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2019 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Offensive Philosophy

New Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell is frequently thought to be a strong proponent of run-first offenses, but his history shows a willingness to adapt to his available personnel. He historically has preferred using the run to set up some passes deep down the field, and likes having a versatile receiving tight end to stress the middle of the field.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Tom Savage, Connor Cook

Starting QB: In 2018, Matthew Stafford ran his streak of playing all 16 games to eight seasons but saw his seven-year streak of throwing for 4,250 or more yards broken. He threw for just 3,777 yards, primarily due to his yards per attempt dropping by more than a yard. Stafford saw his career-high 7.9 YPA in 2017 fall all the way to 6.8 last season. Perhaps the biggest reason for the big decrease in yardage and efficiency was a lack of weapons. Kenny Golladay was the only decent receiving option for much of the season. Eric Ebron left prior to the season in free agency, Golden Tate was traded prior to Week 8, and Marvin Jones missed the final seven games with injury. Offensive line injuries also took a toll. The Lions have added some pieces around Stafford and the pressure will be on him to live up to his 5-year, $135 million contract and get the Lions back to the playoffs.

Backup QB: The Lions signed journeymen Tom Savage and Connor Cook this offseason to compete for the backup position. Neither inspires confidence and Detroit could be in trouble if Stafford misses any games. Savage started seven games in 2017 for the Houston Texans - most coming after Deshaun Watson was injured - and struggled mightily. In 13 career games overall (9 starts), he has thrown just five touchdown passes. Cook was signed off of waivers from Cincinnati in January. The former Michigan St. star was a 4th-round pick in the 2016 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders and was forced into action late in his rookie season after Derek Carr went down with injury. He was terrible and was quickly cast aside by the Raiders after uninspiring play in the preseason. Oakland released Cook last fall and he spent time during the 2018 season on the practice squads of Carolina and Cincinnati.

Running Backs

Starter: Kerryon Johnson
Backup(s): Theo Riddick, C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson (R), Zach Zenner, Kerwynn Williams, Mark Thompson
Fullback(s): Nick Bawden

Starting RB: Kerryon Johnson was one of the few bright spots for the 2018 Lions offense. He averaged a whopping 5.4 yards per carry and caught 32 passes in 10 games. The 5.4 YPC was especially impressive considering the Lions second-leading rusher, LeGarrette Blount, averaged exactly half that at just 2.7 YPC. Johnson touched the ball exactly 15 times per game as a rookie and should see an increase in usage in 2019. The million dollar question is how many more touches he will see and if he will be able to stay healthy with an increased workload. Johnson landed on injured reserve and missed six games total with a knee injury last season. He has a relatively long injury history going back to high school and doesn't have the solid build you see in most of the NFL's true workhorse backs. Detroit may choose to employ a true committee approach to try to keep Johnson healthy.

Backup RBs: Theo Riddick has consistently been one of the league's top third-down backs. He has put together four straight seasons with at least 53 receptions. While he only carried it 40 times last season, he did manage a career-high 4.3 YPC. The Lions signed C.J. Anderson to a one-year deal with the hope he can be an upgrade over LeGarrette Blount, who was ineffective as the #2 back last season. Anderson remained unsigned throughout most of the 2018 season but took on a starring role after signing with the Rams late in the season. The Lions drafted Ty Johnson in the sixth round to add competition and depth. He was a big-play threat at Maryland (career 7.6 YPC ) and ran in the 4.40-range at his pro day. However, he had his best season as a sophomore before sliding down the depth chart and putting up less impressive numbers his final two years.

Fullback: The Lions drafted Bawden in the 7th round of the 2018 draft but he was lost for his entire rookie season with a knee injury suffered during offseason minicamps. He should be the guy this season if Detroit elects to keep a fullback on the roster. Detroit utilized a fullback on 11% of their offensive snaps last season but will have a new look on offense with Darrell Bevell stepping in as offensive coordinator. He didn't use a fullback last season in Seattle but did use one with some regularity early in his tenure with the Seahawks.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola
Backups: Travis Fulgham (R), Tommylee Lewis, Brandon Powell, Andy Jones, Deontez Alexander, Chris Lacy, Brandon Reilly

Starting WRs: Kenny Golladay emerged as the Lions top wide receiver in his breakout sophomore season. He is a size/speed specimen, who ran a 4.50-second forty-yard dash at 6'4, 218 pounds. Golladay provided a potent downfield threat, as evidenced by his 15.2 yards per catch average. Despite receiving extra attention from opposing defenses - especially after the trade of Golden Tate and injury to Marvin Jones - Golladay still managed 8.9 yards per target. After a career year in 2017 (1,101 yards and 9 touchdowns), Marvin Jones struggled through an injury-plagued 2018 season. A knee injury suffered in early November landed Jones on injured reserve. Prior to the injury, Jones having a solid season - despite losing some deep ball chances to Golladay. Jones will have a good chance of putting up his second career 1,000-yard season if he can make it through 2019 without any of the nagging lower-body injuries that have slowed him in previous seasons. Detroit's base offense features three wide receivers, making Danny Amendola a likely starter in the slot. He will turn 34-years old and has never been much of a big-play threat (career 9.7 YPC), but Amendola should at least provide a reliable underneath target for Stafford.

