RB Jerome Harrison, RB Mike Bell, C Rudy Niswanger, DE Keyunta Dawson, OLB Justin Durant, ILB Stephen Tulloch, CB Eric Wright, S Erik Coleman, S Michael Johnson.
Early Draft Picks:
DT Nick Fairley, WR Titus Young, RB Mikel Leshoure, OLB Doug Hogue.
WR Bryant Johnson, DE Turk McBride, OLB Julian Peterson, OLB Jordon Dizon.
2011 Detroit Lions Offense:
Poor Matthew Stafford. The football gods just won't let him play. After an injury-plagued rookie campaign, Stafford was knocked out in the opener against the Bears in which the Lions looked like they were going to prevail. Stafford tried to come back in November, but hurt his shoulder again and was sidelined for the rest of the season.
Stafford is healthy now, but not for long. His top three offensive tackles, Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherilus and Jason Fox, are all injured. Backus, who was responsible for that injury in the opener, has a torn chest muscle and is currently on the active/PUP list. Cherilus, who was mediocre in 2010, is coming off microfracture surgery on his knee. Fox has has some upside, but suffered a foot injury during training camp.
It's a good thing Detroit is better in the interior, though that could be by default. Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman are very good guards, but center Dominic Raiola should have been upgraded this offseason.
It really is a shame that Stafford hasn't been given much of a chance. He has a howitzer arm and is surrounded by a plethora of talent to post monstrous stats. Calvin Johnson packed on 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and has been enjoying the best training camp of his life. He could top 1,500 receiving yards if Stafford stays healthy.
Stafford will also look more often to Brandon Pettigrew, who had somewhat of a breakout sophomore campaign with Shaun Hill under center. Pettigrew notched 71 receptions for 722 yards and four touchdowns; the latter number expected to rise, of course, if Stafford can stay healthy.
The rest of the receiving corps is comprised of Nate Burleson (55 catches, 625 yards, 6 TDs in 2010) and second-round rookie Titus Young. Young has blazing speed as he demonstrated in the Senior Bowl, but he hasn't been able to practice at training camp because of a leg injury.
Detroit spent another second-round selection on running back Mikel Leshoure, who unfortunately tore his Achilles tendon at training camp. Leshoure was supposed to serve as a power-back complement to the electrifying but fragile Jahvid Best. Best demonstrated what he was capable of against Philadelphia in Week 2 (232 total yards, three touchdowns) before suffering through two turf toes for the rest of the season. Best is now healthy, though that's far from a lock to last very long.
2011 Detroit Lions Defense:
The Lions shocked the football world when they used the No. 13 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft on defensive tackle Nick Fairley. Projected to go No. 1 overall at some point by a few draft analysts, Fairley fell because of motivational and character concerns. There was also the fact that he was a one-year wonder at Auburn, though he dominated the line of scrimmage in that one season.
Fairley was a value choice and will form a powerful duo with Ndamukong Suh if he can stay healthy. Fairley has a stress fracture in his foot at the moment, but it's believed that he'll be able to play in the opener. If not, it'll be Corey Williams, a talented interior pass-rusher who defends the run almost as well. Either way, Suh will have a damn good partner in crime. Suh notched an eye-popping 10 sacks as a rookie. He was very good, but he struggled a bit against the run. That could change now that he has a year of experience under his belt, though the Bengals made it a point to run right at him in the preseason opener.
With Suh, Fairley and Williams collapsing the pocket, it'll open things up even more for ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril. Vanden Bosch had just four sacks in 11 games, but is the leader of the locker room. Avril, meanwhile collected 8.5 sacks from the blind side.
Detroit's back seven was its downfall last year, but that has changed, at least in part, because of two upgrades in the linebacking corps. The big signing was Stephen Tulloch, one of the more talented players at his position. Tulloch will be stationed in the middle next to weakside linebacker DeAndre Levy, who started 11 games as an NFL sophomore in 2010 and was very solid. The other free-agent addition was strongside linebacker Justin Durant, who specialized in run support for Jacksonville.
The secondary is still a concern, however. The Lions' 25th-ranked pass defense figures to improve because of a stronger front seven, but it's still an area of huge weakness.
It was rumored that Detroit would sign a top-flight cornerback like Johnathan Joseph, but all the team managed to acquire was Eric Wright. A former Brown, Wright was a pretty solid corner a couple of seasons ago, but has lost his confidence ever since. He's still an upgrade over Alphonso Smith and Nathan Vasher across from Chris Houston, who held his own despite the fact that he was utilized as a No. 1 corner.
The Lions will be better on the back end because free safety Louis Delmas is healthy again. Delmas played all of last year with a painful groin injury, but he's now 100 percent after offseason surgery. He'll start next to strong safety Amari Speivey, a converted corner who performed adequately in 2010 despite being a third-round rookie.
