2017 NFL Offseason: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions (Last Year: 9-7)

2017 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
TE Darren Fells, OT Ricky Wagner, OT Greg Robinson, OT Cyrus Kouandjio, G T.J. Lang, DE Armonty Bryant, DT Akeem Spence, ILB Nick Bellore, ILB Paul Worrilow, CB D.J. Hayden.
Early Draft Picks:
LB Jarrad Davis, CB Jalen Tabor, WR Kenny Golladay, LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, TE Michael Roberts, CB Jamal Agnew. Lions Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
WR Anquan Boldin, OT Riley Reiff, G Larry Warford, DE Devin Taylor, DT Stefan Charles, OLB DeAndre Levy, OLB Josh Bynes, S Rafael Bush.

2017 Detroit Lions Offense:
When Calvin Johnson retired, many assumed Detroit’s scoring unit would regress, but that did not happen. The offense remained about the same in its points (20th) and yardage (21st) rankings, and that’s even factoring in a Matthew Stafford finger injury that slowed down the Lion signal-caller toward the end of the season. Stafford had actually been enjoying a fantastic 2016 campaign, but the injury was crushing. In the final five games of the season, including the playoffs, Stafford threw five interceptions compared to just three touchdowns. In the other 12 contests, Stafford maintained an impressive 21:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio.

There were other injuries to prominent players on this side of the ball that made things more difficult for the offense. Center Travis Swanson missed the final five games with a concussion, and his absence was enormous because Detroit had a major downgrade at center once he left the lineup. Swanson enjoyed a great 2016 campaign, and his return to the lineup will be a huge boon for the offense this upcoming season. Something else that will help is the addition of T.J. Lang. The former Packer has been one of the better guards in the NFL, so he’ll be an upgrade over the departed Larry Warford. Meanwhile, the only hole up front is at left guard. Former first-rounder Laken Tomlinson would ideally slot right in, but he’s been a major bust thus far. Graham Glasgow, chosen in the third frame of the 2016 NFL Draft, is expected to win the job.

Lang wasn’t the only addition made to the offensive line. Ricky Wagner was snatched up from Baltimore, which was a huge acquisition. Wagner has been a stellar right tackle for the Ravens, and he’ll be a big upgrade over Riley Reiff. Ideally, he’d start across from Taylor Decker, who had a surprisingly tremendous rookie campaign this past season. Decker, however, is coming off shoulder surgery, so it’s unknown when he’ll be able to return to action. Given that the Lions traded for Greg Robinson and signed Cyrus Kouandjio, it’s sounding like he could be out for most of the year.

Two other injuries that hurt the Lions were to the running backs, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick. Abdullah was knocked out early in the year, as he played just two games. Riddick, meanwhile, was lost for the season in early December. Both players are similar as far as receiving ability out of the backfield is concerned. Abdullah is more talented and explosive, but not having either really hindered the offense down the stretch. Abdullah and Riddick will return as the top runners, but it’s clear that after two injury-ridden seasons, Abdullah can’t really be counted on to stay healthy.

The receiving corps is pretty much the same as well. The only difference is that Anquan Boldin is no longer the No. 3 receiver. He’ll be replaced by either T.J. Jones or third-round rookie Kenny Golladay. Golden Tate and Marvin Jones will once again be a solid starting duo, while Eric Ebron will reprise his role as the starting tight end. Ebron has never lived up to his first-round billing, so perhaps fourth-round rookie Michael Roberts can challenge him.

2017 Detroit Lions Defense:
The Lions were not free from injuries on this side of the ball either. They were missing a key player from every level of their defense, ranging from a few games to the majority of the season.

Beginning with the defensive line, Ziggy Ansah dealt with ankle and shoulder injuries in 2016. He missed just three contests, but it was clear that he wasn’t his usual self. The numbers speak for themselves, as Ansah’s sack total dropped from 14.5 in 2015 to just two this past season. Ansah should be at full strength for 2017, but the Lions were still expected to obtain an edge rusher at some point in the offseason. That didn’t happen, so Detroit will go with Kerry Hyder as a starter across from Ansah. Hyder is a decent player, but would be better off as a third, rotational defensive end. Hyder recorded eight sacks, but struggled versus the run.

Defensive tackle wasn’t addressed either, save for a late-round pick. A’Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata are the favorites to lead the team in snaps at the position. Robinson was a second-round pick last April, so he’s expected to take a big step up in development. The Lions are really counting on this because they otherwise don’t have anyone talented in the interior of the front. Ngata is a solid run stuffer, but offers nothing as a pass rusher anymore.

