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2014 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Dan Orlovsky, Kellen Moore, James Franklin

Starting QB: You may not have noticed it, but Matthew Stafford had a pretty solid season last year. He finished the year with 4650 passing yards, 29 passing touchdowns and finished in the top five for fantasy quarterbacks. Despite injury concerns early in his career, Stafford completed his third consecutive 16-game season, and threw ever pass for the Lions last season. This season, Stafford will begin with some of the best weapons that he has ever had. Golden Tate brings a veteran presence to the revolving door that the Lions have had at the WR2 position, and talented rookie TE Eric Ebron should see the field a lot this season. New head coach Jim Caldwell helped coached Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens to an unlikely Super Bowl victory two years ago, and he came into the job interview with a full game plan for how to improve Staffordís game. Stafford has always been questioned as to if he is truly an NFL elite QB. The table is set for him to finally silence the critics.

Backup QB: Matthew Stafford has started every game for the Lions the past three seasons, so their back-up QB is probably not going to see a lot of snaps. Journeyman Dan Orlovsky was actually Detroitís top passer back in 2008, but heís thrown just seven passes in the last two seasons. Expect him to win the back-up job. Undrafted rookie free agent James Franklin is dual-threat QB that has some talent, and heíll compete with Kellen Moore for the third QB spot.

Running Backs

Starter: Reggie Bush, Joique Bell
Backup(s): Theo Riddick, Mikel Leshoure, Steven Miller
Fullback(s): Jed Collins, Montell Owens

Starting RB: Reggie Bush came in last season and posted some of the best stats of his career. He broke the 1000 yard rushing mark for the second time in his career and added another 500 receiving yards to his totals despite missing two games due to injury. He finished as the #10 fantasy back, and was a nice surprise to anyone who drafted him last season. Bush begins his second season with the Lions as the de facto starting running back for the team. Bush will be paired with Joique Bell, who is also coming off his best season as an NFL back. Bell is Detroitís short yardage back, but he is also a guy that can carry the load if Bush isnít available. Despite averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, Bellís eight rushing TDS made him a top 20 back last season, even though he had nine games with less than 10 fantasy points. While the Lions will do their best to move the ball through the air, their running backs should still see a lot of action as well. Neither back may eclipse the 1000 yard rushing mark this season, but you can still expect a solid performance out of both Bush and Bell.

Backup RBs: Second year back Theo Riddick represents a Ďbest of the restí for the Lions. He had just 13 touches last season, and averaged a dismal 2.8 yards per carry. All offseason news points to Riddick playing a much larger role and looking much better this year. Yet he all but shut out second year guy Mikel Leshoure who was a top 20 fantasy back in 2012. Leshoure disappeared last season, and if he canít make an impact in training camp, heíll be regulated to spot duty or even cut. He isnít the second round talent that the Lions hoped he would be and his inconsistencies and injuries have just about closed the door on his chances to make an impact.

Fullback: Jed Collins had nearly 100 yards from scrimmage on just 29 touches for the Saints last season. He hasnít blown up the stats charts in his first four NFL seasons, but heíll probably beat out Montell Owens who didnít have a carry last season for Detroit. Owens enters his 9th season, but he has just over 400 yards from scrimmage for his entire career.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate (PR)
Backups: Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, T.J. Jones, Jeremy Ross (KR/PR), Kevin Ogletree, Patrick Edwards, Corey Fuller, Naaman Roosevelt

Starting WRs: Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Calvin Johnson still finished in the top five for NFL receivers posting almost 1500 receiving yards and 12 receiving TDS. He had two minor surgeries in January on his knee and finger, but should be fully recovered by the time that training camp opens. Golden Tate brings his Super Bowl ring and nearly 900 yards receiving to Detroit with the hope of finally giving Detroit a second option to Johnson in the passing game. Tate has never been more than a back-up fantasy player, but with Calvin Johnson drawing the major defenders to his side of the field, Tate may finally get a shot to contribute. Detroit receivers not named Megatron had less than 1000 yards of total offense last year, and the hope is that Tate can finally take some pressure off of Johnson, opening up his big play potential.

Backup WRs: A stable of question marks sits behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate in Detroit. Kris Durham was actually Detroitís #2 wideout last season, but he had just three receptions in the final four games of the season. Ryan Broyles completed an injury-plagued season with just eight receptions for 85 yards. Heís entering his third NFL season, and this may be his final shot to prove himself. Kevin Ogletree came to Detroit after spending a few games in Tampa, but he has little hope of recapturing his Ďglory daysí from back with the Cowboys. Sixth round rookie T.J. Jones has some talent, and should contribute on special teams for Detroit this year. Jeremy Ross had a couple nice plays for the Lions last season, and he should also contribute on special teams. Corey Fuller saw limited action for the Lions in pre-season last year, and will have to prove himself in training camp if he wants to make the team.