2011 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
The Lions have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 53-67 record since 1996. But that's nothing compared to their 22-98 road mark during that span. That's the league's worst visiting record the past 15 years. In fact, prior to a victory over the Buccaneers in Week 15, the Lions hadn't won a road game since Oct. 28, 2007.
In the five years prior to 2010, the Lions didn't have a single real special-teams touchdown (the only one was a fluke score by Casey Fitzsimmons off an onsides kick). Even worse, they had given up NINE returns. Well, the latter figure is now up to 11, but Detroit at least scored. This happened when stud return specialist Stefan Logan took a kickoff back to the house.
Jason Hanson just turned 41 in October. Despite this, he drilled 12-of-14 attempts in eight games last year, including 3-of-4 from 50-plus. Unfortunately, Hanson suffered a sprain MCL in 2010, so his body might take too long to recover.
Punter Nick Harris did a good job last season, maintaining a 44.6 average, although he did pin the opposition inside the 20-yard line just 24 times in 90 tries.
If the Lions can win in Tampa again, they could start 3-0 because they have the Chiefs (home) and Vikings (road) after that. Detroit's non-divisional schedule as a whole is pretty easy; other cupcake foes include Oakland, San Francisco, Denver and Carolina. Unfortunately, they have to deal with the Packers and Bears twice each.
2011 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
2011 Detroit Lions Analysis: Expectations are high in Detroit for the first time in a long while. And for good reason - the front office has assembled an enormous amount of talent.
Injuries are going to decide whether the Lions make the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Matthew Stafford, Jahvid Best, the starting tackles, Nick Fairley and even Jason Hanson all have major medical question marks. If they can all stay on the field, Detroit could be playing deep into January. And if not? Well, Lions fans know how that works.
I think I'm the only person in America who didn't like Detroit's draft.
Look, I understand the allure of drafting Nick Fairley No. 13. He was supposedly the top player available, and was once a candidate to go No. 1 overall. But there's a reason why he slipped - he's a 1-year wonder and has work ethic issues. I'm VERY concerned that he's going to use most of his signing bonus to buy doughnuts, Cheetos and Oreos, and eventually balloon up to 350 pounds. JUCO transfers have an extremely high bust rate in the NFL. Fairley is not someone I would have drafted in the top 20. Maybe I'm wrong, and maybe he'll be a perennial Pro Bowler, but I have my concerns.
The Lions had only five selections. I loved two of them. However, Detroit did not address the cornerback or left tackle positions, so Martin Mayhew will have to go after Nnamdi Asomugha in free agency. I don't know how he'll improve Matthew Stafford's protection.
Overall 2011 NFL Draft Grade given on 5/1/11: C+
2011 NFL Draft Individual Grades:
13. Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn
All Matt Millen did was pick receivers. Now, all the Lions do is acquire high-priced defensive tackles.
I don't like this pick much. Fairley is a one-year wonder with work ethic issues. I don't like the idea of paying him a ton of money in a rookie signing bonus. Plus, passing up Prince Amukamara and Jimmy Smith is pretty questionable. (Pick Grade: C)
44. Titus Young, WR, Boise State
Titus Young is exactly what the Lions need on offense, outside of a left tackle. He's eventually going to draw some attention away from Calvin Johnson. In the meantime, he'll contribute right away on punt returns. I really like this pick. (Pick Grade: A)
57. Mikel Leshoure, RB, Illinois
Even though the Lions had to trade up to this spot, I love this pick. How did Mikel Leshoure fall this far? Leshoure provides great value at No. 57 and will fill a need as a big back complement for Jahvid Best. (Pick Grade: A)
157. Doug Hogue, OLB, Syracuse
I thought the Lions would address the linebacker position earlier than this. Doug Hogue fills a major need, but I feel like there were better linebackers available. (Pick Grade: C)
209. Johnny Culbreath, OT, South Carolina State
A developmental tackle. Jeff Backus is entering his contract year, so the Lions will finally be forced to find a new left tackle next year. (Pick Grade: B)
The Lions played most of the 2010 season without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford. Yet, they were able to finish 6-10, with seven of their 10 defeats decided by one score. If Stafford can stay healthy, Detroit will make a run at the playoffs next year.
