The Detroit Lions’ 2015 season was a tough one to grade as a whole. For one half of the season, the Lions looked like the worst team in the league. The second half, they looked like the playoff team many thought they could be.
Ultimately, your final record indicates what type of team you are and the Lions were right in the middle of the road. Now that the full 16-game season has concluded, let’s dig deeper into the strengths and weaknesses of the Detroit Lions position groups.
Summary: Matthew Stafford had a great season. He set a new franchise completion percentage record (67.2%) and had a Top 10 QB rating of 97.0. Stafford’s rating was high enough to outduel big names such as Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and Eli Manning.
Our talented QB limited his interceptions and mistakes as well. He accumulated a +19 TD/INT ratio over the course of the year and was +17 in the last eight games under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. All these numbers were accrued behind one of the worse offensive lines in the league.
The only big knock on Stafford this year was in the “W” column. The quarterback plays a major role with wins but then again, football is a team sport. Stafford did his part. If victories are the only stat that matter, that premise would conclude that Ryan Fitzpatrick, Teddy Bridgewater, Andy Dalton and Alex Smith are all better than Stafford. Not buying it!
Matthew Stafford: B
Running Backs: C+
Summary: It’s really tough to be a successful running back in the NFL without a serviceable offensive line. The run game improved the second half of the season behind a maturing O-line and a simplified scheme, but over the course of the year, was still far below average.
The Lions were dead last in the NFL in total rushing yards (1,335) and tied for 25th in average per rush. Joique Bell averaged a measly 3.5 yards per carry while Ameer Abdullah rushed for almost 600 yards with a 4.2 yard average. Fumbles were the main issue with Abdullah as he coughed up the pigskin four times on offense alone.
The one saving grace to salvage the running back’s grade was Theo Riddick. He only contributed 133 yards on the ground, but more than made up for it with 80 catches and 697 yards receiving. Both those numbers were good enough to set Lions team records.
Joique Bell: C-
Ameer Abdullah: C+
Theo Riddick: A-
Michael Burton: B-
Tight Ends: C
Summary: With expectations unreasonably high due to the spot Eric Ebron was drafted, you could say he was a major disappointment. Ebron put up very pedestrian numbers, recording 47 receptions, 537 yards, and five touchdowns. The athleticism is there, but the targets in the offense haven’t increased enough for him to put up the elite TE numbers. He also registered a discouraging five drops with a 7.1% drop rate this year. There is hope, however, as next year will be Ebron’s third year in the league, which is usually the season when tight ends begin to make an impact.
Now that Brandon Pettigrew is publicly accepted as a blocking tight end, he did a mediocre job in that role before he tore his ACL. Probably not worth the $3.8 million cap hit it took to keep him this year, though.
Tim Wright barely played this year and is more of a receiver. Might be the worst TE in the league when it comes to blocking.
Eric Ebron: C+
Brandon Pettigrew: B-
Tim Wright: C-
Wide Receivers: B+
Summary: Calvin Johnson had a quiet year relative to his previous monster seasons, but 1,214 receiving yards and nine touchdowns isn’t too shabby. He still made spectacular catches in traffic and made teams pay for single coverage.
Golden Tate may be the best number two receiver in the league. Although his diminutive stature looks innocuous, he made defenders miss and picked up yardage that he had no business taking. For example, he gained 525 of his 813 receiving yards after the catch.
Behind our top two wideouts, it was a receiver by committee approach. Lance Moore was a fine slot option but was never a real threat to the opposing defenses. He did exactly what he was brought in to do. The young guns, T.J. Jones, and Corey Fuller, played mostly special teams. Fuller seemed to regress as Jones demonstrated some potential as a future replacement for Moore.
Calvin Johnson: A-
Golden Tate: A
Lance Moore: C
T.J. Jones: C+
Corey Fuller: D+
Offensive Line: D
Summary: This was by far the worst position group on the 2015 Detroit Lions roster. The O-line consistently put the offense in difficult situations with penalties and miscues. The addition of Laken Tomlinson and Manny Ramirez was supposed to patch up the holes left by the declining veterans Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola. If anything, our line somehow decreased in talent. Travis Swanson seemed to be outmatched almost every game at center and played a part in the miscommunications that led to Stafford repeatedly being pummeled by blown assignments.
The right tackle position was a revolving door until solidified by Michael Ola, who very well could have played the most consistent out of anybody on our line. Riley Reiff was constantly put against teams top pass rushers and held his own but graded very average when compared to other left tackles in the NFL.
Perhaps the best lineman on the team was sitting the bench a majority of the season. Manny Ramirez graded out as the Lions best offensive lineman by the analytical website, Pro Football Focus. Unless there is some major developing with our young O-line, this position group will be a point of emphasis on rebuilding.
