It’s that time of year again. No, I’m not talking about training camp. I’m not even talking about the season being less than a month away. Okay, it’s sort of about both of those things. What I’m really talking about is that it’s the time of year when the hype surrounding the Detroit Lions is at a fever pitch.
2020 is no different so far. On Tuesday alone “Good Morning Football’s” Pete Schrager made Matthew Stafford his dark horse pick for league MVP and Football Outsiders had the Lions as their number one choice to not only go from worst to first, but win the NFC North.
Where is all this coming from? Why does it happen all the time? Football Outsiders picked the Lions to go from worst to first last season too. Remember that time Jim Miller picked the Lions to win the Super Bowl? Remember the Ameer Abdullah hype? There are so many more examples, and they all seem to happen in August.
So what about this year? This year is a little bit different. The hype didn’t start in August. As far back as January there were multiple analysts proclaiming that the Lions would be 2020’s version of the 49ers, including ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, who said that much like the 49ers, the Lions have “X’s and O’s genius on staff.”
What is it about the 2020 Lions that has them surrounded by so much hype that goes beyond the usual August type? And is there any reason to actually believe it this year?
I’m going to give you the reasons why you should and the reasons why you shouldn’t. From there, it’s up to you to decide.
Why you should
From the jump, it’s Matthew Stafford and the offense. According to Stafford, he’s healthy and ready to go. Along with him is Kenny Golladay who led the league in touchdowns in 2019 and keeps getting better every year. Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola who are two, steady veterans that you can count on, and T.J. Hockenson spent the offseason bulking up and getting healthy.
Then there’s the run game that features rookie D’Andre Swift who has his own hype train, a healthy Kerryon Johnson and a potentially good Bo Scarbrough. If this run game can help Stafford, who already has all the receiving weapons he can hope for, then this offense is going to be dangerous.
The Lions made moves to improve their defense as well. Jeff Okudah has what it takes to be special right out of the gate, Jamie Collins Sr. is just what the doctor ordered at linebacker, Jarrad Davis is in such good shape right now that it’s hard not to think he might finally have an impact. Additionally, Danny Shelton is sneaky good, Reggie Ragland is a really good fit, Detroit has a pair of high-impact safeties and I think Julian Okwara could be the biggest steal of the entire draft.
There is a lot to like about the Lions offseason. They arguably improved in a lot of places.
Why you shouldn’t
But did they improve enough? There are still a lot questions. Perhaps the biggest concern is while that offense looks dangerous, the offensive line looks like a giant mess. As of this moment, I can’t tell you who is starting along the line outside of Taylor Decker and Frank Ragnow. It would appear that Halapoulivaati Vaitai is more than likely the team’s right tackle. But what about the guard spots? Is it Kenny Wiggins? Is it Jonah Jackson? It’s not exactly a good look to have such indecision on the offensive line, especially when these guys have to protect a quarterback coming off a serious back injury.
Yeah, the defense made some improvements, but it just doesn’t feel like enough. Jeff Okudah should be good, but is he an upgrade from Darius Slay? Probably not right away. While Desmond Trufant has a history of being reliable, he’s pushing 30 and wouldn’t it be convenient if his first big down year is in Detroit? The same goes for 30-year-old Jamie Collins.
The Lions also neglected to get a pass rusher opposite Trey Flowers. While it’s more than likely that the Lions will use Julian Okwara as a pass rusher—and he’s quite capable of doing it—they still abstained from getting a trusted player on the other side of the line. That’s scary for a team that had the worst pass rush in the league in 2019.
Lastly, this is a unit that has brand new coordinator Cory Undlin at the helm, who’s doing the job for the first time in his career. Matt Patricia clearly trusts the guy he spent some time with in New England way back in 2004, but one has to believe there’s going to be some growing pains early on. With a shortened training camp and no preseason games to work out the kinks, that put Undlin at an even higher disadvantage.
Which brings me to the very last point. This offseason is way different due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Training camp is shorter, there’s a small limit of fully-padded practices, and they have to fit all the on-field work into a tiny, 32-day window. There are no preseason games, which is good because injuries won't occur in meaningless games, but bad because even just one game would have helped teams get some live reps against an opponent. It would have really helped a team like the Lions who are learning a new defense. If they can’t get it going right away, there could be trouble.
So now that you’re armed with the knowledge, which way are you going with the hype? Are you on the train or are off it?