2015 NFL Offseason: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions (Last Year: 11-5)

2015 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Lance Moore, WR Greg Salas, G Manuel Ramirez, DE Phillip Hunt, DT Haloti Ngata, DT Tyrunn Walker, CB Josh Wilson, CB Chris Owens.
Early Draft Picks:
G Laken Tomlinson, RB Ameer Abdullah, CB Alex Carter, DT Gabe Wright, FB Mike Burton. Lions Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
RB Reggie Bush, FB Jed Collins, OT Corey Hilliard, G Rob Sims, C Dominic Raiola, DE George Johnson, DT Ndamukong Suh, DT Nick Fairley, DT C.J. Mosley, DT Andre Fluellen, OLB Ashlee Palmer, CB Cassius Vaughn.

2015 Detroit Lions Offense:
For all the talent the Lions have, they should have scored more than 20.1 points per game. Yet, that was the figure they averaged in 2014, and that is essentially the number they were stuck on versus Dallas in their wild-card playoff loss. They had 20 points on the scoreboard heading into the fourth quarter, yet they couldn’t add to that total and lost as a consequence (though some bogus officiating didn’t help matters).

The reason why Detroit’s offense has failed to meet expectations is simple: Its offensive line has been woeful over the past couple of seasons. That was certainly the case in 2014, as only two linemen – left tackle Riley Reiff and right guard Larry Warford – proved to be capable starters. Reiff surrendered just two sacks and opened big running lanes, while Warford was greatly missed in the loss to Dallas; he was forced to sit out with a knee injury. Warford missed four contests in total last year, but was on the field for all 16 in his rookie campaign, so it doesn’t appear as though he’s an injury-prone player.

In an effort to improve the blocking around Reiff and Warford, the Lions used their first-round pick this April on guard Laken Tomlinson. The Duke product was considered a bit of a reach, but he’s still a promising lineman who dominated Senior Bowl practices, just as Warford did a couple of years ago. Elsewhere, Travis Swanson will take over for Dominic Raiola at center, while LaAdrian Waddle will reprise his role as the starting right tackle. Swanson performed poorly in backup guard duties as a rookie last year, but perhaps he’ll be better at his natural position. He can’t possibly be worse than Raiola, who was awful in 2014. Waddle, meanwhile, isn’t a bad blocker, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He’s coming off a torn ACL and is questionable for Week 1.

Rather than using a second-day selection on a reliable right tackle, Detroit obtained Ameer Abdullah in Round 2. Abullah is a speedy back capable of going the distance every time he touches the ball. It remains to be seen if he can carry a big workload, but Abdullah will complement the steady Joique Bell quite well. Perhaps Abdullah will become what the Lions thought they were getting in Reggie Bush, who ended up being a major disappointment. Bush signed with the 49ers this offseason.

Stafford’s receiving corps, meanwhile, will remain the same. The wideout position is pretty top-heavy with Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate as mega starters, but there isn’t much behind them, so in an event of an injury, Detroit’s offense could once again bog down. If both are healthy, however, the Lions’ scoring attack has all the potential in the world. Johnson is still arguably the top receiver in the NFL, while Tate proved to be a perfect No. 2 last season, catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards.

Stafford will also be happy if he gets Eric Ebron to improve; last year’s first-round tight end caught just 25 balls, but perhaps he’ll improve in his sophomore campaign. That could help Stafford score more points and also improve on the stat sheet; his passing yardage has regressed the past four seasons, dropping from 5,038, to 4,967, to 4,650, to 4,257 last year. His touchdowns were down as well, dropping from 29 to 22. Seeing Ebron improve and getting better blocking could help Stafford rebound.

2015 Detroit Lions Defense:
With the offense sputtering at times, the defense carried the team into the playoffs. The stop unit won’t be able to do that this year, however, thanks to it losing a couple of key members.

The two prominent defenders who are gone are obviously Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The latter was out toward the end of the season and his absence didn’t matter that much, but that was only because C.J. Mosley was able to step in and be an effective replacement. However, Mosley is gone as well, and that left Detroit with a huge void in the interior of its defensive front at the beginning of free agency.

The front office did its best to fill that hole by trading for Haloti Ngata. The former Raven turned 31 this offseason, but he was still a dominant player this past year. Ngata is still capable of creating a push in the pocket while also clamping down on the run. He’ll need help, however, and it’s unclear if Detroit can provide him with the assistance he requires. The projected starter next to Ngata is Tyrunn Walker, who was signed over from New Orleans. Walker looked decent at times in 2014, but he was on the field for about a third of the snaps. He may not be able to become a full-time player, and it doesn’t seem as though the Lions have the depth at the position to keep Walker in a rotation.

