PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: Detroit Lions

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After a decade as the worst franchise in the NFL, the Lions took a big step forward in 2011, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1999. But after an offseason in which the Lions made headlines for the wrong reasons, will they take a step backward? Or could the Lions be poised to win a playoff game for the first time since 1991?

At No. 13 in our preseason power rankings, we see the Lions finishing just outside the postseason in 2012, perhaps taking a small step backward in a competitive NFC playoff race. The Lions undoubtedly have a wealth of young talent, but much of that young talent is very expensive, and that means they have some significant holes in the roster that they couldn’t afford to address in free agency.


If Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson are healthy for 16 games, the Lions’ passing game will be one of the best in the league. After being plagued by injuries in his first two NFL seasons, Stafford started 16 games and topped 5,000 yards last season. Stafford is only 24 years old and has plenty of time to to grow as a quarterback, but he’s already plenty good. And Johnson is the best wide receiver in the NFL, and such a threat to opposing secondaries that even when he’s double covered, his mere presence should leave plenty of openings for Stafford to find receivers Nate Burleson, Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles.

The defensive line has a great deal of talent and goes eight deep: Starting ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril (assuming he eventually signs his franchise tender) are backed up by solid pass rushers in Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson, and starting tackles Ndamukong Suh and Corey Williams are backed up by the big and explosive Nick Fairley and Sammie Lee Hill. Suh needs to keep his head on straight on the field, and Fairley needs to keep his head on straight off the field, but when everyone is focused and ready to go, the Lions have the kind of depth on their defensive line that other teams can only dream of.

The Lions thought their running game could become a strength of the roster last year with a 1-2 punch of Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best, but Leshoure missed the season with a torn Achilles tendon and Best missed most of the season with concussions. Leshoure is suspended for the first two games of the season for two marijuana arrests, but if both players are healthy, and if Kevin Smith continues to play like he did when the Lions acquired him in the middle of last season, the running game might actually be a strength this year.


The secondary was exposed as a major weakness in Week 17 of the regular season and in the wild-card playoff loss to the Saints, when Matt Flynn and Drew Brees torched Detroit’s defensive backs. Losing cornerback Eric Wright, who started all 16 games last season but is now in Tampa Bay, won’t help this year. Getting safety Louis Delmas back and healthy after he missed the final five games of the regular season and was at less than full speed in the playoffs should help, but the secondary is a concern.

Special teams are also a major problem in Detroit. The 42-year-old Jason Hanson isn’t the kicker he was in his 20s and 30s. Neither Ben Graham nor Ryan Donahue, who will compete for the punting job, has a particularly strong leg, and the coverage units weren’t very good last year, either. Return man Stefan Logan failed to make any big plays last year.

A major question mark is the offensive line, which had its ups and downs last year, nearly getting Matthew Stafford killed in games against teams with strong defensive fronts (the Vikings sacked Stafford five times in each of their two NFC North meetings, and the 49ers sacked Stafford five times as well). Stafford’s health is so important to the Lions that they can’t afford to have their offensive line be a weakness. But it very well might be.


The Lions headed into free agency with very little salary cap space, so they focused on maintaining the roster they had, not adding to it. In the case of defensive end Cliff Avril, they kept him with the franchise tag, and eventually he’s expected to sign and report. In the case of linebacker Stephen Tulloch, they kept him by signing him to a new contract. In the case of cornerback Eric Wright, they lost him to the Buccaneers, and that was probably the team’s biggest offseason loss. Where the Lions have to hope they made up for the loss of Wright is in the draft: Three different cornerbacks — third-round pick Dwight Bentley, fifth-round pick Chris Greenwood and sixth-round pick Jonte Green — were taken in the draft, and if one of them is good enough to start as a rookie, that would be a major plus. If all three of them are at least good enough to improve the nickel and dime packages, that would be great, too.

First-round draft pick Riley Reiff is the guy the Lions hope will eventually become their trusty starter at left tackle, although that probably won’t happen this year, as Jeff Backus, who has started every single game at left tackle since the Lions drafted him in 2001, is slated to return to the starting line up again. So if Reiff changes the face of the offensive line, it will probably be by playing a position other than left tackle.


Chris Houston is expected to start at one of the cornerback spots, but after him there’s a lot of competition for the cornerback pecking order. Aaron Berry is probably favored to beat out Jacob Lacey, a free agent arrival from Indianapolis, for the other starting cornerback spot, and rookies Dwight Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green will all be competing for playing time in training camp as well.

