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2018 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Offensive Philosophy

New head coach Matt Patricia opted to retain Detroit's offensive coordinator, Jim Bob Cooter. Cooter arguably calls the most pass-heavy gameplan in the league. Over his three years running the offense, only the Cleveland Browns have called fewer run plays, but the Browns were passing because they were losing; they went 4-44 over that span, while Detroit had a winning record, (25-23). Cooter instead heavily supplements his running game with short passes out of the backfield, ranking fifth in the NFL in passes thrown to running backs during his tenure. After developing some bad habits with locking onto his top target early in his career, quarterback Matt Stafford has learned to spread the ball around much more since Calvin Johnson's retirement as the team relies on a committee of both receivers and running backs to move the ball.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel

Starting QB: After some injuries early in his career, Matthew Stafford has become one of the NFL's most consistent and durable franchise quarterbacks. He has played 16 games in seven straight seasons, topping 4,250 passing yards and 20 touchdowns each year. He is coming off of the most efficient season of career, with a career-high 7.9 yards per attempt and a very solid 29-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. Stafford has completed at least 65% of his passes in each of his three seasons under offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. Stafford signed a massive extension last August that will keep him in Detroit until at least 2023.

Backup QB: Jake Rudock was a 6th-round pick out of Michigan in 2016. He spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad before serving 2017 as the only backup quarterback on the Lions roster. Detroit did bring in a veteran competitor, 35-year old Matt Cassel, to compete with Rudock for the job. Rudock should have the leg up, though new head coach Matt Patricia's familiarity with Cassel from the four years the two spent together in New England is a small factor in his favor.

Running Backs

Starter: Kerryon Johnson [R]
Backup(s): Legarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner
Fullback(s): Nick Bawden(inj), Nick Bellore

Starting RB: The Lions are likely to continue to employ a running-back-by-committee approach. The runner with the best chance to lead the committee in touches is rookie 2nd-rounder Kerryon Johnson due to his well-rounded overall game. Detroit traded up from 51 to 43 overall to land Johnson. At Auburn last season, Johnson led the SEC in rushing (115.9 yards per game) and won the conference's Offensive Player of the Year award. Johnson is a patient runner, gliding until he sees a hole and then bursting forward. He has an upright running style and a long injury history, which makes his ability to hold up with a big workload in the NFL a major question mark.

Backup RBs: Theo Riddick is one of the league's best third-down backs. He has put together three-straight seasons of at least 53 receptions. Riddick has been mostly ineffective as a runner, however. His 3.4 yards per carry last season matches his career average. 31-year old veteran LeGarrette Blount has a much different skillset. He is a physical runner with an impressive 4.4 yards per carry over his career. Blount doesn't bring much to the game as a pass catcher and hasn't topped 10 receptions in a season since 2011. Ameer Abdullah was given an opportunity to lock down the role of lead back for the Lions, failed mightily and lost the starting job late in the season. He has one year remaining on his rookie contract but may face an uphill battle just to make the roster.

Fullback:

Wide Receivers

Starters: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay
Backups: TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Dontez Ford

Starting WRs: The Lions start three wide receivers in their base offense. Marvin Jones has shown gradual improvement in each of his NFL seasons and emerged as one of the league's most dangerous big-play receivers in 2017. He led the league with 18.0 yards per reception and had a career-high 1,101 receiving yards on 61 catches. Despite Jones' emergence, Golden Tate continued his incredibly solid production. Tate had his fourth straight season with at least 90 receptions, catching 92 passes for 1,003 yards. Tate could spend even more time lined up in the slot if Kenny Golladay emerges as a major contributor on the outside as expected. Golladay was a third-round pick in the 2017 draft and starred throughout training and preseason action. The hype around Golladay reached a crescendo after he scored a pair of touchdowns in the season-opener. A hamstring injury suffered in Week 3 sidelined him until Week 9 and stalled any momentum he had built early in the year. Golladay's rookie season did end on a high note in Week 17 with 80 yards and a touchdown. The talented 6'4, 213-pound with 4.50=speed looks poised to build upon his solid rookie season and could give the Lions an excellent trio of starting receivers.

