The Detroit Lions took a huge step back in Matt Patricia’s second season at Ford Field, putting pressure on the 45-year-old and his players to deliver in the 2020 campaign. General manager Bob Quinn has surrounded Patricia with enough talent to compete at the least for the NFC North crown.
The Lions have been active in free agency and the draft under Quinn since he arrived in 2018. Patricia now needs to get three key players firing around Matthew Stafford to reverse the fortunes of the franchise. We’ll now look at those men that need to perform for Detroit to compete for a place in the post-season in 2020.
Flowers played under Patricia at the New England Patriots and was a priority signing in the 2019 off-season. The Lions paid big money to secure the defensive end’s signature in a deal worth $90m over five years. Flowers was a key component of the Patriots’ teams that triumphed in two Super Bowls, although he was never a dominant pass-rusher. It was evident in his first season with Detroit as he notched only seven sacks. Expectations of the 26-year-old have been raised and he will have to lift the levels of his production to live up to his lucrative deal.
Flowers’ leadership skills will also be crucial, having already defended Patricia amid criticism from a raft of former players. Patricia now has a lot of his former players in the building as he seeks to rebuild the culture inside Ford Field. The defensive end could become the cornerstone of the defense in a similar way that Richard Seymour was the key cog under Patricia’s mentor Bill Belichick during the early years of his reign in New England. Flowers’ performance in the 2020 campaign will be vital for Patricia and Quinn to justify the significant outlay on his contract.
Hockenson earned comparisons to Rob Gronkowski and Travis Kelce ahead of the 2019 Draft and the Lions made the move to snap up the tight end with the eighth overall selection. The 22-year-old looked the part in his NFL debut against the Arizona Cardinals. Hockenson caught six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown, although it was not good enough to deliver a victory for his team – who collapsed in the fourth quarter and were fortunate to salvage a tie. The tight end’s production then dipped severely over the next few weeks of the campaign, failing to make an impact in wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. He found the endzone against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the 22-year-old also sustained a concussion.
Injuries would plague the rest of his season before Patricia took the decision to end his term early in December to save Hockenson from further punishment out on the field. Hockenson would not be the first tight end to suffer from a raft of health issues. Gronkowski has battled injuries through his illustrious career, while Tyler Eifert and Zach Ertz have been forced to play through the pain barrier. Hockenson has talent in abundance to excite fans in Detroit and state-wide in Michigan especially in the realm of online fantasy betting where he could be a value pick, but his durability will determine whether he can be a difference-maker for the Lions in the long run in their bid for the NFC North crown and beyond.
Darius Slay’s departure put the onus on the Lions replacing the All-Pro cornerback. Quinn and Patricia used the third pick in the 2020 Draft to select Okudah out of Ohio State. The Buckeyes have produced a strong production line of elite cornerbacks in recent years – notably Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward. If the 21-year-old can match their excellence on the field then the Lions will boast one of the strongest secondaries in the NFL. Matching up with the number one wideouts in the NFC North will be key for Patricia. Davante Adams and Adam Thielen are two of the NFL’s best and the offenses of the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings flow through the duo respectively.
Limiting their production could turn the tide in those games and perhaps the division itself. Patricia was never able to get on the same page as Slay, who has been one of his biggest detractors since he was traded by the franchise. If Patricia gets the best out of Okudah, as he did with Darrelle Revis, Malcolm Butler, and Stephon Gilmore in New England, then there should be a dramatic improvement in the performance of Detroit’s defense that has failed to live up to the billing in the last two seasons.