Most Lions fans would call the 2022 season a success. Starting out 1-6 and finishing 9-8 is no easy task. While focusing on the turnaround is fun and makes fans giddy about the future of this team, the road to true success is still a long ways away.
The Lions kicked off the season against the NFC champs and put up a good fight. They were able to rack up 35 points against a top-tier Eagles defense, which was impressive. Unfortunately, Jalen Hurts threw and ran all over the Lions, allowing the Eagles to eek out a 38-35 victory.
Despite the loss, it was a promising start to the season. The Fighting Campbells were even more convincing when they took down the Washington Commanders in week two. However, the Lions got a hard dose of reality when they choked away a lead in Minnesota. With forty seconds left in the game, Kirk Cousins found a wide-open K.J. Osborn for a forty-yard game-winning TD. And, suddenly, everyone realized the problem with this team: defense.
The defense wouldn’t improve in the following games. In what was their worst performance of the season, they let Geno Smith and the Seahawks tear them to pieces in a 48-45 shootout that favored Seattle. By the time they reached the horrific 1-6 start, they hadn’t held a team to under twenty points throughout the whole season.
While elements of the defense would improve (mostly in the rookie play), the problems still remained. In their two losses in the back half of the season, Detroit had defensive blunders galore. While they had a mostly impressive performance against the Buffalo Bills on Thanksgiving, they blew it in the waning seconds. With 0:25 left on the clock, the defense let Josh Allen march down the field and set up a Tyler Bass game-winner. They crumbled once again against a bad Carolina Panthers team. They let D’Onta Foreman and Chubba Hubbard run for nearly 300 yards in a terrible 37-23 loss.
So, the question remains: How can the Detroit Lions fix their defense for next season?
Well, it starts with the draft. Due to the Los Angeles Rams being terrible, the Lions own the sixth overall pick alongside the eighteenth overall pick. While the future of Sean McVay’s squad remains unclear, the Lions could have a golden opportunity sitting right under their noses. The Rams may be thrust into a very sudden rebuild, meaning they want draft stock. As of right now, they do not possess a first round pick.
The secondary is a necessary fix if the Lions want to compete for the division next year, so Brad Holmes needs to make some big moves. What’s a big move? Trading the Rams their pick back and receiving Jalen Ramsey in return.
While Ramsey may seem out of his prime, that is not the case. The star corner is only twenty-eight years old. Giving the Rams their pick back and guaranteeing a star in Jalen Ramsey for a few years is better than drafting a corner who may or may not turn out to be good.
With the T.J. Hockenson trade and the recent increase in cap space, the Lions will have plenty of money they can spend on Ramsey to improve at a key position.
So, even if they were to essentially spend the sixth pick on Ramsey, the Lions would still have four picks in the first three rounds. I think three of those picks need to be used on defense, specifically the back seven. Improvements at linebacker are necessary. With Alex Anzalone being a free agent and unlikely to be re-signed, the Lions need to draft another backer or pick one up in free agency to pair with Malcolm Rodriguez.
Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez is a projected first-round pick that could land for the Lions at the eighteenth pick. If Detroit decides to use another pick on the secondary, they could start to fill out those empty slots. Let’s say this entire scenario happens. The Lions trade for Ramsey, they draft Christian Gonzalez, and they draft or pick up a linebacker in free agency.
Spend two more picks on the defensive line or at safety, and this is what your defense suddenly looks like: you’ve got a D-line with Alim McNeill and Isaiah Buggs (assuming you resign Buggs) on the inside and you’ve got Aidan Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, and James Houston IV on the edge. Charles Harris and one of your draft picks can be your backups for those positions.
In the back seven, the Lions would have Malcolm Rodriguez and a draft pick or newly signed free agent at linebacker. Houston is an outside linebacker, so he can drop into coverage or rush off the edge. At cornerback, you have Jalen Ramsey, Christian Gonzalez, and Jeff Okudah. Let Will Harris walk in free agency and keep Amani Oruwariye on the bench. You have Jerry Jacobs as a backup. Finally, you have two solid safeties in Kerby Joseph and Tracy Walker. If you draft a safety, then you (hopefully) have three solid safeties.
Obviously, this isn’t the exact plan that Brad Holmes needs to follow, but make a few good moves, and suddenly, the Lions will become a legitimate contender for the Lombardi Trophy. Aaron Glenn is good at developing players. We saw him do it with Hutch, Rodriguez, and Joseph this season. Give him some rookies and Jalen Ramsey to turn this defensive ship around and let the league know that the Detroit Lions are coming for the rings this year.