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Roster Review: Will the Lions need Ricky Jean Francois’ leadership in 2019?

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The veteran was a strong locker room leader, using his experience as Patriot to help his teammates adjust to Matt Patricia’s scheme.

Detroit Lions v Miami Dolphins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

As free agency approaches, we will look back at the Detroit Lions roster, examining expectations coming into the season and evaluating players’ futures with the team.

Today we look at defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois.

Ricky Jean Francois, DT
Expectations before 2018:

With younger guys on the line, bringing in a veteran with almost a decade of experience in the league is not a bad idea. Ricky Jean Francois has spent time with the Colts, Packers, 49ers, Washington and—wouldn’t you know it—the Patriots. RJF’s familiarity with Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme in 2017 would allow him to lead his teammates through the transition. The Lions signed the run-stuffing specialist to a one-year deal just days before training camp started, with hopes he would help lessen the blow of losing Haloti Ngata in the offseason.

Actual role in 2018:
2018 Stats: 16 games (11 starts): 30 tackles, 2.0 sacks, three tackles for loss
PFF Grade: 68.0 (70th among DTs)

As predicted, RJF was a great leader, who spent the season talking his fellow defenders up, like saying A’Shawn Robinson will be a top 3 run-stuffer in the NFL, and tweeting rookie Da’Shawn Hand is “going to be one of the greats in this league.” Can’t imagine that does anything but help a team. Under veteran Damon Harrison Sr. and RJF’s guidance, Hand had an outstanding rookie season.

Jean Francois was part of a four-defender rotation that shared a pretty equal percentage of snaps: Da’Shawn Hand: 455 (46.2%), A’Shawn Robinson: 415 (42.1%), Ricky Jean Francois: 405 (41.1%) and Damon Harrison: 357 (36.2%). Though I’d imagine Snacks’ count would likely have been higher had he been in Detroit the whole season. Leadership aside, 30 tackles and two sacks ain’t too shabby.

Outlook for 2019

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Vocal about his frustrations, Jean Francois is pushing for a culture change to put an end to this whole losing thing. He spent the season helping develop and lead—value that you can’t find on a stat sheet. The Lions are likely looking to the draft for defensive aid, so that could be a new guy that’ll need some guidance.

In terms of rotational strategy, Hand, Robinson and Snacks are all set to return, so the Lions will have to decide whether to keep the band together. RJF has already said he’d like to return this season and perhaps shoot for another decade in the NFL before retiring a Dunkin’ Donuts mogul.