The Detroit Lions have their season opener on Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Last year, our season opener was memorable, but not in the way we wanted. Before we jump into the season, I compare this years opening day roster to last years.
2018: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
2019: Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson, David Blough
Virtually, we have the same starter as last year, so to put down anything for this category is suspect. I put down improvement only for the reason that we should have a healthier Stafford. I’m not saying full health, but in better condition than he was last season.
In his last 4 games, supposedly when he had a broken back, he had two games where he threw for less than 115 yards. Which isn’t the normal standard for him. I 100% believe if he had avoided that injury, Stafford would have had his 8th consecutive season with 4,000 passing yards. As long as he avoids serious injury, we will see improvement from Stafford.
Josh Johnson appears to be a solid backup, but it’s sort of irrelevant.
Something to keep an eye on would be the situation with David Blough, Lions liked him enough to keep him on the 53-man roster.
Running Back: Improvement
2018: LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
2019: Kerryon Johnson, CJ Anderson, Ty Johnson, JD McKissic
The Lions coaching staff has hinted that Kerryon Johnson will receive more carries than he did last year. That alone will give us a huge jump in our rushing offense. CJ Anderson replacing LeGarrette Blount also helps a lot, because there is no way possible Anderson has a season that matches or is worse than Blount’s 2.6 yards per carry last season.
Riddick might seem like a huge loss, but he no longer had a role with us, especially with Darrell Bevel’s offense. I’ve expressed my concerns with him before and most of us suspected this move coming. JD McKissic will play a role similar to Riddick, but McKissic, unlike Riddick provides value running the ball as well.
Ty Johnson adds a burner that we haven’t had in awhile.
This is a really diverse running back group and all four of them have pass catching ability. Which will help us diminish predictability against opposing defenses.
Wide Receiver: Regression
2018: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Brandon Powell, Bradley Marquez
2019: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Travis Fulgham, Chris Lacy
In terms of talent of the group, replacing Golden Tate with Danny Amendola is a huge downgrade. The Lions had a hell of a trio before we traded Tate to the Eagles. Having those three made it difficult for opposing teams to double down on one specific guy, which gave Stafford a huge advantage in the pass game. Although, if the offense is heading in the way I think they are, the loss of Tate could be less of a blow.
I believe they want to shy away from the West Coast passing scheme that they tested last season and want to move to more of a Vertical passing scheme. Which means more deeper throws, which Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are better fits for. The run after catch approach that the West Coast offense revolved around didn’t work out too well for last season. Only time will tell.
Tight Ends: Major Improvement
2018: Luke Wilson, Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts, Hakeem Valles
2019: TJ Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Lions fans seemed to have convinced themselves that we had a solid tight end group last season. We didn’t. Outside of Luke Wilson (who is a high end second stringer himself), the other three tight ends we kept on roster are third stringers at best. Two of them will most likely be out of the NFL this season. We cleaned house, which was the right thing to do. Hockenson is so far living up to the hype. I think it’s safe to say he is a starting caliber tight end.
Biggest surprise has got to be Levine Toilolo making it. I think @JohnLynch49ers took the right LBs. You couldn’t jettison Shaair after the camp/preseason he’s had and Nzeocha is a ST ace. https://t.co/ENpRvjX3Mt
— Larry Krueger (@sportslarryknbr) August 31, 2019
Levine Toilolo was the only tight end out of last years group to make a 53-man roster this season.
Jesse James and Logan Thomas are both high end second stringers. Issac Nuata, a practice squad player, is a lesser known rookie with a ton of upside. The group got much better and we should see a lot more production from them as a whole.
Offensive Line: Regression
2018: Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Galsgow, TJ Lang, Rick Wagner
Tyrell Crosby Kenny Wiggins Joe Dahl Andrew Donnal
2019: Taylor Decker, Kenny Wiggins, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner
Tyrell Crosby Oday Aboushi Beau Benzschawel Joe Dahl
The regression isn’t as bad as we think it is. Losing TJ Lang is a hit, but looking at it in hindsight, he barely played last year. Only totaling seven games played, the offensive line had to learn to live without him. Our offensive line ranked 16th last season. I’d imagine it would have been worse if we didn’t have Lang at all.
The only way I could see an improvement is one of two options. The first, Bob Quinn goes out and grabs a starting caliber lineman. Right now we have a backup from last year (Kenny Wiggins) replacing Lang. The second option would be our younger guys taking the next step. Decker, Ragnow, and Glasgow all could improve individually, making the offensive line better for it. Also, if Joe Dahl or Tyrell Crosby were to have a breakout season, it would help us improve as well.
Defensive Line: Major Improvement
2018: Ezekiel Ansah, Sly Williams, Ricky Jean Francois
Anthony Zettel, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand
2019: Trey Flowers, Damon Harrison, Mike Daniels
Romeo Okwara, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand
This is probably the biggest improvement on our team, no doubt clear cut improvement. I have to commend Bob Quinn on his efforts to improve on our weaknesses. Our three starters are stars in their respective positions and our three depth players could be starter level players on most teams in the league. You could argue Ezekiel Ansah is a better player than Trey Flowers, but Flowers will provide a bigger impact since he has been much healthier in his career (knock on wood).