Detroit also doesn’t have much depth at defensive end, though both starters are actually proven. The team’s top pass-rusher is now Ziggy Ansah, who notched 7.5 sacks – a number that isn’t nearly indicative of how forceful he was. He’ll start across from Jason Jones, who thrives against the run and can also get to the quarterback on occasion. George Johnson was the squad’s top reserve at the position last year, but he was dealt to the Buccaneers.

Fortunately for the Lions, their other seven starters will all be back for 2015. This includes DeAndre Levy, one of the top linebackers in the NFL. A stout run-defender and a decent blitzer, Levy was Detroit’s sole three-down linebacker last season. That’s because Stephen Tulloch played just three games in the wake of a knee injury. Tulloch, who also thrives against the run, wasn’t missed v0ery much because Tahir Whitehead proved to be an adequate replacement. Whitehead did such a good job that he could start at strongside linebacker, though 2014 second-rounder Kyle Van Noy might have something to say about that.

The secondary will be exactly the same. Rashean Mathis was re-signed, which was important because he was Detroit’s top corner in 2014. Mathis, however, turns 35 in August, so a sharp decline will be coming soon. The other starter, Darius Slay, made major improvements last year after struggling mightily as a rookie. Depth isn’t great here either, unless sixth-round rookie Quandre Diggs steps up sooner than expected.

The Lions are more stable at safety. Glover Quin is one of the top players at his position, as opposing quarterbacks were woeful when trying to throw his direction. James Ihedigbo also performed well in all regards. Quin and Ihedigbo are 29 and 31, respectively, so there’s no reason they shouldn’t continue to play well.

2015 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
The Lions, historically, have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 71-81 record since 1996 (though they’ve been better lately, going 7-1 in 2014). But that’s nothing compared to their 36-118 road mark during that span.

Detroit surrendered a ridiculous four special-teams scores in 2012, and the team has yet to rectify those issues. Only one touchdown went against them last year, but the team was outgained on both punt and kickoff returns.

The Lions missed retired Jason Hanson last season, as they had kicking issues early on. They finally settled on Matt Prater, who did well, going 21-of-26, including 3-of-5 from 50-plus.

Punter Sam Martin was 10th in net yardage as a rookie in 2013. He improved to ninth this past season. He also thrived at placing punts inside the 20-yard line.

Three of Detroit’s first five opponents made the playoffs last year (Broncos, Seahawks, Cardinals), and the two exceptions are a couple of decent opponents (Chargers, Vikings) that the Lions will have to battle on the road. It gets easier after that, but a 1-4 start could bury the team.

2015 Detroit Lions Rookies:
Go here for the Lions Rookie Forecast, a page with predictions like which rookie will bust and which rookie will become a solid starter.

2015 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2015 Detroit Lions Analysis: Despite their explosive play-makers, the Lions made the playoffs last year because of their dominant defense. The stop unit won’t be nearly as strong without Ndamukong Suh, so the offense will have to take more responsibility. However, the front office doesn’t appear to have done enough to fix that side of the ball, which means Detroit may not quality for the postseason in 2015.

Projection: 8-8 (TBA in NFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: A- Grade

Goals Entering the 2015 NFL Draft: The Lions lost both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason, so they’ll obviously have to replenish the defensive tackle position. Other priorities include finding a lead running back and upgrading the right tackle spot.

2015 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Lions didn’t manage to find potential help at right tackle until late in the draft, but they did address other positions of need early on. They managed to obtain a stout guard after trading down in the first round. While Laken Tomlinson was a bit of a reach, I liked that the Lions at least added some other picks before selecting him.

Detroit’s two second-day selections provided more value. Ameer Abdullah, who will replace Reggie Bush as a speedy complement to Joique Bell, could have been taken in the first half of Round 2. Alex Carter, meanwhile, was also a second-round prospect who was obtained in the bottom half of the following frame. He should be able to take Rashean Mathis’ spot once the veteran corner moves on.

The Lions made some value picks on Saturday, namely the aforementioned right tackle. Corey Robinson was a mega steal in Round 7, as I actually had Detroit selecting him with the 88th-overall choice. Any seventh-rounder is a long shot to make the roster in his first year, but perhaps Robinson will have a good chance because he could have been taken earlier.

