2016 NFL Offseason: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions (Last Year: 7-9)

2016 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
WR Marvin Jones, WR Jeremy Kerley, WR Andre Caldwell, G Geoff Schwartz, DE Wallace Gilberry, DT Stefan Charles, S Rafael Bush, S Tavon Wilson, S Johnson Bademosi.
Early Draft Picks:
OT Taylor Decker, DT A’Shawn Robinson, C/G Graham Glasgow, S Miles Killebrew. Lions Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Calvin Johnson, G/C Manuel Ramirez, DE Jason Jones, OLB Travis Lewis, ILB Stephen Tulloch, S Isa Abdul-Quddus.

2016 Detroit Lions Offense:
The Lions received some awful and untimely news this offseason when they learned that Calvin Johnson made up his mind about retiring. Johnson wasn’t the dominant receiver he once was in recent years, but he was still one of the better players at his position. His departure leaves a huge void in the offense that will be almost impossible to fill.

The front office tried its best this offseason, signing Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley – the former being the top wideout available in a weak free-agency class at the position. While Jones has been a solid No. 2 for the Bengals when healthy, his production level won’t even be close to what the Lions have been used to with Megatron. Jones has yet to even crack the 1,000-yard barrier in his career, while Johnson used to eclipse that plateau in his sleep. The one caveat is that Jones will have a much better quarterback throwing to him in Matthew Stafford than he did in Cincinnati, but that won’t make up for the immense difference in talent.

Jones and Kerley will form a quartet of receivers along with Golden Tate and T.J. Jones. Tate, who has caught a combined 189 receptions over the past couple of years, should continue to be productive. T.J. Jones, meanwhile, could be the sleeper to finish atop the stat sheet in receiving yardage. The team is high on the 2014 sixth-rounder, as he has shined in OTAs. And while on that subject, tight end Eric Ebron, who has barely done anything since being chosen in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, has reportedly been working extra hard this offseason.

Unfortunately for the Lions, they have problems well beyond Johnson’s absence. Their offensive line was so horrendous last season that a brand new coordinator had to revamp the entire offense during the bye week to compensate for the ineptitude of the blockers. The tackles were especially problematic, as calling them woeful would be an insult to that word. Dreadful left tackle Riley Reiff will be back to act as a human turnstile on Stafford’s right side. The new blind-side blocker will be Ohio State’s Taylor Decker. While Decker was the fourth tackle in the 2016 NFL Draft, he could serve as an upgrade over Reiff, if only by default. Still, it’s curious that the Lions see him as a left tackle, given that most teams believed he would be ideal on the right side.

The interior is better, but based on last year’s production, only by default. Larry Warford had performed well in the past, but struggled in 2015 because of an ankle injury. He’s expected to rebound, but even if he does, the Lions could use better play out of the other guard, Laken Tomlinson. A disappointment as a surprising 2015 first-round selection, Tomlinson has the ability to perform on a higher level, but hasn’t shown it yet. Warford and Tomlinson will sandwich center Travis Swanson unless third-round rookie Graham Glasgow can show enough to emerge as the starter. It shouldn’t be overly difficult for Glasgow to overtake Swanson, given how brutal Swanson was last year.

With the blocking issues, it was difficult for the Lions to establish much of a ground attack last year. Ameer Abdullah was the team’s leading rusher at 597 yards and just a 4.2 YPC average. No other Lion gained more than four yards per pop, with Joique Bell and Theo Riddick managing 3.5 and 3.1, respectively. Bell isn’t even on the team anymore, so Abdullah figures to handle more of a workload. Abdullah has a very good skill set, so perhaps Decker will help improve his numbers.

2016 Detroit Lions Defense:
For the second consecutive offseason, the Lions watched multiple key defenders depart without replacing them for certain. Last spring, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley said goodbye to Detroit, yet the front office didn’t replace them. This year, it was Jason Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus.

Beginning with Jones, he had served as a solid do-it-all player across from Ezekiel Ansah. The latter was obviously the star, generating a team-leading 14.5 sacks, but Jones applied solid pressure on opposing passers while clamping down on the run pretty well. With Jones gone, Devin Taylor will have to play more snaps. Taylor is good at putting heat on opposing signal-callers (7 sacks), but is a liability in rush support. The best replacement Detroit could find was sixth-rounder Anthony Zettel.

As for Abdul-Quddus, he was the better of the two players who departed. Abdul-Quddus had developed into a quality safety; in fact, he was the team’s best player at the position. He was solid in coverage and even better in run support. With him gone, Detroit’s starting safeties will likely be the average Glover Quin and one of Tavon Wilson, Rafael Bush or Miles Killebrew. Bush appears to be the favorite right now despite playing just 11 games over the past two seasons. Wilson was a bust for the Patriots, while Killebrew, a fourth-round choice, hits hard, but could be a liability in coverage.

