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Preseason Power Rankings No. 20: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions' Ndamukong Suh stands on the field during warms-ups of their NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Detroit Reuters

In 2011, the Lions looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming teams, with young high draft picks like Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh leading them to the playoffs.

And then the Lions came back to earth with a thud in 2012.

The Lions’ 12-loss season in ’12 was a disaster on the field, not to mention off the field, where the Lions became the poster boys for bad behavior in the NFL. This offseason has been a little quieter in Detroit, but will that lead to a better season on the field?

Our six-person PFT panel voted the Lions the NFL’s No. 20 team this season. We explore the reasons for that ranking below.

Strengths.

It all starts with the passing game, where the highly paid Matthew Stafford and the even more highly paid Calvin Johnson are one of the best young combinations in football. Johnson, who broke the all-time single-season receiving yards record last year, is one of the most talented receivers in NFL history. Players with his size, athletic ability and sure hands just don’t come along very often, and there’s every reason to believe that Megatron will continue to be one of the league’s elite offensive players.

Based on pure talent, the Lions also have a defensive line that could make scouts drool, but it remains to be seen whether that talent will translate into great results. Defensive tackle Nick Fairley has said that he thinks he and Ndamukong Suh are the best pair of tackles in the NFL, although Suh wisely said he’d rather let his play do the talking on that one. Ziggy Ansah, the defensive end whom the Lions picked with the No. 5 overall pick in this year’s draft, also has freakish athletic talent, but he’s still new to the sport and may not be ready to be an every-down player as a rookie.

The secondary has been a weakness of the Lions, but they could be strong at safety if Louis Delmas can stay healthy and new arrival Glover Quin can play as well for Detroit as he did for Houston. Delmas and Quin have the ability to be one of the better safety combinations in the league.

Weaknesses.

The Lions’ offensive line struggled last season, and it remains to be seen whether things will get any better this year. At first blush, it would actually appear that the line has gotten worse: Starting left tackle Jeff Backus retired, starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus left to take a big contract with the Colts, and starting right guard Stephen Peterman was a cap casualty who ended up signing with the Jets. The best the Lions can hope for is that 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff proves to be ready to fill Backus’s shoes and that some combination of holdovers Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox, rookie Larry Warford and veteran additions Jake Scott and Leroy Harris can take up the two spots on the right side of the line.

Special teams were a disaster for the Lions last year, and kick coverage was the biggest reason that the Lions quickly dropped to the bottom of the NFC North: Detroit’s 1-3 start included back-to-back losses to the Vikings and Titans in which the Lions gave up both a kickoff return touchdown and a punt return touchdown, making them the first team in NFL history to accomplish that dubious feat. If the Lions’ kick coverage had gotten the job done, there’s a good chance they would have started 3-1 instead of 1-3. Kick returner Stefan Logan also had a disastrous season. The special teams absolutely must get better this year.

Changes.

Reggie Bush is the highest-profile addition to the Lions, and he has the potential to be a game-changer. The Lions got just about nothing in the way of big plays from their running game last year: Mikel Leshoure, their leading rusher, never had a run of more than 16 yards all season. Bush is the kind of big-play threat who can change that, and he said after he signed with the Lions that he’s licking his chops from watching film of the way defenses leave running lanes open while focusing most of their attention on stopping Megatron. Bush could also have the kind of impact on the passing game that Jahvid Best had before concussions derailed him during the 2011 season. Best had 27 catches for 287 yards in six games in 2011 before his season came to an end.

An even more noteworthy change may be that Jason Hanson, the Lions kicker who set an all-time NFL record for the most games played with one team, has finally called it a career. He’s been replaced by David Akers, who struggled with accuracy last year with the 49ers but who has a stronger leg than Hanson. The Lions need Akers to find his accuracy, but if he can, he’ll help turn around their special teams.

Both of last year’s starting defensive ends, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril, are gone. Ansah will take over one of the starting spots, and the other is likely to be filled by Jason Jones, who was a backup for the Seahawks last season. The Lions have to hope that Ansah and Jones can fill in for Vanden Bosch and Avril without missing a beat.

