Our countdown of the top Detroit Lions players in 2019 has moved into the teens. Now we’re not just talking about potential starters, we’re talking about the best of the starters. While these players may not be the franchise definers of the team, these are essential pieces that will be heavily relied upon going forward.
If you want to compare the roster to last year, here’s a look at our players ranked 11-20 from the 2018 season.
20. TE Jesse James (High: 13, Low: 27)
Prior to the Lions drafting of T.J. Hockenson, there was talk about whether James would be the No. 1 tight end in Detroit. He’s never fully assumed that role in the NFL, but there was a sense he was being misused—or underused—in Pittsburgh through the first four years of his career.
He’s only caught 40 passes in a season once, and he’s never had more than three touchdowns in a year, but at age 25, the Lions are banking on the fact that James hasn’t reached his potential yet.
His ability to also be competent blocker is exactly the kind of versatile tight end they’re looking for.
19. S Tracy Walker (High: 15, Low: 24)
Last year: 44
Walker takes a massive leap in these ratings, and his expectations have taken a similar jump. With Glover Quin now enjoying retirement, Walker is expected to see his role change from subpackage player to full-on starter.
Last year was certainly promising for the 2018 third-round pick. Walker notched 21 tackles, one interception, a PFF grade of 89.8 and had himself a game-winning interception before it was called back due to a penalty away from the play.
But being a starter is a different game entirely, and we’ll have to wait and see if Walker is ready.
18. LB Jarrad Davis (High: 14, Low: 26)
Last year: 19
Davis may be one of the most important players on the field when Detroit is on defense, but the jury is still out on the 2017 first-round pick. Davis’ career has been so up-and-down thus far. He shows flashes of phenomenal instincts, jaw-dropping power, and extreme athleticism, but he just as often shows his inability to control all that athleticism and constantly was misdiagnosing plays.
As a result, Davis has graded out awfully with PFF, and fans are starting to grow worried he may not be the linebacker of the future.
That being said, Davis has found a role as a great pass rusher, and with the addition of Jahlani Tavai, the Lions may be able to use him in that role more often. Additionally, there are hopes that Davis’ tremendous work ethic will have him playing at a new level in his second year under Matt Patricia’s defensive guidance.
17. LB Devon Kennard (High: 14, Low; 21)
Last year: 21
Kennard was last year’s crown jewel of free agency and he mostly lived up to expectations. While he wasn’t the premier pass rusher some were hoping for, he set the edge pretty well and was a reliable tackler in 2018. Even his 7.0 sacks was a career high for the 28-year-old linebacker.
Nothing much should change for Kennard in 2019, with only that hope that he, too, will improve after a year under Patricia.
16. OT Rick Wagner (High: 12, Low: 25)
Last year: 7
The Lions’ right tackle has had a fairly quiet career in Detroit since he signed his massive five-year deal back in 2017. For an offensive lineman, quiet is good.
Wagner hasn’t been stellar as the team’s starting right tackle, but he’s been fairly reliable (started in 28 of 32 games) and his performance has been, at the very least, average. For a team that was constantly searching for someone who wasn’t a traffic cone at right tackle, Wagner has been fine—even if he hasn’t lived up to his hefty contract.
15. G/C Frank Ragnow (High: 12, Low: 18)
Last year: 15
Ragnow will be another key piece to the Lions offense this year. His rookie year was a little bit of a disappointment, but there were certainly flashes that showed why the Lions took him in the first round. It makes sense that he hasn’t moved from his ranking last year.
But now that it looks like Ragnow is moving to his more natural position at center, his expectations grow and he’s likely to have a bigger impact on the team, too. Everything from his college tape suggests this move is the right one for Ragnow, but we still need to see it on the field first.
14. CB Justin Coleman (High: 8, Low: 21)
One of the biggest moves the Lions made all offseason was locking up their nickel corner spot. As we’ve beaten to death on this website before, the nickelback position is essentially a starting position in today’s NFL, and the Lions just haven’t had a reliable one of the past few years.
Coleman, however, has been one of the best.
Justin Coleman is an underrated talent at slot cornerback and a significant upgrade for Detroit.@PFF_AustinGayle details why Coleman is flying under the radar as one of the NFL's rising stars: https://t.co/tDP3fUXRG3 pic.twitter.com/wfrBCxI8OK— PFF (@PFF) June 29, 2019
If Coleman lives up to expectations in Detroit, he’ll not only improve the Lions’ ability to cover slot receivers, but he’ll free up Darius Slay to man the outsides again, where he’s most efficient.
13. LT Taylor Decker (High: 11, Low: 17)
Last year: 9
Decker has fallen out of the top 10 for the first time in his Lions career. 2018 was supposed to be a bounce-back year after a torn labrum robbed him of the first half of 2017. However, Decker’s play was fairly inconsistent, and, at times, very disappointing.
Still, Decker’s play has been better than advertised. His 80.9 pass blocking grade in 2018 was actually 13th among tackles. Though he still has work to do in the run game, and could use a little more consistency, Decker is still a solid left tackle in this league.
12. TE T.J. Hockenson (High: 11, Low: 18)
For years, we’ll debate the merits of drafting a tight end in the top 10, but Hockenson—on paper—has everything the Lions are looking for in a young tight end. He has experience in a pro-style offense thanks to his college career at Iowa. He can be a downright vicious blocker at times, which should provide a spark to Detroit’s running game. And he’s got a set of reliable hands to go with his athletic build.
Expectations are extremely high for Hockenson’s rookie year, as they should be for any top-10 pick.
11. G/C Graham Glasgow (High: 6, Low: 16)
Last year: 12
It appears Glasgow will shift to right guard this year to fill the shoes of retired T.J. Lang. It should be a natural move for Glasgow, who has played just about every interior offensive line position throughout his career.
Up until this point, Glasgow has been one of the most reliable players on the Lions roster. He’s only missed a single snap over the past two years, and his play has been good enough to avoid the curses of many a Lions fan. It also helps that he’s a funny dude.