Thus far, the Detroit Lions have pretty much traveled under the radar when it comes to 2018 NFL previews. With a healthy Aaron Rodgers for the Packers and the Vikings adding Kirk Cousins to their roster, the Lions aren’t getting much attention nor respect from the national media. Even the Chicago Bears are getting more hype as far as NFC North teams go, as they now have a new coach to go with a potential franchise quarterback.
On Wednesday, Pro Football Focus added another voice to the unimpressed crowd. They ranked all 32 NFL rosters for ESPN Insider (subscription required) and the Detroit Lions came in at 15th, good for third in the division and 10th in conference.
PFF’s rankings are based on their 2017 player grades for projected starters on each team. Depth was not considered in the calculations.
According to their grades, the Lions are weakest at two positions: tight end and linebacker. Both positions have “poor” ratings based on the grades for Luke Willson (48.2), Jarrad Davis (46.1) and Christian Jones (45.3).
Those are certainly fair criticisms to have, as both of those positions have gone through the most changes this offseason.
Interestingly enough, the Lions’ defensive line—one of their biggest perceived weaknesses—measured out as average per PFF’s rankings. Ezekiel Ansah has an above average grade (80.2), while A’Shawn Robinson (78.6) and Sylvester Williams (76.5) rated in the middle of the league. Kerry Hyder, the second projected defensive end by PFF, obviously doesn’t have a grade after missing the 2017 season with an achilles injury.
Where the Lions’ roster really shines is on offense. Of the 12 starting positions (PFF lists an extra tight end), four of the Lions’ projected starters are above average at their position: Matthew Stafford, Golden Tate Marvin Jones Jr. and Rick Wagner. Aside from tight end, the only below average performer on offense is Taylor Decker (60.5 PFF grade), who battled with injuries a year ago. In his rookie year, Decker earned an 82.4 PFF grade, so it’s reasonable to think he will be better this season now that he’s had plenty of time to fully recover from his torn labrum.
Put it all together and you have a squad that is just a middle-of-the-road team. That’s not something that Lions fans really want to hear right now, considering they’ve been an average team for the past seven years, totaling a 57-55 record over that time. The entire reason the Lions hired head coach Matt Patricia was to get them over the average hump and make them a true contender. They’re obviously going to have to do more to convince national analysts.