Entering the 2020 NFL season, the Detroit Lions knew they weren’t Super Bowl contenders. However, the expectation was to be in the playoff chase and ultimately end up in the postseason. After finishing last season 3-12-1, ownership accepted that the team was hit hard by injuries, and it was a lost year. However, the Lions finished the 2020 season with a 5-11 record, losing five of their last seven games, including four straight to end the year.
During the season, the Lions made changes. After an embarrassing 41-25 loss at home to the Houston Texans on Thanksgiving, the Lions fired former head coach Matt Patricia and general manager, Bob Quinn. Replacing Patrica was offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. In his five games as the head coach, the Lions went 1-4, with their only win in Week 13 over the Chicago Bears.
Before the trade deadline, the Lions traded for former Dallas Cowboy and Minnesota Viking defensive end Everson Griffen. While the addition of Griffen wasn’t enough to fix a struggling defense, he finished second on the team with 3.5 sacks. He is a pending free agent but is unlikely to be re-signed in the offseason. While the search for a new head coach is ongoing, rumors are that San Francisco 49ers’ defensive coordinator, Robert Saleh, is the favorite to land the job. With several critical decisions coming up in the offseason, expect the Lions to take their time filling the general manager role.
What Went Right
While the season didn’t result in the playoffs, the Lions have positives to build on for next season. The team started the season 3-3 before injuries hit the team. Despite dealing with multiple injuries throughout the season, Matthew Stafford started all 16 games this season after missing half of the 2019 season. However, the injuries did take a toll on Stafford. In his first nine games, Stafford threw 17 touchdowns compared to only nine over the final seven games.
On offense, rookie running back D’Andre Swift started the season slowly but finished strong. Swift had 878 scrimmage yards and 10 total touchdowns this season. He had 70 or more scrimmage yards in each of the final three games. Swift wasn’t the only young Lions’ skill player to shine this season as second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson made the Pro Bowl. He finished the season with 67 receptions on 101 targets for 723 yards and six touchdowns, all ranking second-highest on the team. Both Swift and Hockenson will be staples of offense for the next several years.
Even though the defense struggled this season, there were some bright spots. Second-year cornerback, Amani Oruwariye, started 15 of 16 games this season because of injuries at the position. He finished the year with a career-high 53 tackles and seven passes defended and looks like a likely starter next season. Meanwhile, the Lions had only 24 sacks this season. However, Romeo Okwara had 10 of them, matching his career total from his first four years in the league. He finished 10th in the league in sacks after recording one in each of the final three games this season.
What Went Wrong
Much like in 2019, the Lions were hit hard by the injury bug. After playing in 42 of his first 48 games in his career, Kenny Golladay was held to only five games this season after dealing with multiple injuries. The frustration between the team and him led many to believe he sat out the final nine games of the season to protect himself from further injury, as he will be an unrestricted free agent in March. Golladay finished the season with only 20 receptions on 32 targets for 338 yards and two touchdowns after having a career year in 2019.
On defense, the Lions struggled to make impact plays. They had only 24 sacks, ranking seventh-worst in the league. They averaged under four tackles for a loss per game and had only 16 total turnovers. Part of the problem came from the disappointing season first-round rookie Jeff Okudah had. After being selected third overall in the 2020 draft, Okudah struggled to slow down elite wide receivers. The rookie gave up a 77.4 percent competition rate when targeted. He also was second on the team in completions given up with 41 despite playing in nine games.
Team Award Winners
MVP – T.J. Hockenson
Hockenson was one of three players to make the Pro Bowl for the Lions. With George Kittle missing half the season because of injury, Hockenson was the clear favorite as the starting tight end on the NFC roster. His 67 receptions ranked fourth among tight ends this season and more than double his total from his rookie season. No matter what happens in the offseason, Hockenson will be a focal point of the Lions’ passing attack for the next several years.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – D’Andre Swift
Over the first four games of the season, Swift had a total of 42 rushing yards. However, after the Lions’ Week 5 bye, Swift exploded for a career-high 116 rushing yards and two touchdowns against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite splitting time with Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson, Swift played at least 40 percent of the snaps in every game for the rest of the season. Whoever the Lions hire as their next head coach, he will have a dynamic weapon in Swift at his disposal.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Jeff Okudah
Despite his struggles at times, Okudah was the best defensive rookie on the roster this season. While Okudah struggled in coverage, he was a consistent tackler. He had five or more tackles in over half of his games as a rookie, including a career-high eight in their Week 6 win over the Jaguars. Furthermore, he had only five missed tackles compared to 47 successful ones. Cornerbacks tend to have a bumpy rookie season, so the Lions should be optimistic about Okudah next season.
Biggest Surprise – Romeo Okwara
The Lions had 24 sacks this season, with Okwara counting for 10 of them (42 percent). He matched his career total from his first four years in the league. He finished with 6.5 more sacks than the second-highest member on the team. Okwara had a career year just in time to hit free agency. The Lions’ top priority on defense this offseason is re-signing Okwara.
Biggest Disappointment – Kenny Golladay
Injuries ruined his season, but many believe he exaggerated a hip injury that ended his season after it became public that he was frustrated with the Lions’ contract offers. After having a breakout season in 2019, the Lions were expecting Golladay to turn into a star wide receiver. However, after his limited play this season, combined with their cap space situation, the Lions may let Golladay walk in free agency.
One Burning Question
Who is the Starting Quarterback Next Season?
When the Lions had the third overall pick in last year’s draft, there were rumors that they were considering draft Tua Tagovailoa and trading Stafford. In the end, Quinn and Patricia decided to keep Stafford and select Okudah. However, with a new general manager and head coach coming in, they could determine a rebuilding process is needed and trade Stafford. The Lions have the seventh overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and are in the range to select a quarterback if they want. It may be time to rebuild in Detroit, and if the Lions want to go that route, they will have plenty of suitors for Stafford.