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2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC East: Detroit Lions - 4th

by Shasky Clarke on Aug. 28, 2013

2013 NFL Team Previews, NFC East: Detroit Lions - 4th

 

OFFENSE

 

Quarterback:

There is an idea out there that the Detroit Lions possess one of the most potent passing games in the NFL. They were certainly as pass-happy as it gets, with rocket-armed quarterback Matthew Stafford averaging more than 45 pass attempts per game. But after an elite 2011 season that saw him toss 46 touchdowns, complete 64% of his passes and make many big plays, 2012 saw a substantial regression in Stafford's effectiveness. His accuracy was inconsistent and he only threw 20 touchdowns on 727 attempts. Stafford's 6.8 yards per pass was mediocre, placing him in line with Chad Henne. He too often has unbalanced mechanics in the pocket, falling out of his throws. A combination of a lack of top height and his overuse of a sidearm release cause his passes to get tipped at the line a lot. Matt Stafford is super talented with tremendous arm talent. There is, however, a legitimate concern over whether he has the polish to make the Lions a contender going forward.

 

Running Back:

It has been a while since the Lions sported a productive ground game. The hope in 2013 is that the running game will have more big play potential. This offseason, the team signed 28 year-old free agent Reggie Bush to be the leader in the backfield. Bush is one of the most underrated running backs in the league, combining elite speed and open-field suddenness with deceptive physicality and toughness upon contact. He is also a terrific receiver, averaging more than 50 catches per season in his career. Returning is leading rusher Mikel Leshoure, a physical downhill back who failed to move the meter much behind a subpar run blocking line. The sleeper here is Joique Bell, a smooth, starting-caliber productive back with good vision.

 

Wide Receiver:

Outside of the fact that Detroit is home to the best receiver in the league, the team is very pedestrian at this position, failing to consistently get much separation or make many plays downfield. One of the most impressive athletes in sports, Calvin Johnson was virtually unstoppable, catching 122 balls for nearly 2000 yards. But the Lions struggled to get much production from its complementary guys, as Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles combined for less than 50 catches and 600 yards. Burleson has lost a step, but Broyles has the potential to be a productive and polished slot guy. The big upside guy here is 6'5” 215-pound Kris Durham, a big and very explosive target who flashed in brief appearances late in 2012.

 

Tight End:

The Lions somewhat make up for a lack of wide receiver depth with its talented tight end group. The group is once again led by Brandon Pettigrew, a high-volume guy who will drop balls and lacks the athleticism to make plays downfield. But behind Pettigrew are higher upside receivers Tony Scheffler and rookie Joseph Fauria. Scheffler has the size and speed to be a significant matchup nightmare for defenses but he struggled with drops last year and is in jeopardy of losing snaps to the rookie. Fauria just might be the best tight end on the roster as a unique, 6'7” 260-pound athlete with great explosiveness and ball skills.

 

Offensive Line:

Though Detroit's offensive line wasn't all bad in 2012, the team faces substantial change at the position this offseason. At left tackle, gone is longtime left tackle Jeff Backus and replacing him will be last year's first round pick Riley Reiff. Reiff has all the requisite physical tools to be successful there and should be the strength of the unit going forward. Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola return at left guard and center. The two are experienced but have somewhat hamstrung the unit's running game by lacking push and physicality at the line of the scrimmage. Moving on from Stephen Peterman, right guard should see decent competition between athletic veterans Dylan Gandy and Jake Scott and powerful rookie Larry Warford. And after losing right tackle Gosder Cherilus, the team will look to either injury-riddled Jason Fox or Corey Hilliard. The unit isn't markedly better and there is now a question mark at the right tackle spot.

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Best Offensive Rookie – G Larry Warford

Best Offensive Second-Year Player – OT Riley Reiff

2014 Draft Offensive Position of Need – Right Tackle  

2014 Draft Offensive Suggestion – OT Seantrel Henderson, Miami 

 

DEFENSE

 

Defensive End:

The Lions enter with a new pair of ends as last year's starting ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril have left. Avril, in particular, led the team with 9.5 sacks and his production must be replaced. The team is counting on new additions, first round rookie Ziggy Ansah and versatile veteran Jason Jones. Ansah has all the necessary athleticism and motor to be a big time rusher but it remains to be seen if he can develop the rushing repertoire to be a consistent force. Jones is a big, strong end for the strongside and will be an especially dangerous weapon inside in nickel packages. The team also brought in the impressive Israel Idonije, who quietly notched 20.5 sacks in the past three years. Willie Young is a decent rotational end who must find a way to be more productive in his limited snaps than he was last year. Rookie Devin Taylor is another long and athletic edge guy who could eventually be a long term starter.

 

Defensive Tackle:

The Lions have the best defensive tackle duo in the league, and it's not close. Ndamukong Suh gets all the headlines and was among the league leaders at his position, tallying eight sacks and being a consistent, freakish nuisance. But former first round pick Nick Fairley has really come on in the last year, getting 5.5 sacks as a violent and disruptive penetrator. The Lions are so confident in the talent of the pair that they even have a nickel package where Suh and Fairley line up as ends on a four-man line, generating pressure against even athletic offensive tackles. C.J. Mosley and Justin Bannan won't necessarily replicate those guys' production, but are strong, sound veterans.

 

Linebacker:

Detroit continues to try to upgrade this unit and seems to have amassed decent depth. Stephen Tulloch returns once again as the leading tackler on the defense. He lacks prototypical height and speed, and won't make many plays in coverage, but he is a good open field tackler and an experienced veteran. On the outside, the team is expected to start DeAndre Levy and Ashlee Palmer as Justin Durant has departed to Dallas. Neither are elite players or talents, but they are very good athletes with the speed to play sideline to sideline. Providing good competition are veteran Rocky McIntosh and young players Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis. All three are physically capable of performing at or above the level of the projected starters and the competition shouldn't end in the preseason.

 

Cornerback:

Cornerback has also been a deep group, as the team has overhauled the unit over the last two off-seasons. Chris Houston returns as a good, competitive player, even if he is not a Pro Bowl-caliber talent. The team needed to upgrade on the opposite side and is hoping that rookie Darius Slay can fully take control of the job away from physical veteran Ron Bartell. Slay has all the size, speed and playmaking ability to eventually be one of the best young cornerbacks in the league. The team hosts a slew of second-year talent to compete to secure strong playing time in Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. Bentley is a safe bet for some nickel duties as a scrappy playmaker. 6'1” Chris Greenwood has the best pure physical talent with elite athleticism.

 

Safety:

Now one of the strengths of the team, the Lions are set at the safety position after pairing free agent Glover Quin with Pro Bowl talent Louis Delmas. The two share similar skill sets as very athletic players capable of performing a variety of roles in the back end. Delmas needs to overcome the injury issues that have cost him 13 games over the past couple years. Quin's role in Houston was vasty underrated after making 84 tackles and two interceptions in 2012. Amari Spievey and Don Carey have racked up significant experience at the position for the Lions and also contribute range, versatility and playmaking ability. Both have cornerback experience and two years ago, Spievey intercepted three catches as a full time starter.

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Best Defensive Rookie – CB Darius Slay

Best Defensive Second-Year Player – CB Chris Greenwood

2014 Draft Defensive Position of Need – Linebacker   

2014 Draft Defensive Suggestion – LB Shayne Skov, Stanford