2018 NFL Offseason: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions (Last Year: 9-7)

2018 NFL Season Preview:

Veteran Additions:
QB Matt Cassel, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Willson, G Kenny Wiggins, DT Ricky Jean-Francois, DT Sylvester Williams, OLB Devon Kennard, OLB Jonathan Freeny, ILB Christian Jones, CB Deshawn Shead.
Early Draft Picks:
C Frank Ragnow, RB Kerryon Johnson, S Tracy Walker, DT Da’Shawn Hand, OT Tyrell Crosby. Lions Rookie Forecast
Offseason Losses:
TE Eric Ebron, TE Darren Fells, C Travis Swanson, DE Dwight Freeney, DT Haloti Ngata, DT Jordan Hill, OLB Tahir Whitehead, OLB Paul Worrilow, CB D.J. Hayden, S Don Carey.

2018 Detroit Lions Offense:
Much was expected from the Lions and Matthew Stafford when the former No. 1 overall pick signed a 6-year, $135 million contract last August. Detroit, instead, failed to make the playoffs, though Stafford shouldn’t be entirely blamed for his team’s 9-7 record in 2017.

The injuries to the offensive line were the primary culprit for Detroit’s disappointing finish. It stated when Taylor Decker, who had a terrific rookie campaign in 2016, suffered a shoulder injury in the offseason, causing him to miss the first eight games of the year. The Lions struggled to block on the blind side as a result, as they were forced into using the anemic Greg Robinson. Decker returned in mid-November, but his presence didn’t help very much because he wasn’t 100 percent. Besides, three other members of the offensive line – right tackle Ricky Wagner, right guard T.J. Lang and center Travis Swanson – missed a combined 11 games because of injuries as well.

If Detroit’s offensive line remains intact, the team will have one of the better fronts in the NFL. Decker and Wagner are prolific bookends, while Lang is a terrific blocker as well. Left guard Graham Glasgow will probably end up being the weak link of the group, but he’s not a bad player. The one change from last year is that the injury-prone Swanson is gone. The Lions used the 20th-overall selection on Arkansas’ Frank Ragnow as a replacement. Ragnow didn’t surrender a single sack in the SEC this past season, which was very impressive.

The Lions will have a much better ground attack as a result of the offensive line. Superior runners will help as well. The team signed LeGarrette Blount and then used a second-round pick on the talented Kerryon Johnson. They should both outclass the disappointing Ameer Abdullah, while Theo Riddick will continue to handle the third-down duties very well.

Stafford’s downfield and intermediate weapons are mostly the same, but it’s not like they needed to change. The one difference is that the drop-prone Eric Ebron is gone, and he’s been replaced by the athletic, but unproven Luke Willson. Meanwhile, the receiving corps is identical from last year, as the top three weapons will once again be Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay. Jones racked up a career-high 1,101 yards in 2017, and there’s no reason for him to regress. Tate also eclipsed the millennium mark, snatching 92 balls for 1,003 yards. He could begin to regress sometime soon, given that he’ll turn 30 at the end of August, but it would be surprising if it happened as early as 2018. As for Golladay, he showed plenty of promise in the preseason a year ago, and big things are expected from him in his sophomore campaign.

2018 Detroit Lions Defense:
Detroit’s stop unit was the other primary reason why the team disappointed in 2017. The team struggled to stop the run, possessed a middling pass rush, and had major issues containing aerial attacks because of a top-heavy, but inconsistent secondary.

The team’s linebacking corps was arguably the weak link of the defense. First-round rookie Jarrad Davis played well in run support, but was absolutely torched in coverage. Davis was a disappointment, but he now has experience, so he should perform better. Detroit is high on him in new head coach Matt Patricia’s scheme. Also, it should be noted that Davis will be surrounded by better personnel, as the front office signed Devon Kennard in free agency. Kennard is a middling player, but he’s not a liability. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a 2017 fourth-round pick, should be the third starter. He was OK in limited snaps last season, and he’s been attempting to bulk up to get better in run support.

The Lions tried to repair the secondary as well, but that didn’t go according to plan. General manager Bob Quinn attempted to sign Malcolm Butler, but lost out on him to the Titans. An upgrade was needed across from the terrific Darius Slay, as Nevin Lawson has been a very inconsistent player. Jalen Tabor, chosen in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft, could challenge for one of the starting jobs. He didn’t get to play much last year because of a lingering hamstring injury.

