QB Shaun Hill, WR Nate Burleson, TE Tony Scheffler, G Rob Sims, DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, DT Corey Williams, CB Chris Houston, CB Jonathan Wade, SS C.C. Brown.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Ndamukong Suh, RB Jahvid Best, CB Amari Spievey, OT Jason Fox.
QB Daunte Culpepper, TE Casey Fitzsimmons, G Daniel Loper, DE Jason Hunter, DE Dewayne White, DE Robert Henderson, DT Grady Jackson, OLB Ernie Sims, ILB Larry Foote, CB Phillip Buchanon, CB Will James, CB Anthony Henry, CB Kevin Hobbs, SS Daniel Bullocks, S Marquand Manuel.
2010 Detroit Lions Offense:
The Lions may not have a winning record this season, but they'll definitely be exciting. They have tons of firepower on offense, led by Calvin Johnson, arguably the most physically talented receiver in the NFL. Megatron, a 6-5, 235-pound freak of nature, had 78 receptions for 1,331 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2008. His numbers dipped in 2009 (67-984-5) because of a rookie quarterback and nagging injuries, but a healthy Johnson could revert back to 2008 form this season, especially considering that he and Matthew Stafford will have more of a rapport.
Another reason why Megatron is due to explode in 2010 is the fact that opposing defenses won't be able to constantly double and triple team him. The Lions acquired Nate Burleson (63 catches, 812 yards) and talented tight end Tony Scheffler to draw attention away from Johnson. There's some concern with Burleson giving 100 percent in the wake of his new $25 million contract, but even at half effort, Burleson is better than the No. 2 receiver Detroit had last year.
The backfield was also upgraded. Detroit spent its second first-round pick on Jahvid Best, an electrifying running back out of Cal. Best is injury-prone and likely won't play many 16-game seasons, but he has breakaway speed and great pass-catching ability to really take Detroit's offense to the next level.
Of course, the player most responsible for bringing the Lions to that next step is Stafford. Stafford struggled as a rookie, but this was understandable, given that he was a 21-year-old with little help around him. However, Stafford showed flashes in three games: Week 3 vs. Washington (21-of-36, 241 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs), Week 4 at Chicago (24-of-36, 296 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT in 2-and-a-half quarters) and Week 11 vs. Cleveland (26-of-43, 422 yards, 5 TDs, 2 INTs). With more experience and a better supporting cast, Stafford will be much better in 2010.
Stafford's five-touchdown at performance against Cleveland was his final quality game of the year because he suffered a shoulder injury on the penultimate play of the game. The offensive line wasn't at fault there - the injury occurred on a Hail Mary - but four days later on Thanksgiving, Stafford was constantly beaten into the turf by Packers rush linebacker Clay Matthews, who made left tackle Jeff Backus look like a helpless child. Backus is a very good run-blocker and would be a solid right tackle or left guard, but he's not an adequate left tackle. This is why it's widely believed that Detroit should have selected Russell Okung with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 NFL Draft.
Unfortunately for Stafford, that didn't happen. Backus will once again be on his blind side, meaning that Detroit's franchise player won't be well protected when his team battles Jared Allen, Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers twice each this upcoming season.
Though Detroit picked Ndamukong Suh over Okung, the line has improved, namely at left guard. Rob Sims, acquired from the Seahawks, is a huge upgrade there. Sims was Seattle's best lineman in 2009, but was dealt because he didn't fit the team's new blocking scheme. Sims should help Backus improve as a left tackle. Meanwhile, Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman are both solid at center and right guard, respectively, but Gosder Cherilus remains a liability at right tackle.
2010 Detroit Lions Defense:
Detroit's defensive rankings the past four years in terms of points allowed: 32nd, 32nd, 32nd and 30th. Kind of depressing, isn't it?
As you can imagine, the Lions had tons of holes on defense last season. They still do, but there's reason to believe that they won't finish last defensively for the first time since 2006, thanks to some upgrades they made this offseason.
The defensive line saw the most change. The obvious upgrade is Ndamukong Suh, selected No. 2 overall in the 2010 NFL Draft. Suh really made a name for himself in the Big XII Championship, dominating the line of scrimmage against a hapless Texas offensive line. In fact, there's so much hype regarding Suh that he'll be deemed a disappointment if he doesn't play at an Albert Haynesworth-type level almost immediately. Those are ridiculous expectations, but then again, many on the Internet insanely touted Suh as the next Reggie White.
