The Detroit Lions may not be done roster building this week as they go back and scour the free agency list, but most of the heavy lifting has been done. The Lions were made some aggressive moves in free agency and some bold moves in the 2019 NFL Draft.
The current contracts in place plus draft selections offer a good preview of what the Lions’ 2019 roster will be. So let’s break down what their strengths and weaknesses will be for the upcoming season. Today, we start with the offense.
(Note: UDFAs are not included as the team has not confirmed any signings. I’ll make note for significant UDFAs signings.)
Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backups: Tom Savage, Connor Cook
Starter grade: B+
Matthew Stafford is a known commodity at this point. He’s capable of some amazing throws and moments, but he has yet to prove he truly belongs in the elite category. Coming off a down year, expectations are lower than ever, but playing under a new offense may revitalize his career.
As for depth, the Lions have a veteran player familiar with the offense and a young player. Neither inspire much confidence if they enter the game, but each provide a role on the sidelines.
Starter: Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson
Backups: Zach Zenner, Theo Riddick, Ty Johnson (R), Mark Thompson, Kerwynn Williams, Nick Bawden
Starter grade: B+
Kerryon Johnson, if he remains healthy, could have a monster year after a promising rookie season. C.J. Anderson comes to Detroit after a successful short stint with Los Angeles with a chip on his shoulder. The two should provide a nice one-two punch for the Lions’ backfield, but at this point, it’s more theory than fact.
The addition of sixth-round pick Ty Johnson brings some interesting depth to the position and could potentially push Riddick or Zenner off the roster simply because of his special teams value as a kick returner.
Starters: Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola
Backups: Travis Fulgham (R), Brandon Powell, Andy Jones, Chris Lacy, Brandon Reilly, Tommylee Lewis, Deontez Alexander
Starter grade: C
The Lions’ starting three receivers don’t instill much fear in opposing defenses. While Golladay is growing and improving, Marvin Jones is only an average receiver (and coming off an injury), and Danny Amendola is nearing the end of his career. There’s no doubt this unit took a step back after moving Golden Tate last year.
Sixth-round rookie Travis Fulgham may jump to the top of the line of the reserve receivers, given that there aren’t many standouts among the group. Brandon Powell showed some promise late last year, but his Week 17 107-yard performance was a glorified preseason game.
Starters: T.J. Hockenson (R), Jesse James
Backups: Michael Roberts, Isaac Nauta (R), Logan Thomas, Jerome Cunningham
Starter grade: B+
Without a doubt, this is the most improved position on the Lions roster. But there’s also some reason for caution. Rookie tight ends take time to adjust to the next level, even ones as pro-ready as Hockenson. Jesse James has had some nice production as the Steelers’ No. 2, but he has yet to show he can take on a full-time starter role.
The Lions have two, young options in Michael Roberts and seventh-round rookie Isaac Nauta as depth. While Roberts’ star is fading fast, Nauta could be one of the Lions’ biggest steals in the draft.
Starters: Taylor Decker, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Oday Aboushi, Rick Wagner
Backups: Tyrell Crosby, Andrew Donnal, Kenny Wiggins, Jarron Jones, Joe Dahl, Leo Koloamatangi
Starter grade: C+
The Lions’ starting offensive line is full of potential, but no outstanding players. The left side of Decker, Ragnow and Glasgow could very well be this team’s starting trio for years to come. They are all young and promising, but all have yet to fully reach their potential. At this point, they’re above average players, but not much beyond that.
The right side is where there’s concern Rick Wagner has been good at right tackle, but will turn 30 this year. The biggest concern is at right guard, where free agent Oday Aboushi is expected to contend for the starting spot. He has starter experience, but has been a journeyman due to inconsistent play.
Tyrell Crosby and Kenny Wiggins provide adequate depth, but there’s not much beyond that. The Detroit Lions clearly recognized that after the draft, and reportedly added two priority undrafted free agents—Wisconsin’s Beau Benzschawel and San Diego State’s Ryan Pope—who both have a chance to make the squad.
Overall offense grade: B-
Matthew Stafford should always bring some optimism to this unit, even if the Lions are transitioning to a more run-heavy offense. New offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell will have his work cut out for him, though. With a young, average offensive line and a promising set of running backs, there is certainly a road to success here. However, there is a feeling that everything needs to come together for Detroit to really pull off what they’re trying to do in Bevell’s first year.
The improvement at the tight end position may be the biggest reason for hope. T.J. Hockenson will be a big part of that, providing Detroit with a great blocking threat and a potential big mismatch in coverage. Pairing him with Jesse James, the Lions can keep defenses guessing by moving both all around the formation.
Again, though, it comes to potential vs. reality. All of the pieces have the potential to come together and work out, but everything has to fall the Lions’ way. In terms of proven talent, the Lions just don’t have a ton on offense, and it seems unlikely everyone reaches their full potential in 2019.