want to fulfill their playoff aspirations, the team will need to make upgrades at key positions. Depth needs to be added to others. The team cannot afford to make any of these moves with shortsighted thought.
In no particular order, here are the five most important positions of need for the Lions this offseason.
The Detroit Lions need interior defensive line help
The Lions have a good starter in Alim McNeill on their defensive interior. That is about it. Brockers was injured this past season, and he was not particularly productive when healthy. Levi Onwuzurike has not lived up to his second-round billing.
Detroit can easily re-sign Benito Jones and Isaiah Buggs. Both are adequate depth pieces, but neither should be utilized as a full-time starter. The team needs to find an interior pass rusher to pair with McNeill this offseason. Unless Onwuzurike makes significant strides in development, he is not the answer.
There is a strong veteran talent pool available in free agency. Javon Hargrave, Dalvin Tomlinson and Poona Ford are among the best of the bunch. They will not come cheap, but free agency might be the best way to add a reliable starter on the defensive interior.
There is talent in the draft as well. However, in recent years it has been difficult to find good interior defensive linemen outside the first two rounds of the draft. If the Lions spent one of their four top 60 picks on Calijah Kancey, Mazi Smith or even Jalent Carter, if he falls, they could land a day-one starter. Otherwise, the team would likely find itself with a developmental interior rusher in the later rounds.
Cornerback may be the most pressing position of need for the Detroit Lions
Jeff Okudah appears to have found his footing as a cornerback for the Lions. After struggling early in his career, the Ohio State product was a decent starter in 2022. However, it is obvious he has not lived up to his status as a former third-overall pick. Okudah is starting quality, but not a true lockdown No. 1 corner.
Jerry Jacobs has proven to be an adequate starter but nothing more. He is likely best suited in a rotational role. Amani Oruwariye struggled significantly this past season, and his time with Detroit has likely come to an end. Behind Jacobs and Okudah, there is not much. Certainly no one capable of becoming a top-flight corner.
There are obvious choices in free agency. Jamel Dean can fill the role of a No. 1 corner, but he will not come cheap. Cameron Sutton has proven to be an above-average starter with the flexibility to play in the slot or outside. However, the Pittsburgh Steelers will likely to everything they can to retain their best cornerback. There are players like Rock Ya-Sin. They come affordable, but they are not likely to be any better than Okudah.
Cornerback is a position often projected to the Lions with one of their top picks, usually one of their two first-round picks. Corner is a deep position group in this year’s draft class. Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez and Joey Porter Jr. headline this year’s group. Deonte Banks, Emmanuel Forbes and Tyrique Stevenson would likely find themselves in the top three of most other cornerback classes. If the Lions want a starting-caliber cornerback with star upside, the draft may be the best value to find it.
The Detroit Lions need a linebacker to match with Malcolm Rodriguez
Linebacker is an easy position of need to fill. The team just needs to re-sign Alex Anzalone. The veteran linebacker is not elite by any means, but he played well for Detroit in 2022. Relying on Anzalone and second-year starter Malcolm Rodriguez as starters is not going to push the Lions into the top of the league in linebacker play, but they will be reliable enough to address the team’s more pressing needs.
The Lions do not need to address linebacker in free agency if they are able to retain Anzalone. Unless a guy like Bobby Okereke can be brought in cheap, there is no reason to spend big on linebackers. The likes of Tremaine Edmunds will command salaries beyond what the Lions should spend at the position.
The draft is a good place to look for Anzalone’s eventual replacement. In the second or third rounds, the Lions can find a developmental player who can be utilized in a rotational role early on. Trenton Simpson, Drew Sanders and Jack Campbell are all likely to be available in either the second or third round. Late-round guys like Noah Sewell or Owen Pappoe could be intriguing players to watch as well.
Linebacker is a pressing need until the team re-signs Anzalone. After that, the Lions just need to keep an eye out for his eventual replacement.
Brock Wright played well, but the Detroit Lions need better tight-end depth
After trading away T.J. Hockenson, the Lions relied on the play of Brock Wright for the rest of the 2022 season. Wright played well, but the team cannot rely on mere flashes to roll ahead with his as the unquestioned starter.
There are names in free agency. Hayden Hurst, Austin Hooper, Robert Tonyan and Micke Gesicki could all be on the Lions’ radar. The price tag is the main issue. Detroit does not want to spend big on a free-agent tight end. Money was one of the main factors in the team’s decision to deal away Hockenson. For the right price, the Lions could find a free-agent tight end to compete with Wright.
It is unlikely the Lions spend one of their top picks on a tight end, but this year’s class has plenty of depth. Sam LaPorta, Darnell Washington and Tucker Kraft could be names available in the third round or after. If the Lions target a tight end, it would be outside the first two rounds.
The Detroit Lions need a long-term answer at guard
Jonah Jackson and Vaitai are currently the guards projected to start the 2023 season. Jackson has played well in his young career, but he is entering a contract season. There is reason to doubt a deal gets made, especially if Jackson wants a lucrative contract. Vaitai already carries a big cap hit, and he could be a cap casualty before the start of next season.
Evan Brown started at right guard for the team this past season, but he is a pending free agent and is likely to get a decent contract to go play somewhere else. Detroit needs to find a starting guard for beyond the 2023 season. Even if Jackson and Vaitai both start this season, it is unlikely both return for 2024.
In free agency, Brown could always be brought back. He may not be on the cheapest deal, but he proved to be a reliable starter. Isaac Seumalo and Dalton Risner are among the better guards entering free agency this offseason, but the draft is likely where the Lions will find their next starter.
O’Cyrus Torrence and Steve Avila are prospects who the Lions could find available in the second round. Torrence may push his stock into the first round, but Avila is almost certainly to be available in round two. Both guards could start immediately. Outside the second round, a name like Andrew Vorhees could be intriguing. However, Vorhees suffered a knee injury during the combine.
Honorable mention: Quarterback
The Detroit Lions do not need a quarterback this season. Jared Goff proved to be a reliable starter in 2022, enjoying a Pro Bowl season in the process. However, the Lions need to ask themselves just how far Goff can take them. The veteran quarterback made it to the Super Bowl once before. Although, that was with a Los Angeles Rams team that was stocked full of high-end talent while Goff was on his rookie contract. Goff is due for a raise in two years. The Lions need to weigh their options and decide if Goff is their guy in the long term.
Anthony Richardson is a boom-or-bust prospect in this year’s draft. He has all the physical tools of an elite quarterback, but he needs to make significant strides in the mental part of the game. He only spent one season as a starter at Florida. He did make improvements as the season went along, but he has a ways to go. He could benefit from sitting behind Goff for a year or two.
C.J. Stroud is another name that could be on the Lions’ radar. Stroud could slide right in as a day-one starter, but there is no reason to say he would not benefit from sitting behind Goff. He has a good arm and good athleticism. Many analysts have compared Stroud to Goff, just with more athletic tools.
The Lions can kick the can down the road as far as quarterback is concerned. It is not a pressing need. Goff is a steady presence behind center. However, if the team finds a prospect they believe can be an elite starter for the next 10-plus years, Detroit should not hesitate to go get him.
(Featured Image Credit: Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)