I’m not quite sure where to start with this post. After the draft preview and discussing the changeovers in staff and in the front office, this really is going to be a waiting game. I have absolutely no expectations for this team. They have an extremely tough schedule, brand new systems on offense and defense, and a brutal roster. It’s not all terrible, they have some pieces in place that will be great for the future, but there are a ton of question marks and it will be a grind. Buckle up, Lions fans.
Everyone knows that Jared Goff is the Lions starting quarterback. Everyone knows that Matthew Stafford is better than Jared Goff. Everyone knows that Lions fans will finally realize what they had in Matthew Stafford after this year and will regret not appreciating him more when he was here…I hope. Stafford never quite got the respect he deserved when he was here and I’m guessing that Goff is going to open a lot of casual fans eyes. You know, the ones that call into radio shows and complain all the time and talk about quarterback’s records and whatever. I was at a Lions practice earlier this fall and it was jarring to see how much less zip was on Jared Goff’s passes compared to Matthew Stafford. He also took fewer shots down field and played it much safer, presumably because of his arm. This is going to be an ultra conservative offense and Goff fits the scheme/gameplan. He’s just an average quarterback. At no point in time do I believe his actually the Lions QB of the future or anything more than just a placeholder. As for Tim Boyle and David Blough? Well you saw the preseason and last year. This team will go 0-17 if Goff goes down early.
Running back might be one of the few spots that they actually improved this offseason. I love the addition of Jamaal Williams and I think he and D’Andre Swift are great compliments for each other. Swift was rock solid as a rookie with 521 rushing yards and 46 catches for 352 yards and a total of 10 TDs. I was hoping this year would be a leap forward for him but the injuries in camp have probably stymied that a bit. Williams never had more than a 48% snap share in Green Bay and I would be stunned if it was much different in Detroit barring injury. Past these two, you have Jermar Jefferson (who was great in college but tested horribly) and Godwin Igwebuike, who was a safety until about three weeks ago. Swift and Williams are probably the best weapons on offense outside of TJ Hockenson so let’s hope their health stays in order.
The wide receiver unit might be one of the worst in the league, if not the worst. Swapping Kenny Golladay for Tyrell Williams and Marvin Jones for Kalif Raymond is real tough. I agree with the decisions to move on from Golladay and Jones (though Jones was the one that really made that choice), but it came at a price. They did not want to sign any wide receivers/free agents and end up losing out on compensatory picks, and this is what you get. Breshad Perriman was a guy they hoped would pan out but they paid him $2 Million to go away he was so bad in camp. Tyrell Williams at least has experience in the Anthony Lynn offense and if he stays healthy, he can be player. He brings speed to the offense and can make plays…he just has not made any in a while. I’m also a big fan of Amon-Ra St. Brown. He’s a nuanced route runner and a very willing blocker. I think he will do a great job in the slot and will provide the team with some juice. He’s not a franchise game breaker, but he is absolutely this team’s future #2 WR. Kalif Raymond will likely be the other starting receiver and he had a phenomenal camp. He should return kicks and punts and provide a little jump for the offense. Little probably being the operative word since he had 15 catches for 187 yards last year. This receiver room was so bad that they traded for Trinity Benson and claimed KhaDarel Hodge on waivers. I was surprised they gave up actual value for Benson but he apparently had an awesome camp and was going to be stuck behind 4 WRs in Denver. I would be lying if I said I knew a lot about Benson but I cannot imagine he would be worse than Perriman was in camp.
Carrying only two tight ends is a bit of a change for the Lions and I would have to imagine we’ll see Jason Cabinda line up in an H-Back role every so often. Hopefully they have an oxygen tank ready for TJ Hockenson because I do not anticipate them taking their best receiving option off the field very often. Darren Fells is a big body and he can catch passes, but he’s not going to be game breaker. This is where the Lions really need Hockenson to take that next step forward towards joining the elite tier with Kelce, Waller and Kittle. Hockenson had 67 catches for 723 yards and 6 TDs last year on 101 targets and it is hard to imagine him getting fewer than 120 targets with the departures they had at wide receiver. This offense will be less anemic if he can get close to that 1,000 yard plateau.
Now we get to the strength of the offense here with the offensive line. God help them if anyone gets hurt because there is absolutely no depth. If you’re sensing a theme here it’s that this roster has very little depth and not a lot of playmakers. Your starting offensive line has been set since they drafted Penei Sewell. Moving him to right tackle from his natural left tackle spot will come with some growing pains, so do not expect him to be elite right away. Even with the position switch, he should be a solid player right out of the gate. The left side of the offensive line is their strength with Taylor Decker and Jonah Jackson. Jackson had a bit of a lull during his rookie season last year, but I expect him to have a strong year. Frank Ragnow is an elite center and Jared Goff has to be happy to have him. Vaitai is really the only question for me in this starting group. He has looked better in preseason but he was terrible/injured last year and has a massive contract. The good news is there is an out in his contract after this year if he is terrible again…the bad news is if he is terrible again, the options behind him are not much better. Logan Stenberg struggled last year when the old regime tried to teach him to be a center so he could backup the entire interior. He was better this year in the preseason, but I still would not want him playing meaningful minutes. We’ll have to pray for Jared Goff if there are injuries because Matt Nelson as the swing tackle and Evan Brown at center does not make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
Looking at the front seven of the Lions defense is not actually as bad as you might think. If they can get pressure on the quarterback it would go a long ways in helping out the secondary. Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes want to build in the trenches and win in the trenches and they have done so already. The offensive and defensive lines are easily the strengths of this team.