The linebacker who dealt with injuries was DeAndre Levy, who was limited to five games. Levy was released because he has yet to recover from knee surgery. To replace Levy, the Lions spent their first-round pick on Jarrad Davis, who had top-five intangibles in the 2017 NFL Draft. Davis will be joined by Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow. The latter was a free-agent signing who has been a slightly below-average defender for the Falcons over the years. Whitehead, meanwhile, looked like a fish out of water playing in the middle last year. He should be better on the outside, where he has thrived in the past.

Finally, the defensive back who missed action was top cornerback Darius Slay. The pass defense was so much worse when he wasn’t on the field, so the Lions will be hoping that he can remain healthy in 2017. Detroit hedged its bets by selecting Jalen Tabor in the second round of the draft. Tabor worked out extremely poorly during the pre-draft process, but was productive at Florida. Nevin Lawson is the other primary cornerback on the roster, and he did somewhat well in 2016, but there’s room for improvement.

Slay, Tabor and Lawson will be joined by a couple of quality safeties in Glover Quin and Tavon Wilson. The latter did well in his first season in Detroit after spending four years in New England. There’s some age concern with Quin, who turned 31 this offseason, but he should be fine for 2017.

2017 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
The Lions, historically, have one of the worst home-field advantages in the NFL, owning a horrendous 81-87 record since 1996 (though they’ve been better lately, going 7-1 in 2014, 4-4 in 2015, and 6-2 in 2016). But that’s nothing compared to their 42-129 road mark during that span.

Thanks to Andre Roberts, the Lions outgained their opponents on both kickoffs and punt returns.

Matt Prater was one of the top kickers in the NFL last year. He hit 31-of-36 tries, including a perfect 7-of-7 from 50-plus.

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. He rose again in 2016, shooting up to No. 2.

The Lions have five games against teams that were in the playoffs last year. They have some easier games as well, so it’s a fairly balanced schedule.

2017 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.

2017 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2017 Detroit Lions Analysis: The Lions were 9-4 at one point last year, but things fell apart for them, as Matthew Stafford, Travis Swanson and Theo Riddick all suffered injuries around the same time. If Detroit has better injury luck in 2017, perhaps it can actually hold on to the divisional lead this time. There are some major holes on the defense, but the offense, thanks to upgrades on the line, figures to be one of the league’s better scoring attacks if Taylor Decker is healthy. Decker is key, as his status could impact if Detroit returns to the playoffs.

Projection: 7-9 (3rd in NFC North)

2016 Projection: 4-12. 2016 Actual Result: 10-6.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2017 NFL Draft: The Lions are in the top 10 of my NFL Power Rankings, but they have some major work to do on defense. They need to find two linemen, a couple of linebackers, a cornerback and a safety. Fortunately for them, they appear nearly set on offense, though another running back wouldn’t hurt.

2017 NFL Draft Accomplishments: Detroit had nine selections in the 2017 NFL Draft. None of them scored higher than a B+, however. Outside of a late-round selection on Brad Kaaya, the closest the Lions came to an A- happened early when they picked Jarrad Davis and Jalen Tabor to bolster their back seven. Davis is a true team leader, and he’ll provide a nice replacement for DeAndre Levy. Tabor, meanwhile, could be the team’s No. 2 cornerback in the near future.

Most of Detroit’s other selections, however, weren’t very good. The team reached for some players, including Kenny Golladay, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Jamal Agnew, and it also failed to upgrade the defensive end, defensive tackle and safety positions. Failing to add an edge rusher until very late will hurt when trying to beat Aaron Rodgers, and this marked yet another year that the Lions whiffed on replacing Ndamukong Suh.

The Lions didn’t put together a horrible draft, but it was far from a good one. For all the momentum they had heading into the 2017 NFL Draft, this result was disappointing, to say the least.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

21. Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida: B Grade
Over Reuben Foster? Hmm… Jarrad Davis saw his stock rise late in the process once teams realized that he had top-five intangibles, so he projects to be a great team leader for the Lions. He also fills a huge need here, as the Lions lost DeAndre Levy this offseason. Detroit still has many defensive holes to fill, but selecting Davis is a nice start. That said, the Lions could regret not taking Foster down the road.

53. Jalen Tabor, CB, Florida: B+ Grade
Remember when Jalen Tabor was a first-round pick? I certainly remember, but he killed his once-fantastic draft stock with off-the-field issues and a horribly slow 40 time in the pre-draft process. It’s not a surprise he dropped this far, and I thought he could fall even further. I think there’s some value with Tabor, but I’m not crazy about this pick. It makes sense, though.