Elsewhere in the secondary, the Lions have an elite cornerback in Darius Slay. Well, that might be premature to say after his poor 2014 showing, but Slay was elite last year at least, routinely shutting down the receivers he was asked to cover. Quandre Diggs also played well in the slot. However, there’s a huge hole across from Slay that wasn’t addressed. Rashean Mathis has retired, and to say that Nevin Lawson struggled last year would be a severe understatement. Detroit’s only hope for improvement at the position is if 2015 third-rounder Alex Carter steps up. It’s unclear what Carter will be able to provide, however, given that he missed his entire rookie campaign with an ankle injury.

Speaking of neglected positions, the Lions still haven’t fully addressed the defensive tackle spot. It was obviously going to be a weak area heading into last year in the wake of the Suh and Fairley departures, and that certainly turned out to be the case. The newly acquired Haloti Ngata proved only to be a marginal player at this stage of his career, while everyone who lined up next to him was far worse. A second-round selection was spent on Alabama’s A’Shawn Robinson, but he slid for multiple reasons. Among those were meager pass-rushing skills and a lack of passion for football.

With weaker players in front of them, it’s astonishing that Detroit’s linebackers performed so prolifically last season. Well, two of the three did. Josh Bynes and Tahir Whitehead both enjoyed solid 2015 campaigns and should continue to be a major part of the defense. Of course, the Lions’ best player at the position, DeAndre Levy, missed 15 games this past season because of a hip injury. Assuming he’s 100 percent or close in 2016, Levy’s return will certainly compensate for the other losses this offseason.

2016 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
The Lions, historically, have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 75-85 record since 1996 (though they’ve been better lately, going 7-1 in 2014 and 4-4 in 2015). But that’s nothing compared to their 39-123 road mark during that span.

Thanks to Golden Tate and Ameer Abdullah, the Lions outgained their opponents on both kickoffs and punt returns.

The Lions missed retired Jason Hanson in 2014, as they had kicking issues early on. They finally settled on Matt Prater, who did well and was even better in 2015, drilling 22-of-24 attempts, including 5-of-6 from beyond 50.

Punter Sam Martin was 10th in net yardage as a rookie in 2013. He improved to ninth the season after and was up to fourth in 2015.

The Lions have some tough opponents this year, including the Packers (twice), Vikings (twice), Colts (road), Texans (road) and Cowboys (road). However, they’re also favored in six contests per the early Vegas lines: Titans, Eagles, Rams, Redskins, Jaguars and Bears (all home).

2016 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.

2016 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2016 Detroit Lions Analysis: The Lions lost Calvin Johnson and a couple of key defenders this offseason, so the 2016 campaign is certainly not a promising one for them. It appears as though they’ll hover around .500 as the best-case scenario, but it’s definitely possible that the Lions could struggle all year and win four or five games.

Projection: 4-12 (4th in NFC North)

NFL Draft Team Grade: B- Grade

Goals Entering the 2016 NFL Draft: Calvin Johnson’s retirement stole all of the headlines this offseason, but the Lions signed Marvin Jones to a big deal, so they’re bound to address greater needs. Those areas of weakness are in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. Help in the secondary is needed as well.

2016 NFL Draft Accomplishments: The Lions were resigned to the fact that they wouldn’t be able to upgrade Riley Reiff at left tackle, but they at least bolstered two other areas of their offensive line. They used the 16th-overall pick on Taylor Decker, who should be way better than what Detroit possessed at right tackle last year. Meanwhile, third-rounder Graham Glasgow should provide good depth in the interior and eventually emerge as a starter.

Sticking with addressing their needs, Detroit used its second-round choice on A’Shawn Robinson. While it may seem like Robinson was a great value pick, his drop was rather predictable, as he interviewed poorly and showed a lack of passion for football. The Lions could’ve done better.

I like what Detroit did on the beginning of the third day, though some of its picks after that were rather confusing, especially Antwione Williams and Jake Rudock. Overall, the Lions’ draft class wasn’t bad, as some decent prospects were taken to satisfy needs, but the total haul wasn’t very great either.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

16. Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State B Grade
Taylor Decker was projected to go in the 14-20 range, so this makes sense as far as that is concerned. He’s also a good fit in terms of need. The Lions’ pass protection was an abomination at times last year. They needed a left tackle, but weren’t going to get that here at No. 16. The right tackle spot had to be addressed as well, however, and the Lions will be better at that spot with Decker. This deserves a solid “B” grade.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

46. A’Shawn Robinson, DT, Alabama C- Grade
A’Shawn Robinson said some sketchy things in some team interviews, prompting him to drop. Teams had concerns about his passion for football, causing him to fall even more. This might be seen as a great value, but Robinson was a projected mid second-round pick with everything factored in. I don’t like this pick very much. This isn’t a great fit, and I’m not convinced that Robinson is going to give Detroit his full effort.