Quandree Diggs played cornerback for most of the 2017 campaign, but moved to safety late in the year. Quinn said that he liked how Diggs performed at his new position, so it sounds like he may stay there this upcoming season. He’ll start next to the prolific Glover Quin.

Detroit’s middling secondary will benefit if the defensive front can generate more of a pass rush. The problem, at least last year, was that aside from Ezekiel Ansah, only one Detroit player produced more than three sacks. The primary reason for this was that Kerry Hyder was lost for the season in August because of an Achilles tear. Hyder registered eight sacks in 2016, and given that the injury occurred so early in the year, he should be available by the 2018 opener. Anthony Zettel, meanwhile, notched 6.5 sacks in his second season, and he should continue to improve.

The interior of the defensive front is a big question mark. A’Shawn Robinson was solid in his second season, and big things are expected from the 322-pounder moving forward. However, a dynamic interior disruptor was needed, and the Lions failed to acquire one, aside from perhaps fourth-round rookie Da’shawn Hand. Sylvester Williams was acquired in free agency, but he’s just a one-dimensional run-stuffer.

2018 Detroit Lions Schedule and Intangibles:
Thanks to Jamal Agnew, the Lions owned a huge disparity on punt returns, though they were outgained by a bit on average in kickoffs.

Matt Prater has been one of the top kickers in the NFL over the past several years. He was 30-of-35 in 2017, using his monstrous legs to go 7-of-11 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. He rose again in 2016, shooting up to No. 2. However, he was a very disappointing 31st last year.

The Lions have a very difficult schedule. The early lines at the Westgate have Detroit favored in just three games.

2018 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.

2018 Detroit Lions Positional Rankings (1-5 stars):
Offensive Line
Running Backs
Defensive Line
Special Teams

2018 Detroit Lions Analysis: The Lions went 9-7 last year despite numerous injuries. They have the upside to reach the playoffs this season if most of their key players remain healthy for a change. A new and potentially improved coaching staff should help as well. However, a very difficult schedule and numerous holes on the defense could lead to more disappointment.

Projection: 8-8 (4th in NFC North)

2017 Projection: 7-9. 2017 Actual Result: 9-7.
2016 Projection: 4-12. 2016 Actual Result: 10-6.

NFL Draft Team Grade: C Grade

Goals Entering the 2018 NFL Draft: Despite the hiring of former Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia as head coach, the Lions absolutely have to bolster their defense. Help is needed at every level, especially on the defensive line, where there are multiple holes that must be plugged.

2018 NFL Draft Accomplishments: While their mentor spent lots of energy trading down in this class, Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn moved up on a couple of occasions. They did so in the second round, getting running back Kerryon Johnson at No. 43. They then gave New England a 2019 third-round pick to get Da’Shawn Hand in the fourth frame. Hand should help the defensive front, but using multiple resources to get him, including a second-day choice in next year’s superior class, seems like a mistake.

Speaking of errors, the Lions made a horrendous pick in the third round, reaching greatly for safety Tracy Walker, who may have been available in the fifth frame. This selection alone will weigh down Detroit’s overall grade. There were plenty of safeties available – teams don’t value that position very highly right now, which is why they all fell – so there was no reason to make a desperation grab for a mid-round prospect.

The Lions did some nice things in this draft – they bolstered their offensive line with center Frank Ragnow, and they found a great bargain in tackle Tyrell Crosby in the fifth round – but their unnecessary trades and reaches, as well as their reluctance to address the defensive front beyond Hand, will ensure that they won’t have a positive overall grade.

NFL Draft Individual Grades:

20. Frank Ragnow, C, Arkansas A- Grade
That sound you hear is the collective hearts of the Bengals’ front office breaking upon learning about this pick. Frank Ragnow was set to go 21st overall, but the Lions also needed a center, so they snatched the Arkansas product off the board.

This is a solid pick. Ragnow is a terrific center who didn’t surrender a single sack last year playing in the SEC. He fills a huge need, which the Lions had after losing Travis Swanson in free agency.

51. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Auburn B+ Grade
Still no Derrius Guice? The Lions taking Kerryon Johnson makes more sense than Guice because of their scheme, plus he’s a better fit for the type of player the Bill Belichick tree likes. Johnson will mesh well with Matthew Stafford, as he’ll be a big weapon out of the backfield, catching all of the passes thrown at or behind the line of scrimmage, a staple of Detroit’s offense. I’m not sure the Lions had to trade up for Johnson, but I like this pick.