Riley Reiff may unseat Gosder Cherilus as the starting right tackle, and moving one of them to guard to unseat starters Rob Sims or Stephen Peterman could be a possibility. All five of last year’s offensive line starters are back, but Reiff wasn’t drafted to be a backup.

A good training camp performance can allow someone to emerge as the No. 1 running back among Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best and Kevin Smith, although the three of them have different and complementary styles and can probably all find ways to fit into the offense. Based purely on talent, Leshoure is the one who looks most like a No. 1 running back, but his Achilles and his arrests make him a major question mark.


It says a lot about the kind of roster that G.M. Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have built that it will be a disappointment in Detroit if this is not a playoff team. During the Matt Millen years, the Lions never even had a .500 record, so reaching the point where the playoffs are a realistic annual expectation represents major progress for the Lions.

But the NFC North will be a tough division, with the Packers entering the season as the favorites and the Bears probably a step ahead of the Lions for one of the wild-card spots, and so the Lions may find themselves falling just short in a competitive conference. This is a much better roster than any team Millen ever assembled, and there’s real hope in Detroit, but this looks like a year in which the Lions will find themselves right around .500, and probably just missing out on the playoffs.

55 responses to “PFT Preseason Power Rankings No. 13: Detroit Lions

  1. Wait, what?!! No. 13?!! Did you run this by any lions fans for their opinions first? I think they were counting on at least a Top 3 ranking.

  2. Both wild card spots could easily go to teams in this division. Bears/Lions/Packers are a lot closer than people seem to think. All 3 teams could go 11-5 this year

  3. The Detroit Lions have won four NFL Championships while playing football in the snow and ice.

    The Honolulu Blue and Silver will continue to be a big bunch of LOSERS as long as they play indoors. It is time for the Lions to return to their historic roots and BLOW-UP Ford Field. What a DUMP!

  4. bordner says:
    Jul 18, 2012 3:00 PM
    Wait, what?!! No. 13?!! Did you run this by any lions fans for their opinions first? I think they were counting on at least a Top 3 ranking.
    —————————— ———————-
    Lions fans have easily bacame the most annoying fan base in the NFL. For the first time since the great Barry Sanders retired that they are actually relevant & they run lip like now like they are back LOL. Back from WHAT??? Even when they had Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Rodney Peete & coach Wayne Fontes they still were a wildcard playoff game & out at best

  5. Way too high. Too many question marks on the team.

    Can they stay out of jail?
    Can CJ break the Madden curse?
    Can Best play more than 3 games?
    Who will play CB?
    Can Suh calm his temper that results in negative plays?

  6. Number 13? bears probly a step ahead? right around a 500 record?…this guy obviously has a bone to pick with this team.

  7. Mike, I thought you had the Steelers as one of the 6 playoff turnover teams? Based on your rankings they are in again. I’m gonna be really mad at you if youre wrong.

  8. -How’s I know the #1 weakness would be secondary, and just spew out the same stuff about having 2 bad games without looking at the other 15 whatsoever.

    -“Losing cornerback Eric Wright, who started all 16 games last season but is now in Tampa Bay, won’t help this year”
    Yes… will. He was awful.

    -There’s a small chance Peterman gets replaced by the guy that loses out on the starting Tackle position, there is no chance Rob Sims gets replaced, he has been very solid

  9. This sounds about right. NFC North will be between the Bears and Packers. I predict the Lions fall after a small taste of not being terrible.

  10. You mean the Bears team the Lions finished ahead of least year? The Bears team that has a worse OL and worse QB and weaker receiving core? And a really really old Defense…those are the Bears you place ahead of the Lions. OK buddy, you’ve always been a hater and always will be…keep on hating and you’ll keep eating crow!

    Before you Bears fans say we were ahead of you because of your injuries, remember this, we had just as many! Both of our top 2 RB’s…our top Safety and on and on….that’s the NFL folks!

  11. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Detroit finish last in the NFC North. The Lions did nothing to improve their weakest links: offensive line, defensive secondary and special teams. In fact, they took a step back in their secondary with the loss of Wright. Between that and lack of positive team dynamics, and Detroit will fall below .500 this year.

    If Stafford goes down from a weak OL, the Lions could really collapse.

  12. As a Lions fan, I think 13 is fair. They can exceed that if Stafford continues to show the growth that marked the 3-1 stretch in the last four games of last season, or fall well short of 13th if they get hit with injuries or return to the inconsistent and mistake-prone play that marked the 2-5 stretch in the middle of last season.

    One thing I don’t agree with is marking a team down for standing pat during free agency. It’s a cliche, but it’s true that consistent winners are built through the draft. Green Bay and Pittsburgh are quiet during free agency for a reason, while Washington always “wins the offseason” every year, but where has that gotten them?