Backup WRs: TJ Jones enters his fourth season with the Lions as the top clear top backup. He had a career-high 30 receptions for 399 yards last season and started six games while Kenny Golladay was sidelined with injury. Jones works primarily out of the slot. Jace Billingsley has bounced between the practice squad and active roster for the Lions the past two seasons. He is an undersized slot who also contributes as a gunner on special teams.

Tight Ends

Starters: Luke Willson
Backups: Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts, Hakeem Valles, Brandon Barnes

The Lions enter the 2018 season with one of the least accomplished groups of tight ends in the league and no clear starter. Expect a three-man committee with no single player having any fantasy relevancy. After declining to pick up the fifth-year option of Eric Ebron and losing Darren Fells in free agency, Michael Roberts is the top returning tight end. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft known primarily for his blocking. He played 220 offensive snaps last season and caught just four passes. The Lions brought in a pair of low-end free agents, Luke Willson and Levin Toilolo, on one-year deals to help fill the void. Willson caught 89 passes in five years in Seattle. His best season (22-362-3) came back in 2014. Tolilolo caught 74 passes in five seasons with Atlanta. His best season also came in 2014 (31-238-2).

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: Matt Prater has settled in nicely with the Lions, finishing in the top 12 in scoring for the second straight season. He missed five out of his 35 attempts, but four of those five misses were from 50+ yards, and he led the league in attempts from 50+ with 11, an important bump in leagues that reward distance field goals. Prater is a good choice if you wait until most of your opponents already have their kicker to select one.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jamal Agnew

In 2017, for the third straight season, (and fifth time in seven years), a rookie exploded onto the scene and was named first-team All Pro at the position. Last year, that rookie was Lions' CB Jamal Agnew, who looks to pick up where he left off in 2018.

Punt Returners: Jamal Agnew

In 2017, for the third straight season, (and fifth time in seven years), a rookie exploded onto the scene and was named first-team All Pro at the position. Last year, that rookie was Lions' CB Jamal Agnew, who looks to pick up where he left off in 2018.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Taylor Decker, LG T.J. Lang, C Graham Glasgow, RG Frank Ragnow, RT Rick Wagner
Key Backups: Kenny Wiggins, Brian Mihalik, Corey Robinson, Tyrell Crosby, Joe Dahl, Cornelius Lucas

The team selected Arkansas center Frank Ragnow in the first round of the NFL Draft. Ragnow could start either center or right guard, as can Graham Glasgow. Both are dynamic blockers. Left guard T.J. Lang is a balanced veteran and the interior three starters could be among the league's best, once the lineup settles. The tackles of Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner are not elite but are at least solid. Backups Kenny Wiggins and Brian Mihalik can fill in at several positions. Overall, the Lions' offensive line enters the season as a mid-tier option.

Team Defense

The Lions hired a defensive-minded head coach, former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, and he brought in Paul Pasqualoni to coach the defense. Patricia presided over defenses that could give multiple looks in New England, so don't expect the new Lions defense to be too rigid in alignment or personnel. Detroit had a top five fantasy defense on the back of five defensive scores and 19 interceptions. They are returning the personnel responsible for 16 of their interceptions in the secondary and hope 2017 second-round pick Teez Tabor is ready for a larger role with the departure of DJ Hayden. Ezekiel Ansah and his 12 sacks were brought back on the franchise tag, but overall the team lacks pass rush punch and they didn't add anyone significant to help in the draft or free agency. 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis should take another step in his second year and the team added Christian Jones and Devon Kennard in free agency to help a subpar group at outside linebacker. The Lions defense isn't being drafted near where they finished in fantasy rankings last year, and the skepticism is called for, but they could be back in our good graces again quickly.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Ezekial Ansah, DE Kerry Hyder, DT Sylvester Williams, DT A'Shawn Robinson
Backups: DE Anthony Zettel, DE Cornelius Washington, DT Da'Shawn Hand [R], DT Jeremiah Ledbetter

Starting DL: The Lions applied the franchise tag to top tier defensive end Ziggy Ansah. They'll pay Ansah $17.1 million to play in 2018 while they work to get a long-term deal in place. Kerry Hyder missed the 2017 season with a ruptured achilles. He is pushing to be ready by training camp, but expect backup Anthony Zettel to get extra repetitions until Hyder is ready to go. Sylvester Williams comes over from the Titans after a somewhat disappointing year with their squad. The Lions will hope he can return to form and help A'Shawn Robinson to create interior pressure.

