Skip to content

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.

Permalink 27 Comments Feed for comments Latest Stories in: Detroit Lions, Features, Top Stories
yo

Richard Dent among 2015 Black College Football Hall of Fame inductees

Richard Dent AP

A Super Bowl MVP who went on to gain enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is among seven members of the Black College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.

Former Bears, 49ers, Colts and Eagles defensive end Richard Dent, a Tennessee State product who captured game MVP honors as Chicago rolled to victory in Super Bowl XX, was one of six former NFL players in the Hall’s sixth class of inductees.

Also inducted into the Black College Football Hall of Fame were former Rams and Lions defensive tackle Roger Brown (Maryland Eastern Shore), former Steelers defensive end L.C. Greenwood (Arkansas at Pine Bluff), former Chargers, Oilers and Chiefs defensive tackle Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd (Grambling), former Bengals defensive back Ken Riley (Florida A&M), former Steelers safety Donnie Shell (South Carolina State) and former Jackson State head coach W.C. Gorden.

The inductees were recognized in a ceremony Saturday night in Atlanta.

Permalink 17 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Marshawn Lynch seems to think someone didn’t want him to be the “face of the nation”

Lynch AP

One month to the day since the Seahawks opted not to give the football to running back Marshawn Lynch on the doorstep of the New England end zone in Super Bowl XLIX, a video has surfaced showing Lynch explaining his position on the most scrutinized play call in league history.  Under a frustratingly loud translation of his comments into Turkish.

The video mentioned earlier by MDS includes Lynch’s reaction to the decision to throw the ball and to not let him run it with the NFL title on the line.

“To be honest with you, I would be a liar if I didn’t tell you that I was expecting the ball,” Lynch said.  “I think it was more of a — how do I say this?  When you look at me, and you let me run that ball in, I’m the face of the nation.  You know, the MVP of the Super Bowl, that’s pretty much the face of the nation at that point in time.  I don’t know what went into that call.  Maybe it was a good thing that I didn’t get the ball.  I mean, you know, it cost us the Super Bowl.”

Not too far between the lines of Lynch’s response lurks the notion that he buys in to the popular conspiracy theory (misguided as it may be) that the team wanted quarterback Russell Wilson and not Lynch to be the Super Bowl MVP and, in turn, the “face of the nation.”

But here’s the thing about conspiracy theories.  It doesn’t matter if they’re true; if only matters if people believe them to be true.  If Lynch and other Seahawks players believe that the team chose to throw and not to run in order to prevent Lynch from becoming the MVP of the Super Bowl and in turn the “face of the nation,” coach Pete Carroll will have plenty of additional work to do to get the players to turn the page on the 2014 season and to try to climb back out of the valley of 0-0 in 2015 for a shot at a third straight Super Bowl appearance.

Permalink 122 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Report: Raiders to part ways with LaMarr Woodley

LaMarr Woodley AP

The Raiders will be cutting one of their free-agent signees of 2014.

Oakland is set to release defensive end LaMarr Woodley, Fallon Smith of CSN Bay Area reported Sunday.

Woodley, 30, notched just five tackles in six games in 2014 before a torn biceps ended his season. Last March, he signed a two-year deal reportedly worth up to $12 million.

Woodley was set to make $3.8 million in salary in 2015, per NFLPA data. Also, he was due a $1 million roster bonus on March 14, according to CSN Bay Area.

Woodley rose to stardom with Pittsburgh, notching double-digit sacks in 2008, 2009 and 2010. However, he has just nine sacks in his last 30 games, and he has not played all 16 regular-season contests since 2010.

Permalink 39 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Le’Veon Bell faces a maximum suspension of four games

Le'Veon Bell AP

The new substance-abuse policy imposes a two-game suspension for a first-offense DUI.  By landing on probation for a July 2014 DUI arrest arising from marijuana use, Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell is expected to be suspended for two games.

But there’s a catch that could result in a doubling of Bell’s expected punishment.  The new substance-abuse policy makes a two-game suspension the standard penalty for a DUI arising from alcohol use.  For violations of the law involving other substances of abuse, a first offense exposes the player to a suspension of “up to four” games.

It’s unclear whether the NFL will give Bell, who becomes the test case for the new substance-abuse policy, four games, three, two, or fewer.  The prior substance-abuse policy also exposed players to a suspension without pay of “up to four” games for violations of the law for substances other than alcohol.  Still, it would be a surprise if Bell gets less for DUI-marijuana under the new policy than he would get for DUI-alcohol under the new policy.

But don’t be surprised if he gets more, especially since alcohol is legal in Pennsylvania and marijuana currently isn’t.