Lions sign S Michael Johnson
Lions sign C Rudy Niswanger
Lions sign RB Jerome Harrison
Lions sign RB Mike Bell
Lions sign DE Keyunta Dawson
Lions re-sign OLB Bobby Carpenter
Lions sign WR Maurice Stovall
Saints sign DE Turk McBride
Lions sign ILB Stephen Tulloch
Lions re-sign CB Chris Houston
Lions re-sign C Dylan Gandy
Lions sign CB Eric Wright
Lions cut OLB Jordon Dizon
Lions sign WR Rashied Davis
Lions sign OLB Justin Durant
Lions re-sign QB Drew Stanton
Lions cut WR Bryant Johnson
Lions tender FB Jerome Felton
Lions tender DT Andre Fluellen
Lions cut OLB Julian Peterson
Lions re-sign DE Cliff Avril
Lions sign SS Erik Coleman
Lions cut CB Eric King
Two Outside Linebackers: Detroit has informed Julian Peterson that he will be released because of his $8 million salary. His mediocre play might also be a reason. Meanwhile, Zack Follett is coming off a devastating injury and may not be ready to play for a while. The Lions will consider Akeem Ayers with the No. 13 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Signed Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant; drafted Doug Hogue
Cornerback: Make this two corners if the Lions don't re-sign Chris Houston. Prince Amukamara will be the choice if he somehow falls to the 13th pick. Detroit will probably have to address this position in the second round. Re-signed Chris Houston; signed Eric Wright
Left Tackle/Right Tackle: Jeff Backus didn't have a bad year overall, but he was responsible for Julius Peppers knocking out Matthew Stafford in the season opener. Backus would be better served at right tackle. Unfortunately, this tackle class is awful, so the Lions will have to wait until Day 2 of the 2011 NFL Draft to address this problem. Drafted Johnny Culbreath
Center: The Lions have some major holes up front - including the center position, occupied by Dominic Raiola. By the way, I'm not listing the guard position as one of the needs; Stephen Peterman sucked last year because he played with a foot injury. He'll be better in 2011. Signed Rudy Niswanger
Strong Safety: C.C. Brown started eight games for the Lions in 2010. Converted corner Amari Spievey was the other option, but he's probably better suited playing nickel. A Day 2 pick might be spent on an upgrade. Signed Erik Coleman
Power Running Back: Detroit will be looking for a runner to help in goal-line situations. Mikel Leshoure is out for the year with a torn Achilles. Drafted Mikel Leshoure
Wide Receiver: Can you imagine how potent Detroit's offense would be if it found a reliable No. 2 wideout across from Calvin Johnson? Drafted Titus Young; signed Rashied Davis
2011 NFL Free Agent Signings:
Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Titans. Age: 26. Signed with Lions (1 year, $3.25 million)
Stephen Tulloch is a stud. At only 26 years old, he's one of the top 4-3 middle linebackers in the NFL. He's going to receive a huge contract this offseason.
Eric Wright, CB, Browns. Age: 26. Signed with Lions
Eric Wright is physically talented, but has regressed each season in the NFL. He's still young though, so maybe he can turn his career around elsewhere.
Justin Durant, OLB, Jaguars. Age: 25. Signed with Lions (2 years)
Justin Durant is a quality weakside linebacker, but is frequently injured.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Eagles. Age: 28. Signed with Lions
Remember that torrid stretch Jerome Harrison enjoyed at the end of the 2009 season? It's amazing that he started only three games this year. Harrison is a very effective second running back.
Erik Coleman, SS, Falcons. Age: 29. -- Signed with Lions (1 year)
Keyunta Dawson, DE, Colts. Age: 25. -- Signed with Lions
Rashied Davis, WR, Bears. Age: 32. -- Signed with Lions (1 year)
Rudy Niswanger, C, Chiefs. Age: 28. -- Signed with Lions
Michael Johnson, S, Giants. Age: 27. -- Signed with Lions
Mike Bell, RB, Browns. Age: 28. -- Signed with Lions
Maurice Stovall, WR, Buccaneers. Age: 26. -- Signed with Lions
Detroit Lions Free Agents:
Salary Cap: No cap.
Cliff Avril (RFA), DE, Lions. Age: 25. Re-signed with Lions (1 year, $2.6 million)
Cliff Avril is a tremendous pass-rusher - 8.5 sacks in 13 games - but he's a liability against the run.
Chris Houston, CB, Lions. Age: 26. Re-signed with Lions
Chris Houston can't be a No. 1 corner. The Lions might be able to get away with him being a starter across from someone more talented, however.
Kevin Smith, RB, Lions. Age: 24.
Kevin Smith has some talent, but can't seem to stay healthy. The Central Florida coaching staff ruined his NFL career by giving him 450 carries in his senior year.
Turk McBride, DE, Lions. Age: 26. Signed with Saints
A decent rotational lineman for the Lions, Turk McBride recorded five sacks in 2010.
Divisional Rival History: Chicago Bears: Take out a bizarre 2007 season where the Lions somehow swept the Bears, and Chicago has won 10 straight in this rivalry. Green Bay Packers: The Packers have won 18 of the last 21 meetings. Detroit beat Green Bay at home in 2010, but Aaron Rodgers missed half the game. Minnesota Vikings: Pure domination. The Vikings have somehow won 21 of the past 24 meetings.
Features to be Posted This Offseason:
2011 NFL Draft Grades (Pick-by-Pick NFL Draft Grades as well - Live on Draft Day!)