With the NHL’s expansion draft today, it got me wondering who the Lions would protect. For the sake of argument, we will say that each team can protect 12 players, with first and second year players exempt from selection.
First, Matthew Stafford. I’ve written tons of love for Stafford, and he’s really coming into his own under Jim Bob Cooter. The future is bright for this young man, as he is just now hitting the prime for quarterbacks, and looks ready to force himself into the NFL MVP conversation perennially.
One of Stafford’s favorite targets, Golden Tate is next to be protected. Tate has yet to catch less than 90 passes in three seasons with Detroit, and has eclipsed 1,000 yards twice. Being the most elusive pass catcher in the NFL in recent memory certainly helps him surpass those marks.
I think it’s fair to put the two running backs together. Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick are the next to be protected on the offensive side of the ball. Both are dual threat runners, with Riddick being a bit more of a pass catcher, and Abdullah more of a runner. Either way, with both healthy for an entire season, the Lions backfield would likely be lethal, so it only makes sense to protect them both.
Offensive lineman are up next, and here it is Rick Wagner and TJ Lang. Both are big money free agent signings from this past summer, so I don’t have much to say about them in a Lions uniform. What I will say though, is that they are among the best at their respective positions, and it would be stupid to not protect them.
Defensively, things get a bit more complicated if we base it off play from last year. Darius Slay gets a protection nod without a shadow of a doubt. One of the best young corners in the league, Slay has made huge strides in his play the last two years. Coming up with big plays last season, and even shadowing teams’ best receivers from time to time certainly helps him a lot here.
Next, Glover Quin. Quin is the definition of NFL Iron Man, playing all of Detroit’s defensive snaps last season. He is the leader of the Lions secondary, and you could argue the entire defense. Quin gets the nod because he’s still among the league’s best, and he will help in the development of Miles Killebrew.
Ziggy Ansah is on the list because of his past. Not so much this past season, but he has potential to be a 12+ sack guy. Just one year removed from a 14.5 sack season, the Lions front office hopes he can return to form after being injured for most of last season.
Tahir Whitehead is the last to get the nod on the defensive side of the ball. Not because of play, but because he’s one of the best tacklers in the league. Don’t get me wrong, the man sucks in pass coverage, but moving out of the MIKE position will help him play to his strength. Tackling.
The last two players are the special teamers. Matt Prater and Sam Martin are among the best at what they do. Kicking a football real freaking hard. Prater kicked his way into Lions fans’ hearts last season, never missing a potential game-winning or tying field goal in the fourth quarter. Sam Martin had the best punt yard net average in NFL history by a punter not named Johnny Hekker. Both get the nod.