Suh will start at under tackle next to Sammie Lee Hill or Corey Williams. Hill emerged as a very stout run-stuffer as a rookie last year. Williams, meanwhile, was acquired for a mere swap of fifth- and seventh-round picks, but he's much more talented than that. He had a pair of dominant seasons for the Packers a few years ago before signing a 6-year, $38.6 million deal with the Browns in February 2008. Williams didn't transition well into the Browns' 3-4, which is why he was available at such a cheap price. He and Suh should be a tremendous force up the middle.
The Lions need to work on obtaining a dynamic pass rusher at defensive end to make their stop unit really formidable. For now, they have the newly signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and third-year Cliff Avril on the exterior. Vanden Bosch, 32 in November, is clearly on the decline; he had just three sacks in 2009. Avril, meanwhile, has some upside; he had 5.5 sacks last season, but three in the final five weeks.
It'll be tremendously vital for the Lions to put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible because the secondary is so terrible. Free safety Louis Delmas is the only quality starter on the unit. The strong safety position is the polar opposite; there's no clear-cut starter, as the job is open to beleaguered C.C. Brown and former CFLer Jonathan Hefney, who is 5-9, 185.
No. 1 cornerback Chris Houston, acquired from the Falcons for a sixth-round pick, was torched so often last year that Atlanta fans referred to him as "Chrisp Houston." Third-round rookie Amari Spievey is projected to be the other starting corner, which demonstrates how thin the Lions are at the position.
The linebacking corps is more stable, but only by default. The top player on the unit is Julian Peterson, who is still getting it done on the strong side despite the fact that he's turning 32 soon. Inside linebacker DeAndre Levy struggled in terms of tackling as a rookie in 2009 (he led the NFL in broken tackles despite starting just 10 games), but that hasn't stopped Detroit's coaching staff from continuously praising him. Zack Follett, slated to start at weakside linebacker, is an enigma. Follett has barely played in the NFL, but the Lions didn't seem too concerned with providing competition for him in the 2010 NFL Draft.
2010 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
The Lions have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 49-63 record since 1996. But that's nothing compared to their 20-92 road mark during that span. That's the league's worst visiting record the past 14 years. In fact, the Lions haven't won a road game since Oct. 28, 2007.
In the past five years, the Lions don't have a real special teams touchdown (the only one was a fluke score by Casey Fitzsimmons off an onsides kick). Even worse, they've given up NINE returns.
Jason Hanson failed to hit at least 82 percent of his field goals for the first time since 2005, going 21-of-28 last year. He was just 1-of-4 from 50-plus after going 8-of-8 from that distance the season before. Hanson just turned 40, so the decline is natural.
Not even the punter helped Detroit's woeful special teams. Nick Harris had a 42.9 average with just 20-of-74 kicks inside the 20.
Here are some winnable games for the Lions: Bears on the road (Week 1); Rams at home (Week 5); Redskins at home (Week 8); Bills on the road (Week 10); Bears at home (Week 13); and Buccaneers on the road (Week 15).
2010 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2010 Detroit Lions Analysis: It may be hard for some to believe, but the Lions are no longer the doormats of the NFL. They have tons of firepower on offense and have made enough upgrades on the stop unit to avoid ranking in the 30s again. This is a young, exciting team that could win 6-8 games this season and possibly contend for a playoff spot in 2011.
Lions fans know that I disagree with Ndamukong Suh going over Russell Okung, so this grade may surprise them. I love the direction Detroit is headed.
This front office has made it clear that it will take the best player on the board regardless of position. With that strategy, the Lions were able to obtain a stud defensive tackle, a dynamic running back (Jahvid Best), an underrated corner (Amari Spievey) and a promising left tackle (Jason Fox).
The only concern here are injuries. That's always a risk, but three of the picks, Suh, Best and Fox, all come with baggage. Suh's knees, Best's concussions and Fox's knee and irregular heartbeat all pose a significant threat.
The bottom line, however, is that the Lions really improved their roster. Remember, they also traded their picks for starters (Corey Williams, Tony Scheffler, Rob Sims and Chris Houston; credit Facebook friend Charlie C. for reminding me). If Fox pans out and gives Matthew Stafford the protection he desperately needs, it would not surprise me in the slightest to see this team compete for a playoff spot in 2011.
