The Texans and Raiders have been unveiled as the bottom two teams in these power rankings. Today, the Detroit Lions come in at number 30. Detroit finished the 2020 season with a 5-11 record. Following a blowout loss on Thanksgiving to the Texans, the Lions ownership decided to fire Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia. To replace the two, Detroit hired former Rams director of college scouting, Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell, who was the tight ends coach in New Orleans. Campbell also had a stint as Miami’s interim head coach in 2015 following a Week 4 loss. Campbell led the Dolphins to a 5-7 record the rest of the season but wasn’t offered the head coaching position. Along with the GM and head coaching changes, there are plenty of other changes to Detroit’s roster, including the quarterback position.
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The Lions used the first overall choice in 2008 on Matthew Stafford. Stafford quarterbacked the Lions ever since, until this offseason where he and the new front office and coaching staff felt it was the best time for the veteran to move on and find a new home better fit for him. Ultimately, Detroit traded him in exchange for Jared Goff, a third-round selection in this past draft, and first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The front office and coaching staff knew to do Stafford right and start from scratch while also bringing in a familiar face in Goff, who worked with Holmes in Los Angeles.
Who’s Catching Passes?
Detroit completely revamped its receiving room. Both Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones had expiring contracts and signed with the Giants and Jaguars. Veterans Mohamed Sanu and Jamal Agnew also walked, heading to San Francisco and again Jacksonville. To add to the room, the front office brought in Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, and Kalif Raymond. The Lions also selected Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round, which was one of the steals of the draft.
Perhaps the most notable signing the Lions made was one of their players. Romeo Okwara had 44 total tackles, 11 tackles for loss, and ten sacks. Okwara signed a four-year extension worth $37 million. With Trey Flowers not producing as much as the old coaching staff would’ve liked, plus a new coaching staff in place, Flowers needs to pick it up, or both Okwara brothers will be the top pas-rushers in Detroit.
A few smaller moves in free agency include not re-signing Matt Prater and bringing in Randy Bullock instead. Jamaal Williams and Tim Boyle were brought in from Green Bay, and Williams appears to be the number two option in the running back room behind D’Andre Swift.
Along with all the player additions and subtractions, Campbell brought in Anthony Lynn as the offensive coordinator after Lynn’s firing from the Chargers. Adding Lynn and Campbell should help out the running game immensely. Defensively, Campbell brought in Aaron Glenn to conduct a unit surrounded by question marks. It will take some time for Glenn to get the defense accustomed to his scheme.
- Overall – 74.47 (30th)
- Offense – 74.28 (28th)
- Defense – 73.03 (28th)
- Coach and Culture – 69.5 (31st)
Quarterbacks – 74.5, 24th (26 percent Overall, 39 percent Offense)
Now that Stafford is on the Rams, Goff is the starter in 2021 for the Lions. Last season, he had the highest completion percentage of his career, completing 67 percent of his passes. Unfortunately, Goff had his lowest yards per game total since 2017. It got to the point where Sean McVay wanted a better option, so he traded for Stafford, giving up two future first-round picks in the process. Now, Goff has to prove himself in front of someone who had a hand in drafting him. Along with that, he will have one of the better rushing attacks in the league, with a much-improved offensive line. Expect Goff to succeed in Detroit with a better offensive line, but struggle at times due to the lack of weapons.
Behind Goff will be the kneel-down king himself, Boyle. After backing up Aaron Rodgers last season, Boyle wasn’t retained as the Packers to get Jordan Love more practice time with the 1s in practice this offseason. Boyle will be pushed for the backup role by David Blough, who started five games for the Lions in 2019. While things didn’t go well for Blough, going 0-5 in that stretch with more interceptions than touchdowns, Campbell has already said that he loves him. If Goff gets hurt, the season will be doomed, even more than it already looks.
Running Backs – 82, 16th (4 percent Overall, 5 percent Offense)
Campbell said he wants to ‘bite some kneecaps’ this year. That starts with running the football and being a physical team in the trenches and punching you in the mouth. Swift split time with Adrian Peterson last year but should be handed at least 220 touches this year. Swift averaged over 4.5 yards per carry last year and finished fourth on the team in receptions and yards.
