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The Detroit Lions’ mid-season collapse cost the team not only a division title and a playoff berth but their head coach Jim Schwartz. Now, the team will be headed by Jim Caldwell, who brings a Tony Dungy-like approach to the Motor City — business first and no nonsense — which is good for a team that has maturity issues like the Lions. But even better news: Caldwell is no stranger to explosive offenses, which is exactly what Detroit has.
Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, and Reggie Bush are all in place. Nate Burleson is gone and Ryan Broyles is recovering from injury, so it couldn’t hurt to another wideout. Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a free agent, and if the team opts not to re-sign him, they could elect to go with Joseph Fauria, who is a sure-handed pass-catcher but lacks in the blocking department.
Defensively, Detroit ranked 17th in total defense last season and 23rd against the pass, allowing almost 247 yards per game through the air. Chris Houston and impending free agent Rashean Mathis rotated at corner but neither offer a long-term solution at the position. The team is primed to grab this year’s top cornerback prospect, Justin Gilbert, to solidify the position for now and years to come.
Gilbert is a natural ballhawk with the speed to blanket the fastest wide receivers and the strength to be physical at the line of scrimmage. The former Oklahoma State standout could also upgrade the Lions’ special teams units, which ranked right in the middle of the pack in terms of kickoff return yardage (24.0 yards per attempt).
Should the team solidify the corner spot with the No. 10 pick, it can address receiver in Round 2. Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks would be the best split ends available at that point in the draft, or the team could add LSU’s Jarvis Landry to play in the slot.
Under first-year defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, the Lions will switch to a 4-3 front which will be more blitz-heavy. And while the Lions need a corner they could also afford to sure up the back end of the secondary with another safety. The Lions parted ways with free safety Louis Delmas to free up some cap case, and though the team hopes to retain him at a lower cost, he’s already testing the waters with other interested clubs.
Some safeties that may be available in the mid-to-late rounds to help replace Delmas include be USC’s Dion Bailey or Vandebilt’s Kenny Ladler. Bailey is a converted linebacker, so it’ll be an adjustment for him to move into the defensive secondary. Ladler is an instinctive defender and a reliable open-field tackler, but at times could be overly aggressive.
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