Overall 2010 NFL Draft Grade given on 4/26/10: A
2010 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
2. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Nebraska
The Lions are taking the best player available, and that's their M.O. I understand that, and I can't penalize them too much because they're getting a dynamic talent. But they made a mistake passing on Michael Oher last year, and I think they're making the same error again. Detroit fans better pray that Matthew Stafford isn't in a wheel chair by Thanksgiving. (Pick Grade: B)
30. Jahvid Best, RB, California
Jahvid Best is a great talent and fills a need. I'm just concerned about the concussions. That became such a big issue last year. What if Best gets another concussion in 2010? That's three in a span of a 12 months. Huge risk, but tons of upside. (Pick Grade: B)
66. Amari Spievey, CB, Iowa
Amari Spievey is a great fit for this defense and fills the team's No. 2 need. Great early Round 3 selection. (Pick Grade: A)
128. Jason Fox, OT, Miami
Great pick. Jason Fox is a high second-round talent but falls because of injuries. If he can recover, he'll be a great blind-side protector for Matthew Stafford. (Pick Grade: A)
213. Willie Young, DE, N.C. State
You can never have enough pass-rushers when you're going up against Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers in the division. Willie Young was regarded as a mid-round prospect. Great value. (Pick Grade: A)
255. Tim Toone, WR, Weber State
I can't bash Mr. Irrelevant - especially after the drunks at the draft chanted, "Over-rated!" No opinion here. (Pick Grade: B)
Considering that the Lions haven't put together a winning season since 2000, any sort of progress is all the fans are looking for. Well, the pieces are starting to come into place. Detroit has its franchise quarterback. Calvin Johnson is one of the top receivers in the NFL. Several young defensive players (DeAndre Levy, Louis Delmas, Sammie Lee Hill) stepped up last year. Detroit's front office needs to continue building around Stafford and adding talent to the defense.
Lions cut DE Jason Hunter
Lions cut S Marquand Manuel
Lions sign LB Isaiah Ekejiuba
Lions cut SS Daniel Bullocks
Lions sign CB Dre' Bly
Lions waive WR Marko Mitchell
Raiders sign G Daniel Loper
Lions waive TE John "Mad Dog" Madsen
Lions sign TE John "Mad Dog" Madsen
Lions sign SS C.C. Brown
49ers sign CB Will James
Lions claim WR Marko Mitchell
Lions acquire TE Tony Scheffler and 7th-round pick from Broncos for OLB Ernie Sims (to Eagles)
Lions re-sign S Daniel Bullocks
Lions claim G Trevor Canfield
Lions cut CB Kevin Hobbs
Lions waive CB Brian Witherspoon
Lions cut S Kalvin Pearson
Lions cut G Daniel Loper
Lions re-sign C Dylan Gandy
Lions announce retirement of TE Casey FitzSimmons
Lions re-sign DE Jared DeVries
Lions re-sign S Ko Simpson
Seahawks acquire DE Robert Henderson from Lions for 2010 7th-rounder
Lions acquire G Rob Sims from Seahawks for a 2010 5th-rounder
Redskins sign CB Phillip Buchanon
Lions re-sign G Manuel Ramirez
Lions re-sign DE Jason Hunter
Lions re-sign RB Cedric Peerman
Lions re-sign DE Copeland Bryan
Lions re-sign CB DeAngelo Smith
Steelers sign ILB Larry Foote
Lions acquire QB Shaun Hill from 49ers for 2011 7th-rounder
Lions acquire CB Chris Houston from Falcons for 2010 6th-rounder and exchange of 2010 5th-rounders
Lions sign CB Jonathan Wade
Lions sign WR Brian Clark
Lions cut DE Dewayne White
Lions re-sign TE Will Heller
Lions acquire DT Corey Williams and 2010 7th-rounder from Browns for 2010 5th-rounder
Lions cut DT Grady Jackson
Lions sign DE Kyle Vanden Bosch
Lions sign WR Nate Burleson
Lions re-sign OT Jon Jansen
Lions cut CB Phillip Buchanon
Lions tender SS Daniel Bullocks
Lions tender OLB Zack Follett
Lions tender G Corey Hilliard
Lions tender TE Jake Nordin
Lions cut DE Jared DeVries
Left Tackle: I wrote it before the Lions even drafted Matthew Stafford - the only way Stafford busts in Detroit is if the front office doesn't protect him with a decent offensive line. Lo and behold, Stafford took a beating in his rookie year. Sure, the initial shoulder injury was on a fluke Hail Mary, but it didn't help that a few days later, Clay Matthews was constantly beating Jeff Backus and pelting Stafford into the turf. Backus is a decent run-blocker and would be good at left guard. He's not anywhere close to being a franchise left tackle. Unfortunately, this is a need that won't be addressed. Drafted Jason Fox
Defensive Tackle: The Lions' defensive line is a mess and there need to be multiple upgrades. Ndamukong Suh or Gerald McCoy will help here. Drafted Ndamukong Suh; traded for Corey Williams
Cornerback: The secondary was a mess last year, and Detroit needs a No. 1 cornerback. Jim Schwartz had glowing things to say about Kyle Wilson after coaching him in the Senior Bowl, so he could be targeted atop the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft. Traded for Chris Houston; drafted Amari Spievey; signed Jonathan Wade and Dre' Bly
Left Guard: Detroit can take care of both the left tackle and left guard positions by drafting Russell Okung and moving Jeff Backus over. Instead, the front office and coaching staff seems more interested in feeding lies to its fans. Traded for Rob Sims
Defensive End: No one on the Lions had more than 5.5 sacks this year. Help will need to be obtained in Rounds 2-5 of the 2010 NFL Draft. Signed Kyle Vanden Bosch; drafted Willie Young
Strong Safety: Louis Delmas had a great rookie campaign, but more safety help is needed in the secondary. There will be plenty of options in the middle rounds this April.
