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2020 Team Report: Detroit Lions

Last updated: Wed, May 13

Offensive Philosophy

Ten-year veterans don't usually dramatically change their game in year 11, but Detroit hired new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell in 2019 and asked quarterback Matthew Stafford to do exactly that. Despite a reputation for a big arm and plenty of highlight throws, Stafford had long been primarily an underneath passer, throwing disproportionately to his running backs and relying heavily on yards after the catch from his receivers. The 2019 season flipped that script on its head, as Bevell implemented an aggressive downfield passing game and Stafford's 13.4 yard per completion was two full yards higher than his previous career average. Young Kenny Golladay (18.3 yards per reception) was the primary beneficiary. At running back, Bevell has tended to prefer running a committee (though he's also presided over offenses that have had terrible injury luck at the position, so this hasn't always been voluntary). Drafting DeAndre Swift as the second back off the board to pair with established starter Kerryon Johnson is a strong signal that Bevell will once again be rotating through running backs in 2020.

Quarterbacks

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup(s): Chase Daniel, David Blough

Starting QB: Stafford had started 136 straight games for the Lions before missing the final eight games of the 2019 season with a back injury. Prior to the injury, Stafford was quietly having a monster fantasy season. He was on pace for 4,998 passing yards and 38 touchdowns at the midway point of the season. Had he kept up his torrid pace, he would have had his best fantasy finish since 2011. In fact, from an efficiency standpoint, Stafford had his best NFL season by a good margin. His adjusted yards per attempt (9.1) was easily the best of his career and his QB rating hit triple digits (106) for the first time in his career. Stafford is said to be fully recovered from his back injury and will be a full participant in whatever offseason activities end up taking place. If he can stay healthy, Stafford could be one of the top bargains at the quarterback position in 2020 fantasy drafts.

Backup QB: Chase Daniel signed a 3-year, $13M contract with $5M guaranteed this offseason to be the top backup behind Matthew Stafford. The 33-year old career backup has had a lucrative care as a journeyman backup. He has attempted just 218 passes in his 10 years of NFL service but has been solid when forced into action. Daniel should be a significant upgrade over David Blough, who threw more interceptions (6) than touchdowns (4) in his five starts late last season.

Running Backs

Starter: D'Andre Swift [R], Kerryon Johnson
Backup(s): Bo Scarbrough, Jason Huntley [R], Ty Johnson, Wes Hills
Fullback(s): Nick Bawden

Starting RB: The Lions landed one of their top-rated rookie running back when D'Andre Swift fell to them at pick number 35 of the NFL Draft. Teams do not invest early 2nd-round draft capital in a running back without the expectation the player will quickly become the starter and Swift is no exception. Swift is short (5'8") but not small (212 pounds). He is explosive and one of the better pass-catching backs to enter the NFL in the last few seasons. His upside as a receiver makes him an exciting fantasy option and gives him plenty of upside. He does not come without fantasy risk, however. Incumbent starter Kerryon Johnson was a second-round selection just two years ago and should be able to hold onto a solid role in a committee. Johnson enters his third year hoping to put together his first healthy season as a pro. He missed six games as a rookie in 2018, eight games in 2019, and has a long injury history going back to high school and his college career at Auburn. Even before the injury in Week 7, Johnson was a bit of a disappointment in 2019. After averaging 3.9 targets per game as a rookie, Johnson saw less than two targets per game last season. His yards per carry dropped from 5.4 as a rookie to just 3.6 in 2019. This backfield may not feature one back enough to produce an impact fantasy performer but Swift does have some upside if he is able to quickly separate himself from the pack.

Backup RBs: The Lions running back room is suddenly crowded after the team selected D'Andre Swift in the second round and Jason Huntley in the fifth round of the NFL Draft. Competition for spots behind Swift and Kerryon Johnson will be fierce. Huntley will have a leg up on the competition due to his return ability. He scored five kick return touchdowns in college. He also should have some value as an explosive change-of-pace runner and pass-catching back. His arrival may be bad news for Ty Johnson, who had a solid rookie season but rarely showed the big-play ability that defined his college career at Maryland. He was especially disappointing in the pass game where he managed just 4.5 yards per reception on his 24 catches.Bo Scarbrough was a pleasant surprise as a mid-season pickup for the Lions. After bouncing around the NFL for a couple seasons, he finally found a home in Detroit and provided a boost to the running game with 377 rushing yards in six games.

Fullback: Bawden was a late-round draft selection for the Lions in 2018 but missed his rookie season due to a knee injury. He played a part-time role in 2019, never seeing more than 21 snaps in any game, before suffering another season-ending knee injury in Week 11. Bawden is used almost exclusively as a blocker. He didn't receive a single carry and was targeted just six times all season.

