The goal for every team each offseason is to improve. It is no different for GM Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions. After not “winning” the free-agency period or having the “sexy” draft, there has been plenty of doubt surrounding the Lions increment of improvement relative to other teams.
Quinn has built his team through depth and the trenches which will never receive much love on a national level, but that doesn’t mean that the Lions are not more skilled than their team from a season ago. Let’s take a look at each position group and review if the Lions have advanced or declined in talent with their 2016 team.
(*) denotes rookie
- IN: Jake Rudock*
- OUT: N/A
SUMMARY: Not much has changed at the front end of the depth chart obviously, but the Lions brought in rookie Jake Rudock to compete and possibly uproot the current backup, Dan Orlovsky. It will be interesting to see if head coach Jim Caldwell will keep three QBs on the roster or follow last year’s trend of carrying only two. No matter the case, Backups are backups and will not considerably impact the game unless forced into action– which is never good.
Matthew Stafford flourished under OC Jim Bob Cooter and should only continue to grow in the new offense. Due to that fact alone, Stafford’s maturation and understanding should allow him to perform at a slightly higher level than the year before. The augmented line should also increase Stafford’s stat sheet.
OUTLOOK : Slightly better
- IN: Stevan Ridley, Dwayne Washington*
- OUT: Joique Bell
SUMMARY: It’s sad to say, but it could be addition by subtraction with the departure of hometown favorite Joique Bell. The expectations for newcomers Stevan Ridley and Dwayne Washington should be tempered. Ridley is more of a familiar name at this point in his career but has the opportunity to contribute and find his pre-injury form. A healthy Zach Zenner could receive more carries than the aforementioned backs when it’s all said and done.
Even with a struggling O-line, Ameer Abdullah demonstrated he was very capable of gaining the tough yards after compiling a 4.2-yard per carry average in 2015. Ball security will be his biggest concern but he still could have a huge year on the ground with some open holes to actually run through. Expect Theo Riddick to be his usual self and thrive in his pass catching role.
OUTLOOK : Better
- IN: Marvin Jones, Jeremy Kerley, Andre Caldwell, Jay Lee*
- OUT: Calvin Johnson
SUMMARY: As many have said before, there is no replacing Calvin Johnson. It will be a team effort to replicate his production. Free agent acquisition Marvin Jones is no slouch but isn’t tantamount to Megatron. Jones offers a lot of similar traits to another Lions wideout, Golden Tate. Jones and Tate will form a formidable receiver duo, even if neither has the build or appearance of a true No. 1.
There are still plenty of question marks behind the top two on the depth chart. New arrivals, Jeremy Kerley and Andre Caldwell, are both undersized and considered ancillary-type players. Third-year receiver T.J. Jones might be the Lions best bet to take advantage of the favorable defensive matchups that the third wideout is given. Someone will need to step up and take that next step to create a more balanced aerial attack.
- IN: Matthew Mulligan
- OUT: N/A
SUMMARY: It is now or never for former first-round pick Eric Ebron. Year three for growing tight ends is a crucial time for development and often the season in which everything starts coming together. If Ebron can’t carve out a prominent role with all of Megatron’s targets now being dispersed elsewhere, it may be time to move on. At the very least, Ebron must assume the big-man responsibility in the red zone and win the 50/50 balls. The Lions are severely vertically challenged with their pass catchers.
There is a reason Ebron was drafted so high, and this should be the year that his athleticism will shine through and the big plays will outweigh the occasional drop. Although there will be no new faces, the Calvin-less game plan will be catered more for the tight end and production will increase by default.
- IN: Geoff Schwartz, Taylor Decker*, Graham Glasgow*, Joe Dahl*
- OUT: Manny Ramirez
SUMMARY: The Lions had to get better offensively up front. If they fail to find a run game or can’t give time for Stafford in the pocket, it is going to be a long season. Drafting Taylor Decker immediately shored up the right side of the line and should provide a boost for our running backs. The addition of Graham Glasgow could also be an upgrade over incumbent Travis Swanson if he can quickly pick up the line calls and protections. Rookies are never a sure thing but they can’t be much worse than the players who the Lions were dressing in 2015.
For a unit that struggled so mightily just a year ago, the odds are that four out of the five starters are returning. Hopefully, a developing interior and the addition of Decker will make a large enough impact to make some waves and move the pile. If not, there is plenty of young blood and competitive reserves who could fill in as needed.
- IN: Wallace Gilberry, Anthony Zettel*
- OUT: Jason Jones, Darryl Tapp
SUMMARY: Although Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp were not huge losses, they were both important pieces to the collective D-line puzzle. Anthony Zettel should be able to fill Jones’ absence along with the ability to move inside, much like Jones did in the past. Even though the Penn State rookie has promise, there is no guarantee a 6th round neophyte will be an upgrade over a crafty veteran.
