Dale Money | January 9th, 2020
The Detroit Lions started the season off with plenty of promise, starting out the season 2-1-1. That one loss being a 34-30 nail biter against the Kansas City Chiefs, in which Matthew Stafford would put together a touchdown drive to push Detroit ahead with two minutes to left. Chiefs running back Darrell Williams would take back the lead for the last time, with 23 seconds left to spare.
Then the week five game against the Green Bay Packers happened. You could certainly make the argument that the controversial loss against the Packers, sent the Lions into a tailspin that they were never able to overcome. Outside of the week eight win against the New York Giants, they would not pick up another victory finishing out the season with a 3-12-1 record.
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What Went Right
One thing Detroit could hang its hat on in 2019, was their receiving duo of Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. Golladay would lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns and was third in yards per catch. Jones wasn’t too shabby himself, regardless of missing the last three weeks of the season due to a knee injury, he would finish tied for fourth in touchdown receptions. Stafford continued to put up strong numbers for Detroit, over his nine weeks he was first in passing yards per game and second in touchdowns.
After the loss of Kerryon Johnson in week four, the Lions would try out a mish-mosh of running backs as a suitable replacement including rookie Ty Johnson. When none of those players worked out, they would eventually settle on Bo Scarbrough. In his first week as the starter against Dallas, Scarborough would finish with 55 yards rushing and a touchdown. He would continue to steadily lead the rushing attack getting over 17 carries in each of his next three, Johnson would eventually take back the starting role in week 16.
What Went Wrong
It was a season in which the Lions had plenty of chances to close out games and just failed to close the door, I know what your thinking would’ve, could’ve, should’ve. After the loss of Stafford, Jeff Driskel would fill in for three lackluster starts until he was injured due to a hamstring and placed on injured reserve. David Blough would take over the last five games of the season but didn’t do much of note either, finishing with four touchdowns and six interceptions.
The Lions spent a lot of money on free agents in the offseason but would not get back nearly enough production. Trey Flowers and Danny Amendola played well enough, but outside of those two players, there wasn’t much to get excited about. Justin Coleman was arguably the biggest free-agent disappointment, after being paid handsomely in hopes of taking over one of those top corner roles. Coleman would have a stellar first four weeks defending nine passes but would basically drop off a cliff after that finishing the year with the second most catches allowed with 70.
Tight end Jesse James was signed to a four year, $22 million dollar contract, after three productive seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers. James was meant to bring some of that production to Detroit but instead finished the 2019 season with a paltry 171 yards and no touchdowns.
Outlook for the Offseason
The Lions have made a pair of offseason coaching changes, Hank Fraley has been promoted from assistant offensive line coach to offensive line coach. Fraley spent 10 seasons with three teams as an offensive lineman. Billy Yates takes over the assistant offensive line job from Fraley, after spending the last two years on Detroit’s coaching staff as part of the William Clay Ford Minority Assistantship program.
There will be plenty of work to do in the offseason in regards to remodeling the offense. Not only will they have to try picking up a suitable backup quarterback in free agency, but they also need to try and replenish their receiving corps with some more young talent most likely through the draft. Leading receiver Golladay is signed for next season but after 2020, he will become a free agent so its imperative that the Lions be proactive.
The Team’s Free Agents
Amendola seems to have found the fountain of youth. While most wide receivers Amendola’s age has either retired or are beginning to break down, he just ends up having one of his best seasons. His receiving yards in 2019 were the second most since his sophomore campaign with the Rams back in 2010. With the top two wideouts already locked up for next year, I can see the Lions bringing the veteran back for at least one more season.
Many observers believe if the Lions were to extend guard Graham Glasgow, they’d have done so by now. Looked at as one of the core players along that Detroit offensive line, Glasgow did not give up one sack in 2019. Currently making $2 million dollars in his fourth year with the Lions, he’ll be looking for in the neighborhood of $8 million per season starting next season.
It was only a year ago defensive tackle, Mike Daniels was signed on by the Lions after his release from the Green Bay Packers. Having been paid $9 million for one season, Daniels didn’t have a good year by any stretch, he would only start two of the nine games and missed time with a foot injury. Maybe the Lions bring him back on a much more affordable deal, Daniels has said he wants a second chance.
Open Market Free Agents
Case Keenum just 31 years old has become a bit of a journeyman since joining the league having played for four teams in four seasons. Keenum would make sense for the Lions if the price was right, he not only has the arm strength to push the ball downfield to his playmakers but can also be a solid game manager.
Brian Poole was statistically speaking the New York Jets’ best corner last season, after signing a one year deal with the club for $3.5 million dollars. Poole was tied for first on the Jets in defensive touchdowns and second in forced fumbles. He would be a nice free-agent target for Detroit if the Jets decide not to re-sign him.
The Cowboys’ top corner Byron Jones is an intriguing player. With Dallas in a very tough position where they will have no choice but to pay both Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper if they want to keep them with the team, it could leave Jones out in the cold. He does bring with him a bit of injury risk since his hip surgery last offseason but did manage to start in 14 of the Cowboys games in 2019.
Projecting the NFL Draft
With the final completion of the regular season last week, the Lions were awarded the third pick in the draft. The last time they had the third overall choice was 18 years ago when they selected Joey Harrington out of Oregon. Let’s take a look at some of the Lions needs heading into April, and project what they might decide to do with their selections.
Round 1, Pick 3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB, Ohio State
Detroit has a number of positions in which to focus on in the draft. However, theirs no question the most pressing need would be in the defensive backfield. Enter Okudah who is arguably the top corner in the draft and was a key player of that top-ranked Buckeyes defense, leading the team in interceptions. Okudah has everything you can ask for in a defensive back and would be a great piece to add to a rebuilding secondary.
Round 2, Pick 35: Jacob Eason, QB, Washington
With all the problems the Lions had, after the injury to long-time starter Stafford, the time to go after a future replacement has come, Eason would be a solid choice in the second round. At 6-foot-6 and 227 pounds, he has really good size for an NFL quarterback along with the powerful arm in which to get the football downfield and hit those deep receivers with the proper accuracy needed.
Round 3, Pick 67: Tyler Johnson, WR, Minnesota
With such a deep class of wide receivers in the 2020 draft, it gives Detroit the opportunity to fill some of their other pressing needs while still being able to grab themselves a high-quality wideout. Johnson is a superb route runner, with good hands does not drop a lot of balls. Probably will never become that franchise receiver, but he could certainly become a solid option for a team.
With $43 million in cap space to spend in offseason free agency, they should be able to fill some of their glaring holes. I expect they will get a solid backup for Stafford in a free agent, which should add some insurance for the club if something should befall the long-time veteran again. With Darrell Bevell running the offense and a healthy Stafford ready to compete the offense should be intriguing.
Tight end T.J. Hockenson should have a much-improved sophomore season, which would be a huge boost for a team that already has two of the top receiving weapons in Golladay and Jones. Also, how will Johnson and Scarbrough sort out their respective running back roles, do they end up as a one-two combination or does one of them take a stranglehold of the starting role?
I expect them to finish with an 8-8 season, and a third-place finish in the NFC North.
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