96. Kenny Golladay, WR, Northern Illinois: D Grade
The bad picks are beginning to come in! This isn’t quite a Millen grade – although it is Detroit taking a receiver – but it’s still pretty discouraging to see something like this. Kenny Golladay has nice hands and won’t drop many passes as a result, but he struggles to run routes, which is very important. Golladay is raw and may not be ready to contribute for quite some time, making this a dubious selection.

124. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB, Tennessee: C Grade
I’m shocked the Lions selected a player with a poor 3-cone time. Jalen Reeves-Maybin barely played last year because of a shoulder injury, so I expected him to go later on Day 3. This seems like a reach, though not an egregious one. Reeves-Maybin seems like a career special-teamer.

127. Michael Roberts, TE, Toledo: B Grade
Michael Roberts was very productive at Toledo this past season, but doesn’t have much experience beyond that. He’s also a poor blocker, and he didn’t test well at the combine. Roberts makes sense here in the fourth round, however, as he could emerge as a reliable pass-catcher for Matthew Stafford.

165. Jamal Agnew, CB, San Diego: D Grade
I had Jamal Agnew as a UDFA, so I’m not a fan of this pick. I won’t give any team a Millen at this juncture, but it’s close. Agnew is not a very good athlete, and he’s only 5-9, so he could really struggle to make the roster.

205. Jeremiah Ledbetter, DE, Arkansas: B- Grade
I didn’t have Jeremiah Ledbetter getting drafted, but I easily could have, as Ledbetter is a long-armed defensive end with solid athleticism. He didn’t have the greatest production at Arkansas, but he has potential.

215. Brad Kaaya, QB, Miami: B+ Grade
Brad Kaaya would be the top quarterback prospect in this class if he could play seven-on-sevens with a clean pocket the whole time. Unfortunately for Kaaya, that’s not realistic. He has zero pocket awareness, so he has a lot of work to do if he wants to be a viable quarterback in the NFL. He does have the potential though, so I like the Lions picking him with the idea of trading him if they can develop him.

250. Pat O’Connor, DE, Eastern Michigan: C+ Grade
I didn’t have Pat O’Connor on my board, so I’m not a big fan of this pick. I don’t hate it though, as O’Connor has great leadership skills and could contribute on special teams.

Season Summary:
The Lions were 9-4 at one point, but they dropped their next three regular-season games because of numerous injuries, including one to Matthew Stafford, which he played through. Detroit snuck into the playoffs only because the Redskins choked in Week 17, but it didn’t matter because the Lions’ first-round game was a blowout defeat. Detroit will need better luck with health in 2017.

Offseason Moves:
  • Lions sign OT Cyrus Kouandjio
  • Lions acquire OT Greg Robinson from Rams
  • Lions sign RB Matt Asiata
  • Lions sign ILB Nick Bellore
  • Lions re-sign DE Armonty Bryant
  • Lions sign DT Jordan Hill
  • Lions sign G T.J. Lang
  • Lions sign TE Darren Fells
  • Lions sign CB D.J. Hayden
  • Lions sign DT Akeem Spence
  • Lions sign DE/DT Cornelius Washington
  • Lions cut OLB DeAndre Levy
  • Lions sign ILB Paul Worrilow
  • Lions sign OT Ricky Wagner

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Defensive Tackles: The Lions had one of the league’s worst pass defenses, but the primary reason for this was a lack of pressure they put on opposing quarterbacks. There’s a big void in the interior of the defensive line, where Detroit never replaced Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. This is a position the Lions almost have to spend an early pick on in the 2017 NFL Draft. Signed Akeem Spence and Jordan Hill

    2. Three Linebackers: Detroit’s linebacking corps was pretty poor outside of DeAndre Levy this season, and things will only get worse with Josh Bynes hitting free agency. The front office will need to find two new players to join Levy. Update: Levy was released. Signed Nick Bellore and Paul Worrilow

    3. Right Tackle: Riley Reiff is an impending free agent, so the Lions will have to find a new bookend blocker across from Taylor Decker if he leaves for the open market. Signed Ricky Wagner

    4. Cornerback Depth: The Lions have two terrific cornerbacks in Darius Slay and Nevin Lawson, but there’s very little behind the two. Signed D.J. Hayden

    5. Defensive End Depth: More depth problems for the Lions. They need to find a pass-rusher to play behind Ziggy Ansah and Kerry Hyder. Signed Cornelius Washington

    6. Running Back: Ameer Abdullah has been bothered by injuries in both of his NFL seasons thus far. The Lions can’t rely on him. Zach Zenner has been a solid backup, but he shouldn’t be an every-down back either, and neither should Theo Riddick.