No. 2 Wide Receiver: The Lions have to obtain a dependable No. 2 receiver to help draw some coverage away from Calvin Johnson. If Detroit doesn't sign Antonio Bryant or Derrick Mason, it could use a Round 2-5 selection to address this need. Signed Nate Burleson and Brian Clark; claimed Marko Mitchell
Running Back: Kevin Smith suffered an ACL tear toward the end of the season. He probably won't be ready for the 2010 opener, meaning the Lions will need someone to carry the ball for the first half of the year. A mid- or late-round pick could be used on a running back for competition. Don't count out Jahvid Best or Jonathan Dwyer in Round 2 either. Drafted Jahvid Best
Return Specialist: I'm not buying Dennis Northcutt as a punt returner anymore. He just doesn't have the same explosion he maintained back in 2002-2004.
Punter: Nick Harris had a shameful average of 42.9 with only 20-of-74 kicks pinned inside the 20.
2010 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Nate Burleson, WR, Seahawks. Age: 29. Signed with Lions (5 years, $25 million; $11 million guaranteed)
Nate Burleson is coming off a very solid year, catching 63 balls for 812 yards in 13 games. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that once Burleson signs an overpriced contract, he'll revert to Sloth Mode.
Kyle Vanden Bosch, DE, Titans. Age: 31. Signed with Lions (4 years, $26 million)
Both age and Albert Haynesworth's departure ruined Kyle Vanden Bosch's 2009 campaign. He registered only three sacks.
C.C. Brown, SS, Giants. Age: 27. -- Signed with Lions
Jonathan Wade (RFA), CB, Rams. Age: 26. -- Signed with Lions
Brian Clark (RFA), WR, Buccaneers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Lions (1 year)
Detroit Lions Free Agents:
Salary Cap (As of Feb. 11): No cap.
Larry Foote, ILB, Lions. Age: 30. Signed with Steelers (3 years, $9.3 million; $1.8 million guaranteed)
A very solid guy to have in the middle of your defense. Larry Foote, who can play both the 3-4 and 4-3, led the Lions in tackles with 99 in 2009.
Phillip Buchanon, CB, Lions. Age: 29. Signed with Redskins (1 year, $1.5 million)
Phillip Buchanon is a solid corner, but struggled last year. You can attribute that to Detroit's anemic pass rush. Buchanon is worth signing as a sound No. 2 corner.
Will James, CB, Lions. Age: 31. Signed with 49ers (1 year)
Will James was burnt often in 2009, but part of that was because the Lions couldn't get any pressure on the quarterback.
Anthony Henry, CB, Lions. Age: 33.
Not a starter anymore, but offers some value as an experienced backup.
Dewayne White, DE, Lions. Age: 30.
Dewayne White has missed 10 games in the last three years, but he's a solid rotational defensive end.
Daniel Bullocks, SS, Lions. Age: 27.
Ko Simpson (RFA), S, Lions. Age: 26. -- Re-signed with Lions (1 year, $1.1 million)
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: Take out a bizarre 2007 season where the Lions somehow swept the Bears, and Chicago has won eight straight in this "rivalry." Green Bay Packers: The Lions' ineptness has no limit. The Packers have won 17 of the last 19 meetings. Minnesota Vikings: Pure domination. The Vikings have somehow won 20 of the past 22 meetings.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2010 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)