He will likely be the bellcow back with Williams spelling him as he did with Aaron Jones in Green Bay. The tandem makes up one of the best in the league, and keeping both of them fresh and healthy will be a bonus this year for a team that wants to run the football a ton. Swift will be one of the favorites for a breakout year this season and will be a fantasy darling thanks to his added receiving production.
Williams, similar to Swift, has had plenty of production in the receiving game, specifically in 2019. That year he had 39 catches and five touchdowns for the Packers. Williams is a great number two running back that won’t be a weakness if Swift were to get hurt and take the lead running back role. Along with that, Williams brings a lot of swagger over from Green Bay, and you will likely see him dancing pre-game.
Jermar Jefferson, Dedrick Mills, and Michael Warren round out the depth chart heading into camp. Two of these three will make the team, and Jefferson has the most opportunity, as he has a similar skillset to Williams. Detroit has kicked the tires on bringing in another veteran, including Todd Gurley, who the Lions had a visit with a few short weeks ago.
Pass Catchers – 65.5, 32nd (10 percent Overall, 16 percent Offense)
Unfortunately, this could be Detroit’s downfall this year. They brought in two veterans in Williams and Perriman to battle for the number one receiver role. The two would likely be third receivers on many other teams, but Detroit is emphasizing running the football. If anyone breaks out in the group of receivers, it will likely either be Quintez Cephus or St. Brown. In his rookie season last year, Cephus caught 20 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns. St. Brown will likely have a role right from the jump and could compete for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award if he has a notable role in a Detroit offense that could end up trailing in most games, causing more passing attempts.
Victor Bolden, Damion Ratley, and Geronimo Allison round out the veterans in the receiver room. Allison opted out of last season, so it will be interesting to see how he does in his first year in Detroit since leaving Green Bay. Along with the veterans, there is a trio of undrafted free agents looking to make a mark during camp in the coming weeks. Jonathan Adams Jr. Sage Surratt, and Javon McKinley will be looking to make the Detroit roster after not being selected on draft weekend. Surratt had a lot of fans throughout the pre-draft process, but the NFL didn’t seem to feel the same way about him, and he could be a longshot to make the roster.
The number one option in the passing attack will be T.J. Hockenson, who will become a more complete player with Campbell coming to town. While he still has a lot of room to grow, Hockenson is already one of the best tight ends in the league. Last year, he had 101 targets, 67 catches, 723 yards, and six touchdowns. An underrated part of his game is his blocking, which will likely improve this year under Campbell.
Darren Fells was brought in as a free agent after the team couldn’t bring Josh Hill from New Orleans to follow Campbell, who instead announced his retirement. Fells was a redzone threat in Houston the last few years, catching 11 touchdowns the past two seasons, including seven in 2019. He is a solid number two tight end behind Hockenson.
Behind those two, the tight end group is a lot of unknown. Alize Mack and Charlie Taumoepeau may be the ones with the most name value that could stand out in camp. Both have enough blocking skills for Campbell to work within this room, which is what he specializes in.
Swift already produced in the receiving game last year, and that was before the top three receivers were elsewhere. With the top three elsewhere and a bare-bones receiving core now in Detroit, Swift will have plenty more opportunities to get his hands on the ball in the receiving game and have about 60-70 catches this year.
Both Williams and Jefferson offer similar skillsets out of the backfield. They aren’t explosive with the ball in their hands, but Williams was praised for his pass protecting in Green Bay and would likely have a role as a third-down receiving back in Detroit this season to give Swift a breather.
Offensive Line – 85, 11th (13 percent Overall, 19 percent Offense)
After signing a massive contract extension before the season last year, Taylor Decker is finally getting recognition as one of the top left tackles in the game. He is still young, and he slides this year’s first-round draft choice, Penei Sewell, to slide over to right tackle. Sewell being at right tackle is a bit different from what he’s used to from his time at Oregon, but getting the best five linemen on the field at the same time is something that Detroit hasn’t been able to do and now can do so with both Sewell and Decker. Along with Decker, Detroit gave Frank Ragnow a massive contract extension this offseason that made him the highest-paid center in the entire NFL. Most offensive lines in the league like to have security at both tackle spots and the center position, and Detroit has just that.
