Detroit Lions Season Preview
NFC North - Detroit Lions
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Round 1 – Tight end, T.J. Hockenson, Iowa
Round 2 – Linebacker, Jahlani Tavai, Hawaii
Round 3 – Safety, Will Harris, Boston College
The best overall tight end available in the draft this year, T.J. Hockenson should be an immediate starter in Detroit. A complete player who is as comfortable as a blocker as he is as a pass catcher. Considered a natural receiver with strong hands capable of making difficult contested catches over the middle, while Hockenson may lack the elite speed of some other tight ends, that might be the only real negative about him.
Jahlani Tavai was something of a surprise selection in round two, with may experts having him pegged to come off the boards around the middle of day three, but the former University of Hawaii linebacker has good size for the position and is a violent tackler with a relentless motor. His relative lack of speed and athleticism is why many had him going later in the draft and it will be interesting to note how much his physical limitations hurt. Given the level of competition he faced at college, there is no guarantee that Tavai will adjust to life in the NFL and he may never rise much above the ranks of a backup player who excels on special teams.
Will Harris has the size and speed to match up well with most tight ends and slot receivers in the NFL and is more than capable in single coverage. A former team captain at Boston College, Harris is an intelligent player who reads the game well but struggles as a playmaker. Five interceptions in four years suggests Harris is not much of a ballhawk, as does a total of just seven passes defended in 47 games. The young safety should be a significant contributor on special teams as a rookie, while also seeing occasional snaps on obvious passing downs.
A busy offseason in Detroit has resulted in a significant amount of changes across the roster with several sizeable contracts handed out to some notable free agent signings. Defensive end Trey Flowers joins from the New England Patriots after signing a five-year deal worth $90 million, as does defensive tackle Mike Daniel from the Green Bay Packers. Their arrival should more than make up for the loss of Ezekiel Ansah to the Seattle Seahawks.
In the wake of the departure of starting cornerback Nevin Lawson, the Lions signed former Seahawks cornerback Justin Coleman and will turn to a variety of option already on the roster to replace released veteran safety Glover Quin.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James was the most expensive addition on offense and should provide a reliable safety blanket for Matthew Stafford. How long he holds onto the starting role will depend upon how quickly first-round draft pick T.J. Hockenson finds his feet. Given the issues Detroit have had at tight end as of late, James and Hockenson represent a serious upgrade this season.
Veteran guard T.J. Lang retired after he was released by the Lions earlier in the offseason and former Los Angeles Rams running back C.J. Anderson is the newest addition to the backfield to compensate for the loss of Theo Riddick and LeGarrette Blount.
A series of depth signings in the secondary, at wide receiver and at backup quarterback have strengthened Detroit in a number of areas but it would be fair to say that the team still lacks playmakers on both sides of the ball. If new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell can finally get Stafford to elevate his game to the next level, he could yet turn out to be the most important signing of 2019.
While veteran quarterback Stafford may be paid like an elite player, his performances on the field have not always suggested it. That being said, he is the closest thing the Lions have to a star name on offense. Young running back Kerryon Johnson might one day achieve that status if he can build an on impressive rookie campaign, but he is a long way off right now. The same can be said of young wide receiver Kenny Golladay.
Damon Harrison is one of the NFL’s best run-stopping defensive lineman and should form a formidable partnership with free agent signing Flowers, an emerging star player in his own right while in New England. The linebacker and defensive backs groups are desperately lacking star talent, with cornerback Darius Slay the lone name of note coming off consecutive Pro Bowl appearances. Safety Quandre Diggs could be one to watch in his second season.
As the consensus choice to finish last in the division with both the bookmakers and the football experts, there is little to be excited about for Detroit fans in 2019. The Lions lag far behind their NFC North rivals in terms of quality and are expected to struggle once again this season.
If head coach Matt Patricia hopes to keep his job into 2020, he will need to show that he has learned from the mistakes of his rookie season and prove he can bring the team together under his leadership. Trying to replicate the culture he experienced with the Patriots proved a tough sell to his players in 2018 and he will need to be more adaptable if he is to survive in Detroit.
Stafford has the talent to be one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he suffered a noticeable down year even by his own standards last season and more will be needed if the Lions have any hopes of sneaking into the playoffs.
Realistically, Detroit will do well to avoid a losing season but should see an enough improvement from their defense to remain competitive in most games. Given their limited weapons on offense, it remains to be seen if the team will be able to score enough points to make their efforts count.
Oddschecker spokesperson Pete Watt: “After a shambolic season last time out, the Lions look a more exciting outfit with the capture of T J Hockenson and the continued development of Kerryon Johnson, who showed glimpses of excellence in his rookie year. Hockenson is among the favorites for OROTY, which seems plausible given Matt Patricia’s past with the Patriots and their ability to utilize the TE position.”
Based on the 2018 record of their opponents, Detroit will theoretically have the 19th hardest ranked schedule in the NFL heading into 2019. They will face teams that accumulated a combined record of 125-127-4 last season for a winning percentage of .496.
With arguably only one easy game on the schedule through the first six games of the season, the Lions could find themselves starring up at the rest of the teams in the division from the outset and playing for little more than pride the rest of the year by the mid-point of the season.