The 2021 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, April 29. As a lead-up to the draft, we’ll be giving a team-by-team breakdown for positional needs. For each team, we’ll give an overview of the current depth chart and how big of a need each position in the upcoming draft. You can find the rest of the team needs (as they’re updated) and the rest of our draft content in the 2021 NFL Draft hub.
Detroit Lions 2021 DRAFT PICKS OVERVIEW
Round 1 (7)
Round 2 (41)
Round 3 (72)
Round 3 (101)
Round 4 (112)
Round 5 (153)
Detroit Lions Offense
By Rich Hribar
The Lions made it known early on that they are tearing things down and rebuilding this offseason from nearly scratch as they traded veteran passer Matthew Stafford this offseason while receiving Jared Goff as part of the return package.
Over the 2017-2018 seasons, Goff’s 60 touchdown passes were the fourth-most in the NFL. His 5.8% touchdown rate was eighth in the league over that span among all quarterbacks with over 100 dropbacks while he averaged 8.2 yards per pass attempt (sixth) and 12.8 yards per completion (fifth). The wheels then began to loosen as Goff threw 42 touchdown passes (18th) over the past two seasons as his touchdown rate fell down to 3.6%, which was 41st among passers with over 100 dropbacks. Goff’s Y/A fell to 7.3 yards (24th) and his yards per completion dipped to 11.2 yards (23rd).
It remains to be seen if the Lions genuinely believe in Goff as a reclamation project as part of the trade, but Goff carries dead cap hits of $40.8M and $30.5M over the next two seasons. The Lions are a complete wild card at No. 7 overall given their roster teardown.
They could go all-in on a rookie passer should one slide, move out of the pick completely for more assets, or just go in with Goff for at least this season and let the chips fall where they may while setting up for the position down the line. I tend to side with the latter two options being the probable outcome over a quarterback selection at No. 7 overall.
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Nick Bawden (FB)
2020 second rounder D’Andre Swift only had six games during his rookie in which he played at least 50% of the snaps, with all coming Week 8 or later. Swift missed three games outright and had a concussion scare late in 2020, but got back on the field for the final four games of the season.
Despite that, Swift led all rookie backs in receptions per game (3.53) while racking up 878 yards from scrimmage and 10 touchdowns in his rookie season.
The team did add Jamaal Williams as insurance and a complement to Swift this offseason. Through four seasons, Williams has yet to rush for 600 yards in a season or clear 178 touches, but he has been a proven back that can play an ancillary role, contribute to the passing game, and handle opportunity when needed in relief should Swift miss any time. Williams has caught at least 25 passes in every season of his career.
Kerryon Johnson heads into 2021 in the final season of his rookie contract, leaving them with only Swift and Williams signed beyond this season. The Lions are good at the top of the depth chart here with only a day three depth addition as something to kick the tires on in the draft.
Victor Bolden Jr.
The cupboard has been cleaned here at the wide receiver position and what the Lions currently have in place is an expansion team-level wide receiving outfit. With Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola all moving on from the team in free agency this offseason, the only wide receiver on the current roster that had a target on the team last season is 2020 fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus.
Cephus averaged a team-high 17.5 yards per catch as a rookie, catching 20-of-35 targets for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Cephus is also the only wide receiver listed above that is signed beyond the 2021 season.
What is interesting about Detroit and their additions of Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and Khalif Raymond this offseason to go along with Cephus, is that they have added all vertical, lid-lifting targets to the roster to pair with Goff.
Williams missed all of the 2020 season due to a torn labrum. He has averaged 16.1 yards per catch over his career, but has not had more than 43 receptions in a season since 2016. Perriman is on his fifth team in as many seasons, averaging 16.5 yards per catch for his career, but has not had more than 36 catches in any of his five seasons in the league.
Detroit has a wide-open receiving corps and we should expect them to add a rookie (if not multiple options) to the fold.
2019 first-round pick T.J. Hockenson took a large step forward in year two. After averaging 2.7 receptions for 30.6 yards per game as a rookie, he turned in 4.2 receptions for 45.2 yards per game in 2020 while raising his touchdown total from two to six. With the Lions have no clear direction in terms of wide receiving depth, Hockenson could end up as their primary target in the passing game in year three.
The team also added veteran Josh Hill on a one-year deal to replace the run-blocking role vacated by Jesse James. Outside of Hockenson, the only tight end here signed beyond 2021 is second-year player Hunter Bryant, who found the field for just 25 snaps as a rookie.
LT: Taylor Decker/Dan Skipper/Matt Nelson
LG: Jonah Jackson
C: Frank Ragnow/Evan Brown
RG: Halapoulivaati Vaitai/Logan Stenberg
RT: Tyrell Crosby
The Lions closed 2020 ranked 20th in ESPN’s Pass Block Win Rate (55%) and 14th in their Run Block Win Rate (70%) metrics, but fared much better in collective grades at Pro Football Focus, coming out eighth overall in team pass blocking grade and 13th in run blocking grade as a unit.
