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What the Detroit Lions rebuild can learn from New York’s success

We are five weeks into the NFL season, and there seems to be a clear dividing line between the Detroit Lions rebuild and other teams in the NFL. Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Chargers, Miami Dolphins, and Philadelphia Eagles are all examples of drastic improvement with a successful rebuild effort and a focus. What should be the focus for Lions’ fans in evaluating their own rebuild, however, should be the two team’s in the Big Apple; The New York Giants & the New York Jets.

What can the Detroit Lions rebuild learn from the New York teams?

Detroit Lions rebuild
The Detroit Lions rebuild could learn a thing or two from the New York teams.

The New York Giants: How to Build Evenly

We’ll start with the New York Giants, as they are the clear surprise of the 2022 NFL season thus far and the example the Lions should be following most strongly. Brian Daboll is everything that Dan Campbell wishes he could be. An extremely talented offensive coordinator from Buffalo, Daboll has been able to improve the Giants on both sides of the ball with a debilitated Daniel Jones and revamping a defense that has been impressive through five games this season. Daboll has made calls that have been bold in the right spots, managing the game and not causing the same types of flubs that Campbell has been prone to do through a year and a quarter in Detroit.

That call changed the tenor of the Giants’ season from the first week. Daboll showed confidence, he showed poise, and he showed certainty that his team rallied around. Dan Campbell has tried these same types of moves, these rallying points, but has consistently fallen short and made the wrong call at the wrong time. Daboll’s tenure in New York started with a bang and has only improved as the team has come to follow his every word, much like Detroit fans hoped Campbell would.

Another portion of the Giants’ rebuild that has surpassed Detroit’s was in their even attempts at improving both sides of the ball. New York has drafted to bolster their offense through offensive line picks like Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal, making their defense drastically improve. The Giants have taken Kayveon Thibadeux, Azeez Ojulari, Xavier McKinney, Cam Brown, and Dexter Lawrence and made bold moves like trading for Leonard Williams to create a defense that is 12th in the league in total yards, 8th in passing yards allowed, and 9th in total points given up.

To summarize the Giants’ side of the rebuild process, New York was able to grab a top-tier coordinator that knows when and how to make bold decisions, has mastery over his roster, and the team has rallied around him to a 4-1 start. By keeping an even rebuild, the Giants improved their defense drastically this season while still bolstering their offensive line and keeping the offense competent as well.

The New York Jets Rebuild: What Could’ve Been

Our second case follows the New York Jets, a team that allegedly took a coaching candidate away from Detroit. This team is a what-if story for the Lions through and through. While the New York Giants built a unique and intelligent way, nabbing Daboll and building their roster up on both sides, the Jets have done almost everything identically to Detroit.

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Not only did the Jets not allow Robert Saleh to go back to Detroit after he interviewed here, but they also built around their young quarterback much in the same way Detroit has done. Both in free agency and in the draft, New York has strengthened their backfield with subsequent draft picks of Michael Carter and Breece Hall, creating a two-headed monster that gave the Miami Dolphins fits in Week Five. To help Zach Wilson along, the team also brought Corey Davis in as a veteran receiving presence and signed Braxton Berrios as a tool player, much in the same way as Craig Reynolds is for Detroit. In the draft, New York doubled down on their receiving core, picking Garrett Wilson & Elijah Moore to complement Berrios and Davis. Then to finish it off, the Jets have multiple tight ends in case the rest of the offensive weapons aren’t enough in Ty Conklin & C .J. Uzomah. Both teams are built with explosive offensive weapons everywhere, and it is up to their signal caller to exploit all of these playmakers for the betterment of their team.

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Another parallel for the Jets’ rebuild follows a pick they made in the 2022 draft, almost identical to the same pick the Lions made at #3 in 2019 for Jeff Okudah. The New York Jets selected Sauce Gardner out of Cincinnati with the #4 overall pick this past year, ranking 35th among all corners by Pro Football Focus through his first five games. Gardner is allotted a 67.3 defensive rating, while Okudah, at 66th among corners in what many consider to be his best season so far, logs in at a 55.9 rating. From an overview, the Jets seem to have bet on the right horse in their cornerback race while the Lions burned a #3 pick on a league-average corner.

The Detroit Lions: What Lessons can be Learned from New York

My point in writing this comparison is to offer a guiding light for Lions fans, to give some semblance of answers as to why the Giants and Jets’ rebuilds have accelerated while the Lions have stalled. Many of these factors come down to pivotal choices, like picking Dan Campbell over Robert Saleh or burning a draft pick on Jeff Okudah instead of waiting for a Sauce Gardner. Other decisions are more macro and involve the decision behind picking an unproven rookie head coach who never excelled as a coordinator in the way Brian Daboll & Robert Saleh did. Their decisions to double down on the offense mirror what the New York Jets did to help out Zach Wilson, but now is the time to build out more evenly in the way the New York Giants have done.

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Even the Jets, for all of their focus on offensive firepower, were very even in their 2022 draft, picking Sauce Gardner, Garrett Wilson, Jermaine Johnson II, and Breece Hall with their first four picks. The New York teams nailed their coaching hires and have nailed their drafts by striking the proper balance that Detroit must do moving forward. it will be imperative for Brad Holmes in the 2023 draft to not only get his future quarterback but to tighten the loose ends of a morbid defensive unit. If the New York Giants can get their defense to become above league average in a little over a year, I see no reason Detroit can’t either.

As far as Dan Campbell goes, there is no easy answer that doesn’t involve giving up on the man as head coach. His baffling game management and horrible situational decisions have plagued this team in his first year and a quarter; these are things that seasoned coordinators would not have done or, at the least, would’ve corrected the first instance or two they arose. His choices for coaching staff also leave something to be desired, as Aaron Glenn has not worked out as a defensive coordinator, and we should not forget the Anthony Lynn disaster that lucked this team into getting Ben Johnson.

If this team cannot turn things around with Campbell, Detroit needs to follow the example of the New York teams and hire a league-leading coordinator like Ken Dorsey or DeMeco Ryans. By focusing on a balanced rebuild of their roster by hiring someone with proven track records of excellence in coaching, Detroit may be able to create a rebuild that will be the envy of the entire NFL. Just like the Spongebob meme where Squidward stares longingly out the window at others having fun, so too will the NFL look at the Motor City when the rebuild is finally done right.

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Dylan Bair
Dylan Bair
Writer of all things college sports including, but not limited to, Michigan State football and basketball, college football in every facet, and hard opinions about the Big Ten and college sports in general. Also, an avid soccer and NBA fan with a deep knowledge-base that hopefully translates well to all of the fans reading. Thanks for the time and effort in reading my work! It means a lot to get the support for the thing I love most.

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