  13. It’s ok. Everyone saw the Lions just missing the playoffs in 2011 too. It’s not popular since they’re not a sleeper pick anymore but they’re just as good as last year, if not better. If Delmas stays healthy, I see another 10-6 at least and a wild card. Plus, to be honest, the schedule is pretty weak.

  14. I say as a lions gan i could care less about there ranking by pundits. I hardly believe the will be. 500 thats just crazy. They are a better team than last year just based off of continuity. Stafford had a monster season last year and that was his first season coming off of a major surgery call last season his recovery season so why would the lions be less than last year.

  15. Teams that fill significant holes in FA are the teams that are rebuilding and/or cant draft. Successful teams draft so well, that they never have to sign mid-top tier FAs, only to bolster depth. This was Martin Mayhews 4th draft, and the ammount of FAs we sign diminishes every year. Because of the drafting. FAs are too expensive to build a consistent winner.

  16. As a Vikings fan, they are way underrated. Stafford is a stud who can absolutely sling the rock, Calvin is the most dangerous wideout since Moss. If the run game can stay hwwwealthy watch out. They could beat the Pack out for the division if they stay out of trouble off the field

  17. Maybe I missed them being mentioned, but did you rank the Broncos ahead of the Lions?

    Wow. I mean I’m a huge Broncos fan and I’d put Denver in the top 8 or so of the League if Manning is healthy and Dumervil isn’t in prison. But I would rank the Lions ahead of Denver. Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Jahvid Best on offense… Suh, Fairley, Vanden Bosch on D? That’s some nasty stuff.

    I can only hope Demaryius Thomas ends up being 60% of the player Calvin Johnson is.

    Then again if Denver has been placed already and I missed it then sorry for the waste of a post haha.

  18. Putting the Lions at 13 and lower than the BEARS and packers will have every lion fan smoking as much pot as the players on the team they support do just to try to cure the depression you have put them in.

  19. Here come all the Lions fan’s saying “What, Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and we still barely made a wildcard! We are the greatest!!”

  20. hahaha This prediction is hilarious. I can’t wait for this season. Especially with Chicago sitting home and watching the playoffs from home again.

    Good point about the Lions secondary being exposed in the last two games. Hopefully their won’t be any WRs playing DB again.

    You know this ranking is reaching when you call Jason Hanson a weak link.

  21. No chance they miss the playoffs.Stafford owned every secondary he faced down the strech win or loss.They knew he was going to throw it every time and still 5k and 41 touchdowns?Add any production from the run game it will be scary.Bordner whos your favorite squad?They must be in the running for Matt Barkley next year cause you didnt mention them.

  22. Well personally I would have ranked them higher. Within the top 10 behind GB, NE, Balt, Pitt, Houston and the Giants for sure with arguements for Chicago and Cincy but cant get too upset about it since PFT power rankings arent going to make or break the season.

    thevza says:Jul 18, 2012 4:14 PM

    Wow, you know a guy is really old when they say he’s not the same player he was in his 30′s.

    and the sad thing is I would still take him over most of the kickers in the NFL. He is getting close to the end but I still expect him to easily hit any FG up to 45 yards

  23. “You mean the Bears team the Lions finished ahead of least year? The Bears team that has a worse OL and worse QB and weaker receiving core? And a really really old Defense…those are the Bears you place ahead of the Lions. OK buddy, you’ve always been a hater and always will be…keep on hating and you’ll keep eating crow!

    Before you Bears fans say we were ahead of you because of your injuries, remember this, we had just as many! Both of our top 2 RB’s…our top Safety and on and on….that’s the NFL folks!”

    That old defense certainly put a beating on the young Lions at SF. Who are their receivers outside of Calvin? Nobody of note. And they didn’t miss their RBs, because they don’t have any. No more playing the last place schedule Lions. 7-3 before Cutler and Forte both went out. If that didn’t happen, the Lions would have been watching the playoffs.

  24. The lions are destined to be stuck near the bottom til, they can win close, meaningful games, Thier talent is great but talent does not always win, I can see putting them 13th or even higher based on talent! When the Lions players can put team before I and stay out of trouble then they might have a shot whinning the Division!

  25. team turmoil , not lack of talent will be their downfall should they fail to make the playoffs, kinda like the jets , except stafford is twice the ny qb , whichever one they trot out. i say 9-7 and no playoffs

  26. I love me some lions but I feel 13 may still be a tad to high. Our running game is still non functional atleast until proven Lashore and Best can do it, and let us not forget the dreadded Madden curse.

