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2017 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Offensive Philosophy

Under Matt Stafford the Lions have always been one of the most pass-heavy teams in the NFL, and they've always run an exceptionally large percentage of that passing game through a committee of running backs. A Lions RB has played at least 10 games and averaged at least 20 receiving yards per game a whopping nine times in the past four years. With Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick returning, they're a good bet to add two more to that total in 2017.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya (R)

Starting QB: Stafford is a franchise quarterback entering his prime years at age 29. While he hasn't reached the elite status many expected when he was drafted first overall in 2009, he has established himself as a slightly above-average starter. After being labeled as injury prone early in his career, Stafford has proven incredibly durable and started every game over the past six seasons. He has been consistently productive, throwing for 4,250+ yards in every season since 2011. He has evolved over the past two seasons into a much more cerebral quarterback and drastically cut down his turnovers. He has just 12 interceptions in 25 starts since Jim Bob Cooter took over as offensive coordinator midway through the 2015 season.

Backup QB: Rudock was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2016 draft out of Michigan. While his physical tools are below-average, Rudock is a heady player well suited to the role of a NFL backup. He was elevated to second-string behind Stafford when the Lions let Dan Orlovsky leave as a free agent. Rudock spent the first ten weeks of the season on the practice squad, but was signed to the active roster in Week 11 when the Chicago Bears showed interest in signing him. Brad Kaaya was selected in the sixth-round of the 2017 draft out of Miami. He had been hyped early in his college career as a potential first round pick but never developed into that type of player and unwisely made the decision to enter the draft early. Kaaya has prototypical size, but has a mediocre arm and struggles with downfield accuracy.

Running Backs

Starter: Ameer Abdullah
Backup(s): Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Matt Asiata, Dwayne Washington, Mike James
Fullback(s): Mike Burton

Starting RB: Lions GM Bob Quinn noted after the draft that the team is confident moving forward with Ameer Abdullah as the starting running back despite his injury history. Abdullah's 2016 season started off well with 120 total yards and a touchdown in Week 1. But midway through the next game, he suffered a foot injury that required surgery and landed him on Injured Reserve. He is fully recovered and will participate in all offseason activities. Abdullah has shown flashes of brilliance, with a special ability to make people miss in the open field. If he can stay healthy, he could have a breakout season in 2017. His fantasy ceiling may be somewhat capped however in the Lions offense. Theo Riddick is one of the best third-down backs in the game and will play plenty of snaps and the Lions have struggled to run the ball for years. In 2016, Detroit ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing yards (just under 80 yards per game) and 27th in yards per carry (3.7).

Backup RBs: Theo Riddick has developed into one of the best receiving backs in the league and is a big part of the Lions passing game. He missed six games last season but still managed to catch 53 passes (5.3 per game). In 2015, he caught 80 passes (5.0 per game). Riddick has not performed well as a runner however, with his 3.9 YPC and 92 rushing attempts in 2016 both ranking as career highs. The Lions locked Riddick up last fall with a three-year extension that will keep him in Detroit through the 2019 season. Zach Zenner started four games last season when injuries hit and was solid. He runs with some power and is also a capable receiver out of the backfield. Dwayne Washington was drafted in the 7th round of the 2016 draft and has an excellent size/speed profile. But he was mostly ineffective as a rookie, rushing for just 265 yards on 90 carries (2.9 YPC). After the draft, the team signed Asiata, who can be an annoying touchdown vulture in addition to being a well-rounded but unexciting back with little burst but decent natural power.

Fullback: Burton is a pure blocking fullback (zero touches last season). He may not make the roster in 2017 as he was a healthy scratch down the stretch of the 2016 season and the Lions may choose to go without a fullback this season.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones
Backups: Kenny Golladay (R), TJ Jones, Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin, Jace Billingsley, Ryan Spadola, Andrew Turzilli

Starting WRs: Golden Tate has put together three straight seasons of at least 90 catches and enters the season as the top receiver in Detroit. Tate got off to a slow start in 2016, with just 17 catches (3.4 per game) over the first five weeks. In the final 11 games, he caught 74 passes (6.7 per game). Tate is excellent as an underneath receiver and excels with the ball in his hands after the catch. Marvin Jones returns as the starter opposite of Tate. Jones has decent size and enough speed to be a deep threat. He's shown a knack for making difficult catches. It was a tale of two seasons for Jones in 2016. He exploded out of the gates and led the NFL with 482 receiving yards after four weeks, but managed just 448 yards the rest of the season. Jones struggled with drops and also battled nagging injuries for much of the second half of the year.

Backup WRs: Backup receiver remains one of the weakest positions on the Lions roster and a veteran free agent signing may still be needed to bolster the depth. Anquan Boldin played the role of third receiver in 2016, but remains unsigned. Kenny Golladay was drafted late in the third-round of the 2017 draft and should see immediate playing time as an outside receiver. He is 6'4 with a huge catch radius and decent deep speed (4.50 at the combine). Behind Golladay, the battle for the final roster spots will be intense. TJ Jones has the most experience with the Lions. The 2014 sixth-rounder has played in 13 games for Detroit over the past two seasons, bouncing between the active roster and the practice squad. Jace Billingsley is an undersized second-year slot receiver who spent most of last season on the Lions practice squad. He is one of the early favorites in the battle to make the team in 2017.

