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Pro Football Focus: Detroit Lions have 5th-worst roster in NFL

PFF thinks the Lions roster ranks in the bottom five, but they’re missing something very important.

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It’s the doldrums of the offseason, and that means it’s time to take part in every Detroit Lions fan’s favorite offseason pastime: hating on Pro Football Focus.

I personally don’t have anything against PFF. They deserve credit for doing what no one else in the world is doing. Their signature stats are actually quite valuable in assessing talent that doesn’t have any useful traditional stats to measure performance (ie: offensive line).

However, PFF’s identity is built around their player grades, and when you boil down a player’s performance down to a single number, there’s going to be plenty of issues with your method.

On Tuesday, ESPN took PFF’s player grades from every single projected starter on each NFL roster and ranked teams by how well their starters graded out (ESPN Insider required). As you’ve probably gleaned from the title of this article, this isn’t good news for Detroit Lions fans. Not only are the Lions the worst team in the NFC North, but they grade out as the fifth-worst team in the entire league.

PFF categorized each starter into one of five buckets: Elite (90+ grade), Good/High Quality (80-89.9), Average (70-79.9), Below Average (60.9-69.9) or Poor. Of the Lions’ 24 starters (they included 3 LBs and 2 RBs as starters), Detroit has zero elite, 8 good, eight average, one below average, one ungraded rookie and a whopping six poor players on the roster.

Here’s the good news: the Lions aren’t likely to rely much upon most of those six “poor” players. Here are all six players listed as poor by PFF and their corresponding 2016 PFF grades:

  • Eric Ebron (53.9)
  • T.J. Jones (54.8)
  • Laken Tomlinson (49.8)
  • Haloti Ngata (46.2)
  • Tahir Whitehead (37.7)
  • DJ Hayden (48.6)

Let’s go through each of these, one by one.

For Eric Ebron, the grade seems a little unjustly low, but even so, Detroit’s tight end situation is vastly different than last year. Ebron will no longer be forced into blocking situations with Darren Fells on the roster, and he will even have rookie Michael Roberts to help take the load off.

T.J. Jones isn’t likely to be a starter once rookie receiver Kenny Golladay gains his footing in the big leagues. It’s also a bit unfair to call Jones “poor” since his 2016 grade is based on just 60 total snaps.

Laken Tomlinson also doesn’t really project to be Detroit’s starting left guard. That honor likely belongs to Graham Glasgow, Detroit’s third-round pick from 2016. Granted, Glasgow actually graded out worse than Tomlinson last year (42.1), but his ceiling is obviously a little higher than Tomlinson, who has only seemed to get worse as time rolls on.

Haloti Ngata is projected to be a starter in 2017, but by name only. Detroit added a lot of new talent on the inside of their defensive line and that means that Ngata, 33, will see a pretty decreased role. Akeem Spence (39.2) and Jordan Hill (43.6) don’t exactly inspire confidence from their 2016 performances, but a change in scenery could change things up.

Of all the “poor” players on defense, the one Detroit is stuck with is Tahir Whitehead. However, with rookie Jarrad Davis manning the middle of the defense, Whitehead could see improvement returning to his WILL linebacker duties. As Detroit’s outside linebacker in 2015, Whitehead was nearly a “good quality starter” by PFF’s standards, earning a 79.7 grade for the entire season.

DJ Hayden is currently projected to win the Lions’ starting nickelback spot, but he won’t be handed the job. Quandre Diggs (49.5), rookie Jamal Agnew and possibly even Nevin Lawson (77.1) could earn the job over Hayden.

This is all to say that although Detroit’s starters admittedly have some serious question marks surrounding them, general manager Bob Quinn has done a pretty solid job adding players that could contend and replace some of these players. Depth is an extremely important aspect of the roster, both in terms of the competition it creates and the injury insurance it provides. These PFF rankings don’t take depth into consideration at all, so take them with a grain of salt.

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