Backup DL: Former sixth rounder Anthony Zettel broke out for the Lions last season with 43 tackles and 6.5 sacks. He figures to be a big part of this year's rotation. Another former sixth rounder, Jeremiah Ledbetter, continues to adjust after bulking up in his rookie season. The Lions will continue to work to develop the young man who only registered 14 tackles and half a sack in limited duty last year. Cornelius Washington is not spectacular, but serves the role of setting the edge and playing the run. Da'Shawn Hand reunites with former Alabama teammate A'Shawn Robinson after being drafted in the fourth round. Hand can play multiple spots on the defensive line and can be developed into both a run stuffer and a creator of interior pressure.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Christian Jones, MLB Jarrad Davis, SLB Devon Kennard
Backups: WLB Jalen-Reeves Maybin, MLB Nick Bellore, SLB Jonathan Freeny

Starting LBs: With Paul Worrilow and Tahir Whitehead sent packing, Christian Jones (Bears) and Devon Kennard (Giants) were brought in this offseason. As the team moves to a hybrid defense, they will count on these two castoffs to fill two distinct roles. Kennard will defend the edge and Jones will be responsible for coverage. Davis remains the centerpiece of the unit. While his rookie season was up and down last year, Davis came out of the trial with 96 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery. His second year will be focused on making fewer mistakes while also learning to captain the defense of which he is now the head.

Backup LBs: While Reeves-Maybin is a holdover from the old regime, the new one would like to see him develop his body this offseason. Reeves-Maybin acknowledged this fact, stating, "Me being an undersized linebacker, I always have to work on that. Just keep adding strength and weight and that's something I'll be focusing on in the offseason." Nick Bellore was re-signed by the team earlier this year. The coaching staff seems happy with Bellore as depth and a special teams contributor. Jonathan Freeny, most recently with the Patriots, has some familiarity with the system and thus makes sense as a depth and special teams option while this young team continues to build its program.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Nevin Lawson, FS Glover Quin, SS Quandre Diggs
Backups: CB Deshawn Shead, CB Jalen Tabor, FS Tavon Wilson, FS Tracy Walker [R], SS Miles Killebrew

Starting DBs: "Big Play" Slay is widely considered to be one of the best corners in the league. Behind him, there are question marks about which corner will start at his side. Nevin Lawson is the most likely candidate, having the most experience of any options on the roster. The versatile Tavon Quin is aging, and though he will hold down the free safety spot this year, the team will begin to look for his successor. Diggs played nickel corner last year, but really shined when injuries forced him into the starting strong safety role. He hinted at being used in a versatile way by this coaching staff when he told reporters, "I feel comfortable anywhere. I'm a football player, man. That's always been my M.O., since I played little league football. I've been able to play a little bit everywhere."

Backup DBs: Deshawn Shead, formerly a member of the Seahawks legion of Boom, and Jalen Tabor are other options that have a shot at the starting spot opposite of Slay. Tavon Wilson has extensive starting experience and will be nice depth for a team that lacks it on many parts of the defensive roster. Tracy Walker is the cousin of Darius Slay and was taken in the third round of this year's draft. Walker's ex-coach said of him, "...everybody's like, 'Man, he's always around the ball.' Well, yeah, because he studies the tape. He's one step ahead of the offense and when you know your keys that makes you a faster player." At one time, some saw hard hitter Miles Killebrew as the future at strong safety, but poor play in 2017 and a coaching staff change relegates him to backup and special teams duty.

Last modified: 2018-06-17 11:20:58