Taylor Decker (signed through 2024) and Halapoulivaati Vaitai (also 2024) are locked up long-term. Vaitai played just 450 snaps last season, 282 at right guard and 168 at right tackle. It is still open which position he will play this upcoming season, but an early indication is that he will remain at guard.
If Vaitai does remain at right guard, then right tackle is a position of need whether or not the team rolls back Tyrell Crosby, who started 11 games for them last season and played the most snaps (657) at the position last year. Crosby is an unrestricted free agent after the season.
Center Frank Ragnow is in the final season of his rookie contract with the team having until the May 3 deadline to pick up his fifth-year option, which is projected to be roughly $12.6M. Ragnow was the second-highest graded center in 2020 per Pro Football Focus, so that option pickup should be a slam dunk.
Outside of that, interior lineman Jonah Jackson was a third-round selection last season and started all 16 games, although he did allow a team-high 35 pressures and five sacks as a rookie. The team also selected Logan Stenberg in the fourth round last season (121st overall) although he did not log an offensive snap as a rookie.
Detroit Lions Defense
By Dan Pizzuta
Interior Defensive Line
Entering Year 10, Michael Brockers is still making an impact in the middle of the defensive line. Brockers was acquired for a 2023 seventh-round pick but signed a three-year deal with the Lions after the trade. The pass rush upside isn’t something the Lions had along the defensive line last season. Brockers tied a career-high with 10 quarterback hits and his 5.5 sacks were a half-sack away from his career-high.
John Penisini, a 2020 sixth-round pick, played the most snaps on the interior at 51.3% but he ranked 102nd of 102 defensive tackles with at least 100 pass rushes in pressure rate, according to Sports Info Solutions. Nick Williams played 47% of the defensive snaps and ranked 84th in pressure rate. Da’Shawn Hand also had one of the lowest pressure rates among interior defenders, just 2.2%.
The problem with having all of these run-stopping defensive tackles is that Detroit wasn’t great — or even good — at stopping the run. The Lions ranked 25th in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate as a team and 27th in run defense DVOA.
Romeo Okwara had a breakout season in a contract year with a 10-sack season and he ranked 29th among edge rushers in pressure rate. Okwara, who still won’t turn 26 years old until June, re-signed with the Lions this offseason on a three-year deal.
Trey Flowers was the major free agent signing in 2019, but he appeared in just seven games during 2020. Flowers suffered a hairline fracture in his forearm in Week 8 and was placed on injured reserve. Production wasn’t there before the injury, though, with just three quarterback hits. He was just 112th in pressure rate among 124 edge rushers with at least 100 pass rushes.
Charles Harris adds some depth after his lone season in Atlanta following a disappointing run as a 2017 first-round pick for the Miami Dolphins.
Shaun Dion Hamilton*
Jamies Collins has a skill set that is somehow exclusively unlocked by Bill Belichick. Collins has been at his best in a hybrid role that allows him to rush the passer at a high rate. He did that 14.5% of the time last season, which was lower than Jarrad Davis. Collins’s pressure rate was also below Davis’s last season. Though Collins had the seventh-highest rate of tackles that came before a first down among linebackers.
Jahlani Tavai, a 2019 second-round pick, played 55% of the snaps but struggled some in coverage. Alex Anzalone was brought in after a productive career with the Saints. 2017 fourth-round pick Jalen Reeves-Maybin was stuck on special teams in 2020 with just 3% of the defensive snaps played.
Jeff Okudah was a promising prospect but the third overall pick struggled heavily on the field. Okudah was 146th of 148 cornerbacks with at least 100 coverage snaps in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Okudah also had a groin injury that ended his season early. There’s hope that health, a full offseason, and a year under his belt will lead to a bounce-back in production.
Quinton Dunbar struggled in his one season with the Seattle Seahawks following a trade from Washington. Dunbar ranked 122nd among those corners in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap. Amari Oruwariye ranked 110th. Corn Elder was brought over as a free agent and as the slot corner for the Panthers last season, ranked 47th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap.
There is talent here and it’s likely the defensive scheme with Aaron Glenn as defensive coordinator will be better than what the scheme and coverage concepts previously were.
Duron Harmon played 98% of the defensive snaps at safety but his contract expired and he just signed with the Atlanta Falcons. The Lions were 31st in DVOA against deep passes (they were also 31st against short passes) and not much was done to improve the position.
Tracy Walker was 34th in adjusted yards allowed per coverage snap among 35 safeties who were charted with at least 30 targets. Will Harris, a 2019 third-round pick, would be in line to start opposite Walker with 28% of the defensive snaps played last season and 58% played in his rookie year.