82. Tracy Walker, S, Louisiana-Lafayete THE GHOST OF MILLEN STRIKES AGAIN Grade
Ladies and gentlemen, our first Millen pick of the second day of the draft! Tracy Walker is a late-round prospect with good instincts, but he seems more like a special-teams player. The Lions almost certainly could have gotten Walker in the fourth or even fifth rounds.

114. Da’Shawn Hand, DE/DT, Alabama C Grade
The Lions just gave New England’s third-round pick for this selection. Da’Shawn Hand better be worth it. He’s a great fit for Detroit’s new defense under Matt Patricia, but I don’t think I would’ve dealt a 2019 third-rounder for him. There are some decent five-techniques still available, so this almost seemed like a panic move after the Lions failed to address their defensive line earlier.

153. Tyrell Crosby, OT, Oregon A Grade
The Lions had major problems whenever one of their tackles went down with an injury, so they had to find a solid reserve. Tyrell Crosby could end up being more than solid. He was a second-day prospect who would’ve gone much earlier if it weren’t for some concussion concerns. Those might re-surface, but the fifth round is a nice time to take a chance.

237. Nick Bawden, FB, San Diego State A Grade
A smart player and a stellar blocker, Nick Bawden will help inject some life into Detroit’s dead running game. Kerryon Johnson has to be thrilled about this pick, and I happen to think that it deserves an “A” grade.

Follow @walterfootball for updates.

Season Summary:
The Lions entered last offseason with lots of promise; after all, they were 9-4 at one point in 2016 when Matthew Stafford broke his finger. The Lions, however, suffered through way too many injuries once again. Perhaps they’ll have better luck in 2018.

Offseason Moves:
  • Lions sign QB Matt Cassel
  • Lions sign OLB Jonathan Freeny
  • Lions sign DT Sylvester Williams
  • Lions sign TE Luke Willson
  • Lions sign RB LeGarrette Blount
  • Lions sign G Kenny Wiggins
  • Lions sign CB Deshawn Shead
  • Lions cut TE Eric Ebron
  • Lions sign ILB Christian Jones
  • Lions sign OLB Devon Kennard

    Team Needs:
    1. Two Linebackers: The Lions absolutely have to fix their defense. Help at every level is needed, and things seem like they’re the worst at linebacker. Tahir Whitehead is an impending free agent, so if he leaves, Detroit will need two new linebackers to go along with Jarrad Davis. Signed Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jonathan Freeny

    2. Defensive Tackle: A’Shawn Robinson is a solid defensive tackle, but the Lions need way more at the position. A dominant, interior pass-rushing presence would help greatly. There will be some options in the middle of the first round.

    3. Cornerback: Darius Slay is one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, but the Lions don’t have anything across from him, especially with Nevin Lawson set to enter free agency. Signed Nevin Lawson; signed Deshawn Shead

    4. Defensive End: Ziggy Ansah is Detroit’s best free agent. He’ll need to be replaced if he leaves via the open market.

    5. Running Back: The Lions have absolutely no running game. Ameer Abdullah has been a big disappointment, so the front office should pursue one of the many second-round running backs who will be available. Signed LeGarrette Blount

    6. Tight End: The Lions cut Eric Ebron, but they needed a tight end anyway. Signed Luke Willson

    7. Safety: Safety help is needed as well if Tavon Wilson departs via free agency. Retaining Wilson is key, as it’ll allow the Lions to have a nice safety tandem, with Wilson joining Glover Quin again. Re-signed Tavon Wilson

    8. Offensive Tackle Depth: Detroit had major problems whenever Taylor Decker or Ricky Wagner was out of the lineup. Depth is desperately needed at the position.

    9. Interior Offensive Line Depth: Speaking of offensive line issues, a new backup guard or center should be acquired as well.

      Follow me @walterfootball for updates.

    2018 NFL Free Agent Signings:
    1. LeGarrette Blount, RB, Eagles. Age: 31.
      Signed with Lions (1 year)

      LeGarrette Blount didn’t handle a full workload in 2017, especially after Jay Ajayi was acquired. However, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry while gaining 766 yards and two touchdowns. He just turned 31, so he won’t be around much longer.

