The Detroit Lions are a quarter of the way through the 2019 season, and things have gone much better than expected. After a horrible tie against the Arizona Cardinals, they pulled off huge upsets over the Los Angeles Chargers and Philadelphia Eagles. In Week 4 they finally lost their first game, but they gave a great Kansas City Chiefs team an absolute battle.
While the team as a whole has been great. some units are more responsible for the hot start than others. Today, we are going through each position group on the roster and grading them through the first four games of the season.
Matthew Stafford looks like a new man this season. He has bounced back after an injury-riddled 2018 proved to be the worst of his career. His adjusted net yards per attempt has bumped up from 5.92 in 2018 to 7.22 in 2019. He is also on pace to have his lowest career interception percentage in a season where he has played 16 games. Stafford is also rushing for a career-high yards per game.
He has not been perfect, though. The quarterback’s has missed a few too many passes that he should have hit, and while he has not thrown many, the interceptions he has thrown have been awful. 1,122 yards and nine touchdowns through four games is great, though, as it looks like the Stafford of old has returned.
Running Backs: B
Kerryon Johnson, J.D. McKissic, Ty Johnson
The Lions run game has been awful through four games this season. They are only averaging 3.9 yards per carry as a team, and starting running back Kerryon Johnson is only picking up 3.4 per clip. The dismal rushing game is not their fault, though. The offensive line has not given them much help, but they have done the most with their opportunities.
Johnson was a huge part of both of the team's victories, and despite an untimely fumble, his work on the ground was key to Detroit’s gameplan against the Chiefs. J.D. McKissic looks like an absolute steal as a late preseason addition and has replaced the production of former third down running back Theo Riddick and then some. While Ty Johnson has not gotten the most opportunity, he has shined when given a chance.
This running back room is more dynamic and athletic than ever, and all three of the major names in the teams arsenal are big play threats. All three of them are also good enough to play between the tackles and keep the ball moving consistently with shorter runs. It has not showed up on the stat sheet, but they have played well thus far.
Wide Receivers: A
Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall
Detroit receivers have been amazing through four games. Kenny Golladay has emerged as a true WR1, catching 19 passes for 234 yards and four touchdowns so far. Marvin Jones Jr. may be one of the best WR2’s in the game as well, with 18 catches for 277 yards up to this point. There is a real dual threat at receiver, and the addition of Danny Amendola in the slot gives Stafford a reliable target underneath that has the ability to routinely get open. While Marvin Hall has not been around long, he made a few key catches down the stretch to keep the team alive against the Chiefs. The Lions still do not have a true deep threat, but Hall might become that guy for them this year.
Every member of this receiving corps seems to be living up to their potential this season, and they are providing the team—and Matthew Stafford—exactly what they need to succeed. It still is not the most talented group in the league, but they have been playing amazingly in the first quarter of the season.
Offensive Line: D
Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner
As mentioned earlier, the run game has been awful this year. Now we get to talk about the culprits.
Detroit’s run blocking has been abysmal in 2019. They have failed to help out their running backs all season and the Lions offense has struggled in part. The pass blocking has not been too great, either. While there was a two-game span when the offensive line had not given up a sack, Stafford was still under constant pressure and the quarterback’s expert pocket navigation probably kept him upright more than the line did.
Both tackles, Taylor Decker and Rick Wagner, have been insufficient up to this point. The coaching staff seems unsure about the interior of the line too, switching out guards Joe Dahl and Graham Glasgow for Kenny Wiggins at seemingly random points of the game.
With the amount the team has invested in the offensive line, one would hope it’d be much better at this point. This is the weakest unit on the roster up to this point in the season, but with the amount of projected talent they have, they may be able to figure it out and turn this offense into a force.
Tight Ends: C
T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas
Detroit has already come a long way from the horrible tight end room of 2018. Rookie first-round pick T.J. Hockenson had a huge NFL debut against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1 and was looking great for the offense in Week 4 before having to leave the game with an injury. He has two quiet games in between, but inconsistency with a few flashes is about what you would expect from a rookie in his first tastes of NFL action.