This was a quality draft for Detroit. The team improved the offensive line, found a weapon for Matthew Stafford and managed to get help for the secondary. Even the defensive tackle position was addressed in the fourth round via Gabe Wright, who was also a solid pick.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

28. Laken Tomlinson, G, Duke: B+ Grade
This is a slight reach – I thought the right area for Laken Tomlinson was the top half of the second round – but that’s mitigated by the fact that the Lions moved down five spots and picked up some commodities in the process. That moves this grade from a “B” to a B+. I like Tomlinson as a prospect, as he projects as a solid guard. He fills a big need for the Lions, who struggled mightily to protect Matthew Stafford last year. Stafford has to love this pick.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

54. Ameer Abdullah, RB, Nebraska: A Grade
Reggie Bush had a nice start to his Detroit career, but he flamed out, making countless mistakes toward the end of his tenure there. The Lions had to find a replacement for Bush, and they managed to do so with Ameer Abdullah, a game-breaking running back who can go the distance every time he touches the ball. Abdullah could develop into a three-down back if he learns how to block better. Even still, he’ll make the Lions’ offense so much more explosive.

80. Alex Carter, CB, Stanford: A- Grade
Here’s the Alex Carter pick. I thought Carter would go to the Steelers or Packers at the end of the second round, given that he fit their scheme so well. The Lions have to be thrilled that he dropped; Carter should be able to start eventually once Rashean Mathis moves on.

113. Gabe Wright, DT, Auburn: B+ Grade
This is another quality pick by the Lions. Gabe Wright was a solid fourth-round prospect, so they’re getting him at the right spot. He also fills a need; Detroit had to add multiple defensive tackles in the wake of losing Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley this offseason.

168. Mike Burton, FB, Rutgers: C Grade
Mike Burton is a solid pass-catcher and blocker, and he’ll be able to contribute on special teams. I thought he’d go a round or two later than this, but I don’t have a problem with this selection.

200. Quandre Diggs, CB, Texas: B Grade
Though Quandre Diggs was projected to go in this range, this is a value choice in that he was slotted earlier prior to an awful Combine showing. Diggs showed horrible athleticism, but he could end up having the last laugh if he ends up being a solid slot corner, as once projected.

240. Corey Robinson, OT, South Carolina: A+ Grade
I had the Lions picking Corey Robinson in the final version of my mock draft – at No. 88 in the third round! I thought that was a bit early for Robinson, whom I pegged as a fourth-rounder, but there was no reason for him to fall this far. At least, no reason we’re aware of. We’ll try to figure out why Robinson fell, but for now, this is an easy A+, as Robinson has the talent to start for the Lions at some point down the road.

Season Summary:
All the Lions will talk about prior to free agency was the atrociously blown call in the playoff game against the Lions. Unfortunately, the fan base will have Ndamukong Suh’s expiring contract to distract them come March. Losing Suh will be huge, and it’s fair to wonder if Detroit will be even close to the same team next year if it doesn’t have him.

Offseason Moves:
  • Dolphins sign DT C.J. Mosley
  • Lions sign WR Lance Moore
  • Lions sign CB Chris Owens
  • Lions sign WR Greg Salas
  • Buccaneers acquire DE George Johnson from Lions for swap of late-round picks
  • Lions sign CB Josh Wilson
  • Jets sign OT Corey Hilliard
  • Lions re-sign CB Rashean Mathis
  • 49ers sign RB Reggie Bush
  • Rams sign DT Nick Fairley
  • Lions sign DT Tyrunn Walker
  • Cowboys sign FB Jed Collins
  • Lions re-sign S Isa Abdul-Quddus
  • Lions re-sign OLB Josh Bynes
  • Lions acquire DT Haloti Ngata from Ravens for 4th-, 5th-round picks
  • Dolphins sign DT Ndamukong Suh
  • Lions re-sign QB Kellen Moore
  • Lions re-sign QB Danny Orlovsky
  • Lions sign DE/OLB Philip Hunt
  • Lions cut RB Reggie Bush

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Defensive Tackles: Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley are all talented players. They’re also all free agents. The Lions will be hurting at defensive tackle if at least two of them leave. Suh’s absence will really be felt, as he is one of the top defenders in the NFL. Traded for Haloti Ngata; signed Tyrunn Walker

    2. Right Tackle: Detroit absolutely has to fix its pass protection, and its biggest problem is at right tackle. LaAdrian Waddle, who is just a marginal talent, was banged up often last year. An early pick can be used to remedy this need.

    3. Guard: The guard position will also need to be addressed up front. Rob Sims struggled at some points during the year, but managed to improve at the end of the season. He’s a free agent, however.