Lots of Competition at both Guard Spots
At the guard spots, there is a bit of uncertainty and a lot of upside. Jonah Jackson projects to be the starting left guard after a solid rookie season last year. On the right side, Halapoulivaati Vaitai projects as the starting right guard after the draft choice of Sewell. The only problem with Vaitai is that he has a massive contract that was handed out by the old regime for him, who thought he would be their right tackle. If Vaitai can’t get his head on straight, Logan Stenberg was selected in the fourth round this year and could be a slight cause for concern for the highly-paid veteran. Stenberg also provides good depth if Jackson struggles early in the year or deals with injuries.
Tyrell Crosby spent most of last year serving as the starting right tackle. With Sewell now in that spot, Crosby projects as valuable depth and even a swing tackle, which is more than a valuable piece in today’s NFL. A pair of undrafted free agents in Tommy Kraemer and Drake Jackson will battle for roster spots, and Jackson could beat out Evan Brown for the backup center spot after going undrafted, which he shouldn’t have.
Overall, Detroit has a really good offensive line, that could still get better if both of the guard spots live up to the potential that they have with any of the three names listed that could potentially start at either spot.
Run Defense – 81, 18th (2 percent Overall, 5 percent Defense)
Aaron Glenn is bringing over a 4-3 scheme to Detroit. Unfortunately, they have the personnel that would be more likely to run a 3-4 scheme. In the 3-4 scheme, it appears that the front three will be a blend of Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, and Alim McNeill. The first three picks Detroit made in the draft this year were Sewell, Onwuzurike, and McNeill, so that shows how invested Campbell and the front office are on building through the trenches. Brockers was brought over as part of the culture shift, and it helped knowing Holmes back from Los Angeles.
The depth in this group is insane. Da’Shawn Hand could be more of a pass-down specialist this year but will likely still be in the rotation in run defense while McNeill gets up to speed after opting out last season. Nick Williams and John Penisini are also in the mix in this group and give Detroit one of the deepest interior defensive lines in the league.
With the 4-3 scheme, Trey Flowers, and Romeo, and Julian Okwara will now transition from 4-3 ends to 3-4 outside linebackers. Flowers is usually stout in run defense, while Romeo Okwara was considered a great run defender earlier in his career with the Giants before slimming down and working on his pass-rush arsenal. There is nothing to worry about here with the starters.
Unfortunately, Detroit’s linebackers aren’t great in run defense. Jamie Collins isn’t the same player outside of New England and looks to be on his last legs in Detroit. Jahlani Tavai wasn’t a good choice in the second round a few years back and hasn’t developed much since coming to Detroit. He will likely start in Week 1 before one of the younger guys in the room take over once he doesn’t play well. For the depth, Alex Anzalone follows Glenn and Campbell from New Orleans and could compete with Tavai, as well as Derrick Barnes for one of the starting inside linebacker roles as the season wears on.
Pass Rush – 77.5, 24th (12 percent Overall, 25 percent Defense)
The Lions only had 24 sacks last year, and ten came from Romeo Okwara. Flowers only played in seven games last year due to injuries, and that had a hand in why the pass-rush was only able to total 24 sacks. This year, hopefully, he can stay healthy in this new scheme. Julian Okwara didn’t get as much playing time last season as he would’ve hoped for and dealt with injuries. There could be certain packages where Detroit tries to get all three of them on the field at the same time by taking off an interior defender, but that takes off one of the better interior defenders they have. As a fourth edge rusher, Charles Harris is solid but hasn’t panned out since being a bust as a first-round pick a few years ago.
From the interior, Hand, Onwuzurike, and McNeill all have plenty of pass-rush opportunities to grow. Brockers, meanwhile, is purely a run-stuffer that doesn’t gather much production in the pass rush categories. There is a lot more youth to the pass-rush unit this year, and if it can stay healthy, expect the total number of sacks to go up about ten or so from the 24 they had last year.
Linebackers – 71.5, 28th (5 percent Overall, 13 percent Defense)
Before we get started, Tavai shouldn’t be a starter in the league and is a liability on passing downs. He is a thumper in the running game, but not much else. Collins is getting up there in age, and this could be his last year for the Lions due to his cap number increasing and potential outs in it. Anzalone could factor in here and there since he knows a lot of the scheme that Glenn is running, but don’t be surprised if Barnes snags one of the two starting linebacker roles in this 3-4 scheme in the middle of the season. A lot of beat reporters and fans have already hyped him up, and there is a lot of excitement around him since the Lions traded up in the fourth round to get him.