Riley Reiff: C
Laken Tomlinson: C-
Travis Swanson: D
Larry Warford: C+
Michael Ola: B-
Cornelius Lucas: D
Manny Ramirez: B
Defensive Ends: B+
Summary: The Lions have one of the great, up-and-coming defensive ends in the NFL. Ziggy Ansah racked up 33 QB hits and 14.5 sacks this year on his way to making his first Pro Bowl. He dominated games and caused more havoc than what showed up on the stat sheet. Devin Taylor was overshadowed by the success of his counterpart, but he quietly accumulated seven sacks. With 21.5 sacks combined, this year marks the first time since 1999 that the Lions have had a pair of ends reach the 20+ sacks mark.
Jason Jones and Darryl Tapp played their veteran roles exceptionally well. Jones was a versatile player who did his best work against the run but still contributed rushing the passer. He registered 4.5 sacks on the year. He flipped inside occasionally on pass rush downs to give a more athletic presence rushing up the middle.
Tapp was in the defensive rotation and gave the Lions two sacks in his limited action. Not much more you can ask for from a fourth option.
Ezekiel Ansah: A+
Jason Jones: B-
Devin Taylor: B
Darryl Tapp: C
Defensive Tackles: C
Summary: No matter how well our defensive tackles played this year, they were never going to live up to the fearsome trio we had from a year ago. Haloti Ngata started off slow and Caraun Reid never made much of an impact after returning from a high ankle sprain early in the season. Between both players, they only had a combined total of 4.5 sacks. Ngata did create some pressure up the middle and took up space, he just never created many memorable plays.
Neither Gabe Wright or Jermelle Cudjo saw much playing time. Wright, a fourth-round pick, was expected to contribute but was often outplayed by veterans who were picked up off the street. CJ Wilson, a sixth-year player, was claimed off waivers mid-season and was more of a force than Wright and Cudjo.
Haloti Ngata: B
Caraun Reid: C
Gabe Wright: D
CJ Wilson: C+
Jermelle Cudjo: D+
Summary: Without Deandre Levy, the Lions’ linebacking core lacked the big plays Levy provided. Outside backers Josh Bynes and Tahir Whitehead both had good games and bad. Overall, they were consistent in tackling and not a liability in coverage. Bynes was a pleasant surprise as he won the starting OLB spot and posted 82 tackles with five pass breakups.
Stephen Tulloch led the team in tackles (107) but looked a step slower after returning from his ACL tear from a year ago. Tulloch seemed to be uncharacteristically out of position a few plays a game.
Perhaps most disconcerting was second-year player Kyle Van Noy, who didn’t seem to develop or mature since his rookie year. He did make a couple nice plays on special teams but still looked lost and not nearly physical enough to be a LB in the NFL.
Stephen Tulloch: B-
Josh Bynes: B
Tahir Whitehead: C+
Kyle Van Noy: D+
Travis Lewis: C
Brandon Copeland: C+
Summary: If you were to look at our cornerbacks at the beginning of the season, you might not feel too encouraged about what you see. After the year, your opinion should be the opposite. Darius Slay played as well as any corner in the league, shutting down his receiver in all but one game.
After Rashean Mathis essentially put himself on IR, one of our young corners was going to have to step up. Not only did we have one, we had two players answer the call. Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs were imperative to the 6-2 turnaround in the second half of the season. Neither had an interception, but Lawson and Diggs had seven and six pass deflections respectively.
Corner play has been superb ever since Teryl Austin took over the defensive reigns; let’s hope when he’s gone, our guys can continue their upward trend.
Darius Slay: A
Nevin Lawson: B
Quandre Diggs: B+
Crezdon Butler: B-
Rashean Mathis: B-
Summary: Glover Quin led the Lions in interceptions for the second straight year, picking off four passes. Battling injuries throughout the season, he still started every game and made the most tackles (67) of any non-linebacker player.
Isa Abdul-Quddus earned himself some money after replacing James Ihedigbo midway through the season. Being known for his special teams ability and pass coverage, he developed into a complete safety. Ihedigbo struggled in coverage and took bad pursuit angles in space too frequently, resulting in his benching. He still was a solid reserve and in-the-box specialist on goal line and run stopping packages.
The one mark of great safety play is how often big plays are made against them. The safety is the last line of defense and rarely did one ever notice a lapse in coverage or long runs.
Glover Quin: A-
Isa Abdul-Quddus: B+
James Ihedigbo: C
Don Carey: C+
Special Teams: B
Summary: Matt Prater went 22 of 24 on field goals and 36 of 39 for extra points this year. It was only a matter of time before he broke the longest field goal in Lions history, and he did so with his 59-yarder against the Chicago Bears.
Sam Martin had a 46.0-yard average on his punts. His 42.0-yard net average was good enough for fourth in the NFL and re-set the Lions single-season record.
Both players had a slightly above average season overall.
Matt Prater: B
Sam Martin: B