Detroit's chances of rebounding from annual doormat to legitimate postseason contender come down to the health of quarterback Matthew Stafford. (Al Pereira/Getty)
John Crist: There is a lot to like about former No. 1-overall pick Matthew Stafford, both in terms of his ability on the field and willingness to be a leader despite his relative lack of experience. But he's got to stay healthy. How good do you think he can be one day?
Nate Caminata: Based upon the few opportunities he's had on the field, Stafford's potential is unlimited. It's difficult to argue with the assessment that Detroit's endless search for a quarterback has finally ended. He commands the respect of the entire locker room, has developed a keen understanding of the playbook and reading defenses and isn't afraid to use that powerful right arm. The Lions have clearly bought into this belief, placing top-tier talent at every skill position to aid him, including tight end. It's unfathomable to think he could go the way of Joey Harrington. Rather, the balance of Stafford's career hangs within his health, which will only be determined with time. We know he can get there, but will his body allow him?
JC: Take us back to the NFL Draft. Who was your favorite of Detroit's picks? Least favorite? Did the team properly address its biggest needs and get good value with each selection? If you had been in the war room, is there anything you would have done differently?
NC: I think the nuclear shock of drafting Nick Fairley is still cooling, and since none of these guys has stepped on the field, we'll have to go with first impressions. Mikel Leshoure, the Illinois running back, was an absolute necessity and maybe the best value in the entire draft -- probably just ahead of Fairley. Although the defense needed to be addressed, it's difficult to move the football without a running game. Jahvid Best doesn't have the size or stamina to carry the ball 20 times a game. Fairley's selection, without question, was an abstract, but not illogical, approach to addressing the entire defense. The Titus Young selection in the second round, while fun, seemed a bit hasty. The Lions needed another receiver, but the pick of a cornerback or linebacker at that spot might have quelled some of the lingering concerns that remain.
JC: Usually we have free agency and then the draft, but this year -- eventually -- it's going to be the other way around. Now that the draft is in the rearview mirror, what position would you most like to see the Lions address in free agency, and who could be a possible target?
NC: Clearly on the upswing, Detroit has finally found itself in a position to attract free-agent talent. And I should preface this by asking all Lions fans to remove that paper bag from their heads and place it directly in front of their mouths: This team will likely target Nnamdi Asomugha, the cornerback from Oakland. If Detroit is truly on the cusp of the playoff conversation, they would swan dive into it with the acquisition of a shutdown defensive back. The only caveat is the team's financial situation -- their current roster isn't cheap -- and Asomugha's price tag might be too rich. Although re-signing Chris Houston, at this point, is obvious, there are a handful of other quality cornerbacks on the market to pair with him that would help shore up a precarious secondary. San Francisco's Manny Lawson wouldn't be a bad addition at outside linebacker, either.
JC: On the offensive side of the ball, Detroit has a nice array of skill-position talent at quarterback, running back, tight end and wide receiver. The blocking up front, however, leaves a lot to be desired. Is there any reason to believe the unit will be better?
NC: The Lions feel confident enough in the offensive line that they barely addressed it during the draft. Certainly, they'll look to free agency to add youthful depth, but they seem settled at every position. Jeff Backus quietly registered one of his better years last season, assisted by veteran Rob Sims. Dominic Raiola is aging but has another year or two of solid play and really is the leader of this group -- maybe the team. Stephen Peterman is expected to bounce back from an injury, and the team's coaching staff expects big things from right tackle Gosder Cherilus. If the collective health remains intact, the ballclub returns an experienced set of offensive linemen that has become intimately familiar with the team's offense.
JC: Defensively, even though the front four was one of the best in the league this past year and could be even better this time around, coverage in the secondary has been questionable for a long time. Is it possible Louis Delmas really isn't that special at safety?
NC: Let's be clear: Delmas played nearly all of 2010 with a groin injury that would force most of us to go on work-related leave. His production dipped slightly from an explosive rookie year in 2009, and he appeared to have lost a bit of his edge. Fully recovered from offseason surgery (yeah, it was that bad), it will be interesting to mark his progress. Amari Spievey, drafted as a cornerback last season, came on late as a solid deep secondary mate. In an ideal world, the prospect of a further improved front four negates the need to stimulate the defensive backfield. But with health and talent concerns still prevalent, you can expect the Lions to take another look or two before developing any kind of official depth chart.For all the latest news, notes and quotes on the Lions, visit RoarReport.com.
|John Crist is an NFL analyst for Scout.com. Nate Caminata is the publisher of RoarReport.com.|