2016 Detroit Lions final position grades


To start the season, Jim Bob Cooter and company appeared to be in great shape. Towards the end of the year, only the opposite could be said. The last four games produced an average of just over 14-points a game. Not nearly good enough to beat legit contenders. Injuries played a role, but that should not be an excuse as every other squad is dealing with similar difficulties.

During the regular season, the Lions were 21st in yards-per-game, 20th in points-per-game, 30th in rush yards, and 11th in the passing game. Long story short, below average.


Matthew Stafford compiled the 6th most yards of any quarterback during the regular season with 4,327-yards and completed a respectable 65.3% of his passes. A pretty typical year for Stafford, putting up stats but no signature wins. Make no mistake, this Lions team would have been lucky to steal two wins this year without Stafford, but the narrative of him not being able to win meaningful games continues.

Since Stafford dislocated and tore a ligament in his middle finger in week 14, he completed just 58.6% of his passes with 4 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. During his first 12-games combined, he only had a total of five interceptions. The tight-window throws that made you say “wow” became few and far between.

It's a shame that Stafford had to deal with his finger issue towards the most important part of the year. The contrast of stats pre-injury and after is stark. You can believe that his finger played no role in his precipitous decline, but it is hard to imagine that a player could regress so rapidly.

Overall, Stafford's NFL-record eight comeback wins in one season is the definition of clutch, but the combination of no run game, sporadic receiver play, and a mediocre offensive line stunted the success of the offense.


Running Backs:

Grading the 30th ranked rushing unit that consists of about five different backs throughout the course of the year is difficult. The offensive line plays a huge role in the success of the ground attack and the big men up front didn't give a lot to work with.

It was apparent at the beginning of the season that both Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick were going to be heavily relied upon in the short pass game to create mismatches and move the ball methodically down the field. Once both of the Lions receivers out of the backfield were sidelined, the offense struggled to consistently move the ball.

In terms of actually running, Abdullah demonstrated in his small sample size that he could operate just fine behind a makeshift O-line and squeeze through the creases that most backs couldn't. Riddick improved with his vision as he was able to compile a career-high average of 3.9-ypc on the ground and 357-yards rushing (the most on the team). He was still not a real threat in the ground game, unfortunately.

Rookie RB Dwayne Washington looks every bit the part but still runs like a wide receiver. He consistently missed cutbacks and open holes. After that experiment ended and the unyielding coaching staff allowed second-year back Zach Zenner to take on a full workload, he was able to create a semblance of a ground game. Finding a true early down back that can stay healthy and create yards for himself will be an imperative piece to the offseason puzzle.


Wide Receivers:

Where do you begin with this unit? Some games they looked to be one of the best trios in the league, other days they appeared to be completely unintimidating. One thing is for sure, if there was a stat for least amount of separation per route run, the Lions would be close, if not, dead last in the league.

Despite the limited separation, pre-injured Stafford often could throw the receiver open and put the ball in the perfect spot. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Anquan Boldin all excelled at catching the ball in traffic, but at the same time, uncharacteristically had their fair share of drive killing drops.

According to SportingCharts, Jones lead the Lions receivers in drops with six, both Tate and Boldin were credited with four a piece (regular season only). There were a few balls that may not be considered “drops” per say but were still catchable. Not horrible drop percentages, but considering all of them came into the season known for their reliable hands, it is somewhat concerning. The threesome had a total of seven drops in all of 2015.

For the money that was paid to Jones, he was a slight disappointment from a production standpoint (55-rec, 930-yds, & 4 TDs). Boldin did exactly what he was brought in to do and Tate found his groove after a slow start. A true burner and somebody who can stretch the field should be on the Lions radar in the offseason.



Tight Ends:

The only tight end worth mentioning is Eric Ebron. The cast of journeymen behind the former first round selection were all well below league average and made minimal impact. Boldin was a pseudo-tight end in our offense when Ebron missed three games in the middle of the year.

Ebron's 7 drops during the regular season (and an additional two in the playoff game) lead the entire Lions team but he also was the biggest mismatch on the field. He was too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties. If the Lions ever decided to feature him, he could put up some elite numbers. He was third on the team in both receptions (61) and receiving yards (711). The 23-year old has improved every year and is still just a baby in the league. There is plenty of room for growth.

We are at the point in his career where we should know what he is when it comes to his inconsistent hands, he will drop some easy ones and make a spectacular catch the following play. The next phase of his game that needs to improve is the ability to break tackles. For a man his size, he could really wreak havoc if he could develop a stiff arm instead of a half-hearted hurdle on every tackle attempt.

As a unit, the blocking was atrocious. I will give Ebron some credit for improving in that department towards the end of the year, but he still has a long way to go.


Offensive Line:

There were some pleasant surprises along the offensive line, most notably OC Travis Swanson and rookie LT Taylor Decker. Swanson was able to do a complete 180 from last year and become arguably a top-10 center in the league while Decker performed admirably at a position which often ends in disaster for young players. Decker struggled against the speed rushers but he was by far the most consistent. The rookie tackle played every single offensive snap, the only offensive player to do so outside of Stafford.

Contract year players RT Riley Reiff and RG Larry Warford were solid, but not spectacular. If either are to hit the open market, they may cost more than GM Bob Quinn and the Lions are willing to pay.

Last year's first round pick OG Laken Tomlinson underperformed and eventually lost his starting role to rookie OC Graham Glasgow. Glasgow had his fair share of rookie moments but also showed glimpses of promise. His versatility is a huge plus. Glasgow was rated the 39th of 40th ranked centers by Pro Football Focus.

The line wasn't great by any means–21st in sacks allowed and 30th in rushing yards–but they were serviceable. Considering where they came from last year, there was some improvement.


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