1. Defensive Tackle
Shaun Rogers still has All-Pro talent, but he has an all-world gut that seems to contribute to his inconsistent play as he wore down during games and over the course of the season. After early reports had the Lions ready to release or trade him rather than pay out a $1 million roster bonus due in March, the word now is that Detroit is content to keep him. Either way, young talent needs to be brought in at both tackle spots. Cory Redding regressed after adjusting nicely from end to tackle in 2006. Restricted free agent Langston Moore is a career backup, while 2005 second-rounder Shaun Cody has been a bust.
2. Offensive Tackle
Jeff Backus has started all of the Lions' 112 games since he was taken with the 18th overall selection in the 2001 draft, but he has never met expectations. While occasionally attaining the level of adequate (he ranked 10th in 2005 according to Yakuza Rich's statistical metric, he has more often played barely well enough (20th by YR in 2006 and 19th in 2007) to keep his job (although having Matt Millen as GM has probably helped there as well). The Lions should consider moving Backus to right tackle where the recently acquired George Foster lost the job, first to 2006 fifth-rounder Jonathan Scott and then, when Scott was placed on IR, to guard Damien Woody.
3. Middle Linebacker
Paris Lenon lacks the athleticism to be a quality starter at MLB in the Tampa Two and should be shifted to the strongside where Boss Bailey is expected to leave via free agency. Former starter Teddy Lehman hasn't played well since struggling with injuries in 05 and 06 and is also a free agent.
When healthy, Fernando Bryant is an average cornerback. That might not seem like anything to get excited about, but it's leaps and bounds better than the rest of the Detroit secondary. Bryant will turn 31 in March and some rumors have him contemplating retirement. After playing very well in 2006, Stanley Wilson was named the starter for 2007. But he performed terribly and was benched five games into the season. He's a free agent and all but gone. Rams castoff Travis Fisher was brought in on a one-year deal and wound up starting 13 games. As KC Joyner wrote entering the season: “Fisher had the worst [Yards Per Attempt] of any cornerback in 2005. He followed this up with the third worst YPA in 2006. He also had the 2nd worst success percentage.” Backup Keith Smith is another free agent.
5. Defensive End
Dewayne White was a decent free agent signing at a position of need last year in a weak market, but he's limited as an every down player. Kalimba Edwards signed a five-year, $20 million contract extension with $8 million in guarantees not too long ago, but after a 2007 season that saw him inactive down the stretch, he's expected to be released. Last year's second round pick Ikaika Alama-Francis is not a prospect I was high on, but it was expected he would be raw and take time to develop, so it's a bit early to make a call on him just yet. If the Lions stand pat, Alama-Francis should contend with Jared DeVries for the starting spot opposite White.
6. Tight end
Dan Campbell has struggled with injuries in Detroit, but he's a solid vet who would be worth the $1.8 million he's due in 2008 if he can stay healthy and help mentor a young draft pick. Sean McHugh made some plays on the few occasions when he was given a chance. He's not going to set the field on fire, but he's a restricted free agent worth brining back for depth.
7. Running back
Kevin Jones, who looked so promising as a rookie, has had his carrer derailed by injuries so far. This time he'll be returning from a torn ACL. Tatum Bell's talent was overstated when he was in Denver and after only playing five games in Detroit he's a free agent who won't be missed. T.J. Duckett is also a free agent. He produced 5.2 yards per carry but was underutilized by Mike Martz. The Lions should try to re-sign him. 2006 third-rounder Brian Calhoun hasn't shown much and can't be counted on to be the future here if Jones continues to struggle with injuries.
Edwin Mulitalo and Stephen Peterman are pencilled in as the starters and both could stand to be upgraded, especially Peterman, who is backup quality. The Lions might be OK here already, as they have some competition on the roster in 2006 undrafted free agent Frank Davis and 2007 fourth-rounder Manny Ramirez. Damien Woody waited till the last year of his contract to finally show up for the Lions and now he's a free agent again and looking for another team to sucker. If the Lions can't find a legit starter to bring in, they might have to settle for what they have and hope the young guys continue to improve.
This is about as deep a draft for fullbacks as we'll see these days. I know it's an endangered position in today's NFL, but the Lions are nuts if they don't go after a more versatile upgrade over converted defensive tackle Jon Bradley.
Jon Kitna's fine for the short term. The Lions can win with him if only they could fill their many other needs. New quarterback coach Scot Loeffler will try to bring along 2007 second-rounder Drew Stanton and 2005 fifth-rounder Dan Orlovsky. I wasn't high on either of them as prospects, so if I were in Matt Millen's shoes I wouldn't be content with those two as my developmental guys, but he's the GM and I'm just a lowly blogger.