Either way, the Steelers need to have a solid plan in place for replacing the team’s workhorse tailback for at least two and as many as four regular-season games in 2015.

Permalink 33 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Key free agency date could move up a month

DarylSmith Getty Images

In addition to conversations about tinkering with roster size and getting rid of inactive lists for Thursday games, the NFL’s Competition Committee is considering the acceleration of a key date on the free-agency calendar.

Currently, players who become unrestricted free agents on the first day of the league year and who are not signed by June 1 (and not tendered a one-year contract by their prior teams) aren’t included in the formula for determining compensatory draft picks.  As a result, any signing after June 1 won’t make the prior team eligible for greater compensation or the new team eligible for less.

Per a league source, the June 1 line of demarcation could move to May 1.  The goal would be to give players who otherwise won’t be employed until June 1 a chance to participate in the bulk of the offseason practices.  By signing after June 1, the players get limited opportunities for offseason reps.

Over the years, teams like the Ravens have become experts at finagling this technique, waiting patiently until June 1 comes and goes before going bargain shopping.  That’s how they acquired linebacker Daryl Smith, who started 16 games in 2013, re-signed last year, and started 16 games in 2014.

Permalink 1 Comment Feed for comments Back to top

Ravens defensive back arrested for DWI

Bengals AP

Last month, the Ravens signed defensive back Victor Hampton, an undrafted free agent in 2014.  He likely will be cut before he ever shows up for an offseason training session.

According to WSOC-TV, Hampton has been arrested on charges of driving while intoxicated in Charlotte.  He reportedly was driving 100 miles per hour in a 55-mph zone on Interstate 77.  Hampton’s blood-alcohol content was determined to be 0.10 percent, above the legal limit of 0.08.

Under the revised substance-abuse policy, Hampton, who initially was signed by the Bengals and who spent time on the Giants’ practice squad last year, faces a two-game suspension, if ultimately found to be responsible for driving while intoxicated.  To be suspended, however, he first has to be on a regular-season roster.  Given the new charges, that may never happen.

Permalink 38 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Josh McCown: I get people thinking I’m not good enough to start

Josh McCown AP

New Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown says that if some people doubt he’s the man to turn the Browns around, he understands that.

The Buccaneers went 1-10 in games McCown started in 2014, and McCown realizes that some people think that means the Browns are going to suffer a similar fate if he’s their starter in 2015. But McCown points out that he played well the year before in Chicago, and he thinks he can play well in Cleveland.

I get it,” McCown told Northeast Ohio Media Group. “I understand people’s perceptions of me. I don’t back off it or shy away from [the 1-10 record in 2014]. I understand people’s frustration. But my mindset is to come in here, grow and improve as a football player, and help this team win football games. When I’ve been able to operate in a system that’s organized and been around for awhile like I did in 2013 with the Bears, I’ve been able to play at a high level.”

McCown did operate at a high level in 2013 with the Bears, throwing 13 touchdown passes and just one interception. But in the rest of McCown’s career, he has totaled 48 touchdowns and 58 interceptions. The Browns have to hope they get a quarterback who looks like the Josh McCown of 2013.

McCown will have more to say on Monday, when he is scheduled to join PFT Live.

Permalink 56 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Roger Goodell’s absolute power over players is a myth

Goodell AP

There’s a popular view among some in the media that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell enjoys complete and total power over the league’s players, especially on matters of discipline.  That popular view also is not accurate.

Apart from the reality that all discipline for on-field infractions falls under the jurisdiction of Ted Cottrell or Derrick Brooks, who were jointly appointed and are jointly paid by the NFL and NFLPA, the recently-revised PED and substance-abuse policies feature unprecedented use of third-party arbitration for most offenses.

Of course, the Commissioner retains full authority over the personal-conduct policy, a power that has had for years.  But while many (including us) routinely have characterized Roger Goodell’s authority as reflecting “judge, jury, and executioner” status, it’s important to remember one key point:  In three recent high-profile executions, the guy swinging the axe has missed the mark.

In 2012, Goodell yielded his authority over the discipline imposed on players in the Saints bounty scandal following an aggressive legal challenge.  Faced with compelling arguments that Goodell should be recused from handling the appeal of the punishments because he had prejudged the case, Goodell handed the baton to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.  And Tagliabue overturned the punishments with a subtle rebuke that apparently has destroyed whatever relationship the former Batman-and-Robin-style partners once enjoyed.

