As much as we want to pretend, no team is perfect when the enter the season. The 2017 Detroit Lions are no exception. There are plenty of concerns on the roster, but that doesn’t mean they cannot overcome them. In fact, teams that are able to recognize the biggest concerns on their roster are often able to compensate and mask those problems.
With that being said, here are the five biggest questions facing the Lions as they enter the 2017 NFL season.
1. Can the Lions produce something resembling a pass rush?
This is easily the biggest question facing the Lions. Last year, Detroit only managed 26 sacks, the second-fewest in the league. The lack of pass rushed allowed quarterbacks to have their way with the second and third levels of the defense. As a result, the Lions allowed the highest percentage of completions in the league and sported the worst defense by DVOA.
Unfortunately, Detroit didn’t make a lot of moves to improve this unit. Detroit waited until pick 205 in the draft to address their defensive line, and only picked up a couple of castoffs in free agency.
That being said, the return of a “healthy” Ezekiel Ansah combined with the further development of A’Shawn Robinson gives the Lions at least a little hope that they can pressure the quarterback.
But with five of nine defensive linemen in either their first or second NFL season, the Lions will need some unforeseen production to see drastic improvement this year.
2. How will the left side of the offensive line hold up?
While the Lions spent a ton of money this offseason improving the right side of their offensive line, the left side remains a huge question. Unfortunately, their best offensive lineman, left tackle Taylor Decker, will miss at least six weeks of the season while he remains on the PUP list following shoulder surgery.
That leaves Greg Robinson in his place. Robinson is a former second overall pick in the draft, but he never caught on with the Rams and was traded to Detroit for just a sixth-round pick a couple months ago. Robinson has steadily improved throughout the preseason, but has still struggled at times.
The bigger issue, however, may be at left guard. With Laken Tomlinson traded to the 49ers, Graham Glasgow is expected to start in 2017. Glasgow was not very good as a rookie in limited appearances last year and didn’t look so hot this preseason either.
The Lions offense got by with an adequate offensive line last year, but Detroit is attempting to make a big step this year and an improved offensive line could really help both Matthew Stafford and the running game.
3. How long will it take for Jarrad Davis to take command of the defense?
Jarrad Davis was drafted in the first round to be the cornerstone to the Lions’ defense. But Rome wasn’t built in a day. We saw during Week 3 of the preseason that Davis still needs time to grow into a competent NFL player.
The entire defense will go through Davis in 2017, and although it’s unlikely he can do much worse that the Lions’ linebackers from last year, there’s little doubt he’ll struggle early. The shorter it takes for him to climb that learning curve, the better for Detroit.
4. Can Ameer Abdullah single-handedly pull the Lions running game from the abyss?
The Lions haven’t had a respectable running game since 2011. They haven’t had an 100-yard rusher in a single game since Reggie Bush did it on Thanksgiving... in 2013.
But if there’s one beacon of hope for that drought to end, it starts and ends with Ameer Abdullah. Abdullah looked incredibly promising in six quarters of play last year, but a Lisfranc injury ended his 2016 season before we could discern if he could do it for a full season.
Abdullah will get a little more help this season, with capable blocking tight ends and a reformatted offensive line, but ultimately it will be on Ameer to bring a much-needed, second dimension to this offense.
5. Can the Lions finally compete with the NFL’s top-tier teams?
Matthew Stafford has seen most of the criticism of Detroit’s 5-46 record against winning teams, but that says much more about the Lions themselves.
Look no further than last year as proof that Detroit hasn’t been able to hang with the NFL’s elite. You can blame Stafford’s finger or other numerous injuries on both sides of the ball, but the truth of the matter is when you get deep in December, no one is healthy. And the Lions just didn’t look like they belonged with the likes of the Cowboys, Packers, Giants and Seahawks last year.
Being an annual wild card contender is nice—especially when you consider where this team was a decade ago—but it’s time for this team to make the next step. The Lions will face two 2016 playoff teams in the first three weeks of the season, so we may get our answer to this one early this year.