Tight Ends

Starters: Eric Ebron
Backups: Michael Roberts (R), Darren Fells, Cole Wick, Kennard Backman, Khari Lee

Already entering his fourth NFL season, Ebron just turned 24-years old and hopes to continue to grow as a player. He has improved his production each season, with 25 catches as a rookie, 47 in his second season and 61 in 2016. He has also improved his efficiency each season and posted an impressive 72% catch rate, with 61 receptions on just 85 targets (despite having seven drops). Ebron missed three games last season and spent much of the year playing through various injuries, noting he was "pretty destroyed." Ebron has always struggled as a blocker and has shown little signs of improvement in that aspect of his game. In May, the Lions exercised the $8.25 million dollar fifth-year option on Ebron's contract, which will keep him in Detroit through the 2018 season. Darren Fells was signed away from Arizona on a one-year deal to be the blocking specialist. At 6-foot-7 and 281 pounds, he has the ability to move people in the running game. He is not much of a threat as a receiver, with just 40 career receptions. The Lions drafted Michael Roberts in the fourth-round of the 2017 draft out of Toledo. He came out of nowhere to have a huge senior season, with a school-record 16 touchdown catches. Roberts is has massive 11.5-inch hands and excels as a big-bodied red zone target. He is a solid blocker as well and should eventually be a nice fit as a starter in two-TE sets with the more athletic Eric Ebron. Roberts has more upside than Fells and could push him for the the #2 job as a rookie.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: Matt Prater has been a success for the Lions since joining the team three years ago. He made 31 of 36 attempts last year, including all seven of his attempts from 50+. The Lions have given him over two field goal attempts a game in two of his three seasons there, and he finished in the top ten in most kicker scoring systems last year. Prater is being drafted as the ninth or tenth kicker in most drafts, and he is a good target if you like to wait a few rounds after the premium kickers go off of the board in your draft.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Dwayne Washington

In 2016, Andre Roberts handled 53 of Detroit's 55 return attempts, (and 33 of 35 kickoff returns, in particular). Roberts is gone, which leaves Dwayne Washington- the man responsible for the other two kickoff returns- the leading candidate almost by default.

Punt Returners: Golden Tate

Tate has proven an accomplished returner for Seattle and Detroit, but last year was taken off special teams to focus on offense. With return specialist Andre Roberts moving on, Tate is likely in consideration for punt return duties again as the most experienced returner on the roster.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Taylor Decker, LG Graham Glascow, C Travis Swanson, RG T.J. Lang, RT Rick Wagner
Key Backups: Joe Dahl, Corey Robinson, Cornelius Lucas, Laken Tomlinson, Greg Robinson, Cyrus Kouandjio

The Lions' offensive line suffered a hit in June when left tackle Taylor Decker underwent shoulder surgery for a torn labrum. The time table is 4-6 months for this injury. Joe Dahl appears to have the early lead as he been taking most of the first team reps. The team likes Dahl, who did has left tackle experience from his days at Washington State. However, the team has many other options in Cornelius Lucas, Cyrus Kouandijo, Tony Hills, and Greg Robinson. Robinson, acquired by trade with the Los Angeles Rams, has a high salary this year and the team could press him into the lineup at either tackle or guard. The line will have other new starters in right guard T.J Lang and right tackle Rick Wagner. Lang should be the team's best lineman and he will improve pass protection along the interior. The veterans along the right side should balance out the younger players at the rest of the spots. Center Travis Swanson continues to improve into a very good starter and the coaches really like tough guy Graham Glasgow at left guard. Overall, this is a low tier line due to the left tackle injury that could improve to mid tier line when Decker returns to the lineup. The Lions have hit a rough patch but once the lineup stabilizes this could be a decent unit.

Team Defense

The Lions' fangs weren't very sharp as a defense last year, with only ten interceptions and seven forced fumbles to go along with only 26 sacks. They got a little boost in leagues that reward points allowed heavily with their low-scoring game scripts, but otherwise were among the league's worst D/ST's for fantasy. The hope is that better health from Ezekiel Ansah to allow him to bounce back from a two-sack season, along with the addition of Jarrad Davis to shore up a linebacker group that was reeling from the loss of DeAndre Levy, can get this defense on the hunt again. There are still weak spots at corner, outside linebacker, and defensive end opposite Ansah, but the team threw draft picks (second-round CB Teez Tabor and fourth-round OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin) and low-priced free agent deals to the likes of Cornelius Washington and Armonty Bryant to address the issues. While they won't vault to fantasy D/ST starter status, the Lions could become a viable streaming matchup play if Davis and Ansah and stay healthy and play up to their ceilings.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Ezekial Ansah, DE Kerry Hyder, DT Haloti Ngata, DT A'Shawn Robinson
Backups: DE Armonty Bryant, DE Cornelius Washington, DT Khyri Thornton, DT Akeem Spence

