Back to back winning seasons was not enough for Coach Caldwell to save his job last season. Patricia, who worked with GM Bob Quin in New England, has won three Super Bowls as an assistant coach and now will attempt to win one in his first gig as head coach. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin left to join the Cincinnati Bengals and was replaced by former Boston College defensive coach Paul Pasqualoni. A new DC and the change to a defensive head coach means that the Lions defense will look much different this year, as the team is expected to change to a 3-4 scheme.
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, who has been credited for much of Stafford’s successes the past few seasons, returns despite a questionable year calling plays last season.
Names to know: Matt Stafford
Stafford is the most important man on the Detroit Lions roster and he is the key to any success they may have in 2018. The quarterback led the NFC in passing yards last season breaking the 4,400 yard mark. He only threw 10 interceptions last year which ties his lowest career total (excluding his three game 2010 season). The former first overall pick in the draft is entering his 10th year in the NFL and years 8 and 9 have been his best yet.
He remains one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the league. The gunslinger has been a legitimate MVP candidate for much of the past two seasons and has thrived ever since Detroit hired Cooter as offensive coordinator in replacement of Joe Lombardi. He has found success despite having the worst run support in the NFL and an inconsistent, below average, offensive line. Stafford is talented enough to keep the Lions in any game, he just needs enough help from the rest of the team to take them all the way.
Names to Know: Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
The 2018 Lions running back room will look a lot different than it has in previous years. Detroit traded up in the second round of the draft to grab Kerryon Johnson out of Auburn. They also added back to back Super Bowl Champion LeGarrette Blount from Philadelphia Eagles in free agency. While these additions are exciting they come at the expense of long time running back duo Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
Johnson will most likely start and will play a huge role in the offense in his rookie season. He is a talented runner, a decent pass catcher out of the backfield and can even pass protect. Detroit was terrible at goal line and short yardage situations last season and the addition of Blount should help relieve many of those issues. Riddick remains one of the most talented route runners out of the backfield in the league. He creates match up nightmares for defenses and will still provide utility on third down.
That leaves Ameer Abdullah. The Lions second round pick in 2015 was the offenses main tailback the past couple of seasons. He missed much of the 2016 campaign with a foot injury, but he disappointed in both 2015 and 2017 causing the Lions to set up replacements. He is not a bad player, though. Abdullah is pretty athletic and has a lot of burst. He will most likely stick around as a depth piece and may even take over as the teams kick returner next season.
Detroit is hoping that all of their moves this offseason will finally fix a running game that has been broken for seemingly ever. The Lions ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing DVOA last season but if their investments into the running back position pay off then Stafford may finally have the valuable run support he hasn’t had for years.
Names to know: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones
The passing game was the crux of the Detroit offense last season and they will bring back the same cast of wide receivers. Tate is the key to everything the Lions offense does. He has reached the 90 reception mark in all four of his seasons in Detroit, breaking 1,000 yards in three of them. He took many snaps out of the slot last season and he filled the role Anquan Bolding left behind after 2016.
Marvin Jones was the Lions prized signing of the 2016 free agency period. He had a disappointing start to 2017, but took off late in the year. He set a career high with 1101 receiving yards and scored 9 touchdowns. The receiver was one of the most formidable deep threats in the NFL and led the league with 18 yards per reception. While it wont show up in the stat sheet, he also made some incredible catches, making him a reliable target even when he is blanketed by a defender.
3rd round pick Kenny Golladay had an injury riddled rookie campaign but showed flashes that should have the Lions excited for his future. He emerged as a formidable deep threat himself, averaging 17 yards per catch. Drops and inconsistency haunted him early in the season but another offseason working with Stafford and NFL coaches should help get the kinks out of his game.
Detroit has quietly built one of the best receiving corps in the league. Tate and Jones have thrived in their 1A-1B roles and the addition of Golladay adds another dimension. TJ Jones is a proven contributor on third downs. The Lions have invested a lot into their receivers the past few seasons and it is clear that their investment has paid off to this point.
Names to know: Michael Roberts, Luke Wilson, Levine Toilolo
The Lions made a surprising move when they released tight end Eric Ebron early in the offseason. The tenth overall pick in 2015 had an up and down career in Detroit but he was expected to stick around after a great finish to the 2017 campaign. Detroit reworked their entire tight end room this offseason, as they also let Darren Fells walk in free agency. Ebron and Fells accounted for 70 receptions and over 700 receiving yards and the latter was also a reliable blocker on the end.
Luke Wilson and Levine Toilolo were both added in free agency to replace them but much of the receiving load will be placed on 2017 fourth round pick Michael Roberts. The Toldeo product fills a similar role to Ebron. He is a big bodied tight end who has the size and strength to tower over defenders and box them out for receptions. He had a lackluster rookie season, only catching 3 passes on 7 targets.
The blocking prowess of Fells will be replaced by Wilson. In Wilson’s five year career he has only caught 89 passes for just over 1100 yards. The former Seahawk did a great job in both pass protection and run blocking in Seattle, though, and will provide the offensive line some much needed help.
Toilolo fell out of favor in Atlanta after a 54 target season in 2014. He has now joined the Lions on a one year deal as temporary depth behind Roberts.
Tight end is a question mark for the Lions entering the new season. Ebron and Fells had their faults but at least they were known products. This season Detroit will be relying on a second-year player who did not show much in his rookie year to make a huge jump. They will also be relying on two outcasts that haven’t been anything more than average ever in their careers. There is a chance they surprise us, but tight end is looking like a weak point on the Lions offense at the moment.
Names to know: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, TJ Lang, Rick Wagner, Kenny Wiggins, Ty Crosby
Detroit’s offensive line was a major disappointment last season. Lang and Wagner were the major free agent lands for Bob Quin’s squad. Both would end up missing games due to injury and Detroit lack of depth on the right side of the line led to a lot of trouble. Taylor Decker, a first round pick in 2016, had a great rookie season but missed half of last season with a nagging shoulder injury. Center Travis Swanson struggled with concussions and was in and out of the lineup.
If Decker, Lang and Wagner can all stay healthy in 2018 then they have most likely taken care of the left tackle and the entire right side of the offensive line. The rest of the interior offensive line is a question mark, though.
Detroit surprised many of draft night by selecting Arkansas Frank Ragnow in the first round. The rookie is a versatile lineman that can fill in at both guard and center for the Lions. He is an exciting prospect that didn’t allow a single sack playing against some of college footballs best pass rushers in the SEC. Graham Glasgow, a 3rd round pick in 2016, has shown a great deal of development the past two years as well. He also has experience at both guard and center.
Depth shouldn’t be as much as an issue this season either. Kenny Wiggins has many faults but the former starting guard for the Chargers can at least hold his own in case he is ever called upon. Oregon’s Ty Crosby was selected in the fifth round by the Lions and the rookie also has familiarity at both guard and tackle.
The offensive line should not be an issue in Detroit this season. The addition of Ragnow and a healthy Decker, Lang and Wagner should lead to better pass protection for Stafford. More importantly, the run game should finally have the run blocking necessary to be a reliable part of the offense. The Lions already had a great offense and the new and improved offensive line can make it one of the best in the league.