The top 10 players on every roster are critical. Top-tier talent is what drives teams to championship. While depth is obviously important, there’s a level of talent that can transcend everything in the NFL. Look at the superstars around the league: Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Michael Thomas, George Kittle, Stephon Gilmore. These guys are not only tremendous talent, but they’re on teams that have seen a wild amount of success. Football may be a team game, but the NFL is still a league dominated superstars.
For the Detroit Lions, they’ve been lacking superstars for some time. Their top 10 players have changed quite drastically over the past few years as they’ve tried to land some of that elite talent. If you were to look at the top 10 from 2018, only four of those players remain on the roster today. Heck, even just go back to last year, and only six of those 10 players are still on the roster.
This year’s top-10 list feature three new players to Detroit, and three more who could be considered rising stars on the verge of potentially becoming superstars.
Let’s get into it.
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.
10. CB Desmond Trufant (Highest ranking: 8, Lowest ranking: 13)
Last year: N/A
The Lions’ Darius Slay replacement, Trufant isn’t exactly at the top of his game anymore, but he’s still an underrated talent in this league. In every full season he’s played, he’s tallied at least 11 passes defended, and last year—in just nine games—he notched four interceptions and seven passes defended.
While injuries remain a legitimate concern with Trufant, his man-coverage ability is sound, and his performance last year proves he’s still got plenty in him at 29 years old.
9. CB Jeff Okudah (High: 7, Low: 12)
Last year: N/A
Placing Okudah in the top 10 may seem overly optimistic for a rookie, but we’re talking about the third-overall pick here. Last year, T.J. Hockenson was just 11th on our list, so Okudah—taken five spots higher in the draft and playing a more valuable position—makes sense this high.
Expectations are extremely high for Okudah, likely because of the path set by other former first-round Buckeye cornerbacks. Both Marshon Lattimore and Denzel Ward splashed onto the scene immediately and earned themselves Pro Bowls in their rookie season. Will Okudah follow in their footsteps?
8. S Tracy Walker (High: 5, Low: 16)
Last year: 19
Walker is one of those players that could be ready to take a jump into the elite category at his position. Though hype still remains higher than his actual production, Walker has a unique athletic build that could allow him to play several roles on this defense, including the increasingly-important tight end coverage role.
Walker has length, range and, finally, a supporting cast. Now it’s time for him to put it all together for a full season.
7. LB Jamie Collins Sr. (High: 5, Low: 11)
Last year: N/A
Ever since Matt Patricia has walked into the building, he’s used the word “versatility” so much that the V button on my keyboard has worn out. But if there’s a player that exemplifies what Patricia wants in a defender, it’s Jamie Collins.
Collins can play any position at linebacker, and that should provide the defense with the level of unpredictability that coaches have wanted for the first couple years. He’s coming off a solid year in New England, and some respected minds around the NFL believe he’s a top-10 off-ball linebacker when put into the right situations.
6. LT Taylor Decker (High: 6, Low: 11)
Last year: 13
The Lions’ 2016 first-round pick has had an up-and-down career, but after a strong finish to 2019, Decker may finally be ready to settle down as one of the league’s most dependable left tackles in football.
LT Taylor Decker started his career strong as he earned career-highs in every @PFF grade. But followed it up with a sophomore slump. Since that slump, Decker has improved each year in Overall grade— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) March 18, 2020
2016: 81.9 OVR
2017: 65.3 OVR
2018: 70.8 OVR
2019: 75.5 OVR (10th among LTs) https://t.co/ZZR8mvsqNT
It will be interesting to see if the Lions feel similarly about Decker’s projection, as he’s entering the final year in his rookie contract. Will the Lions hand him an extension, wait and see how he performs this year, or are they already planning to move on?
5. WR Marvin Jones Jr. (High: 5, Low: 9)
Last year: 9
Aside from his season ending due to injury in both of the last two seasons, Marvin Jones Jr. continues to be one of the most consistently productive players on the Lions team. After averaging just 40.2 yards per game with the Bengals in four seasons, he’s averaged at least 56 in each of his four years in Detroit.
Twice he’s put up nine touchdowns, and last year he set a career high in catch percentage, pulling in an impressive 68.1 percent of passes thrown his way.
Though 30 years old and entering the final year of his contract, there’s no reason to believe Jones can’t be another productive member of the Lions offense this year.
4. DE Trey Flowers (High: 2, Low: 4)
Last year: 4
Flowers may have not met expectations in his first year with Detroit—tallying just 7.0 sacks—but the flashes of potential were everywhere you could see. Slowed by offseason surgery early in the year, you could see Flowers hit his stride in mid-October, and he carried that throughout the rest of the year.
With a healthy offseason and a new surrounding cast of characters, Flowers could reach that potential in 2020, but he’ll need some help from a questionable set of defensive tackles on the team.
3. C Frank Ragnow (High: 2, Low: 4)
Last year: 15
Now in his more natural position at center, a good case could be made that no Lions player is ranked higher at his position than Ragnow. Now entering his third year, and just second at center, Ragnow could be on the verge of making a national name out of himself... if the Lions can get a running game going in 2020.
2. WR Kenny Golladay (High: 2, Low: 4)
Last year: 5
He may not be on the NFL’s top 100 list, by Golladay had his breakout season last year. 1,190 yards, 11 touchdowns and a whopping 18.3 yards per reception. He still needs to work on route running and earning separation from corners, but the work he’s been able to do with purely his hands has been spectacular. If he can produce at similar levels again in 2020, he’ll find himself on top 10 WR lists and that elusive NFL Top 100.
1. Matthew Stafford (High: 1, Low: 1)
Last year: 1
For the second time in three years, Stafford was our unanimous No. 1 (thanks for not making it three years in a row, John).
At this point in Stafford’s career, health is his only question. Sure, you’ll have trolls question his ability to win, like that’s solely on him, but he was an unquestioned BEAST last year before a back injury ended his season at the halfway point. People forget, y’all:
people forget who was #1 into November pic.twitter.com/rs8oPx0Q25— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) July 29, 2020
(Note: Those rankings don’t appear to be accurate, but Stafford was around top-five in all those categories)
As long as the offensive line can keep him upright, there’s no reason to believe Stafford can’t put another top-five performance up in 2020.