Detroit Lions 2021 Team Preview

Detroit Lions

Following a 2019 season, in which the Detroit Lions won just three games, the team’s record was unlikely to improve significantly in 2020. Ultimately, the Lions finished the 2020 season with a 5-11 record, losing five of their last seven games, including four consecutive losses to end the year. Despite many in the sports media presuming they will struggle again this season, the offseason restructuring could give Lions fans reason to be optimistic.

Make sure to check out all of our other 2021 NFL Team Previews.

Offseason Recap

Two key changes were made by the Lions in late January preceding the Super Bowl. Following Matt Patricia’s firing after three years of not making the playoffs, the first task was to replace the vacant head coaching position. Dan Campbell, an assistant with the New Orleans Saints, would be ultimately chosen. A former Lions tight end in 2006-08, Campbell has been a coach for two different teams over the last decade, most recently handling the responsibilities of tight ends coach and assistant head coach with the Saints.


Several days later, the Lions traded former franchise quarterback Matthew Stafford. In exchange, the Los Angeles Rams would send Jared Goff, a 2021 third-round pick, a 2022 first-round pick, and a 2023 first-round pick. As a result of the trade, the Rams agreed to cover Goff’s $2.5 million roster bonus, meaning he will cost the Lions $25.3 million this season. Going into the season of 2021, Goff is not necessarily considered an exciting addition at quarterback, but remember that in 2017 and 2018, he appeared in back-to-back Pro Bowls. He now comes to a team whose offensive line has improved from a year ago.

After giving up 42 sacks last season, which was 23rd in the NFL, the Lions wisely drafted an offensive lineman with their first pick. As a result of the Cincinnati Bengals’ selection of wide receiver Ja’Maar Chase, offensive tackle Penei Sewell became available to the Lions at the seventh pick. Sewell was a unanimous All-American selection as a 19-year-old.



Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola were all crucial pieces of this Lions offense and have since left. Out of the players who remain on the 2021 roster, only T.J. Hockenson had at least 400 yards last season. Besides dealing with a brand new quarterback for the first time in 12 seasons, the Lions must also replace most of the team’s receiving weapons from last season.

Given that both Golladay and Jones were likely to leave the Lions in free agency, Detroit took proactive measures by signing former Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Tyrell Williams to a one-year contract worth $6.2 million. The team will be hoping Williams, who was injured all of last season, can enhance his role as a wide receiver and potentially take control of that No. 1 role. In the four seasons leading up to 2020, Williams averaged 5.5 touchdowns, proving he’s a reliable red zone target.

D’Andre Swift entered his rookie season with high expectations, but injuries would continue to plague him. Despite this, Swift still managed to rack up 10 total touchdowns, leaving fans optimistic about the 2021 season. With Adrian Peterson now gone, Swift can come into Week 1 without any distractions. Swift will be backed up this season by former Green Bay Packer Jamaal Williams. They will be able to use Williams equally well as a runner and receiver due to his versatility. At just $7.5 million for two years, Williams’ deal is essentially a “prove it” type in his first year.


A poor showing by the defense last season led to them finishing dead last in yards allowed per game. In large part, this was due to their secondary, which allowed 4,558 yards through the air, third-worst in the NFL. As a result, they hired Aaron Glenn as the new defensive coordinator. Glenn worked with Campbell last season and was the defensive backs coach for the Saints from 2016 to 2020. Glenn has shown in New Orleans that he is a coach who focuses on playmaking and risk-taking, particularly in the secondary.


Because of his high draft position, Jeff Okudah will attract a great deal of attention. Even though Okudah struggled to a degree, it has to be said that some of the issues related to his health after tearing a core muscle. Now that he’s had the surgery, Okudah should be 100 percent healthy. As Okudah looks to bounce back after a disappointing rookie year, Glenn’s involvement in defense should help his development further.

With more expectations set for Jahlani Tavai in his sophomore season, not only did he fail to increase his combined tackle numbers from his rookie year, but his sacks and interceptions also decreased. If Taavai is to stay with the Lions for the foreseeable future, he’s going to have to step up his game in a big way.

Predicting the 53 Man Roster

QB (3) – Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough

Training camp continues to be a time for Goff to develop a rapport with his new receiving core and work on his deep ball. Over the last number of days, Boyle has managed to impress with some solid showings. After battling it out with Blough back in the late spring, Boyle has firmly established himself as the second-string option behind Goff.

RB (4) – D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Jason Cabinda

When both are healthy, Swift and Williams make for a formidable combo. Over the first week of camp, Jefferson has shown good vision and the ability to find open holes. Jefferson is likely to make the 53-man roster as he has exhibited enough so far to lay claim to that third-string role.

