(Independent scout and draft expert Josh Liskiewitz will contribute regularly to RoarReport.com in the days, weeks and months leading up to the annual NFL draft. To determine Josh's street cred, check his bio beneath the article -- Thanks, Ed.)
Despite battling thru injury for much of the season, Calvin Johnson had another outstanding season, was elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time and solidified himself as one of the top receivers in the league. The unsung hero, however, was 2010 free agent signing Nate Burleson. Burleson was injured in September, but when he came back the difference in the overall efficiency of the offense was unmistakable. He had 8 games with at least 4 catches to go with 6 touchdowns, and for the first time in Calvin Johnson’s professional career he had a valid No. 2 across from him to take the pressure off.
While the top two are set, Detroit has still struggle to find consistency with their No. 3 options in the slot. 2009 3rd round pick Derrick Williams has barely been able to find the field, and underwhelming 2009 FA pickup Bryant Johnson likely will not return now that his contract is expiring. Stefan Logan was outstanding returning kicks for the Lions, but while he saw an increase in playing time in Detroit’s offensive sub packages toward the end of the year. He turns 30 on June 2nd, and has never proved he can be consistent producer on offense.
Troy WR Jerrel Jernigan a month ago was considered a second-round pick, and a perfect slot receiver with his elite speed, quickness, and open field running instincts. Now after a huge performance against Ohio in the New Orleans bowl, and the decisions of several major WR prospects to return to college for their senior years, he may have moved into the first round, and out of range for Detroit. If the Lions are hoping to find a slot receiver capable of producing immediately in 2011, they will most likely need to turn to free agency.
Speaking of free agency, this year’s class is loaded with top level, big money talent. However, don’t expect Detroit to make another major off season investment at the position with Burleson in year two of his five year contract and the elephant-in-the-room that is Calvin Johnson’s soon to be expiring rookie contract. Two potential second tier free agents that would fill Detroit’s opening in the slot perfectly are Arizona’s Steve Breaston and New Orleans’ Lance Moore. Both are proven productive players on offense, and have the added versatility of being punt and kick returners.
Jeff Backus played some of his best football in 2010, but he turns 34 in September and it is time to start thinking about the solidifying Detroit’s future (and Stafford’s long term health) at left tackle. 2010 4th round pick Jason Fox flashes the athleticism and potential to play the position, but at this point should be considered a developmental prospect, and not a reason to ignore blue chip talent if the right player falls in Detroit’s lap.
The Lions finally found some consistency at RT in 2010 as Gosder Cherilus finally emerged as a legitimate starter, and surprising depth as Corey Hilliard filled in admirably in December when Cherilus went down with a knee injury.
The interior of the line will be the primary focus on offense this spring for the Lions front office. Rob Sims proved to be a solid trade pickup at LG, but Detroit would do well to find upgrades at center and RG.
Stephen Peterman was a penalty machine, and his production dipped considerably in 2010. Some may point to injuries as an excuse, but regardless, Detroit needs more consistency at the position.
At 7.5 million dollars in 2010, Dominic Raiola has become an expensive and aging starter at center. Considering his continual struggles to hold the point of attack against bigger, stronger DTs in both run and pass blocking, now is the time find next long term answer.
Some Detroit fans have been calling for Michigan alum David Baas as a free agent option. While he makes sense in terms of his ability to play all three interior positions, he isn’t necessarily an upgrade at any of them. It looks more and more like Carolina will let stud center Ryan Kalil walk, but he would be a tough sign considering his price tag should be even higher than Raiola’s. New England’s Logan Mankins or Tampa Bay’s would bring instant credibility to Detroit’s offensive line, but again, both come with a price tag.
This leaves the draft, and lucky for Detroit, they should be able to find some solid talent on day one or two. If Boston College OT Anthony Castonzo falls to pick 13, he may be the best player left on Detroit’s board. It’s unlikely that Penn State center Stefen Wisniewski will fall to the second round, but he is the ideal player for the Lions to target if they are able to trade back from their first pick. Florida State OG Rodney Hudson is undersized and more than likely needs to play center at the next level, but he plays much stronger than his listed size would suggest (6’2 280) because of his excellent leverage and base, and he has elite quickness and agility in space. He is an ideal target at pick No. 44.
Florida has a pair of guards worth looking at in the middle rounds in Maurice Hurt and Mike Pouncey. Both need to be more consistent with their footwork, but their athleticism gives them the versatility to play multiple positions inside.
Josh Liskiewitz has been an independent scout for four years, the last two with GM Jr as a college scout. He is a self professed "film junkie," watching upwards of 50 hours of film per week year round on hundreds of NFL prospects. He credits Russ Lande, former NFL scout and founder and president of GM Jr Scouting LLC, with aiding in the development of his foundation in scouting and unique perspective on football.