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2018 Detroit Lions snap counts: Breaking down the offense’s personnel decisions

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A look at the full season snap counts for the Detroit Lions offense.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the 2018 season is over for the Detroit Lions, it’s time start analyzing what exactly went right and what exactly went wrong. Let’s begin by looking simply at the play distribution. Which players that the Lions chose to use obviously plays a pretty big part in how a team performs, and looking at snap counts can give us a good look into what personnel decisions were particularly impactful this year.

Today, we’re going to start with the offense. Here’s a look at the snap count distribution for the Detroit Lions offensive players:

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford: 1052 snaps (97.9%)
Matt Cassel: 23 snaps (2.1%)

Analysis: Matt Cassel only came in twice this year. At the end of the dreadful season opener vs. the Jets and when the Week 16 game against the Vikings was well out of hand. Matthew Stafford remains an iron man when it comes to availability.

Running backs/Fullbacks

Theo Riddick: 415 (38.6%)
Kerryon Johnson: 346 (32.2%)
LeGarrette Blount: 281 (26.1%)
Nick Bellore: 120 (11.2%)
Zach Zenner: 118 (11.0%)
Ameer Abdullah: 11 (1.0%)

Analysis: For the second straight year, injury forced Theo Riddick to be the team’s lead running back in 2019. That’s not exactly an ideal scenario for a guy that only had 40 carries for the entire season and had a career-low 6.3 yards per reception.

Kerryon Johnson only played in 32 percent of the season’s snaps, but prior to his injury, he played in 46.9 percent of snaps. That percentage was steadily increasing as the season went on, as he played in at least 50 percent of the snaps in his final five games.

LeGarrette Blount—the source of much frustration all year—saw his playing time waver all season. He started around his season average, but once Kerryon started hitting his stride, Blount was only playing around 15 percent of the snaps. But after the injury, Blount got a healthy amount of snaps back, before ceding some to Zach Zenner late in the season.

Wide receivers

Kenny Golladay: 905 (84.2%)
Marvin Jones Jr.: 538 (50.0%)
TJ Jones: 461 (42.9%)
Golden Tate: 366 (34.0%)
Bruce Ellington: 273 (25.4%)
Andy Jones: 257 (23.9%)
Brandon Powell: 100 (9.3%)
Chris Lacy: 35 (3.3%)

Analysis: Kenny Golladay’s playing time essentially doubled from last year (473 snaps to 905), while Marvin Jones Jr.’s snap count was basically cut in half due to injury (1002 to 538).

With Golden Tate traded halfway through the season, the Lions rotated Bruce Ellington, Andy Jones and Brandon Powell down the stretch. It’s clear the Lions are going to have to find someone this offseason to take on those snaps in 2019.

Tight ends

Levine Toilolo: 529 (49.2%)
Luke Willson: 425 (39.5%)
Michael Roberts: 159 (14.8%)
Jerome Cunningham: 53 (4.9%)
Hakeem Valles: 29 (2.7%)

Analysis:

Here’s a look at the top 3 tight ends from 2017:

  1. Eric Ebron: 52.9%
  2. Darren Fells: 52.7%
  3. Michael Roberts: 21.2%
  4. Hakeem Valles: 1.7%

The Lions had a lot of playing time to make up for, and the relied upon mostly Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson to make up that time. It didn’t end up working all that well, despite the fact that Toilolo graded out as the best pass-blocking tight end in the NFL. And I’m not sure anyone had a more disappointing 2018 season than Michael Roberts, whose injury and poor play had him play fewer snaps than his rookie year.

Offensive tackles

Taylor Decker: 1062 (98.8%)
Rick Wagner: 985 (91.6%)
Tyrell Crosby: 130 (12.1%)

Analysis: Here’s the good news. The Lions had a ton of continuity on the offensive line as compared to last year. Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner missed just one game between the two and neither were benched for poor play. Rookie Tyrell Crosby got one start under his belt and also had some fill-in snaps combined with some play as a sixth lineman.

Compare this to last season, when six different players played at least 60 snaps and no tackle played more than 76 percent of snaps.

Guards/Centers

Frank Ragnow: 1074 (99.9%)
Graham Glasgow: 1074 (99.9%)
Kenny Wiggins: 798 (74.2%)
T.J. Lang: 282 (26.2%)
Joe Dahl: 50 (4.7%)

Analysis: It was the same kind of story at offensive guard. While the T.J. Lang was undoubtedly impactful, the Lions were able to keep the same group of linemen together for almost a third of the year. Again, this continuity is much improved from last season, when Detroit saw six different interior linemen get at least 70 snaps.

Both Graham Glasgow and Frank Ragnow missed just a single snap on the season, so kudos to both of them for nearly ironman seasons. Last year, Glasgow didn’t miss a single snap, so his availability over the past two years has been one of his better assets.