WR (6) – Amon-Ra St. Brown, Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Kalif Raymond, Victor Bolden, Quintez Cephus

As the days go by St. Brown is picking up the material well. Whenever St. Brown gets a free release on the line, he’s shown he’s hard to control. At some point early in the season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see St. Brown leapfrog Perriman or Williams. Cephus may get overlooked, but don’t forget that among the receivers still on the team, he had the most yards receiving last year.

TE (2) – T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells

With Hockenson, the Lions have one of the few bright spots remaining from last season. After a lackluster rookie season, Hockenson was able to more than double both his receiving yards and touchdowns. Early on in training camp, it appears he’s built a good relationship with Goff. The Lions picked up Fells in the offseason, and it was one of their best bargain signings. He should make an excellent backup addition.

OL (9) – Penei Sewell, Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Logan Stenberg, Jonah Jackson, Tyrell Crosby, Drake Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tommy Kraemer

Decker has been a rock at left tackle during the last three seasons. During that time, he has missed only one game. Ragnow remains arguably the most important piece of the Lions’ offensive line, coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He was voted best center by ESPN just recently. Having signed a four-year extension in May, Ragnow appears locked in at center for the foreseeable future.

DL (6) – Michael Brockers, John Penisini, Levi Onwuzurike, Alim McNeill, Nick Williams

Brockers spent eight years with the Rams organization before being traded in March. He has 50 or more tackles in each of the past four seasons. In three seasons as a North Carolina State, McNeil combined for 77 tackles. Campbell seems to have taken a liking to McNeil so far in camp.

EDGE (5) – Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Da’Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant

There are two key players on the edge who stand out: Romeo Okawara and Flowers. Over the past two years, Okwara’s sack total has increased from 1.5 to 10. The Lions wisely extended his contract by three years in March. Flowers has one more year on his current contract. His 2020 season was hindered by injuries, and Flowers will have to step up if he hopes to return.

LB (5) – Jahlani Tavai, Jamie Collins, Rob McCray, Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes

Last season, Collins was the defensive anchor for Detroit. For the third time in seven seasons, he surpassed 100 tackles. Barnes may end up a value selection for the Lions despite being their second to the last pick in this year’s draft. A tall, muscular defender, he should be able to prove himself worthy of making the 53-man roster.

CB (6) – Jeff Okudah, Corn Elder, Quinton Dunbar, Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Dean Marlowe

With Okudah now in good shape, he should have that breakout season Lions fans were expecting. Elder comes into the picture as a hopeful replacement for Justin Coleman, having played all 16 games last season with the Carolina Panthers. In those 16 games, Elder combined for 40 tackles to go with three defended passes. A free agent addition to the secondary, Dunbar recorded 30 total tackles last season, 28 of which were solo. He managed this feat in just six games last season with the Seattle Seahawks.

SAF (4) – Will Harris, Tracy Walker, Dean Marlowe, C.J. Moore

This season, Glenn will employ a 3-4 split-safety scheme. Walker failed to have a great season in his first season at strong safety, posting a 40.8 grade in coverage according to PFF. While playing just seven games, he amassed 87 tackles. Marlowe joins the team after three seasons with the Buffalo Bills. The new safety scheme should provide him with the opportunity to perform.

ST (3) – Randy Bullock, Jack Fox, Don Muhlbach 

Only a day after losing Matt Prater to the Arizona Cardinals, the Lions quickly found a replacement for him in Bullock. Having proven himself as a capable option over the last decade, Bullock should be able to secure the job. Fox returns after finishing third in average punting yards last season. In his first year with the Lions, his performance earned him a spot in the Pro Bowl.

One Player to Add

The Lions’ pass rush continues to be their most glaring weakness. The team added players like Brockers and Onwuzurike. However, they could always use another player to help get to the quarterback. One possibility is Geno Atkins, an eight-time Pro Bowler in his 10 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals. Just three years separated from a 10-sack campaign, he would be a valuable addition to a team lacking rotational pressure. In signing him to a prove-it contract, the Lions would have minimal risk.

2021 Outlook & Odds

By adding Sewell, this offensive line will become a much stronger unit than last year. With Goff’s ample protection, he should have plenty of time to hit his targets. As with Goff, the Lions will expect a lot from Swift in his second season if they want to compete for a playoff spot. If Swift starts strong, it will ease the early nerves of the offense. Now that Aaron Rodgers has returned to the Green Bay Packers, they will likely control the NFC North, but after them, it is wide open. The over/under for Detroit currently sits at 5.5 wins and the over is a real possibility.

Season Prediction: 9-8 and Make the Playoffs as a Wild Card Team

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Main Image Credit: 
Embed from Getty Images


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3 Responses

  1. Took a relatively quick read of the article. Saw that Amani Oruwariye is missing at CB. This is an error, correct?

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