Self-reflection and self-scouting are two of the most important things a franchise can do during the offseason. During his end-of-the-year press conference, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia stressed the importance of this.
“I will take a hard look at every aspect of this team in the next month, couple months, before the team gets back, and I’ll do everything in my power to improve,” Patricia said. “As always, I’ll start with myself first and anything that I can do to be a better head coach, better leader of this team, better ways to improve myself so that we all can push forward and give ourselves a better chance to win.”
Let’s put Patricia aside for the moment, and focus on the rest of the team. Of course, there were plenty of disappointing performances throughout the year, but today, let’s focus on the top performers on the team to see who may be at the core of this roster in the future.
Here are the top five graded players both on offense and defense for the entire 2018 season.
The highest graded @Lions offensive players of 2018 (Min 20% or snaps):— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) January 3, 2019
1. WR Kenny Golladay (@kgxix) - 81.1
2. HB Kerryon Johnson (@AyeyoKEJO) - 80.8
3. QB Matthew Stafford - 77.8
4. HB Theo Riddick - 72.6
5. G T.J. Lang (@TJLang70) - 72.0#OnePride
This list is a carbon copy of the top three most important players on offense going forward. In 2018, Kenny Golladay had what many would consider a breakout season—70 catches, 1,063 yard and five touchdowns. At times, he looked like the true No. 1 receiver many expect him to be. At times, he looked like he still has a ways to go. Either way, he’s one of the most exciting pieces going forward.
The only player that could arguably be more exciting is running back Kerryon Johnson, who came in just behind Golladay with an 80.8 overall grade. If Johnson can stay healthy, he’ll likely be one of the centerpoints of this offense, both in the run game (641 yards, 5.4 YPC in 2018) and in the passing game (32 catches, 213 yards).
Perhaps most surprising is where Matthew Stafford landed on this list. While many viewed 2018 as a significant disappointment from the Lions’ quarterback—and he certainly played poorly at times—the end result is actually a pretty average-to-above-average grade. His 77.8 grade landed him 16th among all quarterbacks—behind the likes of Kirk Cousins (79.3) and Andy Dalton (81.9), but ahead of folks like Dak Prescott (74.6), Derek Carr (73.4) and Cam Newton (70.9).
Maybe the most disappointing part of this list is that the only offensive lineman to crack the top five was oft-injured T.J. Lang. The offensive line was supposed to shine in 2018, but the team certainly didn’t take the step that many fans were hoping. That being said, the Lions’ offensive line finished 16th in PFF rankings, which is certainly a small step up from previous years (they ranked 19th last year).
Highest graded @Lions def players of 2018 (min 20% snaps):— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) January 3, 2019
1. DI Damon Harrison Sr. (@snacks) - 92.2
2. DI A’Shawn Robinson (@AshawnRobinson) - 89.9
3. S Tracy Walker (@TracyWalkerIII) - 89.8
4. DI Da’Shawn Hand (@TheHand54) - 87.4
5. CB Darius Slay (@_bigplayslay23) - 75.0
Look at that beautiful, beautiful list. Not only did the Lions have four players with a grade 87 or higher, but three of those players happen to be on rookie contracts. The Lions appear to be in a really good spot heading into 2019 at the interior defender position—although it’s worth noting that A’Shawn Robinson will be on the final year of his contract and Damon Harrison Sr. has crossed over into his thirties.
Still, this is an extremely promising list of players. The Lions defense made a big turnaround toward the end of the 2018 season, and given that three of these players (Robinson, Hand and Walker) are 23 years old or younger, that means we could be in for a pretty solid defense for the foreseeable future, as long as general manager Bob Quinn continues to upgrade the positions around this framework.
It’s hard to ignore the fact that three out of the four top draft picks of 2018 landed among the top five players on offense and defense. In fact, it’s extremely promising that eight out of the 10 players on the list were drafted by the Lions themselves—though only five of those were drafted by the Lions’ current general manager.
Still, it’s a list that can provide a fair amount of optimism after a decisively disappointing year. The future appears to be fairly bright. Now it’s on Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia to keep that positive momentum going with another solid draft and key additions in free agency.