Behind those four are Shaun Dion Hamilton and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who are pure pass-down specialists that don’t contribute much to the run defense. One of the two will likely make the team, while the other may be cut.
Secondary – 71.5, 28th (13 percent Overall, 27 percent Defense)
There is a lot to like about the general picture of the Detroit secondary, and it starts with the young pieces they have in the cornerback room. After being taken third overall in the 2020 draft, Jeff Okudah struggled a lot during his rookie season. The new scheme that relies a lot on zone coverage is a bit different than the scheme Detroit was running last season, which is better for him. There is still a lot of unknowns about him, but Okudah had a very rough rookie season, and the only way to go from here is up.
Amani Oruwariye was once a late-round draft pick that many people in the draft community had as a day two pick. Oruwariye has put together a great start to his career, and the duo of Okudah and Oruwariye could become one of the most intriguing young cornerback duos in the league. Corn Elder will likely be the starter at nickel this year. Quinton Dunbar might be able to beat out Oruwariye for the starting job opposite of Okudah, but he hasn’t managed to stay healthy.
Ifeatu Melifonwu was considered a first-round pick but ultimately slipped down to the back of the third round, where the Lions took him. He is a better fit in this zone scheme, but he struggles in man coverage, especially deep down the field. A potential move to safety could be in the works, but that is yet to be seen. Mike Ford and Alijah Holder will likely battle for the final cornerback spot.
Tracy Walker had an excellent 2019 season that looked to finally be on track to putting it all together and making himself known as one of the best young safeties in the league. Will Harris has a good athletic profile, but since his draft selection two years ago, he hasn’t developed. Dean Marlowe is the third safety and is a veteran worth keeping an eye on. Godwin Igwebuike and C.J. Moore are the only other noteworthy names in the safety room that could be a bit of a mess this year.
Coach and Culture – 69.5, 31st (15 percent Overall, 21 percent Offense, 30 percent Defense)
There are multiple moving pieces on the offense, and the unit is led by Lynn, who got fired from the Chargers following last season. The offensive line is great, but the lack of offensive weapons outside of Swift and Hockenson is a big cause for concern for a team that is trying to see if Goff is the future of the franchise. If the Lions get behind early and often in games, it will be very hard on Goff to find receivers getting separation down the field, resulting in the Lions’ offense becoming stagnant. The offensive coach and culture rank 31st, but the coaching staff and front office are building something they want in Detroit.
The Lions have an identity defensively. They will punch you in the mouth at the line of scrimmage in the run game and cause you to pass on them, which is a bit of a concern due to the young secondary with a new system. Brockers, Collins, Flowers, and a few others bring a veteran presence to a young team in need of a culture shift after the failed Patricia experience. Glenn’s defensive scheme matches well with players on the backend with his quarters coverage scheme, but running a 3-4 instead of a 4-3 is a bit of a head-scratching move. The Lions defensive coach and culture ranks 29th.
Detroit’s early schedule is a grueling start to the season. San Francisco, Baltimore, and Green Bay are three teams you don’t want to see at any point in the season in a row, but for a team trying to implement new schemes and see how they match up, the Lions are going to struggle immensely against those three to kick off the season. They then play two divisional games on the road against Chicago and Minnesota before coming home to face the Bengals and finally going on the road again to face off against the Rams. Detroit could very well start 0-7 but has a few winnable games in that early stretch.
Before the bye, the Lions stay home to take on the Eagles before returning from the bye traveling to Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Things let up a little bit again with two divisional games against the Bears and Vikings at home, along with games against the Broncos, Cardinals, and Falcons. Detroit finishes the season on the road against the Seahawks before ending the season at home against the Packers.
According to Odds Shark, the Lions have an over/under of five games, which is the second-lowest in the league. Though the prediction I have below is under the five, I wouldn’t bet here because the Lions will control the line of scrimmage, and if they catch a team on a bad week, they could upset that team and gain another win. The Lions have a bright future but won’t sniff the playoff picture.