2020 Detroit Lions Team Outlook: Can Matthew Stafford Fuel a Franchise Turnaround?

It's been 27 years since the Detroit Lions won a division title. Fantasy owners would be happy with a full, healthy season after 2019's offensive disaster.
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Coaching Staff

The lifeline of Matt Patricia holding the head coaching job for the Lions long-term hinges on his success this year. Over his first two seasons with Detroit, he went 9-22-1, which came after Jim Caldwell went 36-28 over four years as the head coach.

Patricia worked in New England’s system since 2004, helping them win three Super Bowls. He held the defensive coordinator job for the Patriots from 2012 to 2017.

The Lions brought in Darrell Bevell to run the offense in 2019 after spending the last 12 seasons with the Vikings and the Seahawks as the offensive coordinator. He helped Seattle win one Super Bowl (2013). Bevell has 20 years of experience in the NFL.

Detroit finished 18th in points scored (341) and 17th in offensive yards.

Cory Undlin takes over the defense after coaching the defensive back for the Broncos and Eagles over the past seven seasons. He coached with New England in 2004 before moving onto the Browns and Jacksonville. Undlin has 16 years of experience in the NFL.

The Lions fell to 31st in yards allowed and 26th in points allowed (423). Only once since 1983 has Detroit ranked inside the top ten in points allowed (3rd in 2014 – 282).

Free Agency

After trading away CB Darius Slay in March to the Eagles, the Lions signed CB Desmond Trufant to replace him in the starting lineup. Last year Trufant missed seven games due to a toe issue and a season-ending broken arm in December. His coverage skills have faded over the past three seasons. Trufant played well over his first three years in the league after getting drafted in the first round in 2013.

Detroit brought in LB Jamie Collins and DT Danny Shelton after both players helped New England become the top defense in the NFL in 2019. Collins has a rebound in his career after underperforming in 2017 and 2018. Shelton worked as an early-down run stopper over the past three seasons.

The secondary players added to the defensive side of the ball were CB Jayron Kearse, DT Nick Williams, and LB Reggie Ragland.

Their defense lost DT Mike Davis, DT Damon Harrison, DT A’Shawn Robinson, S Tavon Wilson, DE Devon Kennard, CB Rashaan Melvin.

The Lions’ offensive line takes a hit with G Graham Glasgow finding a new home in Denver and T Rick Wagner signing with the Packers. Glasgow played well over his previous three years while Wagner failed to make an impact in run blocking in his career in Detroit.

They added QB Chase Daniel, G Halapoulivaati Vaitai, WR Geremy Davis, and WR Geronimo Allison to their offense.

Draft

With the third overall draft selection, the Lions invested in CB Jeff Okudah. There is no doubt Okudah will take over the top cornerback position on this defense. His game works well in press coverage, and it should improve when he gets stronger. His quickness gets him in position early vs. wide receivers while his speed (4.48 forty) looks faster in game action. Okudah needs to improve in his reads on routes and identifying his man earlier in zone coverage.

RB D’Andre Swift was the choice in the second round. Swift runs with vision and a feel for daylight. His top gear hurts him over the long field while needing to improve his value in short-yardage situations when faced with multiple big bodies. He earns his edge accelerating out of short chopping steps in tight quarters thanks to his ability to get to a full stride quickly. Swift projects well as a receiver, but he’ll have to prove his worth in pass projections.

In the third round, Detroit added LB Julian Okwara. Even with a foundation in strength, Okwara can lose value when facing powerful big bodies on the offensive line. His game is geared toward rushing the quarterback where his speed and quickness bring a disrupter feel. Okwara needs to improve vs. the run, and his vision isn’t ideal at this point in his career. Last year a broken leg hurt his production and development. To further impact rushing the quarterback, Okwara has to add more depth to his pass-rushing moves.

Detroit addressed their possible shortfall at guard by drafting Jonah Jackson and Logan Stenberg.

Jackson has experience at center and guard while expecting to be a better player early in his career in pass projection. He gains his edge by understanding his assignments and showing the ability to move quickly with his feet. He does have the strength to hold his own in run blocking, but his technique is trailing. For now, Jackson has a limited range while needing to improve his hands.

Stenberg is a second player with a chance to outperform his draft position in pass blocking. He works hard with some fight to his game. His vision and anticipation help in pass protection, but Stenberg needs to get stronger to handle power players up the middle. He does offset some of his shortfalls by trying to hold, which may be a problem at the next level.

With their two picks in the fifth round, the Lions decided on offensive depth – WR Quintez Cephus and RB Jason Huntley.

