Detroit Lions Most Under and Overrated Offseason Additions
It's been a pretty busy offseason for the Detroit Lions. In addition to the typical inflow and outflow of players, the team also changed much of the coaching staff.
Counting the coaches, like head man Jim Caldwell (pictured), there are over 20 new Lions in the den.
Not all additions are the same, however. The importance of some has been overplayed, especially by the local fanbase. Others are woefully underappreciated, both by skeptical Michiganders and a stilted national media.
Here are the most underrated and overrated additions this offseason to the Detroit Lions.
Underrated: Teryl Austin
In evaluating new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, it's important to look at what he's replacing.
That would be Gunther Cunningham, now a senior coaching assistant. Cunningham has been in the NFL since the 1960s, and his antiquity often showed. Combined with now-deposed head coach Jim Schwartz, they ran a rigidly structured, straightforward defense.
From a stubborn reliance on the Wide 9 base alignment to an avowed aversion to blitzing, the Lions were one of the easier defenses for opposing teams to prepare for. The schematics did little to augment the skills of the players.
Austin comes from Baltimore, where the Ravens often ran an amorphous defense. Pressure comes from all sorts of angles and different sources. Outside coverage is far more in-your-face and designed to disrupt timing instead of reacting to it. The same player might be a strong-side 'backer lined up over the slot receiver on one play, slide inside to weak-side 'backer on the next and then play closed-end pass rusher on third down.
A more unpredictable, more proactive defense should produce more dynamic—though perhaps more erratic—results. The scheme projects well to help the players make more plays.
Overrated: James Ihedigbo
While Teryl Austin's arrival from Baltimore isn't getting enough attention, one of his former Ravens who joined the Lions this offseason is being built up too much.
Safety James Ihedigbo broke out in Baltimore in 2013 with a great season. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), he finished 16th among all safeties.
That's great...for the Ravens. Don't expect a repeat performance from the 30-year-old former undrafted free agent from the University of Massachusetts.
Even within his 16th overall ranking, there is a big red herring with Ihedigbo: his pass coverage. Click on that column header and look down. Keep scrolling until you get to 72nd, and that's where you'll find him.
Of course, that New England team made it all the way to the Super Bowl despite his lousy pass defense, so maybe the hope expressed by many, including my B/R colleague and friend Brandon Alisoglu, is justified.
Underrated: Dominic Raiola
Okay, technically Dominic Raiola is not a new addition. The veteran has been the Lions' starting center since 2002, making him the most senior member on the roster.
Yet his return to Detroit for a 14th season came as something of a surprise. Raiola had to accept a major pay cut to even stick on the roster in 2013, while his 2001 draft classmate Jeff Backus hung up his cleats. Many expected the Hawaiian native to do the same after last year when his one-year contract expired.
It's a good thing he didn't. Raiola had the best season of his long career, ranking 2nd overall in PFF's center ratings. It was a remarkable ascent after years of being largely average, at best.
He also developed into more of a mentor for young linemates Larry Warford and LaAdrian Waddle. That's an important capacity in 2014 as he grooms his presumptive successor, third-round pick Travis Swanson.
Raiola isn't always warm and fuzzy, but the Lions need his pugnacity up front. He helps set the physical tone for the highly effective offensive line. Detroit would be worse off without him at center in 2014.
Overrated: Caraun Reid
Caraun Reid is a good example of fan expectations exceeding rational capacity for a young player.
It's not that Detroit's fifth-round pick isn't a good prospect. In time, he could make a solid starting defensive tackle, or at least a productive member of a line rotation. In time...
That time is almost certainly not 2014.
While many fans have been quick to mentally elevate Reid above solid veteran C.J. Mosley as the third defensive tackle, in truth Reid is far more likely to be a gameday inactive once the regular season starts.
Keep in mind the Lions have two ends in Jason Jones and Devin Taylor who both offer the ability to slide inside for a series or two. With Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Mosley already one of the preeminent tackle packages in the league, the Lions have no reason to rush Reid into action.
It's important to reinforce that the Princeton product was a fifth-round pick, too. Even though many projected him as a top-100 talent, no NFL team ultimately felt he was worthy.
That leads to a great quote from Sander Philipse, the editor of Bucs Nation:
If you think the rest of the NFL undervalues a player, there's a very good chance that player is not as good as your evaluation tells you.— Sander Philipse (@Bucs_Nation) June 28, 2014
Be patient with Reid. He's got a strong chance to be a good NFL contributor. Before that happens, he must gain strength and improve his hand work, neither of which are NFL-ready.
It's okay to root for Reid. He's an interesting young man, quick-witted and erudite as well as being built like a tank. Just curb the enthusiasm for much on the field in 2014.
Underrated: Golden Tate
It's not often that a prime free-agent target, one who signs for over $30 million, can be underrated. Yet that seems to be the case with new Lions wide receiver Golden Tate.
In looking at what Tate offers to the Lions, it simply doesn't all fit on one slide. In lieu of writing 3,000 words on it, here is the heavily abridged version:
- Top-10 catch rate, as described by Alisoglu here.
- Yards-after-catch propensity
- Leading receiver for a Super Bowl champion
- Proven winner
- Engaging, strong personality in the locker room and huddle
- Dynamic No. 2 option
The last point is the easiest one to valuate. Last year's No. 2 receivers were Nate Burleson (when healthy) and Kris Durham.
Burleson had a strong start to 2013, hauling in 19 catches for 239 yards in Detroit's first three games. His broken arm devastated the loquacious veteran, however; Burleson finished with 39 receptions and 461 yards.
Durham was much, much worse. It's painful to even think about it. I recently broke down his miserable 2013 here. If you're the cursing type, it might be NSFW.
Tate fills Burleson's leadership void as well as greatly upgrading the No. 2 receiver position. That cannot be oversold, yet it's seldom mentioned as one of the best offseason moves around the league.