Starting DL: The starting unit for the Lions will once again see a significant shake-up as two starters leave for the second time in three years. Tyrunn Walker exited to the Los Angeles Rams, leaving second-year pro A'Shawn Robinson to step into his role. Devin Taylor was also not retained, which will mean that Kerry Hyder will likely get a crack at the starting nod. Hyder was one of the lone bright spots on this unit last year, only getting blotted out when teams realized they needed to focus their attention on him instead of the ailing Ansah. Haloti Ngata and Ezekial Ansah were both in and out of the lineup often due to injuries in 2016, but both project to be healthy for the start of the season. Ngata had neurological testing in the offseason just to make sure he was fit to play. He explained by saying, "With all the things that's going on with brains and stuff throughout the league, you hear that stuff and me especially, I don't want to have problems (as I get) older. I want to be able to raise my kids and be able to play with them when they're older and still be able to beat them in wrestling matches when they're teenagers. So stuff like that."

Backup DL: The backup situation remains murky at this time, but most likely to land the primary reserve roles are Khyri Thornton, Armonty Bryant, Akeem Spence, and Cornelius Washington. Khyri Thornton saw a great deal of playing time as the Lions, for the second year in a row, experienced a bevy of injuries along the defensive trenches. They claimed Armonty Bryant off of waivers from the Browns in October 2016 after he served a four-game suspension for a PED violation. Although he suffered an injury that caused him to miss all but three games, it appears the team liked what he had to offer enough that they re-signed him on a one-year deal. Newly acquired former Chicago Bear Cornelius Washington is favored by many to ultimately win a starting spot over Kerry Hyder, but Hyder will get a chance to build on his success from last season. Former Buccaneer Akeem Spence ultimately decided to join the Lions on the recommendation of college teammate Tavon Wilson and feels the Lions' aggressive style of play fits his own.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Paul Worrilow, OLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Jarrad Davis [R]
Backups: OLB Thurston Armbrister, OLB Antwione Williams, OLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin [R] MLB Nick Bellore

Starting LBs: The team finally gave up on the once dynamic DeAndre Levy when it became apparent that his injury problems were not going away. It left a gaping hole at OLB, which the Lions attempted to address by signing Paul Worrilow. Asked to man the middle last season, Tahir Whitehead moves from there to the the opposite OLB role. Needing to fill the void at the middle linebacker position, the Lions drafted Jarrad Davis in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. An aggressive, athletic prospect, Davis figures to start immediately and has the upside to develop into what Levy was at his peak.

Backup LBs: The backup group is largely looking for answers, especially at the outside linebacker spots. Antwione Williams returns after a rookie season marred by injury and Detroit hopes he can show development in his second year of play. Injuries forced Thurston Armbrister onto the field last season. Previously an undrafted free agent who had spent some time with Jacksonville, Armbrister understandably looked lost as a starter, but excelled in playing special teams. It's very possible that fourth-round Draft selection Jalen Reeves-Maybin could supplant Williams or Ambrister for one of the primary backup roles before the season begins. Though he's had injury concerns and is considered somewhat undersized by scouts, Reeves-Maybin is an instinctive player who can pass rush or drop into coverage with equal competency. Journeyman Nick Bellore joins this unit from San Francisco and proved to be a competent fill-in last season when Navorro Bowman suffered a season-ending injury. The Lions hope that Bellore will also help contribute to the Lions' special teams group, which was widely considered a top unit in the NFL in 2016.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB DJ Hayden, FS Glover Quin, SS Tavon Wilson
Backups: CB Quandre Diggs, CB Nevin Lawson, CB Jalen Tabor [R], FS Don Carey, SS Miles Killebrew

Starting DBs: As was the case last year, the secondary is the strength of this defensive unit. Slay was banged up at times last year, but continued to be the cornerstone of this group. After largely being a disappointment for the Raiders, General Manager Reggie McKenzie said of DJ Hayden that he would benefit from a "fresh start." Hayden signed a one-year deal with the Lions and hopes to resurrect his injury-laden career. Glover Quin remains the team's free safety, while Tavon Wilson holds down the strong safety role. Wilson had a decent season in 2016, but the team also likes what it saw from backup Miles Killebrew. Wilson will have to fight hard to hold off the budding Killebrew headed into this season.

Backup DBs: It's likely that Nevin Lawson will cede his starting role to Hayden, but will still see significant playing time. Diggs will remain the team's nickel option. Jalen Tabor joins the unit after Detroit took him in the late second round. Widely considered to be a first-round talent, his stock tanked after poor showings at the NFL Combine and at Florida's Pro Day. Detroit hopes Tabor will learn from the members of one of the better secondaries in the NFL and hone his skills, because he already has the prototypical size and athleticism to one day be a difference maker. Don Carey serves not only as a potential backup to Quin at free safety, but also as a special teams gunner. Hard-hitting Miles Killebrew is well-liked by the team and has a chance to jump Wilson on the depth chart before the start of the season. For now, he will just be asked to push Wilson.

Last modified: 2017-06-20 11:16:56