For decades, NFL teams have built their roster by investing significant capital in players closest to the ball and again placing a reduced value on players further away from it. This ideology matched scheme concepts at the time when performing a blue marking was valued over the passing game.
At the moment, the NFL is very much a passing league, but only recently have we seen franchises make conscious efforts to move away from old team building strategies and evolve into a more modern approach.
Earlier this week, Chris Spielman appeared on local radio station 97.1 The Ticket to discuss several Detroit Lions topics, including how impressed he was with Shelia Ford Hamp̵
“I’ll have to ask Brad (Holmes) or Dan (Campbell) about this theory, but I have a theory that you kind of, back when I played … you used to build from the inside out,” Spielman said via Free Press. “Well, today’s league, I think you build from the outside in.”
The concept of building from the outside in emphasizes quickly getting the ball in your playmaker’s hands by offense. For defense, coverage takes precedence over stopping the race.
“You can always create pass-rush with pressure,” an NFL coach told the Chicago Tribune. “But it is difficult to create passport coverage – the ability to cover one-on-one. If you have a guy you know can wipe out one side of the field, it’s pretty damn valuable. I want them both, but if I have to pick one, I’m taking a cornerback. ”
Pro Football Focus conducted a data study on coverage vs. pass rate, and their findings also support this idea, pointing out that both are valuable in their own ways. However, the ability to cover is more important when measuring the value of a particular player.
This concept has led to teams changing their recent draft strategies as defensive players who can cover – linebackers Devin White and Devin Bush as well as cornerback Jeff Okudah – have been pulled higher than previous trends.
Spielman’s comments may also suggest that the Lions may be prioritizing passers-by and defenders who can cover this offseason. That would be in line with expectations that the Lions will model some of their defenses based on the 2020s that constructed their defenses from the secondary in.
Changing their defenses to one influenced by the beings makes sense on many levels. The Lions do not need to make major adjustments to player staff, the Rams defense was the best in the NFL in 2020, and Holmes led their college scout department for the previous eight years – giving him a unique understanding of how he could complete this transition.
The Lions have a young secondary base to build on with the corners Okudah and Amani Oruwariye developing their craft, as well as the safety conditions Tracy Walker and Will Harris – who both want to improve on a difficult 2020 season. Defensive Coordinator Aaron Glenn even made a point of mentioning them at his press conference earlier this month, pointing out how these players reminded him of the group he had when he first took over in New Orleans.
But the Lions’ back-seven is by no means a complete unit. Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman are potential casualties in cap and start safety Duron Harmon is a free agent who may or may not fit into the schematic change. Aside from Jamie Collins, the Lions lack linebackers who can cover.
This means that Lions may need to prioritize finding a starting safety, a nickel option and a quick coverage linebacker in free agency or the NFL draft. Keep an eye 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.
In case of offense, it is much simpler: Find as many broad recipients as possible.
The Lions will be able to lean back on backward D’Andre Swift and pro bowl tight than TJ Hockenson for offensive production, but Quintez Cephus is the only wide receiver under contract for 2021 who contributed in 2020.
This lack of recipients is the reason why so many believe Kenny Golladay is a strong candidate for the franchise brand or to receive a contract extension in the near future – although the debate over whether to sign, tag or let go is still being discussed locally .
Whatever happens to Golladay, based on the exterior of the philosophy, the Lions will likely seek to add more recipients in free agency and / or the draft – and yes, that includes using the No. 7 overall choice on a pass-catching offensive weapon, 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 adapt to the exterior of roster construction philosophy, expect them to invest significant capital – both draft and financial – in offensive / defensive players that will help them control the passing game.