Camp Battles.

The right side of the offensive line will be up in the air going into training camp. At right tackle, Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox will compete, but it’s unlikely that either will be as good as last year’s starter, Gosder Cherilus. At right guard, rookie Larry Warford is the favorite to start, but Jake Scott and Leroy Harris will be around if Warford isn’t ready yet.

At cornerback, Chris Houston will be one of the starters, but the other starting spot is wide open. The Lions would love it if second-round pick Darius Slay can prove in training camp that he’s ready to be an NFL starter from Day One of his pro career, but if Slay needs some time to develop, the starting job could go to any of last year’s three cornerback draft picks (Jonte Green, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood) or veteran Ronald Bartell.

Prospects.

The Lions’ leadership simply can’t afford another 4-12 season. It would be hard to justify G.M. Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Schwartz keeping their jobs in that scenario. So improvement is important.

And improvement is also likely: This team has too much talent to be as bad this year as it was last year.

Still, the outlook for the Lions isn’t great. They look like the worst team in the NFC North, and a second consecutive last-place finish is likely.

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27 Responses to “Preseason Power Rankings No. 20: Detroit Lions”
  1. jtbaudendistel says: Jul 15, 2013 9:06 AM

    Lions making a comeback like the auto industry?

  2. essentialsausage says: Jul 15, 2013 9:12 AM

    The Lions will be better than the Bears this year, and probably better than the Vikings.

  3. moerawn says: Jul 15, 2013 9:13 AM

    Second look at Matt Millen?

  4. timmmah10 says: Jul 15, 2013 9:40 AM

    I like the Lions as underdogs over them playing with any public expectations.

    Tough to root for these guys, but I find myself doing it year in and year out.

    I am a Lions fan, but I’ll continue to avoid their players (outside of megatron) in my fantasy pools.

  5. thetruthcampaign says: Jul 15, 2013 9:44 AM

    2012 was a disaster for sure. For this team, a fluke looking like curse the way they lost. Stafford could have performed better in the red zone, but the D was terrible.

    2011 is more representative of what this team can be expected to do.

  6. ozymandias121 says: Jul 15, 2013 9:48 AM

    Suh might stomp your nuts for this, but its an accurate ranking.

  7. polegojim says: Jul 15, 2013 10:18 AM

    20 is about right… until they PROVE any different this season.

    They couldn’t prove it by last seasons offense.

    I don’t believe in potential… get it done and then I’ll believe.

    Go LIONS!

  8. perry5104 says: Jul 15, 2013 10:22 AM

    I’m a cool aid drinking Lion’s fan, to premise my comments. I had them going 10-6 in 2008, so my judgment is probably more of what I want and less of what I know, but…

    I am curiously optimistic; although the Lions have a very hard schedule, may be the hardest in the NFL. Which mean two things to me. First is that they may be a better team this year than last, but still might not win that many games. Second, if they do win enough games to get to the play offs I’d expect them to win a few play off games:)

  9. daknight93 says: Jul 15, 2013 10:23 AM

    Lions have talent, but their coach is a hot-head..this is a very undisciplined team: I do agree with this ranking.

  10. rmc1995 says: Jul 15, 2013 10:25 AM

    Nick Harris (punter) is gone. Stephan Logan is gone and the Special Teams coach Danny Grossman is in Buffalo.

    Healthier WR corp and a healthier secondary will mean a deeper Special Teams. Oh, and Reggie Bush can return punts.

  11. steelers4385 says: Jul 15, 2013 10:50 AM

    I think the biggest downfall for the lions is shwartz. Aside from being a hot head….he really doesnt have a clue how to be a HEAD coach. I think he would be great if all he had to focus on was defense.

  12. olhoss1884 says: Jul 15, 2013 10:50 AM

    The Lions have improved this off season but not as much as the rest of their division. I don’t think much of Schwartz as a coach so I don’t see them winning any more of the close games they lost last year.

  13. faithful209er says: Jul 15, 2013 11:05 AM

    Wow! This comes as a shock to me. I had the SEATTLE SEAHAWKS at #20. I guess it will be ok if they check in at #19.

