The 2015 Detroit Lions are a team that is truly a mystery going in. The team lost their best DT in many years in Ndamakung Suh, who signed in the offseason with the Miami Dolphins. The team also lost Reggie Bush to the San Francisco 49ers. But through those big losses, much of the core of the team is still coming into 2015 intact & should be able to build on the playoff run from last season.
Detroit Lions Offense
The offensive unit of the Lions should be one of the best in the NFL yet again. Matthew Stafford at quarterback is still one of the best weapons in the entire league, no matter what the ratings or experts say. The guy has a cannon for an arm & can make throws that many other QBs can’t even fathom making, especially into tight traffic windows.
The team drafted speedy, shifty running back Ameer Abdullah out of Nebraska, who will be asked to replace Reggie Bush with his pass-catching ability out of the backfield. Abdullah will pair up with power back Joique Bell to form a 1-2 punch & give defenses honest, especially during play-action sequences where Stafford can really do damage.
The Lions are the most stacked at WR in a long time. Pro Bowler Calvin Johnson is still the #1, but injuries & age are starting to catch up with him, especially in the knees. Johnson has been incredibly consistent over the years, but Detroit fans have to realize that the ride can’t last forever. #2 receiver Golden Tate III, who the Lions signed last year in a free agent deal from Seattle, has become the every down receiver, as he had over 100 catches last season, a personal record for him in the league. We saw what he could really do when he was in a pass-happy offense that valued getting the ball vertical, as opposed to the power style that is featured in his old team, the Seattle Seahawks.
It will be imperative for Stafford to become more efficient in getting rid of the ball quicker in the pocket to make sure the line can give him the 3-4 seconds he needs to find the big play down the field. To take care of this situation, the Lions drafted Laken Tomlinson from Duke, a player who can run block very well, but also is able to pass block with the best in college football. He may have a big of a learning curve, but in time, Tomlinson will be a stud guard in the league. Having Tomlinson should help with Stafford having more protection in the pocket, especially with the improvement of Riley Reiff on the line.
Last year’s #1 pick, Eric Ebron, has to step up & take the starting TE job from Brandon Pettigrew. Pettigrew has been a solid player & can be a big play target & safely blanket for Stafford, but his drops are what kills the Lions at the most pivotal times of the game. Ebron didn’t show much in his first year, but he was able to show some athletic ability & make some plays downfield. If that can continue, the Lions could have either two big tight end targets to help Stafford or Ebron will be the #1 guy by midseason.
The offense will be okay with a close to 50/50 balance in running & throwing the football.
Detroit Lions Defense
This is the area where the Lions may be lacking in big ways. Losing Suh in free agency to the Dolphins will be a huge blow to the running game & even the passing game. Suh was a guy that teams had to gameplan for & put a guard & center over to his side, opening up lanes for linebackers & safeties playing in the box to blitz more & cause more chaos.
To replace Suh or…..better yet……..soften the blow that losing Suh brings, the team traded for Baltimore Ravens former all-pro Haloti Ngata. Ngata is as big as Suh, not as young & as fast, but can be very disruptive in stopping the run & taking on multiple linemen to allow the linebackers to run free, particularly if the team goes into a 3-4 defense, as opposed to the 4-3 the team has been running for several years.
The linebacker group looks as strong as it has ever been going into a season. Kyle Van Noy will be back from his injury & is a solid LB against the run & can defend the pass relatively well. Deandre Levy had a breakout year in 2014, having 117 tackles & assisted on 34 extra, working on the weakside. Stephen Tulloch will be back in at middle linebacker & hopefully recovered from his torn ACL after a celebration of a sack took him out for the season early in the year.
The secondary is headlined by Glover Quin & James Ihedigbo, two players who played Pro Bowl level at safety last year. Both guys were playmakers all season & when the Lions needed a big sack, or turnover, you normally saw those guys right in on the action.
The Lions resigned Matt Prater, the kicker who became the go-to guy after the team went through so many different guys trying to prove themselves to be worthy replacements for Jason Hanson. Prater isn’t the best kicker in the league, but he should be enough to where the team wouldn’t be afraid to go to him late in games.
The Lions look like a 10-6 ball club, could be better if Stafford shows more consistency & the running combination of Bell & Abdullah are average over 160 yards per game combined. They are still a year away from truly competing for a championship, but can definitely make a deep run in the NFC.