Putting the 2016-17 season in the past for the Detroit Lions shouldn’t be a simple task. Finishing on a four-game losing streak, fumbling away their first division title since 1991, and a postseason blowout against the Seattle Seahawks sums up their disappointing end to the season.
Free agency and draft scouting to fill roster holes is in full effect this offseason. However, lots of Detroit’s fate next season will be predicated on some current players. These players are in need of a rebound season if the Lions have any hope of building towards a postseason run.
5. WR Marvin Jones Jr.
Marvin Jones Jr. came from the Cincinnati Bengals filling the wide receiver need after Calvin Johnson retired. Expectations weren’t set at a Megatron-level, but another season of underachieving can’t happen.
Jones finished the season with 55 catches for 930 yards and four touchdowns. These numbers would be suitable for any other No. 2 receiver, but they’re quite skewed when you analyze them closely.
In 2015, Jones was one of the most sure-handed receivers grabbing 65 catches out of 103 targets with only two drops. He took a step backward in his first Lions season catching ten fewer passes with the same number of targets and six drops, tied for 4th most in the NFL.
Week 3 marked a dominant outlook for Jones as he caught six passes for 205 yards and two touchdowns against the Packers. After that performance, he went twelve weeks without a touchdown and only caught 37 passes for 522 yards.
Detroit’s pass attack is the biggest feature of their offense with quarterback Matthew Stafford. Moving forward he needs more consistency from his receivers and a bigger dose of production from Jones.
4. DE Ziggy Ansah
The Lions’ premiere edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah spent the majority of 2016-17 nursing injuries. Being hampered by an ankle and shoulder injury, he was limited to only two sacks and Detroit finished with the second worst pass rush with only 26 sacks.
Ansah emerged as an elite defensive end in 2015-16 with 14.5 sacks, and the Lions desperately need a repeat performance. Luckily, he should see some new helpful additions through the draft and free agency to take some pressure off of him. Veteran tackle Haloti Ngata could be a cap casualty at 33-years-old with $7.7 million, and defensive end Devin Taylor is a free agent this offseason.
Detroit’s defense allowed an NFL-record completion percentage of 72.7 percent mainly because of their poor pass rush. With an offseason of rest and better complimentary pieces on the defensive line, another elite campaign should be in store for Ansah this coming season.
3. RB Ameer Abdullah
The Lions have dealt with a merry-go-round of injury prone speed running backs for the past seven years. Backs like Jahvid Best, Reggie Bush, and Theo Riddick have all had issues staying healthy. Now, Ameer Abdullah is facing the exact same issue.
Detroit found a balanced gameplan for Abdullah in Week 1 against the Indianapolis Colts with 120 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. That success was short lived after ending his season with a broken foot in Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans.
While injuries have been a concern, another issue his rookie season was fumbling the football. Abdullah lost four fumbles throughout the year which lost him a number of carries and put him in the doghouse.
The Lions averaged the third worst rushing attack with 81.9 yards-a-game. Detroit faces a crowded run group with Riddick, Abdullah, Zach Zenner, and Dwayne Washington. Abdullah needs to establish himself as a part of this offense and staying healthy is his first step.
2. TE Eric Ebron
Approaching his fourth season as a pro, nobody has more to prove to the Lions than Eric Ebron. Entering his contract year, it’s time for him to start validating Detroit’s faith in drafting him No. 10 overall in 2014.
Ebron showed flashes of reliability early in the season but he went back to his bad tendencies of dropping passes and struggling to get open. He only registered 61 catches for 711 yards and one lone receiving touchdown in Week 1. He also ran for a score against the Jacksonville Jaguars at the goal line.
The Lions dropped the NFL’s 3rd most passes with 28 last season, and Ebron accounted for seven of them which was fifth worst in the league. The quarterback’s tight end is supposed to be the most reliable security blanket, and Ebron has not emerged as that.
Unless he becomes a superstar, it’s almost impossible to validate drafting a tight end that high in the NFL Draft. Ebron, however, doesn’t need to become a superstar, just a reliable chain-moving, red zone threat for Stafford. If he’s looking to get paid soon, this coming season will truly decide his value.
1. The 2016 Draft Class
General manager Bob Quinn got off to a hopeful start with his first draft in 2016. His top two picks (LT Taylor Decker, DT A’Shawn Robinson) look like they’re going to develop just fine, but the Lions have always struggled to find mid-to-late round gems.
The rest of Detroit’s 2016 class made a quality impression this past season and will have a chance for bigger roles next season.
Safety Miles Killebrew emerged as a reliable third-down defender and has a good opportunity to start at strong safety.
Guard Graham Glasgow filled in nicely for injured center Travis Swanson and young guard Laken Tomlinson. With Tomlinson struggling to develop, Swanson still healing, and guard Larry Warford entering free agency, Glasgow has a chance to become a starter.
Quarterback Jake Ruddock has already been penciled in as the ongoing backup quarterback after the team released long-time veteran, Dan Orlovsky.
Every draft pick doesn’t turn into a star, but the Lions need to start winning on draft picks outside of the first and second round. Greatness is built through the draft and Quinn needs to see at least half of his later picks become successful.