Tight Ends

Starters: Brandon Pettigrew
Backups: Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria, Dorin Dickerson

Brandon Pettigrew signed a four-year contract extension in March, so it was a bit of a surprise to see the Lions take Eric Ebron with the 10th overall pick this season. Pettigrew is coming off his worst season since his rookie year, posting just 400 receiving yards and only 2 receiving TD's. Pettigrew sustained an ankle injury late in the season and was placed on IR, missing the final two games of the season. His straight up playing style makes him susceptible to injuries and he has missed time in three of his first five NFL seasons. Rookie Eric Ebron is a gifted athlete and was the top rated TE in this yearís draft. He has good size and soft hands, and could be a nice addition to the Detroit passing game. Joseph Fauria finished his rookie season with good stats, but is stats came in streaks and he had more games with minimal performance than without. His three TD catch game against Cleveland was the highlight of his year, and he added six catches in the final two games with Pettigrew on the sideline. Yet the Cleveland game was his only game with more than 10 fantasy points and despite four other TD catches, he had just one in the final give games of the season.

Place Kicker

Nate Freese: Punter/holder Sam Martin and re-signed long snapper Don Muhlbach will be working with a new kicker this year. Rookie Nate Freese (Boston College) was the favorite. He topped the Lions recruiting chart and they used a 7th round draft pick to select him. He hit 18 of 20 field goals as a junior and was a perfect 20 of 20 during his senior year. He narrowly beat out challenger Giorgio Tavecchio, who pressed Mason Crosby in the Packers camp last summer. After finally reaching the top ten in attempted kicking points in 2012, the Lions dropped to 27th in 2013.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jeremy Ross, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah [R]

Jeremy Ross was one of the few returners to handle most all of the kickoff and punt returns for his team. Though his performance dropped off slightly from 2013, the primary jobs should again be his to lose. Detroit added another potential returner in rookie running back Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah returned 61 kickoffs with a 26.1 average and 31 punts with a 10.2 yard average while at Nebraska, and tallied one touchdown in each type of return.

Punt Returners: Jeremy Ross, Golden Tate, T.J. Jones, Ameer Abdullah [R]

As with kickoffs, Jeremy Ross should continue this season as the primary punt returner. Receiver Golden Tate is a proven option should the need arise and spent last season listed on the depth chart as the backup. Second year receiver T.J. Jones is another option should he be needed, having returned 14 punts his senior year at Notre Dame.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Riley Reiff, LG Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, RG Larry Warford, RT LaAdrian Waddle
Key Backups: T Corey Hilliard, C Travis Swanson [R], T Cornelius Lucas [R], G Rodney Austin, T J.B. Shugarts, T Michael Williams

The Lionsí offensive line returns all five starters at all the same positions at the end of last season. This is great news for their cohesion. Unfortunately the overall ranking (as a mid-table unit) is held back by the lack of elite talent. The closest thing the Lions have to elite is probably second year right guard Larry Warford. Widely considered a Pro Bowl snub in 2013, Warford had an outstanding rookie season when he did not allow a single sack. Warford looks to build on his success in year two. LaAdrian Waddle is another interesting story, as he came out of nowhere hold down the starting position after Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox (now with the Dolphins) each left the lineup due to injury. Waddle is expected to win the job outright over Hilliard, who will likely be the swing tackle off the bench. On the left side, Reilly Reiff was praised for his toughness last season, as he gutted out several injuries without leaving the lineup. Reiff is not the greatest left tackle in the league but heís serviceable if not good. At left guard, Rob Sims continues to do an underrated job, and the same can be said of center Dominic Raiola. Now in his thirteenth year, the Lions recognize that the end is near for Raiola, and have planned for the future by drafting Travis Swanson out of Arkansas in the third round. Swanson is unlikely to see playing time this season and is purely a backup player with an eye on the future. Another interesting name is undrafted free agent Cornelius Lucas. Lucas was given $20,000 to sign which is a giant sum by undrafted free agent standards. Lucas is expected to compete with J.B. Shugarts for the fourth tackle role. Overall this line has the potential to improve in the rankings, should the right side build on their successful rookie seasons.

Team Defense

The Lions defense relies heavily on an uber-talented defensive line. Suh, Fairley and Ansah have the ability to form one of the most disruptive lines in the league. You do get the feeling that there's some untapped potential in all three, but Fairley may be facing a suspension after being sentenced in a DUI case. Stephen Tulloch is the clear leader of the linebackers corps but DeAndre Levy provided a lot of help last year with excellent coverage skills. If Kyle Van Noy can make an impact in year one, that would really solidify this defense. The Lions secondary is a real question mark. There is not a lot of talent here and even less upside. James Ihedigbo could provide some stability on the back side at safety but even he has a fairly short track record of success. If this secondary can be even average the front seven could make it a great defense.