Logan Thomas has not seen much of the field this season, but he has produced when called upon. Unfortunately, Jesse James has been a bystander more than anything since signing a huge deal with the team over summer.
The tight end’s have been poor blockers as well. Hockenson has had a rough introduction to NFL action between the trenches, but as mentioned earlier, that is fine for now. James and Thomas were both enlisted as blockers more than anything, though, and neither have been up to par yet.
Interior Defensive Line: C
Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Kevin Strong, Mike Daniels
The strength of the Lions 2018 roster seems to have weakened a bit. The defensive line was supposed to be among the best in the league in 2019, but they have not shown up.
Damon Harrison Sr. no longer looks like the elite run stuffer that he has been for the past few seasons, and it has caused a ripple effect across the defense. A’Shawn Robinson has not been a great run stuffer either, though his development as a pass penetrator does add a new dimension to his game. Mike Daniels has not done much, and UDFA Kevin Strong has been a passenger for the most part.
Getting Da’Shawn Hand back from injury soon could be huge for the unit. The return of the team’s best pass penetrator could be a boost to everyone on the squad. Harrison may also still get back into his old form, which could help out the younger defensive tackles.
Edge Defenders: B
Trey Flowers, Devon Kennard, Romeo Okwara
Devon Kennard has never been a player that gets many accolades or appears much on highlight reels. The edge defender may be Detroit’s best front-seven player through four games this season, though.
Kennard has notched three sacks and 15 combined tackles through four games—on pace to set career highs for both. He has been a stand out and contributed in major ways that do not even show up on the box score.
The star of this unit should have been defensive end Trey Flowers, and while he has not lived up to expectations, he has been fine. Flowers has not been the game wrecker the Lions wanted him to be yet, but he still has been serviceable. There is always a chance he improves as gets more familiar playing for the Lions as well.
Detroit edge defenders have been about as good as expected up to this point, and there is reason to believe that this unit could get better as time goes on.
Jarrad Davis, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jahlani Tavai, Christian Jones
The linebacking corps has been one of the Lions biggest problems over the years. While they are not perfect at the moment—far from it—they at least are not a major liability anymore.
Jarrad Davis has become a swiss army knife in Matt Patricia’s defense. He plays all over the field, and while his issues in coverage persist, he has clearly made a jump in his third NFL season. Jahlani Tavai started the opening games and was great in his first taste of NFL action. Christian Jones has managed to not be a total liability defending the run, which is already an improvement over this time last year,
This unit has not been particularly great this year, but they are getting the job done in Patricia’s defense.
Darius Slay, Justin Coleman, Rashaan Melvin, Mike Ford, Jamal Agnew
The biggest surprise on the Lions roster this season has been the exceptional play of their cornerbacks.
Darius Slay was always a great player, and the former first-team All Pro has continued his high level play into 2019. A pair of new signings are really making an impact in the defensive backfield, though.
Justin Coleman may be the best player on the defense so far this season. The corner played one of the best games of his career in Week 4 against the Chiefs and played nearly perfectly in the three previous contests. Rashaan Melvin is flourishing, as well, after nearly playing his way out of Oakland with a terrible 2018 campaign.
Mike Ford will probably never be more than a backup in Detroit, but the 2018 UDFA managed to hold his own when he was forced to step in for Slay against a dynamic Chiefs offense.
Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Tavon Wilson, Will Harris
The safety position was one of the deepest for the Lions entering the year, and they have shown why they were so much hype around them all summer.
Quandre Diggs has continued to be a top =level run defender, and his issues in pass coverage have yet to cost the team. Tracy Walker has taken the next step as well, and he has put together a great start to the season.
Rookie safety Will Harris clearly has to clean up his game a bit, and will need to get better at reading the game in front of him. When called upon, Harris has been a decent safety in his first few NFL games, though.
Tavin Wilson has not gotten much playing time, but he has shined when called upon and was a key factor in the team’s great defensive performance in Week 4.