95. Graham Glasgow, C/G, Michigan B+ Grade
I really thought the Cardinals would take Graham Glasgow, as they were considering him at No. 92. They loved Glasgow’s versatility, so I’m sure the Lions value that as well. Glasgow also has plenty of starting experience at Michigan. The one negative is a DUI he was issued in 2014, but he figures to be a good player for the Lions.

111. Miles Killebrew, S, Southern Utah B+ Grade
Miles Killebrew was a highly productive safety in Utah, and then he thrived at the Combine, testing extremely well. There was some concern about him not having a pure position in the NFL, but I could see the hard-hitting Killebrew working out as a linebacker-safety hybrid that is becoming ever popular in the NFL.

151. Joe Dahl, G/OT, Washington State B Grade
Joe Dahl played left tackle at Washington State, but he’ll have to move inside in the pros, thanks to his short arms. That’s fine, as the Lions are happy to address their interior offensive line depth. Dahl makes sense as a mid fifth-round choice.

169. Antwione Williams, LB, Georgia Southern C Grade
It’s not surprising that the Lions drafted a linebacker, but Antwione Williams? He was not in my top 400, as he wasn’t even that great of a player for Georgia Southern. He could’ve easily been picked up in the seventh round or as a UDFA.

191. Jake Rudock, QB, Michigan C Grade
It makes sense that the Lions would take a developmental quarterback at this juncture, but picking Jake Rudock over Vernon Adams is highly questionable. Rudock played well this past season, but did so under Jim Harbaugh. As we’ve seen, quarterbacks not named Andrew Luck get substantially worse after being separated from Harbaugh.

202. Anthony Zettel, DE/DT, Penn State A- Grade
Anthony Zettel was a very productive player at Penn State. He also tested pretty well at the Combine. So, why did he drop into the sixth round? It’s become he’s a tweener who doesn’t have a true position. He has the skill set of a defensive tackle, but at 277 pounds, he’s light. That said, he can be a very effective pass-rushing specialist on obvious passing downs, and I think he’ll be great in that role. The Lions obtained a good football player.

210. Jimmy Landes, LS, Baylor C+ Grade
I’m not going to put much thought into grading a long-snapper. A C+ seems right for a long-snapper in the sixth round.

236. Dwayne Washington, RB, Washington C+ Grade
Dwayne Washington made a terrible mistake of leaving school early despite not having much experience at Washington. He paid the price, dropping to the seventh round despite testing well at his Pro Day. It’ll be tough for him to make Detroit’s final roster.

Season Summary:
The Lions had a disastrous start to their year, beginning just 1-7. However, they won six of their final eight contests, as their goal was to build momentum for 2016. We’ll see if it translates.

Offseason Moves:
  • Lions sign WR Andre Caldwell
  • Lions sign DE Wallace Gilberry
  • Lions sign RB Stevan Ridley
  • Lions sign G/OT Geoff Schwartz
  • Lions sign CB Darrin Walls
  • Lions sign WR Jeremy Kerley
  • Lions re-sign TE Tim Wright
  • Lions sign S Rafael Bush
  • Lions re-sign QB Dan Orlovsky
  • Lions sign DT Stefan Charles
  • Lions sign S Johnson Bademosi
  • Lions re-sign OLB Tahir Whitehead
  • Lions sign CB Tavon Wilson
  • Lions re-sign DT Haloti Ngata
  • Lions sign WR Marvin Jones
  • Lions re-sign DT Tyrunn Walker
  • Lions cut DT C.J. Wilson
  • Lions cut ILB Stephen Tulloch
  • Lions cut RB Joique Bell
  • Lions announce retirement of CB Rashean Mathis

    Team Needs:
    1. Offensive Tackle: One of Detroit’s biggest priorities is protecting Matthew Stafford. The front line surrendered too many sacks and pressures last year, and a big reason why was the play of the tackles. Riley Reiff struggled early, but improved as the year went on. There continued to be a major hole across from him, however. Signed Geoff Schwarz

    2. Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson has retired – click to read the Disaster Grade – and the Lions desperately need some help at receiver. Signed Marvin Jones

    3. Center: Here’s another upgrade that needs to be made up front. Travis Swanson is as pedestrian as they come. I don’t know why the Lions started him over Manuel Ramirez, but that’s moot now, given that Ramirez is an impending free agent.