  14. smackingfools says: Jul 15, 2013 11:14 AM

    Detroit ahead of Miami? Lol

  15. dallascowboysdishingthereal says: Jul 15, 2013 11:59 AM

    If they finish at #20 in 2013, I think it will qualitfy as underachieving. I thought the Lions had a solid draft and should win 8 or 9 games this year at least.

  16. scoregasmic says: Jul 15, 2013 11:59 AM

    That’s the thing with the lions. They could be a top 10 team this year…or a bottom 10 team. Here’s to hoping they come out in the top

  17. superphi1 says: Jul 15, 2013 12:18 PM

    Bringing in Reggie Bush will be a big help for the offense.

    Dropped passes (especially Pettigrew), secondary injuries, special teams, and untimely penalties are issues that have to be resolved. Resolving those issues may allow my Dear Ole Lions to reach the playoffs.

  18. theboondoggles says: Jul 15, 2013 12:22 PM

    Offensive TDs and defensive takeaways were way down last year and yet this team still had the point differential of a 6-7 win team. A pre-season ranking of 20 is fair, but I think they’ll majorly out perform that ranking. Yeesh, is it September yet?

  19. pc1976 says: Jul 15, 2013 12:59 PM

    One big thing left out – the Lions, despite the 4-12 record last year, have somehow got the 2nd hardest schedule in the league this year. So frustrating………

  20. darkneptune73 says: Jul 15, 2013 2:06 PM

    Will the Lions be better than the Bears? Probably. Will they be better than the Vikings? That’s a headscratcher. Will they be better than the Packers? Hell no.

    In other words, good luck trying to get 2nd place in the NFC North.

  21. banky74 says: Jul 15, 2013 2:31 PM

    I travel to Detroit a lot for work as a lot of my customers are there. I have customers all over the country but I always enjoy my visits to Detroit because the people are incredibly hospitable and they’re incredibly loyal to their Lions.

    I love talking football with them and I can’t think of a more deserving city than Detroit to have a good football team.

    That being said, I don’t think there’s any question that the Lions are going to be better than last year. They’ve removed some distractions from the roster, their draft looks pretty good on paper. The big question though is whether they improved enough to leapfrog one of the three other good teams in this division. I just don’t see them being better than the Bears, Vikes or Packers.

  22. mblue24 says: Jul 15, 2013 3:01 PM

    Are D Lions will be good this year. They will surprise some teams and they will make the playoffs this year. Go Lions!!!

  23. congas1 says: Jul 15, 2013 3:01 PM

    look whats it gonna take to get this ponder stinks
    can’t play no hope AP can’t do it again by himself
    and their new wide out can run routes no percy harvin not buyin
    da Bears new system new management new coaching staff less talent and leadership really?
    can’t see it plus Jay Cutler
    Green Bay interesting to say the least
    we’re just gonna have to play the games.
    and lastly I love this “undisciplined” the Patriots
    on the other hand wow the lions have been j-walking compared to most
    peace

  24. redruckus81 says: Jul 15, 2013 3:08 PM

    Peterman wasnt a cap casualty he just flat out sucked the cap savings were a bonus. I have concerns about Reiff replacing Backus and Hilliard/Fox replacing Cherilus but if Warford has a pulse he will be better than Peterman

  25. moeman79 says: Jul 15, 2013 6:18 PM

    The Lions on paper look like great team, they just never seem to be able to pull it together. I have lots of thoughts on this 1. several players taking big cap numbers, and the rest are not up to par 2. Its a team sport, One Calvin Johnson it a huge weapon but who else is a weapon are they not playing as a team? 3. they have alot of money tied up on their D-line, and they are a very good line, but one would think they would have to plow over offensive lines 75% to justify leaving holes all over the field. 4. No team that drafts questionable characters is ever good for more than one season.

  26. jmacphee9 says: Jul 16, 2013 2:23 AM

    i have a hard time believing gosder cherilus is a big upgrade over the options available on the lions currently. if jason fox is actually healthy i think it will be an upgrade.

  27. butlers91 says: Jul 16, 2013 11:11 AM

    Put up or shut up this year. No excuses.

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