2014 Season The 2014 Draft Rd 1 Pick 10 - TE Zac Ebron OVR: 81 The Lions gave Matthew Stafford another dangerous, hyper-athletic target in Ebron. Coach Francis before the preseason sent veteran starter Brandon Pettigrew to Atlanta for a 2015 draft pick to make way for Ebron. Despite later signing the equally athletic Jermichael Finley in free agency, coaches liked what they saw from Ebron so far, and at just 21, he looks to be the starter for the next 10+ years. The hope is he continues to develop into the superstar TE management believes he can be. Rd 2 Pick 8 - OLB Kyle van Noy OVR: 72 Bolstering its middling LB corps, van Noy looks to make minimal impact as a rookie beyond adding some quality depth. He's currently 3rd on the depth chart behind primary backup OLB Ashlee Palmer. But the Lions believe van Noy can develop into a quality player and eventually start in a few seasons. Rd 3 Pick 12 - C Travis Swanson OVR: 69 Most of the remaining talent along the Lions O-line is aging, and management began the grueling process of overhauling the unit. Incumbent starter Raiola is still a solid player, but at 35 his physical skills are fading fast. Swanson may be forced into the starting lineup as early as his second season. He has potential to develop into a starter, but his physical talents are not in line with what Raiola once possessed, and he will have to really step up his game if he wants to be the future at Center. Rd 4 Pick 33 - CB Nevin Lawson OVR: 66 Coming into the season, Cornerback was easily the most glaring hole. While Lawson was a good step to improving the position long-term, he doesn't look ready to help the team much this season. He's fast enough to make up for a lack of elite size (5'10") and has the kind of natural man-to-man skills that are hard to develop. Management is hoping he claims a long-term roster spot as a 3rd or 4th nickel/dime corner, but he's unlikely the answer at starter. Rd 4 Pick 36 - DE Larry Webster OVR: 69 The 4th rounder out of Bloomsburg was the sole member of the 2014 draft class to be cut before the regular season. He was the odd man out after a number of D-line signings and his slower-than-expected development from college led coaches to believe that despite his rookie contract, he was ultimately expendable. Rd 5 Pick 18 - DT Caraun Reid OVR: 67 At 6'2, 301, Reid certainly has ample size for a 4-3 interior lineman. With star DTs Suh & Fairley locked up for the next 5-6 years each, this was strictly a depth selection to keep them fresh. Lions like to keep an aggressive D-lineman rotation, so having 6-7 quality players to rotate in is a must. Reid is a bit buried this season but projects as a decent rotational backup who should see some snaps each game as early as next season. Rd 6 Pick 13 - WR T.J. Jones OVR: 68 The sixth round pick beat out 2-3 other contending WRs for what would be the last WR roster spot, barely beating out veteran Kevin Ogletree. Coaches see that much potential in the 22-year-old prospect out of Notre Dame. With Calvin & fellow ND alum Golden Tate locked up for the next few years, the Lions are set at starting wideout for the foreseeable future. But they still need a 3rd guy to step up and really give the offense an added dimension. While subsequent FA signee Josh Cribbs really impressed in the preseason and has snagged a tight hold on that role, he's 31 yrs old and on a one-year contract. Ryan Broyles is the current #4 and coaches love what he's done so far, as well. The WR position is stacked, but Jones figures to see some snaps and become part of the rotation sooner than later. Rd 7 Pick 14 - K Nick Freese OVR: 61 Freese quickly won the starting job and projects to remain a starting kicker in the league for a long time. With solid enough leg strength (but well short of elite), his ceiling is somewhat limited, but his accuracy is excellent for such a young player. Overall Draft Grade: B- It's hard to be too critical of a draft where you "hit" on your first round pick in a big way, but the rest of the lot might not even yield a single long-term starter. The hope is that Swanson develops into that second starter of the class, and a couple more become valuable backups. Offseason/Preseason The first thing the new GM/Coach did was to deal Pettigrew in light of new draftee Ebron. Signing Finley & Colt Lyerla (who they believe project as an excellent TE down the line) off free agency keeps TE a position of great strength for a team who likes to run lots of 2 and at times even 3 TE sets. They followed this up with a slew of unexciting but important FA signings, greatly improving depth along their O-line (starting LG Chris Snee, swing tackle J'Marcus Webb, backup G/C Garrett Reynolds) and D-line (DTs Linden Gaydosh & Joe Kruger), and plucking Denard Robinson off waivers, who Francis had coached previously in Jacksonville. Additionally, their starting CBs was completely overhauled: Chris Houston was signed off waivers and CB Adam "Pacman" Jones was acquired from Cincinatti in exchange for starting DE Jason Jones. But the biggest signing of the preseason turned out to be another former Jag, DE Chris Smith. Smith was buried on Jax's depth chart and didn't fit their scheme as well, and became a roster casualty. Coach Francis quickly swooped in and signed him to a 1-year deal as a talented, but raw, 3rd string DE. Within the next couple of weeks, management had dealt the starter (DE Jones for CB Jones), which bumped Smith up to the primary backup behind Devin Taylor. As coaches saw more and more of what he could do, however, his physical freakness became apparent, and Smith was given the start in week 2 of the regular season and is now seen as the long-term answer opposite RE Ezekiel Ansah. While still raw and prone to rookie mistakes, this former 5th rounder is as fast as most OLBs and as strong as some interior linemen and should allow the Lions D-line to not miss a beat in the absence of Jones. Overall Offseason Grade: B Regular Season (First Quarter) The first quarter ended as a success for Detroit at 3-1, but ominous questions still remain. While they appear to have cleaned up many of the mental mistakes and offseason rust that seemed to plague them during the week 1 loss to the Giants (Stafford in particular), there are still serious questions over how good this team really is. Only the 44-10 drubbing of the Packers, causing their head coach to retire from professional football following the game, has been a true bright spot on the field this season. After a few games of rough performances and a bad scheme fit, SS Ihedigbo was released leading into week 5, replaced by veteran free agent Danieal Manning. While Manning's experience & physical skillset match up far better with what Detroit wants to do defensively, but his lack of playbook knowledge could be a serious step backward from Ihedigbo until he becomes fully acclimated. The general feeling in Detroit is that they may still be a key piece or two away from SB contention, but the future is bright and, if the secondary holds up well enough and QB Stafford is able to make a leap forward into the elite class of QBs, this team could still be a dark horse as early as this season.