  27. cali49er707 says:Jul 18, 2012 3:12 PM

    bordner says:
    Jul 18, 2012 3:00 PM
    Wait, what?!! No. 13?!! Did you run this by any lions fans for their opinions first? I think they were counting on at least a Top 3 ranking.
    —————————— ———————-
    Lions fans have easily bacame the most annoying fan base in the NFL. For the first time since the great Barry Sanders retired that they are actually relevant & they run lip like now like they are back LOL. Back from WHAT??? Even when they had Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Rodney Peete & coach Wayne Fontes they still were a wildcard playoff game & out at best


    This opinion from a 49ers fan? NO WAY!?!?!

    I’m Flabbergasted!

  28. Stafford doesn’t tear up secondaries. Calvin Johnson makes them look bad. Unless he’s up against Peanut Tillman, who managed to keep him in check last time.

  29. team turmoil? this isnt the jets whatsoever did i miss something about the locker room imploding or any tiffs between players? because last i checked the players that got arrested this offseason did not really contribute last season and they still made the playoffs. lets see fairley played in 10 games and had one good quarter against NO, leshoure was out all season, culbreath was on a non injury football list and was also a 7th round pick, and aaron berry played nickel corner. nobody all that important here. a 23 year old off a major surgery with 4 games played with a broken finger threw for 50000 yards and 41 TD’s, when has that ever been done before? oh yeah and there are no receivers besides megatron right? well how about you stare at these stats for a bit:

    T young (rookie last season) 607 6 TD
    N burleson 757 yards 3 TD
    T scheffler (2nd string te) 347 6 TD
    B pettigrew 777 yards 5 TD

    looks like a pretty balanced attack, without virtually any threat of running the ball and CJ still having 1600 yards and 16 TD’s being double and triple covered.

  30. The Lions had a miracle season last year – which in the final analysis was mediocre. They surprised everyone and win 5 straight to open the season – many by dramatic comebacks in which they were down by 2o. Were they all thinking 0-16 Lions? Once teams woke up and realized you have to step on their necks, then they finished 5-6 the rest of the way. During that last stretch, they defeated the putrid Vikings with their 3rd string QB on a stupid fumble on a almost certain TD from the 1 yard line. They also narrowly defeated the Raiders after Palmer missed his receiver for a wide open TD on a perfectly called play on 3rd and 4 late in the game that would have ended it. Most of the late season losses were blowouts, including the playoff game. They couldn’t even beat the Packers B-team in the last game laugher where Stafford ran up his stats (he would have ended hundreds of yards short of 5K if the Pack played the offense and defensive starters). If you really analyze it, the Lions could have and should have been 8-8 or below. Yes, the wins count as wins, I just don’t believe they will get all the bounces again this year. Cheer for your team Lions fans, but be real about it.

  31. Wrong… There a top 10 team, how are you gunna say an aging steelers team can beat cj and stafford. Stafford had just about the same numbers as brees did last year with no recognition. If sue stops bashin dudes they will be in the nfc championship this year. Mark it down

  32. With Stafford and Johnson on offense, and Houston and Berry/Smith on defense, it’ll be Arenaball this year. I predict 6-10 to 7-9 followed by a good offseason next year and we’ll be a solid playoff team by the start of the 2013 season

  33. The NFC North title is the Packer’s to lose. The Lions and Bears will not be a factor. The Lions though have a much better shot than the Bears to get a wild card. As noted by others the NFC has a bunch of talented teams this season.

  34. My problem is not with those that feel the Lions are rated to low at 13. Personally, I think it will be a close race between the Lions at the Packers for the division and the Lions should be higher than 13. My problem is with those who think the Bears are in the same league as the Packers and Lions! The Bears will finish last in the north behind, yes, BEHIND, the Vikings. The Bears are showing their age and really haven’t done much to improve. Giving Forte his new deal was good. But what else have they done? Brandon Marshall?! Heck, he will probably be suspended before the season and you know he can’t handle the heat the Chicago press and fans will bring. He will turn in to a big headache for the Bears.

  35. I think this is a pretty good analysis. It’s going to be hard for them to get far past .500 if they now have an even weaker secondary. Taking CBs in the 3rd, 5th and 6th rounds while you lose a starter is NOT an improvement.

    Having 3 games of 5 sacks each points out their biggest problem which is that like many teams they’re just one injury away from going from average to poor.