Wide Receivers

Starters: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones
Backups: Danny Amendola, Geronimo Allison, Quintez Cephus [R], Chris Lacy, Marvin Hall, Travis Fulgham, Geremy Davis, Tom Kennedy

Starting WRs: Kenny Golladay had a strong season in 2019, leading the NFL with 11 touchdown catches. While he only caught 65 passes, he still managed 1,190 receiving yards on the strength of his impressive 18.3 yards per reception. He is one of the top deep threats in the NFL due to his size, speed, and leaping ability. As Golladay enters his fourth NFL season, he is eligible for an extension and it should be a priority for the Lions to lock up their top pass catcher for the long term. Marvin Jones proved a strong second option behind Golladay. He had 62 receptions for 779 yards and 9 touchdowns before suffering a season-ending broken ankle in Week 13. Even before landing on injured reserve, Jones battled nagging injuries throughout the year. It was the second-straight injury-plagued for Jones. 2020 is the final year of Jones' contract with the Lions and the 30-year old wide receiver may not have much of a long-term future in Detroit. He has been rumored to have been on the trading block since the midway point of the 2019 season.

Backup WRs: Danny Amendola was a pleasant surprise for the Lions last season, providing a solid third option in the passing game from the slot. He had his most productive season in nearly a decade, catching 62 passes for 678 yards and 1 touchdown. Amendola turned 34-years old in November and will face competition for the starting slot receiver job from free agent signee Geronimo Allison. In four seasons in Green Bay, Allison totaled 89 catches, 1,045 yards, and 6 touchdowns. While he flashed starting potential at times, he never fully gained the trust of Aaron Rodgers and had some bad injury luck. Quintez Cephus fell to the late-fifth round of the NFL Draft after running a surprisingly poor 4.73-second time in the forty-yard dash at the combine. However, he had some success in college as a deep threat and has the most upside of this uninspiring group of backups.

Tight Ends

Starters: T.J. Hockenson
Backups: Jesse James, Isaac Nauta, Hunter Bryant [R], Matt Sokol, Paul Butler

T.J. Hockenson entered his rookie season in 2019 as one of the most hyped tight end prospects in decades. He exploded out of the gates with a six catches, 131 receiving yards and a touchdown in Week 1 against Arizona. After the big opening week, he was mostly a non-factor. In fact, Hockenson managed just 26 catches, 236 yards and 1 touchdown in his next eleven games before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in Week 13. It is not uncommon for rookie tight ends to struggle, so it was not surprising that Hockenson mostly struggled in 2019. He has breakout potential in 2020 if the game starts to slow down for him. Jesse James was also a disappointment in 2019 after signing a relatively lucrative four-year deal in the offseason. He managed just 16 catches for 142 yards and failed to find the end zone. Isaac Nauta is the favorite to stick as the third tight end. He had a quiet rookie season in 2019, with only two catches, both of which came late in the season after Hockenson was injured. Undrafted rookie Hunter Bryant could push Nauta off the roster due to his pass-catching abilities. Like Nauta, he may struggle to get open against NFL defenders due to his lack of athleticism.

Place Kicker

Matt Prater: Prater has been dependable since joining the Lions in 2014 and will enter 2020 as one of the safer picks at the position outside of the top five. He made 26 of 31 field goal attempts, including 7 of 8 from 50+ yards and converted 35 of 36 extra point attempts, although it was his lowest full season conversion rate with the Lions. He usually goes off of the board around the 8th-10th kicker and might be available in the last round of your draft.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Jamal Agnew, Danny Amendola

A former first-team All-Pro returner, cornerback Jamal Agnew generally fields most kicks for the Lions, though receiver Danny Amendola (PR) provides experienced depth and handles punts from time to time.

Punt Returners: Jamal Agnew, Danny Amendola

A former first-team All-Pro returner, cornerback Jamal Agnew generally fields most kicks for the Lions, though receiver Danny Amendola (PR) provides experienced depth and handles punts from time to time.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: OT Taylor Decker, OG Joe Dahl, C Frank Ragnow, OG Kenny Wiggins, OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Key Backups: OT Tyrell Crosby, OG Jonah Jackson [R], OL Dan Skipper, Caleb OL Benenoch

This line will have two new starters. Right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai replaces right tackle Rick Wagner as the anchor of the gap-power scheme. At left guard Joe Dahl has been a utility starter for several seasons, and will step in full-time for left guard Graham Glasgow. The team invested a third-round pick in Jonah Jackson from Ohio State, and he is expected to compete with Dahl for the job this season.

Team Defense

The Lions defense posted only 28 sacks and 18 takeaways in a lost season, while dragging themselves to finishes of 31 in yards allowed and 26 in points allowed. There has been turnover at corner in the offseason with Darius Slay gone and Jeff Okudah and Desmond Trufant slated to start at corner, Jamie Collins reunited with Matt Patricia to spruce up the linebackers and Danny Shelton (another former Patriot) replacing Damon Harrison upfront against the run. The Lions are rightfully one of the last defenses taken in drafts, although at least they have continuity in scheme and coaching. They aren't a preferred late target in best ball drafts.

