The dust has finally began to settle after the craziness that was free agency and the NFL Draft. Now it's time for the Detroit Lions to move onto putting it all together with successful camp, followed by a successful season. Now that we have time to sit back and look at the roster for a moment, I can't help but to have some tempered optimism about the possibilities the Lions offense may have in 2016. On paper and in theory, it appears Bob Quinn and the Lions made all the right moves in the offseason to improve the often struggling offense.
Today I want to take a look at how everything could or should fit into place to take this theory and make it a reality. I'm going to break it all down into four sections to explain why Lions fans should share this tempered optimism. Let's jump right in.
Receiving threats are still a thing in Detroit.
Most national outlets will have you believe that the loss of Calvin Johnson will bring everything to a screeching halt in Detroit. It's hard to blame them for that take. As most know the Lions aren't the most watched team in the world. So it's easy from an outside perspective to gloss over Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron. While I can agree with the notion that Calvin Johnson is irreplaceable and cannot be duplicated, I must ask the question of who said you had to duplicate him to replace him?
What the Lions gain in the loss of Calvin Johnson is a chance to strive for a brand new identity on offense. Imagine if the Lions were able to run the playbook as designed without having to change things up depending on how Calvin is defended. Name a team that knows what this Lions team even plans on doing with this receiving core. I won't lie to you. You'll miss the amazing catches and the spectacle that was Calvin. But what your team gains is really something to be excited about.
With Tate, Jones and Riddick, the Lions have three receiving threats with impressively low drop rates. Jones alone has a staggering drop rate of 1.9 percent, meaning he pretty much caught the ball every time it was thrown his way in 2015. We all know that Tate and Riddick have similar success in that category as well. The other outstanding thing to look at is that all three of these guys excel in the yards after catch category. Both Tate and Riddick are among the league's top 10 in YAC. Jones comes in at 58th among all players and 29th among receivers. If you're looking for big plays, these guys theoretically can give you all you can handle.
Offensive line improvement.
It's not crazy to assume that the Lions offensive line could have a completely different look in 2016. Bob Quinn came in and had a trench-heavy draft to fix what is clearly the biggest weakness on the team. According to Dave Birkett of the Free Press, changes appear to already be in the works.
Jim Caldwell wouldn't say, but the Lions have 1st-rd pick Taylor Decker working LT for now. We'll see if he or Reiff ends up there in fall— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 7, 2016
Most were pretty unsure about what Decker's role would be right out of the gate. But all signs point to Decker taking over for Riley Reiff while Reiff moves over to the right tackle position. To add to that, Quinn also drafted Joe Dahl in the fifth round. Dahl appears to be an early project, but could potentially be Reiff's replacement once the Lions let him walk eventually. Graham Glasgow represents an upgrade at center and Geoff Schwartz and Michael Ola give the Lions great talent to flex in and out at multiple positions. On paper this offensive line looks way better already. But the work still has to be done on the field.
Run Game Improvement.
This is directly attached to the last point. One thing that's been noted about every offensive lineman taken by the Lions is their proficiency in run blocking. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that the Lions have had nothing but trouble in their rushing attack since Barry Sanders retired. In fact they've never ranked higher than 17th since Sanders walked away. It's been a mixture of both poor offensive line talent and poor running back talent. Now with a potentially revamped offensive line and a young running back by committee approach, the Lions just may have a chance to get above 17th.
But much has to happen first. Since Ameer Abdullah will be the guy taking the majority of the carries, he must correct his issue with fumbles early and often. Theo Riddick is excellent when catching the ball. In fact, he may be the best receiving running back in the NFL. But he has work to do in between the tackles. Lastly ,the Lions have to figure out who their power runner is going to be. Stevan Ridley or Zach Zenner appear to be that guy. But Zenner has to prove he's more than a preseason darling and Ridley has to prove he's over the ACL injury he suffered in 2013.
To put a bow on this article, the Lions can only go where Matthew Stafford takes them. Down the stretch in 2015 he played possibly the best football of his entire NFL career and the team saw the fruits of that labor by going 6-2 in that time. Judging by the improvement that Stafford has shown over the past two seasons, most notably in his footwork and decision making, it's not hard to think that Stafford could finally reach another level in his play in 2016.
To round back to the loss of Calvin Johnson, it may be crazy to think about, but that loss may have been win for Matthew Stafford. No longer can he lock in on his favorite target, he must now go through all his progressions and find the right target. With receivers that are proficient in YAC and not dropping the ball, that pretty much means anyone is the right target. Add in the possibility of a run game and the possibility of not being sacked over 40 times and you have a lot to be optimistic about on paper.
What do you think Lions fans? Be sure to leave your comments below or come chat with me on Twitter @POD_Payton.