Backup WRs: The Lions lack of depth at wide receiver last season was a major issue once injuries struck. Detroit could again be in trouble if the injury bug hits because there is very little in the way of proven talent behind the starters. Travis Fulgham arrives via the 6th round of the draft. The rookie out of Old Dominion has a solid combination of size and ability to win at the catch point. Tommylee Lewis was added in free agency after three seasons with New Orleans. His primary impact came on special teams as a return man. Lewis has just 20 career receptions. Brandon Powell will also be in the mix after catching 11 passes for 129 yards as a rookie in 2018.

Tight Ends

Starters: T.J. Hockenson
Backups: Jesse James, Michael Roberts, Isaac Nauta (R), Logan Thomas, Jerome Cunningham

The tight end position was a mess for the Lions in 2018. Levine Toilolo led the way with just 263 yards and 1 touchdown. They were aggressive in addressing the issue in both the draft and free agency. T.J. Hockenson was selected 8th overall after a big redshirt sophomore season at Iowa. Hockenson is an above-average athlete with an elite combination of blocking and receiving ability. He should quickly win the starting role and emerge as one of the Lions top offensive players. Jesse James was signed away from the Steelers on a 4-year deal at just over $6M dollars per season. Over the last three seasons, James was a key part of the Steelers committee at the position. He averaged 37 receptions per season in the role but managed just 2.7 touchdowns per season over that stretch. James will be just 25-years old in 2019, so there may yet be some untapped upside for him in Detroit. James is actually younger than backup Michael Roberts, who was a 4th-round pick in 2017. Roberts is a solid blocker but hasn't shown much as a receiver (13 career receptions) despite being a big touchdown producer in college. Rookie Isaac Nauta was once a highly touted prospect at Georgia but slid to the Lions in the final round of the draft due in part to his below-average athleticism.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: There was nothing wrong with Matt Prater's 2018, it was his offense that was lacking when looking at his fantasy outlook. Prater has had a career resurgence while with the Lions, and he was successful enough in 2018, hitting all of his field goals from 39 yards or less and all of his extra point attempts. He only made 8-of-12 from 40+, and a bottom ten number of extra point attempts kept him in the middle ranks of kickers last year. The Lions offense looks uninspiring again, so Prater is bye week/injury material, but not our short list of kickers to target if you wait until the last round.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jamal Agnew, Brandon Powell

When Jamal Agnew is healthy, the Lions' return situation is fairly straightforward; the All Pro returner fields pretty much all of the punts and most of the kickoffs, to boot. The problem is that Agnew has missed 13 games in his first two seasons, and when he's out the Lions typically rotate through warm bodies on special teams hoping for a spark. If Agnew misses time, receiver Brandon Powell looks like the first warm body up in 2019.

Punt Returners: Jamal Agnew, Brandon Powell

When Jamal Agnew is healthy, the Lions' return situation is fairly straightforward; the All Pro returner fields pretty much all of the punts and most of the kickoffs, to boot. The problem is that Agnew has missed 13 games in his first two seasons, and when he's out the Lions typically rotate through warm bodies on special teams hoping for a spark. If Agnew misses time, receiver Brandon Powell looks like the first warm body up in 2019.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Kenny Wiggins, Rick Wagner
Key Backups: Joe Dahl, Tyrell Crosby, Oday Aboushi, Andrew Donnal, Leo Kolomatangi

Despite losing right guard T.J. Lang to retirement, this line returns four relatively young and talented starters at the other positions. Left tackle Taylor Decker and right tackle Rick Wagner both do a good job keeping the pocket clean from edge pressure. Center Graham Glasgow and left guard Frank Ragnow have brought toughness to the interior. Right guard Kenny Wiggins took most of last year's snaps but has been a backup most of his career and teams usually prefer him in this role. Oday Aboushi, Tyrell Crosby and Joe Dahl could all provide options at right guard should Wiggins falter. Line coach Jeff Davidson has done a good job developing the starters and depth. Overall, this line has talent and grades in the mid-tier, with the potential to rise with more production out of the right guard spot.