Defensive Line

Starters: LDE Romeo Okwara, RDE Trey Flowers, LDT Danny Shelton, RDT Da'Shawn Hand
Backups: LDE Austin Bryant, RDE Julian Okwara [R], DT John Atkins, DT John Penisini [R]

Starting DL: The Lions once again shuffled their starting unit this offseason after having one of the worst defenses in football last year. Da'Shawn Hand is on thin ice as the starter, A'Shawn Robinson has moved on to a role with the Los Angeles Rams, and Damon Harrison was not re-signed. Veteran Romeo Okwara will be asked to hold down the left defensive end spot opposite of star end Trey Flowers. The Lions brought in former first-round pick Danny Shelton, who played in New England last year. Shelton remains an athletic space eater that can eat up blocks, but offers very little in terms of penetrating and creating an interior pass rush.

Backup DL: Austin Bryant missed most of last season with injury, but Defensive Coordinator Bob Quinn said recently in an interview that they expect Bryant to make bigger contributions this year as a rotational pass rusher. John Atkins could move into the starting role if Da'Shawn Hand cannot stay healthy. The team seems very frustrated with Hand presently because he has not been able to play a full slate of games in the two years he has been a Lion. Draft pick John Penisini is certainly a developmental lineman. He is a run stuffer and two-gap interior defender that will look to get coached up into a bigger role in future days. Rookie Julian Okwara broke his leg and missed the final four Notre Dame games in 2019, which may have caused him to slide in the Draft. Okwara is Romeo Okwara's brother and told a radio program in Detroit shortly after the Draft that he never dreamed he would get the opportunity to play with his sibling.

Linebackers

Starters: OLB Jamie Collins, WLB Christian Jones, MLB Jarrad Davis
Backups: OLB Jaylen Reeves-Maybin, MLB Jahlani Tavai, MLB Reggie Ragland, WLB Elijah Lee

Starting LBs: Jamie Collins is the biggest addition to this unit. After his second stint in New England, the Lions will attempt to have Collins play positionless football in their defense, which entails serving a variety of versatile functions. Christian Jones led the linebacker group last year with 63 tackles in just 11 games played. Both he and Jarrad Davis were banged up for large portions of the year-- Davis also managed only 11 games. The coaching staff's patience with Davis may be wearing thin. Between injuries and ineffective play, he has been a disappointment. It is possible that Jahlani Tavai could earn a starting role while Davis is reduced to a situational pass rush specialist.

Backup LBs: The backup group gives the Lions some options should Christian Jones or Jarrad Davis not be able to stay healthy or carry out their duties from a schematic standpoint. Jalen Reeves-Maybin continues to be a viable coverage linebacker for the Lions. Jahlani Tavai was a bit of a surprise second-round selection for Detroit last year, but they believe he is a player that can fit in multiple spots and possibly challenge Jarrad Davis for the starting job. Reggie Ragland and Elijah Lee both have starting experience with their prior teams and provide experienced depth the Lion have not had for some time.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Desmond Trufant, CB Jeff Okudah [R], SS Duron Harmon, FS Tracy Walker
Backups: CB Justin Coleman, CB Darryl Roberts, SS Will Harris, FS Jayron Kearse

Starting DBs: With Darius Slay now an Eagle, Teez Tabor now a 49er, and Quandre Diggs now a Seahawk, the coaching staff has shown its intent to revamp this disappointing unit. They lured Desmond Trufant away from the Falcons and drafted Jeff Okudah with the third overall pick in this year's Draft. Trufant continues to be effective in short spaces and can close on a receiver quickly downfield. He also is a willing tackler and not afraid to mix it up in run support. Okudah was widely considered the best prospect at the corner position in the Draft and regularly shut down receivers against whom he lined up in the college game. The hope is that he will be able to bring that skillset to bear against NFL-caliber receivers. One of the lone bright spots for the Lions defense last season, Tracy Walker remains the team's pick to play the free safety or joker role, depending on their alignment and situation. Duron Harmon and a seventh-rounder were traded from the Patriots to the Lions for their 2020 fifth-round pick. The veteran corner was third on the Patriots depth chart, but is likely to get the nod for a starting opportunity over last year's starter, Will Harris.

Backup DBs: Justin Coleman will continue as Detroit's slot corner. Darryl Roberts comes to the team on a one-year deal. He did not fare well with the Jets last year, allowing 64.6 percent of targets to be completed to the wide receiver he was covering. That ranks third-most among CBs who played at least 50 percent of their team's snaps. Will Harris will have to compete with former Patriot team captain Duron Harmon in camp if he hopes to win the starting job. Jayron Kearse was a valuable backup and special teamer for the division rival Vikings during his rookie contract. He will likely serve that same role for Detroit.