  36. Bears improved their depth all across the board including speical teams! Hester returning punts with better blockers this automatically makes the bears better. New age offense that revolves around cutler strengths. That old defense is still better than the lions young guns. That is why bears are ahead of the lions. Lions fans be happy your on the top half of the nfl. Just because your not the worst team anymore doesn’t make you the best.

  37. As a Bears fan, this team worries me. Good young team, except maybe back half of the defense.
    Excluding the Vikings, anybody playing the North better bring their lunch.

  38. @Jmartinez:

    The Lions won 4 in a row to end the 2010 season, why was it such a shock to seem them rip off 5 consecutive wins at the beginning of 2011? As for as the miracle season comment, I must have missed in the NFL rule book where close wins and comebacks don’t count. The Lions have Matt Staff and Megatron, the roster Mayhew has assembled is DESIGNED to score points in bunches, making those comebacks possible!
    Obviously the loss to the Packers JV were embarrasing, but keep in mind the Lions secondary was so banged up they had a WR and the corpse of Chris Harris starting in the secondary, that speaks more to a lack of depth than of overall talent (which a decent draft class fulls of DB’s: HELLO 2012 draft) could fix.

  39. The Lions off the field stuff should not be a concern and it’s amazing it keeps getting brought up. The Bears brought a ticking time bomb in their locker room. He’s been stabbed and mixed up in fights and has a career list of finding trouble. I’d rather have pot smoker in the locker room than a guy doing a documentary on his borderline personality disorder.

  40. As long as the O-line can keep Stafford upright most of the time, and CJ stays healthy, they are a threat to put up points that most teams cannot keep pace with. If the running game and secondary can improve from last year, they could win their division.

  41. bigwalt2990 says:Jul 18, 2012 5:33 PM

    The Lions were 5-0 with half a run game.
    The Packers wwere 15-2 with no running game.

  42. Do any of you realize the Lions have the best young QB in the NFL and maybe the most explosive/dangerous WR to ever play the game? Just those two components assures the Lions to be in the playoffs. The Lions are a RISING team not a DECLINING team like the Bears are.

  43. Why can’t the corners be better? Whatever happen to developing players? Now if you don’t go get a great free agent your not any better. Well whatever I’m not a writer on this site so I guess I don’t know anything.

  44. Two players does not make a Team. The Lions have had years of losing! one good season does not make a dynasty All four teams in the division will be good! How far each will go will very on injuries and luck Besides being dangerous and being winners is two different things!

  45. Teams success only last as long as it takes for the rest of the NFL to catch on.Take The cover two, the 46 defence and the run n shoot just to name a few!

  46. I always have to laugh when people say a team “didnt win any meaningful games”.

    The way I see it either every game in the season is meaningful because if you dont win enough you dont make the playoffs or only one game is meaningful, the Super Bowl, in which case the Giants are the only team who won a meaningful game. I suppose you could make exceptions for games like week 17 game for the Packers since they had nothing to play for but even then I think its important to have momentum going into the playoffs. So either the Lions won 10 meaningful games or they along with 30 other teams won zero

  47. I was expecting 12-16 for the Lions ranking, so #13 is fair.

    However, I fully expect Titus Young to explode this year. He could easily be a Steve Smith type guy, 70 catches, 1000 yards, 8 TDs a season.

    And I’m not one to bash teams on here, I think it’s childish, but you have to admit the Lions are a young, up and coming team whereas most of the Bears pieces are aging. The challenge will be to divvy up the salary cap among all these high draft picks. Do you sign Cliff Avril for megabucks, or do you wait and pay Louis Delmas? How about when Stafford comes up? And if Jahvid Best stays healthy the next couple years, how much will he want? These are problems that Lions fans have been waiting a generation to have.

  48. Idk Nfc north will be interesting and most likely outside the vikings (Ya sorry but ponder aint taking you places) is the the best division in the NFC the lions however until they have atleast one cover corner cant take Rodgers off the top nor Cutler and the bears as they added a happier Forte and Marshall along with guys in the draft. But as far as offense goes if the RBs can get on the field they can be the most dangerous offense in football saying Stafford stays healthy

  49. Time will tell, Stafford has had what one good year! Lions have an average OL at best the rb’s can’t stay healthy and granted you have talent at wr, I hope everybody keeps underestimating Ponder and the Vikes

  50. Why is everyone making a big deal about losing Eric Wright? First off he was waayyyyyyy over paid by the Bucs. Secondly, I remember yelling at him through my TV multiple times because of his blown coverages…….I wasn’t the least bit worried when we lost him. Our secondary was terrible last year and I don’t think it could get much worse, Wright or no Wright…..he just wasn’t impressive to me.

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