Team Defense

Matt Patricia was hired in part to improve the Lions defense last year, but it didn't pay great dividends in fantasy. They at least had a defensive touchdown against the Jets in the opener, but gave up 48 points. Their peak game against the Patriots was a dud for fantasy, and while they predictably stifled the Cardinals offense, they had few other high points last year, fantasy or otherwise. Trey Flowers arrived in free agency as an upgrade from Ziggy Ansah, and the team's run defense got a lot better when Damon Harrison arrived, so things are looking up a bit. The Lions are a team defense to possibly draft in the last round to play Week 1 if you think Kyler Murray's introduction to the NFL will be a rough one, but chances are they will have little use to us this year.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE DaShawn Hand, RDE Trey Flowers, DT Damon Harrison, DT AShawn Robinson
Backups: DE Romeo Okwara, DE Austin Bryan [R], DT John Atkins, DT P.J. Johnson [R]

Starting DL: The Lions' starting unit has been significantly retooled and looks more formidable on paper heading into the 2019 campaign. Da'Shawn Hand and A'Shawn Robinson had very impressive moments last season, despite the team's overall poor performance. Hand in particular was outstanding. He was graded as one of the most impactful rookie defenders by several analysts. Both Robinson and Damon Harrison are on the last year of their current contract, but it is expected that Detroit will do some negotiating for an extension with one or both of them. Adding Damon Harrison and Tre Flowers to the mix should make this a nasty defensive front whom opposing offensive lines will face.

Backup DL: Journeyman Romeo Okwara was brought to the unit when the Giants released him last year. During joint practices between the two teams, Defensive Coordinator Bob Quinn saw what Okwara could do and thinks that Okwara was miscast. "We practiced against the Giants during this training camp so we had really good evaluation of him, because the Giants were moving to a 3-4 defense and they were asking him to stand up and play on the line of scrimmage, outside linebacker. We really thought he was a defensive end, pass rush guy," Quinn said. Austin Bryan projects as a defensive end, but the Lions announced him as a linebacker when they picked him, making one wonder if they have some sort of hybrid role in mind for the young man. Rookie P.J. Johnson and John Atkins will square off for the primary backup defensive end role in camp.

Linebackers

Starters: WLB Christian Jones, MLB Jarrad Davis, SLB Devon Kennard
Backups: WLB Jahlani Tavai, MLB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, SLB Miles Killebrew

Starting LBs: The Lions kept their starting unit intact from last year, but perhaps more out of necessity than choice. As the team plays a hybrid defense, they will continue to rely on Devon Kennard to defend the edge and Christian Jones to be responsible for coverage. Jones did not hold up well in that capacity last year and may struggle to hold his job beyond this season. Jarrad Davis remains at the center of the group, but he too has largely not delivered on his first-round pick status as he enters his third year. Davis has missed 36 tackles over the last two years while allowing nearly 80 percent of the passes targeting him to be completed. If he struggles again this year, it could mean the team looks toward the 2020 Draft to replace him.

Backup LBs: Jalen Reeves-Maybin was injured for portions of last season, but acquitted himself as the most viable coverage linebacker for the Lions. Jahlani Tavai was a bit of a surprise second-round selection for Detroit, but they believe he is a player that can fit in multiple spots and possibly challenge Christian Jones for his position. Miles Killebrew has proven not to be the exciting player some draft analysts projected him to be, but his special teams contributions and low cap numbers make him an ideal backup that can be deployed in both safety and linebacker roles when needed.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Teez Tabor, FS Tavon Wilson [R], SS Quandre Diggs
Backups: CB Rashaan Melvin, CB Justin Coleman, CB Amani Oruwariye, SS Tracy Walker, FS Will Harris [R]

Starting DBs: "Big Play" Slay continues to be considered one of the best corners in the league. Outside of Slay, there are big question marks on this starting unit. The coaching staff claims that despite poor play early in the year last season, they saw growth toward the end of the year out of Jalen Tabor. He is the most likely to start opposite Slay. Detroit deploys its safeties in a variety of hybrid roles and values versatility. That said, Diggs and Wilson are the tandem that have the most experience and versatility combination of any two safeties on the roster and are likely to be given the chance to start.

Backup DBs: Adding Rashaan Melvin gives the unit some nominal depth, and it did not have that luxury last year. Justin Coleman is the most likely candidate of the group to be given slot corner duties. The team drafted Amani Oruwariye in the fifth round of this year's draft. Oruwariye projects an outside corner and the Lions will hope he can develop to be a starter in time. Tracy Walker and new rookie addition Will Harris are both safeties who can play either strong or free safety spots in this scheme, once again highlighting how much this staff values versatility out of its safeties.

Last modified: 2019-05-22 16:25:20