Last year, before Snacks came into town, we had the worst defensive line in the league. Arguably, you could say we have a top 5 defensive line coming into this season.
2018: Christian Jones, Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard
Marquis Flowers, Jalen Reeves Maybin, Eli Harold
2019: Jahlani Tavai, Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard
Christian Jones, Jalen Reeves Maybin, Austin Bryant
I couldn’t choose improvement or regression for this position group. Essentially, we could end up with the same starters as last year if Jahlani Tavai doesn’t impress. The depth stayed about the same, so with the same group, barring injuries, we shouldn’t see regression. (Yes, I realize Davis is injured, but I am hoping for a quick recovery)
There is potential for our linebackers to improve, but they are filled with “what if” scenarios. If Jarrad Davis can take the next step. If Tavai can become something bigger than he is projected to be, we will see an improvement. Since there is a big “if” that is attached to it. I don’t feel confident giving an improvement grade.
The potential has improved there is no doubt about that. Also, Jalen Reeves Maybin and Miles Killebrew both had great pre-seasons. We’ll have to watch them this season to make a better assessment.
Cornerbacks: Major Improvement
2018: Darius Slay, Teez Tabor, Nevin Lawson, Jamal Agnew, Dee Virgin
2019: Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman, Mike Ford, Amani Oruwariye, Jamal Agnew, Dee Virgin
A common mistake people make when comparing our corners from last year to this year is the replacement of Nevin Lawson. Rashaan Melvin will not be replacing Nevin Lawson, Nevin Lawson played more slot corner last season. Justin Coleman will be taking over the duties that Nevin Lawson had last season, which is a major improvement. Coleman has been considered as a top 5 slot corner in this league. Rashaan Melvin will replace Teez Tabor, which could be a nice upgrade on the outside. Slay will be Slay and that’s a good thing.
Nevin Lawson and Teez Tabor combined, have zero interceptions in their careers, their replacements have seven.
I put down Major improvement, because outside of Slay, we had the worst starting corners in the league last season. This won’t be the case this season. This new trio could even rank in the top half of the league.
2018: Glover Quin, Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson, Tracy Walker, Charles Washignton
2019: Tracy Walker, Quandre Diggs, Tavon Wilson, Will Harris, C.J Moore
A casual fan wouldn’t believe that having Tracy Walker over Glover Quin is an improvement. I can assure you it is. Glover Quin wasn’t a fit in Matt Patricia’s defense, he even said it himself. Walker might have even been the best backup safety in the league, PFF had him graded near a 90. We should all be excited to see him play this season.
Quandre Diggs and Tavon Wilson will do their jobs well, as they did last season. Our depth stayed the same too (in terms of talent). Tracy Walker alone improves our safety group. Which might be bold to say, but I’m a firm believer that he will become a stud in this league.
From “The Wick” to “The D,” how Darius Slay, Justin Coleman and Tracy Walker became 60 percent of the Lions secondary from the same high school: https://t.co/1O1vu9WAbq
— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) September 6, 2019
A fun story to read on how Darius Slay, Tracy Walker, and Justin Coleman ended up on the same team after growing up in the same town together.
Special Teams: Neutral
2018: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
2019: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
Not much to say, same three guys and they always get the job done. Ever since Prater came to town, they have been the most consistent unit in Detroit.
If Matthew Stafford was healthy last season, I wouldn’t be saying the offense improved. Adding a healthy Stafford in the mix makes our unit much better. Although, I don’t think our offense will improve as much as we want it to though. I have major concerns about the offensive line and it could slow us down. On the bright side, I think all predictability is thrown out the window. If you remember, last year teams said they knew the plays we were calling on offense.
That alone should bring this offense back to the form that it was during the Caldwell days, the rest will be up to Darrell Bevel. if his scheme turns out to be well planned, there is potential for our offense to be top 15.
Verdict: Slight Improvement
Besides it can’t get any worse from last season. As of now, going in blindly, I can confidently say that our offense will be better than last years. The real question is to what extent and the answer relies on our offensive line play and coaching scheme. We have the talent everywhere else.
We should all be excited about our defense. After the trade for Damon Harrison, our defense went from one of the worst units to a top 10 unit. Certainly, it wasn’t Snacks alone, other players made big strides in the second half of the year. Including A’Shawn Robinson and Jarrad Davis.There were also surprise players that included Tracy Walker and Da’Shawn Hand who saw increased playing time in the second half of the season.
The great thing is we didn’t lose much on the defensive side of the ball and we were only able to improve this defense by making some huge additions.
All we did was to improve our personnel, because of that we have to believe that this defense has top 10 potential. Also, there shouldn’t be an adjustment period either, since we have half of our defense returning from last year and most off-season additions are familiar with Patricia’s scheme.
Verdict: Major Improvement
It will all be up to our defense to determine if the Lions will be a playoff team or not. We have a tough schedule and if we are able to slow down some of the strong offenses we will be playing this season, it will give us more opportunities to win games.