    2. Devon Kennard, OLB, Giants. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions (3 years)
    3. Deshawn Shead, CB, Seahawks. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions (1 year, $3.5 million)
    4. Luke Willson, TE, Seahawks. Age: 28. — Signed with Lions
    5. Sylvester Williams, DT, Titans. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions
    6. Christian Jones, ILB, Bears. Age: 27. — Signed with Lions
    7. Kenny Wiggins, G, Chargers. Age: 30. — Signed with Lions
    8. Jonathan Freeny, OLB, Saints. Age: 29. — Signed with Lions
    9. Matt Cassel, QB, Titans. Age: 36. — Signed with Lions

    Detroit Lions Free Agents:

    Salary Cap: TBA.
    1. Ezekiel Ansah, DE, Lions. Age: 29.
      Franchised by Lions

      Ezekiel Ansah is a very talented edge rusher, but the knock on him is his durability. Ansah hasn’t been fully healthy since 2015, which would explain why he hasn’t approached his sack total from that year, 14.5.

    2. Tavon Wilson, S, Lions. Age: 28.
      Re-signed with Lions

      Tavon Wilson is coming off the worst season of his career, as he played through a horrible shoulder injury that definitely affected his play. Wilson is a talented safety, but has legitimate health concerns, as he’s missed 14 games in the past three years.

    3. Travis Swanson, C, Lions. Age: 27.
      Signed with Jets

      Travis Swanson is a skilled center, and if it weren’t for major health concerns, he’d be rated higher. However, he has missed a lot of time with concussions, and it’s fair to wonder how much longer he’ll be able to play.

    4. Tahir Whitehead, OLB, Lions. Age: 28.
      Signed with Raiders

      Tahir Whitehead was Detroit’s best linebacker in 2017, though that’s not saying much. Whitehead was great in run support, but struggled a bit in coverage.

    5. Haloti Ngata, DT, Lions. Age: 34.
      Signed with Eagles (1 year)

      Haloti Ngata’s pass-rushing talent has eroded, but he’s still a dominant run-stuffer. Detroit’s ground defense worsened greatly when Ngata suffered a season-ending biceps tear.

    6. Eric Ebron, TE, Lions. Age: 25.
      Signed with Colts (2 years)

      Eric Ebron is a minor bust from the 2014 NFL Draft. The 10th-overall pick, Ebron has posted decent numbers – 61 catches, 711 yards in 2016; 53 receptions, 574 yards in 2017 – but he’s been very inconsistent, as he’s hurt the Lions with untimely drops. That said, Ebron is still young (25 in April) and athletic enough to draw interest from numerous teams.

    7. Nevin Lawson, CB, Lions. Age: 27.
      Re-signed with Lions (2 years)

      Nevin Lawson has been very inconsistent throughout his career. He was solid in 2016, but regressed this past year, struggling mightily in coverage. He’s still young enough to bounce back.

    8. Dwight Freeney, DE, Lions. Age: 38.
      Dwight Freeney, despite his age, is still an effective, rotational pass-rusher. That’s all he is at this point, and he should be limited to 15-20 snaps per game, but he can certainly continue to contribute for a contender.

    9. T.J. Jones (RFA), WR, Lions. Age: 26. — Tendered by Lions (original round)
    10. Jordan Hill, DT, Lions. Age: 27.
    11. Paul Worrilow, OLB, Lions. Age: 28. — Signed with Eagles
    12. Nick Bellore, ILB, Lions. Age: 29. — Re-signed with Lions
    13. D.J. Hayden, CB, Lions. Age: 28. — Signed with Jaguars (3 years, $19 million)
    14. Darren Fells, TE, Lions. Age: 32. — Signed with Browns
    15. Greg Robinson, OT, Lions. Age: 25. — Signed with Browns
    16. Don Carey, S, Lions. Age: 31. — Signed with Jaguars
    17. Zach Zenner (RFA), RB, Lions. Age: 26. — Re-signed with Lions
    18. Brandon Copeland (RFA), OLB, Lions. Age: 27. — Signed with Jets
    19. Don Barclay, G/OT, Lions. Age: 29.
    20. Emmett Cleary, OT, Lions. Age: 28.
    21. Mike James, RB, Lions. Age: 27.
    22. Zac Kerin (RFA), C, Lions. Age: 27.
    23. Bradley Marquez (RFA), WR, Lions. Age: 25.

    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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