In 2014, Goodell agreed preemptively to designate a neutral party to handle the appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension, given Goodell’s status as a witness in the case.  (A witness who fought hard not to testify in the case.)  Former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Jones overturned the punishment by finding that the main justification for it — that Rice had lied to the Commissioner in June 2014 regarding Rice’s assault on his then-fiancée — was not factually accurate.

Last week, current U.S. Judge David Doty found that Goodell and his hand-picked arbitrator, Harold Henderson, incorrectly determined that the unilaterally-revised personal-conduct policy could be applied retroactively to Vikings running back Adrian Peterson.  Pending appeal and/or further proceedings before Henderson, Goodell’s suspension of Peterson could end up being thrown out.

So while the emperor may have clothing, it’s covering far less muscle that most realize.  With the Saints players, with Rice, and with Peterson, Goodell believed he had the ability to impose whatever ruling he wanted to impose.  In each of those cases, Goodell and the rest of us learned that Goodell’s powers has real limits.

Permalink 35 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Howie Roseman doesn’t like trading up (but it’s not up to him)

mariotakelly AP

Amid talk that Eagles coach Chip Kelly would like to trade up in the draft and select his former Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, Eagles Vice President of Football Operations Howie Roseman is saying that trading up isn’t a good idea.

Roseman said at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference that when two teams make a draft trade, it’s usually the team trading down that gets the better end of the deal.

“When you’re looking at trading up, at some point, your board drops off so dramatically in terms of how you evaluate that player,” Roseman said, via Philly.com. “But the history of trading up for one player, when you look at those trades, isn’t good for the team trading up and putting a lot of resources into it.”

Unfortunately for Roseman, it isn’t up to him. When he and Kelly had a power struggle at the start of this offseason, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Kelly the final say over personnel, which means that if Kelly thinks Mariota is worth a boatload of draft picks, then Kelly will trade a boatload of draft picks to move up and acquire Mariota whether Roseman likes it or not.

So if that trade does happen, it will be one more sign that Roseman doesn’t have much influence in the Eagles’ front office. That doesn’t sound like a trade that Roseman would make.

Permalink 51 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Marshawn Lynch visits Turkey, gives lengthy interview

Marshawn Lynch AP

Marshawn Lynch will gladly talk to the media. When he’s on a promotional tour of Turkey.

Lynch is in Turkey helping the organization American Football Without Barriers, and while he was there he sat down for a long interview with a Turkish sports network.

“I’m just here so I don’t get fined,” Lynch joked before getting serious about why he wanted to work at a Turkish youth football camp and help promote football in Turkey. Lynch said he sees the work he’s doing overseas as similar to his efforts to promote football in his hometown.

“With the camp, I do this back at home myself, in Oakland, California, and when I got the word they were doing something here, it gave me a chance to spread my wings. I hold a camp at home, like I said, with about 850 kids and it’s been growing. This is an opportunity for me to come out and spread my brand as well. I’m here, like I said, to spread football across the world and at the same time help people in need,” Lynch said.

Lynch joked that when someone at the football camp was working wanted to find out what it was like to get hit by an American football player, he decided to go “Beast Mode in Turkey” and run the guy over. But Lynch also said he was impressed with how quickly Turkish athletes were picking up the sport. And he shared some thoughts about how much football meant to him when he was a Pop Warner player and a high school player, adding that he’d like to give young people in his hometown and across the world the same opportunities.

The full interview (with Lynch, Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams speaking English and a Turkish translator speaking over them) is below:

Permalink 51 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Todd Herremans isn’t retiring

Herremans Getty Images

As noted in the Sunday one-liners, former Eagles offensive lineman Todd Herremans has said farewell to the fans of Philadelphia in the aftermath of his release.  But Herremans won’t be saying farewell to football.

Per a source with knowledge of Herreman’s plans, he fully intends to play elsewhere in 2015.  And he fully intends to be in another team’s starting lineup as a guard or right tackle on Week One.

A fourth-round pick in 2005 from Saginaw Valley State, Herremans has been a full-time starter since his second NFL season.  With the man who drafted Herremans a decade ago needing an upgrade at offensive line in Kansas City, it makes sense for Herremans to reunite with Chiefs coach Andy Reid.

Permalink 8 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Rosters could expand to 55

Roster Getty Images

The Competition Committee’s annual pre-league meeting get-together includes, for 2015, examination of roster size.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Competition Committee is considering expanding rosters from 53 to 55.

Opposition to larger rosters previously came from the fact that more than a few teams were having trouble staying under a salary cap that was flat and/or “smoothing.”  In recent years, the salary cap has been increasing more quickly.  Coupled with the impact of the rookie wage scale on the market for veterans (many are paid less and less because quality rookies are cheaper than ever), there’s plenty of extra cash available under the cap to pay two more players per team.

