For decades, NFL teams have built their rosters by investing significant capital in the players closest to the ball and, in turn, giving reduced value to the players farthest from the ball. This ideology coincided with the concepts of the scheme at that time, where the execution of a forceful offense was valued over the passing game.
The NFL is currently a passing league, but only recently have we seen franchises making conscious efforts to move away from old team-building strategies and evolve toward a more modern approach.
Earlier in the week, Chris Spielman appeared on local radio station 97.1 The Ticket to discuss various Detroit Lions topics, including how he was impressed by Shelia Ford Hamp’s participation in team meetings and her philosophy on squad building. His approach moves the Lions to adapt to this growing trend in the NFL.
“I’ll have to ask Brad (Holmes) or Dan (Campbell) this theory, but I have a theory that you, when you were playing … you used to build from the inside out,” Spielman said via Free Press. . “Well, the league today, I think it’s built from the outside in.”
The concept of building from the outside in emphasizes getting the ball quickly in the hands of its playmaker on offense. In defense, coverage takes priority over stopping the race.
“You can always create a passing career by pushing,” an NFL coach told the Chicago Tribune. “But it’s difficult to create pass coverage, the ability to cover one-on-one. If you have a guy that you know can take down one side of the field, that’s very valuable. I would like both, but if I have to choose one, I will choose a cornerback. “
Pro Football Focus conducted a data study on coverage against fast passes and their findings also support this idea, noting that both are valuable in their own way. However, the ability to cover is more important when measuring the worth of a particular player.
This concept has led teams to alter their recent draft strategies, as the defensive players they can cover (linebackers Devin White and Devin Bush, as well as cornerback Jeff Okudah) have been selected above past trends.
Spielman’s comments could also hint that the Lions may prioritize the pass receivers and defenders they can cover this offseason. That would align with expectations that the Lions will model some of their defense based on the 2020 Rams, who built their defense from high school.
Changing his defense to one influenced by the Rams makes sense on many levels. The Lions won’t have to make major adjustments to player personnel, the Rams’ defense was the best in the NFL in 2020 and Holmes ran their college scouting department for the past eight years, giving him a unique understanding of how to execute this transition. .
The Lions have a young secondary base to build on with cornerbacks Okudah and Amani Oruwariye developing their craft, as well as safeties Tracy Walker and Will Harris looking to improve in a difficult 2020 season. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn even made a point to mention them in his press conference earlier this month, noting how these players reminded him of the group he had when he first took over in New Orleans.
But the Lions back-sevens are by no means a complete unit. Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman are potential cap downs, and starting safety Duron Harmon is a free agent who may or may not fit the schematic change. Aside from Jamie Collins, the Lions lack linebackers to cover.
That means the Lions may need to prioritize finding a safety starter, a nickel option and a fast-covering linebacker in free agency or the NFL draft. Look out for John Johnson (Rams safety) and Marcus Williams (Saints safety) as potential game-changing additions in free agency, as well as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round of the draft.
On offense, it’s much simpler: Find as many wide receivers as possible.
The Lions may rely on running back D’Andre Swift and professional tight end TJ Hockenson for offensive production, but Quintez Cephus is the only wide receiver under contract for 2021 who contributed in 2020.
This lack of receivers is why many believe that Kenny Golladay is a strong candidate for the franchise tag or to receive a contract extension in the near future, although the debate over whether to re-sign, tag, or let go, is still being discussed. in the zone.
Regardless of what happens to Golladay, based on outside philosophy, the Lions will likely look to add more receivers in free agency and / or in the draft, and yes, that includes using the No. 7 overall pick on a pass sack. . offensive weapon, such as Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), DeVonta Smith (Alabama), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama) and Kyle Pitts (Florida).
Based on the depth of talent in free agency and the draft, if the Lions really tailor the outside in their roster-building philosophy, expect them to invest significant capital, both draft and financial, in offensive / defensive players who they will help control the passes. game.