Michael Brockers and Alim McNeill were two huge pickups for this group. Brockers brings leadership and experience and McNeill is a special kind of athlete at the nose tackle position. I’m not a huge Nick Williams guy but he’s fine and it would be great if Levi Onwuzurike took over for him part way through the season. Onwuzurike had a bit of a slow start to camp but he’s an ideal fit for this scheme and I expect him to play meaningful minutes this year. It’s a shame that Da’Shawn Hand is hurt again because he would be great to have starting in Williams spot. It’s hard to imagine Hand taking any steps forward any time soon with his injury history but we can hope he comes back healthy and finally puts it together.
After only playing 7 games last year, it would be great if Trey Flowers could stay healthy. They need him and Okwara to bring the heat and the Lions bet big on Okwara when they signed him to his contract extension. After having 10 sacks last year, it would be hard to imagine Okwara surpassing that…if he matches that number again, Lions fans should be pleased. Jamie Collins and Alex Anzalone will be expected to lead the defense and I trust both of them to be productive and consistent. Anzalone played in this system in New Orleans and he will have a big time role. Derrick Barnes is the guy to be excited about in the future though. He flashed in the preseason in a big way and showed why the Lions traded up for him. He has a special blend of athleticism and even though he is on the smaller side, he runs around like a missile at the point of attack. I would like to see Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara take a step forward but it’s hard to see them as more than depth options right now. Bryant had a good preseason and has flashed often, but he’s not going to supplant any of the current starters.
The secondary is where we see the most question marks on defense. Jeff Okudah struggled last year (which can happen with young corners) and he looked much improved in the preseason. I do not expect any sort of crazy spike in development in his part this year, but if he can keep improving incrementally and get his confidence back, that would go a long way. Amani Oruwariye is not who you want starting as your second corner but he’s what they’ve got. On the plus side, he’s another young guy and he played all 16 games last year. He’s not terrible, but he definitely needs to show some improvement. Past those two at the corner spot you have Ifeatu Melinfonwu, their 3rd round pick from this past April. He’s got a nice athletic profile and his size will be nice addition to the corner spot. AJ Parker was a UDFA that emerged in camp and played too well to be left off of the roster. I’m not sure how he will play against real wide receivers, but I’m intrigued and optimistic. At safety, you have Tracy Walker and Will Harris again. Walker struggled big time last year but he seems to be more comfortable with his role in this defense. If he can regain the form he had two seasons ago, the front office and the fans will be happy. I’ve got to believe that the expectations also weighed heavily on him going into last year. As for Harris, I’m not a big fan of his. I don’t think he’s a starting safety in the NFL and I’m guessing teams will pick on him this year.
These depth charts were compiled by the Lions in-house media so we can take them with a grain of salt in some aspects. I cannot imagine that Tom Kennedy would return kicks or punts over Amon-Ra St. Brown or Godwin Igwuebuike if Kalif Raymond went down. It’s awfully strange not to see Don Muhlbach’s name on here, that is for damn sure. Jack Fox was the second team All-Pro punter last year and you could probably say he’s the best player on the Lions roster. I expect more big things from him. Meanwhile in the kicking game, the Lions had three different kickers in camp and did not keep any of them, opting to claim Austin Seibert on waivers. I have to believe Matt Prater wanted to have a chance to win and that’s why he left, but this leaves a big time hole. Seibert was 6/9 on field goals (8/8 on XPs) last year, making only 1 kick past 40 yards. In 2019 as a rookie, Seibert went 25/29 on FGs and 30/35 on XPs, so there is some hope. But long gone are the days of getting to the other team’s 40-yard line and having a chance to kick a long one. Seibert is 1/3 from 50+ and his long make was 53 yards…not great, cotton.
The Lions have a big time issue this year with being bad AND having a difficult schedule. Really just an awful time to get the NFC West and AFC North. Both of those divisions could have three playoff teams, oh and your division doesn’t suck either. I think the max amount of wins this team could reach is 5. I think between Chicago, Minnesota, Cincinnati and Philadelphia you have a maximum of 4 winnable games at home. On the road you’re looking at Atlanta and then maybe Denver or Chicago. If they somehow pulled everything together and had a magical run, I think they could close their eyes and squint real hard and go 7-10. Probably have to say a few Hail Mary’s there too. Vegas has their win total set at 4.5 (it opened at 5) and I can’t say I disagree whatsoever. Originally I had Cincinnati as a loss and them going 3-14 but it was too depressing to look at so I switched it. Going with 4-13 officially and it’s going to be a lot of pain for Lions fans. Hopefully Brad Holmes knows what he’s doing in the draft because they need to keep stockpiling picks and players. I like what we’ve seen from Dan Campbell and his staff so far. There is hope for the future, don’t get me wrong. But this year’s schedule is going to be too brutal for them to overcome.
[Image via: Touchdown Wire]