The top 20 of our countdown of the best Detroit Lions players on the 2020 roster is filled with a lot of interesting players. While some are newcomers the Lions have invested in heavily, many are returning players from last year. Of those players, there are a few who’ve had extremely high expectations, but are starting to see those hopes dwindle a bit. On the other hand, there are a couple players on this list who proved doubters wrong last year, and have established themselves as significant forces for Detroit.
Either way, big things are expected from all of these players in 2020, and if they don’t meet said expectations, their time in Detroit could be limited.
Here are players 20 to 11 in our rankings of the Lions’ entire 2020 roster.
Reminder about our methodology: Five Pride of Detroit writers ranked the roster from 1 to 90. Those rankings were then averaged to create a master list.
20. RB D’Andre Swift (Highest ranking: 13, Lowest ranking: 26)
Last year: N/A
The Detroit Lions’ second-round pick was able to crack the top 20 of our countdown, but he still remains below last year’s starting running back. With no OTAs or minicamp to go off of, it’s hard to know exactly where Swift stands compared to Kerryon Johnson, but it’s clear by Detroit’s draft investment that Swift will eventually be in the driver’s seat of the running back room. How soon that happens is one of the bigger questions on everybody’s mind.
19. OT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (High: 12, Low: 22)
Last year: N/A
This year’s free agency splash, the Lions handed Vaitai the biggest contract of any new Lions this offseason, offering $45 million over five years to the former Eagle. Though many believed it was an overpay, Vaitai did come with a solid reputation as a player ready to make the starter leap after years behind to All Pro tackles in Philly.
Vaitai should help bring some life to the Lions running game, but there are valid concerns about his pass protection, and that’s not something Lions fans want to hear after losing Matthew Stafford for half a season last year.
18. CB Justin Coleman (High: 9, Low: 25)
Last year: 14
Coleman takes a significant dip from his ranking last year, and it’s easy to see why. Coleman really struggled in the second half of last year after receiving some serious hype in the offseason and throughout the first month of the season.
Still, it’s clear many of the staff believe Coleman can be one of the best nickel cornerbacks in the league, like he was in Seattle. Coleman is just 27 years old, and if Detroit can build some semblance of a pass rush this year, he may not have to do everything on his own.
17. DT Danny Shelton (High: 13, Low: 21)
Last year: N/A
Shelton has some big shoes to fill this year... and yes, I mean that both metaphorically and literally. While Damon Harrison Sr. had an amazing half-season for the Lions in 2018, he fell off significantly last year. Because of that, and serious philosophical differences between Snacks and the coaching staff, Shelton is coming in as Detroit’s new nose tackle.
Shelton is coming off a career year in New England, racking up a 61 tackles, 3.0 sacks and six quarterback hits. However, he played just under half the defensive snaps for the Patriots last year. His role is about to significantly increase, and that could alter his effectiveness. It’s been four years since the last time he played more than half the snaps on a defense (2016 with the Browns—67%). However, he had a pretty solid year that season (59 tackles, 1.5 sacks, six QB hits).
16. K Matt Prater (High: 8, Low: 36)
Last year: 27
I don’t know what exactly it means when your kicker jumps nine spots in one year, but I can’t imagine it’s a great indicator of team depth. Prater is coming off a pretty average year, converting on 83.9 percent of field goals—which is actually down nearly four percent from 2018. However, he was 7-of-8 from beyond 50 yards last season, which puts him among the league’s best in long-distance field goals.
He’ll have a new holder this year, which could cause some early-season struggles, but overall, Prater has shown little signs of decline.
15. RB Kerryon Johnson (High: 14, Low: 19)
Last year: 7
Johnson understandably drops eight places after another injury-filled season. Perhaps even more worrisome was Johnson’s slow start to 2019. In the first six games of the season, Johnson averaged just 3.35 yards per carry and had fewer than 50 rushing yards in five of those six games.
The good news is that when he came back, he looked like his old self and put up 95 yards in just 21 carries (4.5 YPC) in the final two games.
14. S Duron Harmon (High: 7, Low: 27)
Last year: N/A
One of the more significant offseason acquisitions, Harmon is expected to immediately come in and start at the single-high safety position. Harmon has 10 interceptions in the past three years, and while many of those have been of the “right place, right time” variety, the veteran safety has developed a great reputation as a dependable last line of defense. That’s corroborated by his 16 passes defended over the last three years.
He’ll see an increased role in Detroit compared to his time in New England, but with his shared experience with head coach Matt Patricia, it should be an easy transition for him.
13. WR Danny Amendola (High: 11, Low: 19)
Last year: 22
Last year, expectations were fairly low for the 33-year-old Amendola. He was consistently struggling with injuries in the previous few years, and it looked like his overall effectiveness may have been on the decline.
Amendola responded to that by having his best statistical year in nearly a decade. He came up just 12 yards short of setting career-high in receiving yards, and he turned out to be one of the more reliable options for Matthew Stafford and company.
There’s no doubt Amendola’s head is in the right place, and even as he inches towards 35, there’s reason to believe he can still produce at a solid level.
12. DT Da’Shawn Hand (High: 9, Low: 23)
Last year: 6
After one of the most promising seasons for a Lions rookie, Hand had an extremely disappointing sophomore slump in 2019. He suffered a severe shoulder injury in training camp, and lasted just three games when he finally came back midseason. With only 110 defensive snaps last year, it’s hard to know where Hand is at in terms of talent. Oftentimes, we see a rookie player struggle to reproduce Year 1 production, but sometimes that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
2020 is going to be a pivotal year for Hand. Recapture some of that 2018 magic, and we could see Hand as an important part of this defense for years. Struggle with injuries and production, and we could be witnessing the beginning of the end for Hand in Detroit.
11. TE T.J. Hockenson (High: 10, Low: 19)
Last year: 12
Hope remains relatively high for the Lions’ eighth overall pick in the 2019 draft. While some may have come away disappointed by his rookie season—especially after his record-breaking debut—his production lines up with almost every talented tight end’s first year in the NFL.
That being said, Hockenson needs to see a huge jump in production soon, if not this year. In order to justify a top-10 pick, Hockenson doesn’t just have to be good, he has to be great. Unfortunately for the Lions tight end, he’s coming off a significant ankle injury, and it’s unclear if he’s going to be fully ready by Week 1.