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Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Detroit Lions 2016 mid-season position grades

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Logan Lamorandier
Born and raised just outside of Kalamazoo as a die-hard Detroit sports fan. Attended Western Michigan University and moved to Scottsdale, Arizona not too long after graduation. Currently a medical sales rep and unapologetic Lions addict.


The offense has cooled down since the hot start at the beginning of the year. In the middle of the road for just about every offensive category ( Pts/G, Total Yds/G, 1st/G), the Lions offense has been able to produce when the game is on the line. Due to a lot of different factors, Jim Bob Cooter‘s offensive ball movement has been inconsistent and can stumble at times. More below…


Let’s just look at the stats. Matthew Stafford has the fourth highest quarterback rating for QBs with at least 100 attempts, fifth most TD-passes, and eighth most passing yards in the NFL. All very respectable, but what makes it more impressive is that he has also been sacked the sixth most time of any QB, has the most dropped passes committed and is working with 27th ranked yards per carry rushing attack.

I almost forgot to mention, all four of the Lions wins have come off of game-winning drives from Stafford as well. Stafford has put the team on his back on multiple occasion. Without him, the Lions would be looking at a winless halfway point dead in the face. There is a good reason for the rumblings of MVP talk, despite being perhaps a tad premature, his play has warranted the early consideration.


Running Backs:

It is tough to grade a unit that has been victim to so many injuries. First Ameer Abdullah went down, second Dwayne Washington, and then Theo Riddick followed suit. The depleted backfield led to GM Bob Quinn looking for outside help. Recently cut from the Baltimore Ravens, Justin Forsett was called for spot duty and played second fiddle to Zach Zenner for a good portion of the last month. Neither did anything special with their extended opportunity. Both could be considered decent depth options but not the answer for the stagnant run game.

Riddick has been able to produce a would-be career-high 3.7 ypc this season, but even that is not inspiring production. His most valuable asset is still his ability to catch and make people miss out of the backfield. Uncharacteristically, he has had a few drops that have somewhat tainted his sure-handed repute.

On a positive note, the backs have zero fumbles lost. After Abdullah had his fair share of struggles last year, the current stable of healthy backs haven’t put the Lions in any precarious situations. Washington has a well-known fumbling habit that hasn’t appeared yet, but it will be difficult to do so if he can’t find the field.


Wide Receivers:

There has been good games and bad but overall very inconsistent. While Golden Tate has seemed to find his stride, Marvin Jones has come crashing back down to earth after a record start. Anquan Boldin continues to do what he does best– catch difficult passes and outmuscle coverage. Boldin was able to run many of the routes Eric Ebron usually performs when he missed a few weeks with injury. Andre Roberts has made a couple clutch plays but will continue to be remembered mostly for the egregious drop against the Washington Redskins.

Roberts isn’t the only one with butterfingers this year though. If there are two big negatives with this unit, it would be the league-leading amount of dropped passes and inability to create separation. The body catching ways of Jones have proven to be rather ineffective with Stafford’s fastballs while Tate just can’t seem to find that mojo he once had.

One overlooked issue–due to the stats that are still being accumulated– is the lack of separation. None of the Lions receivers are true burners or possess the typical No. 1 wideout frame. Stafford has been forced to constantly throw into tight windows against man as the wideouts can’t get open downfield. Luckily for the Lions, the receivers still can catch the ball in traffic to produce and Stafford has been accurate enough to put the ball in spots only the receiver can catch it. Cooter has frequently found himself with no choice but to turn to the screen game in an attempt to move the ball when nothing is opening up downfield.


Tight Ends:

Most casual Lions fans would struggle to name a tight end behind Eric Ebron. The lack of depth has been a real issue, but when healthy, Ebron has performed well. After missing the three weeks prior to the Texans, Ebron set a career high for receptions (7) and was the biggest mismatch on the field last week. He found himself open more than not and exploited the Texans outmatched coverage. He single handedly saved this position group from an F grade.

There’s still is no word on the timetable for the return of Brandon Pettigrew, but his blocking ability would be a welcomed addition to a unit that has struggled as a whole in that department. Week 6 is the first date a player can return from the regular season PUP,  meaning Pettigrew is now eligible to play when ready. He has five weeks after week six to return, then an additional three weeks once returning to practice before he counts against the roster.

Undrafted rookie, Cole Wick, was relegated to a reserve role before being placed on the IR. His blocking woes the likely culprit for his demotion. The recently resigned Matthew Mulligan and journeymen Clay Harbor and Khari Lee, have served their purpose but are just warm bodies at this point in time.


Offensive Line:

The offensive line continues to improve. Considering the expectations were pretty low to begin the season, four of the five positions have been more than steady. Travis Swanson is easily the most improved player on the team and is playing like a top-5 center. Riley Reiff has been an above average right tackle after making the switch from the left side. Right guard Larry Warford has been consistent and rookie first round pick, Taylor Decker, has lived up to expectations.

The transition from college to pros at the left tackle position is no easy task yet Decker has acquitted himself admirably. He is on pace to give up six sacks this year (which would be the same that Reiff allowed from a year ago) and he is still improving weekly. There is definitely room for growth, but he is by no means a liability to Stafford’s blindside.

With the good comes the bad as last year’s first-round draft pick, Laken Tomlinson, looks to be trending towards bust status. He was benched in favor of OG/C Graham Glasgow. Fortunately, the rookie from Michigan has been an upgrade in his limited action.

The overall grade may be a little bit generous relative to other NFL lines, but our young line has overperformed in my mind.


Up Next: Defense

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