    4. Cornerback: Detroit’s starting secondary was excellent last year, but nickel corner Cassius Vaughn struggled. Meanwhile, Rashean Mathis happens to be a 35-year-old free agent. A second-day choice might be used on a corner. Re-signed Rashean Mathis; signed Josh Wilson

    5. Center: Dominic Raiola is an impending free agent, and third-round rookie Travis Swanson did not look very good in a few starts. If Raiola leaves or retires, some competition will be needed for Swanson.

    6. Running Back: The Lions are OK with Joique Bell as their starting running back, but they could at least use a complementary player in the backfield. They can’t rely on Reggie Bush.

    7. Wide Receiver Depth: Detroit could stand to add a stronger third receiver just in case Calvin Johnson gets hurt again next year. Signed Greg Salas

    8. Linebacker Depth: The Lions have some impending free agent linebackers, so they’ll need some depth if everyone leaves. Re-signed Josh Bynes

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2015 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Tyrunn Walker (RFA), DE/DT, Saints. Age: 25. — Signed with Lions
    2. Josh Wilson, CB, Falcons. Age: 30. — Signed with Lions
    3. Lance Moore, WR, Steelers. Age: 32. — Signed with Lions
    4. Chris Owens, CB, Chiefs. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    5. Greg Salas, WR, Jets. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions

    Detroit Lions Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Ndamukong Suh, DT, Lions. Age: 28.
      Signed with Dolphins (6 years, $114 million; $60 million guaranteed)

      Ndamukong Suh is capable of dominating games in the trenches, as he is a major force as both a run-stopper and a pass-rusher. He’s arguably the top 4-3 defensive tackle in the NFL, but his on-the-field antics have to be at least a slight concern for some teams. More body stomping means more suspensions, after all.

    2. Nick Fairley, DT, Lions. Age: 27.
      Signed with Rams (1 year, $5 million)

      If Nick Fairley is trying his hardest, he can be one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Unfortunately, Fairley has a history of lethargy and character issues that make him a big risk.

    3. Rashean Mathis, CB, Lions. Age: 35.
      Re-signed with Lions (2 years, $3.5 million)

      Rashean Mathis somehow continues to play at an extremely high level despite his age. Mathis was exceptional in 2014, but turns 35 in August, how much longer can he keep it up?

    4. C.J. Mosley, DT, Lions. Age: 32.
      Signed with Dolphins

      Nick Fairley going down with an injury would’ve been a big deal for the Lions, except that C.J. Mosley handled the starting job well. He was solid, both in terms of stuffing the run and putting pressure on the quarterback. The downside is that he’ll be 32 in August.

    5. Rob Sims, G, Lions. Age: 31.
      Rob Sims struggled for most of the season, though he was better down the stretch. Still, the Lions will probably want to upgrade him.

    6. George Johnson, DE, Lions. Age: 27.
      Tendered by Lions

      George Johnson didn’t get to play much, being behind Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones, but he made the most of his limited snaps, racking up six sacks. Johnson didn’t hold up against the run very well, however.

    7. Dominic Raiola, C, Lions. Age: 36.
      Dominic Raiola is a dirty, old player who just had a terrible season. The only reason he’s even getting a write-up is being he was very good for a long time, including the 2013 campaign, when he was one of the top centers in the NFL.

    8. Jed Collins, FB, Lions. Age: 29.
      Signed with Cowboys (1 year, $810,000)

      Jed Collins is an adequate blocker, but not a particularly strong one. He can catch passes as well, if needed.

    9. Reggie Bush, RB, Lions. Age: 30.
      Signed with 49ers

      Reggie Bush was a major disappointment in Detroit. He had a hot start in 2013, but was benched down the stretch because of his fumbles. He was even worse last year, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. Bush, 30 just prior to free agency, can still be a pass-catching weapon, but his days of carrying the ball 200-plus times per season are long gone.

    10. Ashlee Palmer, OLB, Lions. Age: 29.
    11. Josh Bynes, OLB, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions
    12. Jeremy Ross (RFA), WR/KR, Lions. Age: 27.
    13. Corey Hilliard, OT, Lions. Age: 30. — Signed with Jets
    14. Isa Abdul-Quddus, S, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions (1 year, $1.5 million)
    15. Andre Fluellen, DT, Lions. Age: 30.
    16. Cassius Vaughn, CB, Lions. Age: 27.
    17. George Winn, RB, Lions. Age: 24.
    18. Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions. Age: 32. — Re-signed with Lions (1 year)
    19. Kellen Moore (RFA), QB, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions (2 years)


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