Around the North: Detroit Lions

As we indicated in our initial post about the Chicago Bears, every NFL team begins the year with the goal of winning their division. The Detroit Lions, as unlikely as they are to actually win, are no different.

In this post, we’ll offer a breakdown of notable additions & subtractions, the draft, and the strengths/weaknesses for the Lions. In all likelihood, Matt Patricia will underwhelm in his third season as Detroit’s head coach, once again squandering another year of strong play from Matthew Stafford.

Notable Additions and Subtractions

Additions:

  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai
  • Jamie Collins
  • Danny Shelton
  • Desmond Trufant
  • Jayron Kearse
  • Duron Harmon

Vikings fans will be familiar with Kearse, a backup safety who played a significant role on special teams. If it wasn’t for a DWI, Kearse would likely still be a special teams captain in Minnesota. Kearse played well when he received opportunity on defense.

Patricia continues to try and replicate New England’s success in Detroit by bringing former Patriots. Harmon, Shelton, and Collins are all solid additions; Collins offers the most upside. The former second-round pick had seven sacks and three interceptions last season. These players will complement Trey Flowers (also a former Patriot) and first-round pick Jeffrey Okudah.

Subtractions:

  • Graham Glasgow
  • A’Shawn Robinson
  • Mike Daniels
  • Damon Harrison
  • Rick Wagner
  • Darius Slay

The biggest loss here, without question, is Darius Slay. A #1 corner, Slay took a step back last season after consistently grading as a top-end player, according to PFF. Okudah certainly has promise, but young corners often struggle in their transition to the NFL.

There has been a lot of turnover at DT for the Lions. Harrison, Daniels, and Robinson played significant snaps in the middle of Detroit’s defense. The Vikings, as fans know, love to run the ball. The transition along Detroit’s defensive line makes one wonder if there will be opportunity to exploit Detroit’s defense through the run, thus keeping Stafford on the sidelines.

Last season, Detroit’s offensive line was strong. Losing Glasgow is perhaps the most significant loss, seeing as how he was PFF’s 13th best guard last season. Wagner, who is now in Green Bay, has been an above-average tackle throughout his career.

The Draft

The Detroit Lions chose nine players in the 2020 draft. The most notable selections are Okudah, second-round running back D’Andre Swift, and their two third-round picks: defensive end Julian Okwara and guard Jonah Jackson.

Okudah was widely regarded as one of the best players in the draft. The Lions married value and need when they chose him 3rd overall. He is a gifted athlete and will be Detroit’s #1 corner immediately.

Kerryon Johnson has struggled with injuries, playing only 18 games through two seasons. As a result, Swift has a legit opportunity to have a significant impact, especially on passing downs.

PFF was high on both Okwara and Jackson. Given the lack of depth at both DE and guard in Detroit, both have an opportunity to have meaningful snaps.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Matthew Stafford might be the toughest player in the NFL. There’s a good argument to be made for Stafford being the best QB in the North. Zimmer’s young corners will struggle to cover Kenny Golladay (a top-20 receiver) and Marvin Jones. At 5’8, Swift will remind fans of Darren Sproles, especially upon considering his ability as a pass catcher. The Golladay-Jones-Swift trio will be difficult to defend, so getting the Lions into third and long is more important than ever.

The defense isn’t as formidable as their offense, but they have some players. The Collins & Flowers duo should be able to generate pressure. PFF ranks Flowers as 2019’s 18th best edge defender and Collins as the 16th best linebacker. Replacing Slay with Okudah is about as good of a scenario as the Lions could have hoped for. Trufant, if he can stay healthy, will complement Okudah. The Harmon/Kearse safety tandem should also be solid in the defensive backfield.  

Position in the North

Coaches coming from New England (as least during the Belichick era) have often failed as head coaches. Since firing Jim Caldwell for Matt Patricia, the Lions have taken a step back.

Part of the issue must rest in trying to replicate New England’s success. Instead of charting their own path, coaches are seduced into thinking they can mirror Belichick’s methods. Unless Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn actually try to develop their own identity in Detroit, it’s difficult to envision a scenario where they have lasting success.

The Lions have an uphill battle competing for a playoff spot. Detroit is the worst team in the North heading into the 2020 season.

In the final installment of our Around the North series, we’ll cover the Green Bay Packers.

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