Wednesday, October 06, 2021

These 10 Detroit Lions may be the only players guaranteed to stick through the rebuild


The Lions aren’t married to many. But they are to these guys

By Mike Payton  Oct 6, 2021, 9:00am EDT  


Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images


Patience doesn't seem to be the name of the game for the Detroit Lions. We’re nine months into the Brad Holmes/Dan Campbell experiment, and the Lions’ top guys have shown they’re not going to be the guys who are loyal to everyone. They have no intentions to stand by any of Bob Quinn’s mistakes or their own for that matter. You need not look further than the fates of Jahlani Tavai and Breshad Perriman for evidence.

Recently, the Lions have shown that the end of training camp wasn't the end of trimming the fat for this team. Just a few weeks ago the Lions attempted to trade linebacker Jamie Collins before ultimately releasing him despite piling more dead money on top of the league’s highest dead money pile.

They’re still not done. While they haven’t made any significant moves, their recent comments tell a story that says the Lions may be getting ready to bench guys and replace them.

All is fair in a rebuild. There’s likely to be plenty more players excused from this team over the course of the next few years. Almost nobody is safe.

But who actually is safe? Who’s going to be a full on part of this rebuild? Who’s going to be on this team in three years? We picked out 10 players that we can say, at the moment, are going nowhere.

T.J. Hockenson

Number one with a bullet is the Lions’ Pro Bowl tight end. Hockenson has shown that he keeps getting better and better. He’s had a rough last two games, but the former eighth overall pick is without a doubt the Lions’ biggest star right now. The Lions will probably wind up making him the highest paid tight end in the NFL before long. There’s no way they let this guy out of their sight.

D’Andre Swift

Swift hasn’t totally figured it out yet. There are moments where he looks like an absolute stud like he did against the Ravens, and then there’s moments where you can barely tell he’s out there like he did against the Bears. Chances are Swift is going to have way more stud moments than missing-in-action moments. For that reason, there’s no way the Lions are going to move on from this guy anytime soon.

Frank Ragnow

He’s the best center in the league, in my opinion. He consistently grades out higher than anyone on the Lions offensive line on Pro Football Focus and you just don’t move on from a guy like that. He’ll be the highest-paid center in the league before you know it. He deserves every penny.

Penei Sewell

There’s been some growing pains for sure. He’s been trending downward lately. He graded out at 46.3 against the Bears. That’s pretty bad, but you can’t ignore his performance against Nick Bosa and the 49ers. Remember, he only 20 years old at this point. There’s a lot of career left in this guy, and he’s getting tossed right into the deep end right away with having to switch from left to right. I think he’ll show enough by season’s end to feel comfortable with him being around for a long time.

Taylor Decker

Decker is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. He’ll show that again as soon as he plays a down of football this season. He’s like the rug in “The Big Lebowski.” He really ties everything together. He’s a left tackle and he’ll stay the Lions left tackle despite all those calls for him to move to right tackle after Sewell’s early success.

Alim McNeill

McNeill just keeps getting better. Again, with rookies there are growing pains, but McNeill has shown some flashes of a player that can be huge for the Lions in the future. Head coach Dan Campbell said McNeill had his best career game against the Bears, and PFF agreed, giving him a great 76.9 grade. He’s probably going to have more games like this going forward. His case to be a big part of the defense is only furthered by the fact that guys like defensive line coach Todd Wash are planted firmly behind him.

A.J. Parker

Parker has been quite a steal this season. Yes, he’s having a really hard time in the last two games, but what member of the Lions secondary hasn’t? When the Lions were fully healthy, Parker graded out in the 70s in the first two games of the season. Since the injuries, Parker has graded out at 28.4 and 42.4 in the past two games. I don’t think you can count too much of that against the undrafted rookie who has suddenly taken on way more responsibility now that he’s out there with guys like Bobby Price and Will Harris. This may be the one I wind up being dead wrong about, but right now it feels right enough to put him on this list.

Romeo Okwara

You really hate to hate to see Okwara go out with such a bad injury., especially since the Lions had been getting their money’s worth from Okawara in 2021 after his $39 million extension. Normally I’d be inclined to say that this injury may affect Okwara’s long term and end his chances to be a big defensive star, but Okwara’s work ethic won’t allow me to believe that. He should be back next season and his rise should continue.

Quintez Cephus

We’re still waiting for Cephus to really have a breakout moment. If you would have asked me a few weeks ago, I would have put Amon-Ra St. Brown on this list, but he has been damn near invisible while Cephus keeps having moments that show he could be the only Lions receiver to survive this season. Cephus is probably never going to be the Lions’ number one receiver, but if he keeps playing like has and if he has that big breakout moment, he could definitely carve out a number two receiver spot for himself going forward.

Trey Flowers

I know it doesn’t seem like it because his stat sheet isn’t exploding off the page, but Flowers is pretty good at his job. When healthy, Flowers is the best guy on the Lions defense. He just shouldn’t be the guy you expect to constantly get to the quarterback and lead the league in sacks. He’s just not that type of player.

But he’s shown that he can be good at what he does, which is stop the run and tackle guys. This may be the only thing Bob Quinn did right during his time in Detroit. Imagine if he would have paired Flowers up with a guy who can do the stuff that does shows up on the stat sheet. I’m guessing the Lions will try to do that going forward.

The guys who are almost there, but I just couldn’t put them on this list

Derrick Barnes: Barnes is basically the 11th man on this list. He’s more than likely safe after he gets over his early struggles.

Jamaal Williams: I didn’t add Williams to the list because his contract is so short. I think the Lions will ultimately want to keep him, but I’m not sure he winds up staying.

Levi Onwuzurike: It’s not working out for him yet. I think that it will eventually, but right now it looks bad.

Amon-Ra St. Brown: Really had high hopes for this kid. He has not shown anything at all so far. I wonder how much a quarterback change could help him.

Jonah Jackson: He’s been better than I thought he would be, but can the Lions do better later? Probably.

Jack Fox: He’s the punt god. He’s. Probably never leaving.

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