Defensive Line

Starters: DT Haloti Ngata, DT Tyrunn Walker, DE Jason Jones, DE Ezekial Ansah
Backups: DT Jermelle Cudjo, DT Caraun Reid, DE Darryl Tapp, DE Devin Taylor, DE Larry Webster DE Devin Taylor, DE Darryl Tapp, DT C.J. Mosley

Starting DL: The big story with this unit in the offseason was the exit of both Ndamakong Suh to Miami and Nick Fairly to St. Louis. However, the Lions did manage to trade the Ravens for Haloti Ngata. Admittedly, Ngata is getting older, but promises to be a good locker room leader and preserve the nasty style of play to which the interior line has become accustomed. Next to Ngata on the line will be Tyrunn Walker, a player who also drew interest this offseason from the New England Patriots. Walker was signed as a UDFA in 2012 by the Saints. His play time picked up last year and he played very well as a rotational pass-rusher. Former Titan and Seahawk Jason Jones continues to be a good run-stuffer and to get the occasional sack. Ezekial Ansah continued his ascension to one of the best DEs in the game today, logging 37 solo tackles and 7.5 sacks.

Backup DL: You can almost certainly expect a DT pick from the Lions in this draft, even if it doesnít come until day two or day three. Jermelle Cudjo is a journeyman who has bounced around the league. Ivy-Leaguer Caraun Reid showed impressively in the 2014 preseason, but saw almost no playing time during the regular season. By contrast, the DE position on the Lions team has solid depth. Darryl Tapp was re-signed to a one-year deal this offseason. He remains a utility player who can contribute on special teams, as well as come off the bench to play several different positions. 2013 fourth-round pick Devin Taylor has been mildly impressive when he has seen the field, but those opportunities have been sparse. Larry Webster also hasnít gotten much playing time in his career so far, but the Lions staff remain quite high on him. Coach Caldwell said of Webster, ďHe's got tenacity, tough, all those things, and it just so happened that he's playing behind a group of guys that have been pretty healthy for the great majority of the year. He's really something to behold at this point in time. One of these days, you'll get a chance to see him."

Linebackers

Starters: OLB DeAndre Levy, OLB/MLB Tahir Whitehead, MLB Stephen Tulloch
Backups: OLB Josh Bynes, OLB Kyle Van Noy, OLB Julian Stanford

Starting LBs: Tackling machine DeAndre Levy and his agent continue dialogue with the Lionsí front office in hopes that they can reach a long-term deal. When Tulloch tore his ACL, Tahir Whitehead greatly exceeded expectations filling in for him, exploding for 63 solo tackles in regular season action. He is currently the favorite to win the job opposite Levy. Stephen Tulloch, who tore his ACL last season, reports he is fully recovered and will be ready to go for the 2015 season.

Backup LBs: Competition among this group could be stiff. After being signed off the Ravens practice squad in 2014, Josh Bynes seems to be the dark horse candidate in the competition to earn the starting spot opposite Levy. Even if he doesnít earn the starting role, he can still contribute rotationally at either OLB or MLB, as he did last season. 2013 second-round pick Kyle Van Noy has battled injuries and has been slow to learn the Lionsí defensive system. The staff continues to hope heíll catch fire and earn a bigger role this year. Previously a UDFA signed by the Jaguars, Julian Stanford joined the team in 2013 and made special teams contributions the past two seasons. The Lions believe heís a natural pass rusher that they can continue to develop.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Darius Slay, CB Rashean Mathis, FS Glover Quin, SS James Ihedigbo
Backups: CB Nevin Lawson, CB Bill Bentley, CB Josh Wilson FS Don Carey, SS Isa Abdul-Quddus

Starting DBs: Slay looked much better in his sophomore campaign, logging 48 solo tackles and two interceptions. If he continues his solid play this year, look for the Lions to attempt to retain him going forward. Rashean Mathis flirted briefly with free agency before deciding to remain in Detroit. He has made comments recently to the media that he knows he is nearing the end of his career and will be happy to be a mentor to the younger CBs on the roster. The outspoken Glover Quin played well last season, recording 57 solo tackles and seven interceptions. He recently took heat for predicting the Lions would go 7-1 in their first 8 games of 2015. After his stellar play in 2014, James Ihedigbo has decided to hold out for more money. Expect that to be resolved before the regular season begins.

Backup DBs: Having struggled with health during the past two seasons, Bill Bentley has not really had a chance to prove himself on the field. He tore his ACL in the first game of the 2014 season. Nevin Lawson was the next man up. He promptly suffered a very bad foot injury in game two. Both are hoping for better health in 2015 and during a recent interview, Glover Quin expressed confidence in the development of the duo. Josh Wilson was signed in early April after spending last year with the Falcons. He presumably will compete with the other backups for the slot corner role. The oft-injured Don Carey enters his sixth year in the league. He hasnít shown much in his time with the team. Isa Abdul-Quddus was re-signed by the Lions this offseason. He will be asked to continue his special teams contributions and occasionally see the field in a nickel role.

Last modified: 2015-05-03 21:41:36