    4. Defensive Tackle: The Lions never properly replaced Ndamukong Suh – or Nick Fairey, for that matter. The team traded for Haloti Ngata, but he proved to be mediocre. He’s heading into free agency anyhow. Re-signed Haloti Ngata; signed Stefan Charles

    5. Two Linebackers: Stephen Tulloch was a big liability for the Lions last year. Tahir Whitehead, on the other hand, was great. The former has to be upgraded, while the latter should be re-signed. Re-signed Tahir Whitehead

    6. Safety: Isa Abdul-Quddus is another important defender who will be hitting free agency shortly. He had a great 2015 campaign and should be re-signed. Signed Johnson Bademosi and Rafael Bush

    7. Defensive End: Jason Jones will be hitting the market in March, so losing him would hurt Detroit’s defensive line. Signed Wallace Gilberry

    8. Running Back: Ameer Abdullah didn’t have a very good rookie campaign, while Joique Bell is pretty pedestrian. A running back to complement Abdullah wouldn’t hurt. Signed Stevan Ridley

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2016 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. Marvin Jones, WR, Bengals. Age: 26.
      Signed with Lions (5 years, $40 million; $17 million guaranteed)

      Save for the one season he missed, Marvin Jones has increased his numbers each year. He caught 65 passes for 816 yards in 2015. He’s an adequate No. 2 receiver with plenty of potential.

    2. Geoff Schwartz, G, Giants. Age: 30.
      Signed with Lions

      Geoff Schwartz is a very skilled blocker, but he has missed 21 games in the past two seasons. He’s just not reliable, and to make matters worse, he said that he’s dealing with nerve damage in his foot.

    3. Wallace Gilberry, DE, Bengals. Age: 31.
      Signed with Lions

      Age may have caught up to Wallace Gilberry, whose sack total dropped from 7.5 in 2013 to two this past year. However, he’s still a capable situational pass-rusher.

    4. Stefan Charles (RFA), NT, Bills. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    5. Johnson Bademosi, S/ST, Browns. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions
    6. Stevan Ridley, RB, Jets. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions
    7. Rafael Bush, S, Saints. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions (1 year)
    8. Andre Caldwell, WR, Broncos. Age: 31. — Signed with Lions
    9. Jeremy Kerley, WR, Jets. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions
    10. Darrin Walls, CB, Jets. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    11. Tavon Wilson, CB, Patriots. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions (2 years, $2.2 million)

    Detroit Lions Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Isa Abdul-Quddus, S, Lions. Age: 27.
      Signed with Dolphins (3 years, $12.75 million)

      One of the reasons Detroit improved late in the year was Isa Abdul-Quddus replacing James Ihedigbo in the lineup. Abdul-Quddus was solid in coverage and thrived in run support.

    2. Tahir Whitehead, OLB, Lions. Age: 26.
      Re-signed with Lions (2 years, $8 million)

      The Lions inserted Tahir Whitehead into the starting lineup during the second half of the season, and that was one of the reasons they performed so well down the stretch. Whitehead was solid in coverage, but was even better when stopping the run.

    3. Jason Jones, DE, Lions. Age: 30.
      Signed with Dolphins

      Jason Jones has never been the same since tearing his patellar tendon a couple of years ago, but he was decent in 2015. He didn’t really show any weaknesses in his game, though he wasn’t overly forceful.

    4. Haloti Ngata, NT, Lions. Age: 32.
      Re-signed with Lions (2 years)

      Ozzie Newsome definitely sold the Lions a lemon last offseason. Haloti Ngata wasn’t bad in his first – and perhaps only – season with the Lions, but he wasn’t anywhere close to the dominant force we saw play in Baltimore. Ngata, now 32, is on the decline.

    5. Manuel Ramirez, G/C, Lions. Age: 33.
      Signed with Bears

      Manuel Ramirez was basically just thrown into the draft-day deal when the Lions and Broncos swapped picks. Ramirez, after all, struggled in Denver. However, he took advantage of his new situation and thrived whenever he was asked to step into the lineup.

    6. Stephen Tulloch, ILB, Lions. Age: 31.
      Stephen Tulloch was a big liability for the Lions last year, but was coming off a torn ACL. There’s a chance he could bounce back with a semi-decent 2016 campaign.

    7. James Ihedigbo, S, Lions. Age: 32.
    8. Joique Bell, RB, Lions. Age: 30.
    9. Darryl Tapp, DE, Lions. Age: 31.
    10. Travis Lewis, OLB, Lions. Age: 28. — Signed with Vikings
    11. Josh Wilson, CB, Lions. Age: 31.
    12. Tim Wright (RFA), TE, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions
    13. Tyrunn Walker, DT, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions
    14. Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions. Age: 33. — Re-signed with Lions
    15. Lance Moore, WR, Lions. Age: 33.
    16. Corey Wootton, DE, Lions. Age: 29.
    17. C.J. Wilson, DT, Lions. Age: 29.
    18. Bear Pascoe, TE, Lions. Age: 30.

    NFL Free Agent Tracker:
    Top 90 | QB | RB | FB | WR | TE | OT | G | C | DE | DT | OLB | ILB | CB | S | K/P | FA Grades | FA Rumors

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