Devin Taylor will be the player with the most additional responsibility this season. In his limited sample size, he has demonstrated an ability to rush the passer tallying seven sacks in 2015. He will need to make a considerable leap and break through his role player label if the DEs want to reproduce the success they enjoyed last year.
OUTLOOK: Slightly worse
- IN: Stephan Charles, A’Shawn Robinson*
- OUT: C.J. Wilson
SUMMARY: The defensive tackle unit struggled to stay healthy last season. Tyrunn Walker missed most of the year with an ankle injury after earning the starting role in the preseason. Haloti Ngata was limited by a shoulder ailment but visibly improved on the field as the year went on.
Stephan Charles was an under the radar move similar to the DT Walker signing of a year ago. Alabama product A’Shawn Robinson was graded as a top-notch run defender in college and to the surprise of many, slipped to the second round. With Teryl Austin‘s philosophy of a constant D-line shuffle, the Lions are in a perfect situation to have a solid rotation. This might be the deepest position group on the team.
- IN: Antwione Williams*, Jon Bostic, Zaviar Gooden
- OUT: Stephen Tulloch
SUMMARY: The return of DeAndre Levy may be the most influential upgrade to the 2016 roster. The Lions have an all-pro caliber player that will instantly bolster an already above average defense. Levy could easily make the case for the best player on Detroit’s roster.
The Lions did add Jon Bostic and Zaviar Gooden, both who possess the elite athleticism to push for that open strong side backer position and can contribute on special teams. Kyle Van Noy will have to impress during the preseason to make the roster with a new regime who is no longer tied to the floundering former second rounder. To put a cherry on top, rookie Antwione Williams will round out the LB core creating a much more nimble unit than a year ago.
- IN: Johnson Bademosi, Darrin Walls
- OUT: Rashean Mathis
SUMMARY: Not much has changed in the cornerback room, as the Lions did not draft a cover man. Detroit boasts a trio of young CBs and lost their one veteran, Rashean Mathis, to retirement. Johnson Bademosi was brought in strictly for special teams and may even be considered more of a safety. Detroit also has a physically imposing talent just waiting for his chance in Alex Carter. Carter was a third-round pick from a year ago and was basically red-shirted after dealing with a bothersome ankle injury. Hopefully, the decision to not activate him last season after he was healthy is not an early indication of a bleak future.
This is one position group that could develop into something special just due to maturation alone. With Carter being a wild card, there is a chance for some significant improvement. As long as Teryl Austin is manning the helm, there should be little worry on how our DBs will perform.
OUTLOOK: Slightly Better
- IN: Tavon Wilson, Rafael Bush, Miles Killebrew*
- OUT: James Ihedigbo, Isa Abdul-Quddus
SUMMARY: Glover Quin will continue to be one of the better free safeties in the league, but plenty of question marks remain with his counterpart. Both starting strong safeties from a year ago, James Ihedigbo and Isa Abdul-Quddus, are no longer with the team. Ihedigbo was a liability in coverage and even with his angles of pursuit– not a big loss. Abdul-Quddus on the other hand, was a sure tackler for a man his size and was athletic enough to be respectable in coverage.
The new additions may struggle to replicate the level Abdul-Quddus performed at last year. Tavon Wilson and Rafael Bush have their own strengths but neither are the all-around player that are desired in a starting strong safety. Miles Killebrew is going to have to make the jump from the FCS level and will need to play close to the line of scrimmage to mitigate his lack of instincts. His highlight-reel hits have masked the fact that he is usually late arriving to the ball and was not always the best in coverage. Between the three SS hopefuls, you would expect one will differentiate themselves in the early goings.
Too much noise is being made over the retirement of Calvin Johnson. The worry is reflected through Vegas odds, national analyst predictions and the general lack of respect in all forms of media regarding the Lions. Unfortunately, until Detroit wins some big games, they will never receive the reverence they deserve.
Although the Lions lost one of the greatest receivers of all time, he was only a shell of his former self and the injuries were starting to zap his speed and agility. He did still command a safety to play over the top, which alleviated stacked boxes, but Marvin Jones also carries a reputation as a deep threat. Outside of the occasional spectacular catch, Megatron was morphing into just an above average No. 1 receiver.
The success of Stafford and the entire team is predicated on a run game and time to throw which are both directly related to offensive line play. If the draft acquisitions can’t immediately make an impact, the offense will not look much different than a year ago. The Lions had the 32nd ranked rushing attack last season– there really isn’t anywhere to go but up.
We must remember, just about every other NFL team also upgraded their roster. The Lions added plenty of unproven talent with loads of potential to compete for their roster vacancies. You can’t expect every rookie and a young player to come in and be an above average professional. If they do, the Lions will have an amazing season. If they don’t, Bob Quinn will have his work cut out for him next offseason. All in all, the Lions are a better team than a year ago but do carry some notable uncertainties at a few positions. Only time will tell…
2016 SEASON OUTLOOK: Better