The NFL Players Association would have a voice in roster expansion.  At one level, the union should welcome it; more roster spots means more jobs.  More jobs means more employees.  More employees means the union grows.

But more jobs under a hard cap means fewer available dollars per employees.  That said, expanding the pool of full-time workers from 1,696 to 1,760 shouldn’t have much of a total impact on employees sharing a maximum available annual payroll of more than $4.5 billion, and climbing.

Permalink 32 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Stephen Tulloch “way ahead of schedule” in ACL rehab, hopes he stays with Lions

Stephen Tulloch AP

Linebacker Stephen Tulloch was lost for the season early in 2014 when he tore his ACL while celebrating a sack, but he said Sunday that he’s on track for a full return this year.

Tulloch told Alex Marvez and Zig Fracassi of Sirius XM NFL Radio that he’s “way ahead of schedule” in his return from the knee injury and that he feels like his knee may be stronger than it was before he got hurt. He also said he hopes that he’ll be back playing behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh next season.

That may be about more than just the Lions re-signing Suh. Tulloch, who has a cap hit of $5.8 million, was asked about the possibility that the team might look in his direction to provide more money to put toward signing Suh. He said neither he nor his agents had heard anything from the team to suggest he won’t be there for the start of offseason workouts.

“I hope I am [back with the Lions]. I hope my body of work speaks for itself,” Tulloch said. “I’ve put a lot of work in this team and I’ve been there through it all. It’s the first time in my career I’ve ever been on this side with the unknown, but I know the organization will do what’s best for them.”

The Lions would save $3.2 million by releasing Tulloch, something that seems like an option after they had one of the best defenses in the league with Tahir Whitehead starting in Tulloch’s place last season.

Permalink 12 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

Keeping secondary intact would cost the Pats a fortune

revismccourty AP

With free agency starting next week, the Patriots are in an interesting position: They can keep the three best players in their secondary but spend a fortune, or they could take the frugal route and risk losing Darrelle Revis, Devin McCourty and Brandon Browner.

The good news for the Patriots is that they have the choice to keep both Revis, McCourty and Browner, if they want to. Revis is under contract for 2015, and the Patriots can pick up his deal by paying him a $12 million roster bonus on March 9. Browner is under contract for $5.5 million in 2015, of which $2 million comes in a roster bonus next week. McCourty becomes a free agent on March 10, but the Patriots can keep him by using the franchise tag. McCourty has indicated that if the Patriots franchise him, he’ll sign the one-year, $9.6 million franchise tender.

The bad news for the Patriots is that picking up the second year on Revis’s contract would give him a $25 million cap hit for 2015. No other cornerback even has a cap hit of $15 million for 2015. Revis is great, but is he so great that the Patriots want to spend $10 million more on him than the Cardinals are spending on Patrick Peterson, and $13 million more than the Seahawks are spending on Richard Sherman or the Browns are spending on Joe Haden?

Throw in the $9.6 million for McCourty and the $5.5 million for Browner, and the Patriots would be spending more than $40 million on three players in their secondary.
Last year the Packers paid more for defensive backs than any other team, at $26.6 million for the 11 players in their secondary. Do the Patriots really want to blow up their cap to such an extent that they’re paying $14 million more than that just for the top three players in their secondary?

Maybe they do. But if they do, it’s a departure from the Patriots’ longtime practice of emphasizing depth and spreading the wealth around their roster, rather than spending a lot of money on a few key players. The Patriots have some big, and potentially expensive, decisions to make by next week.

Permalink 116 Comments Feed for comments Back to top

A.J. Smith announces his retirement

A.J. Smith Pic Getty Images

When A.J. Smith announced that he wouldn’t be back for a third season as a consultant in the Redskins front office, he said he and his family were going to discuss what was next after three decades in the NFL.

Smith announced the result of those discussions is his retirement.

“We had a family discussion and an actual voting process. It was unanimous!” Smith wrote in an e-mail, via Kevin Acee of U-T San Diego. “… We have experienced incredible highs and lows in our 38-year ride. At the age of 66, it’s time for me to enjoy my family and friends more than ever before. I will now get going on my long-awaited bucket list.”

Smith joined the Redskins after his 10-year run as the General Manager of the Chargers came to an end. Smith’s teams went to the playoffs in five of his first seven years in the job, but only advanced as far as the conference title game once before three years out of the postseason brought his time in San Diego to an end. The Chargers won 95 regular season games and three times in the playoffs while Smith was in charge.

Permalink 35 Comments Feed for comments Back to top