    7. Tight End: Detroit needs to be thinking of moving on from Eric Ebron, who dropped countless passes – including some in the playoffs – this past season. Ebron has been a colossal bust.

    8. Backup Quarterback: Dan Orlovsky is heading into free agency, but the Lions needed a new reserve signal-caller anyway.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2017 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. T.J. Lang, G, Packers. Age: 29.
      Signed with Lions (3 years)

      T.J. Lang missed some time with a foot injury this past season, but still performed as one of the top guards in the NFL. The one downside is that he’ll turn 30 at the end of September, but interior linemen can usually play on a high level well into their mid-30s.

    2. Ricky Wagner, OT, Ravens. Age: 27.
      Signed with Lions

      Ricky Wagner looked lost when taking over for Michael Oher in the 2013 premiere. He’s come a long way since then. The former fifth-round pick played very well at right tackle this past season and should be able to obtain a substantial contract as a result.

    3. D.J. Hayden, CB, Raiders. Age: 27.
      Signed with Lions (1 year)

      D.J. Hayden has been a major bust thus far, but he was the 12th-overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, so he obviously has at least some potential.

    4. Nick Bellore, ILB, 49ers. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    5. Paul Worrilow, ILB, Falcons. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions
    6. Matt Asiata, RB, Vikings. Age: 30. — Signed with Lions
    7. Cornelius Washington, DE/DT, Bears. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions
    8. Akeem Spence, DT, Buccaneers. Age: 25. — Signed with Lions
    9. Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Bills. Age: 24. — Signed with Lions
    10. Darren Fells (RFA), TE, Cardinals. Age: 31. — Signed with Lions
    11. Jordan Hill, DT, Jaguars. Age: 26. — Signed with Lions

    Detroit Lions Free Agents:

    Salary Cap Space: $7.03M.
    1. Larry Warford, G, Lions. Age: 26.
      Signed with Saints

      Larry Warford had an injury-prone 2015 campaign, but he rebounded this past season, providing Matthew Stafford with some excellent blocking. Warford turns just 26 in June, so the sky is the limit for him.

    2. DeAndre Levy, OLB, Lions. Age: 30.
      DeAndre Levy is one of the top linebackers in the NFL when healthy. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to stay on the field very often. Levy has played just six games the past two years because of knee injuries. He’ll be worth taking a shot on for a 1-year “prove it” contract.

    3. Riley Reiff, OT, Lions. Age: 28.
      Signed with Vikings

      Riley Reiff was moved to right tackle this season after the Lions spent their 2016 first-round pick on Taylor Decker. Reiff has been a pretty average blocker throughout his career despite being a former first-round selection himself.

    4. Josh Bynes, OLB, Lions. Age: 28.
      Josh Bynes was siting in free agency after the Lions released him back in September. They re-signed him in October and must have been surprised when he showed well as a two-down defender.

    5. Devin Taylor, DE, Lions. Age: 27.
      I’m not sure what happened to Devin Taylor. He’s had some quality seasons – he recorded seven sacks in 2015, for instance – but he was awful this past year.

    6. Anquan Boldin, WR, Lions. Age: 36.
      Anquan Boldin turns 37 in October, but he has still shown hat he can be a solid possession receiver. He caught 67 passes and scored eight touchdowns in 2016.

    7. Rafael Bush, S, Lions. Age: 26. — Signed with Saints
    8. Stefan Charles, DT, Lions. Age: 29. — Signed with Jaguars
    9. Jon Bostic, ILB/ST, Lions. Age: 26.
    10. Armonty Bryant, DE, Lions. Age: 27. — Re-signed with Lions
    11. Cornelius Lucas (RFA), OT, Lions. Age: 26. — Tendered by Lions
    12. Andre Roberts, WR, Lions. Age: 29. — Signed with Falcons
    13. Tyrunn Walker, DT, Lions. Age: 27. — Signed with Rams
    14. Dan Orlovsky, QB, Lions. Age: 34.
    15. Garrett Reynolds, G, Lions. Age: 30.
    16. Tim Wright, TE, Lions. Age: 30.
    17. Crezdon Butler, CB, Lions. Age: 30.
    18. Matthew Mulligan, TE, Lions. Age: 32.


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