Cephus has a tight end feel in speed (4.7 forth) and strength (23 reps in the bench press at the NFL combine) while fitting more into a running back’s body. His hands grade well, but Cephus needs to clean up his press coverage release and develop his route running to earn more playing time at the next level. With the ball in his hands, he’ll gain extra yards.

Huntley gives the Lions another option in the passing game out of the backfield, plus he offers a change-of-pace value. His vision looks exceptional with a foundation of moves to create space in the open field. Huntley helps improve the Lions’ return game as well. Most of his runs tend to filter to the outside while having some concern with his ball security.

The defensive line was the focus with Detroit’s final two picks in the sixth and seventh rounds – DT John Penisini and Jashon Cornell.

Penisini projects as an early-down run-stopper who owns first-step quickness and great hands. His game is all about power and gaining an edge early off the snap. He will be challenged by more talented players in the NFL, which will require him to up his play to earn more snaps.

Cornell has a tweener skill set for the defensive line. He’s not big enough (6’3” and 285 lbs.) to anchor against the run, and his overall game isn’t high enough to make an impact rushing the quarterback on the outside. Cornell brings quickness and a hard-working skill set to the NFL. His athletic feel is the key to his growth going forward. Cornell needs to get stronger and prove he can handle more bulk.

Offensive Line

Detroit fell to 21st in rushing yards (1,649) while averaging 25.4 rushing attempts per game. They gained 4.1 yards per carry for the second straight season with seven TDs and seven runs over 20 yards.

The loss of Matthew Stafford for half of a season cost the Lions a couple of spots in the final rankings in passing yards (4,187 – 8th) with 28 TDs and 15 Ints. Detroit gained only 7.3 yards per pass attempt with only 13 catches over 40 yards. Their offensive line allowed 41 sacks and 84 QB hits.

LT Taylor Decker

Decker played well in pass blocking in his four seasons after getting drafted in the first round in 2016. Last year he regained his earlier form in the run game. Decker does allow pressure on the quarterback, but his game looks to be improving.

LG Joe Dahl

The Lions gave Dahl 13 starts last year after seeing minimal action over his first three years in the NFL. He came up short in run blocking while holding his own in pass protection. Dahl missed the final three games with a back injury.

C Frank Ragnow

Ragnow ended up starting 16 games at left guard in his rookie season after being drafted in the first round in 2018. Detroit shifted him to the center position last year, which led to an uptick in play across the board. His game is built on power and his initial quickness, but his overall speed isn’t an edge. Ragnow can handle bull rushers while showing limited range if asked to defend a more significant part of the field.

RG Johan Jackson

The Lions should start Jackson at right guard after drafting him in the third round this season. His best play early in his career should come in pass blocking.

RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Detroit signed Vaitai to a five-year $50 million contract in the offseason. Only once in his four-year career has he played a full season. In 2019 over 15 games, Vaitai made three starts while seeing action at every position on the line except center. His play showed growth in run blocking with some improvement in pass protection.

Offensive Line Outlook

This offensive line should rank above the league average with their upside tied to their guards' development. I expect better play in pass protection with hit or miss success on the ground.

Offensive Schedule

The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).

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This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.

2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.

2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.

2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.

Detroit has close to a league average schedule for their rushing offense. They have two tough matchups (NO and TB) plus three mid-tier contests (IND and CHI X 2). Their best success should come against the Jaguars, Redskins, and Panthers.

Other than two games against the Bears, the Lions don’t face any teams that ranked highly versus the pass in 2019. Their best opportunity in the air should come vs. Arizona, Houston, and Tampa.

Offense

The lack of defense by the Lions in 2019 should have led to more passing plays, but the injury to Matthew Stafford led to teams controlling the clock. The Lions ran the ball 41.7 percent of the time last year.

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Here’s a look at the early projections for Detroit, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:

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Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford

Halfway through 2019, Stafford was on pace for 4,998 yards and 38 TDs, which would have been his second-best season (2011 – 5038/41). He set a career-high in yards per pass attempt (8.6) thanks to explosive plays (41 completions over 20 yards and eight over 40 yards).

After a stellar game (406/3) in Week 9, Stafford missed the rest of the season due to fractured bones in his back.

Kenny Golladay (65/1190/11) gives him a developing WR1 while also having viable receiving options at RB, WR2, WR3, and TE. D'Andre Swift should be the missing link at running back, which helps the Lions' offense in all areas.

Overlook player at times with an early draft price (ADP – 98) as the 13th QB off the board. An excellent QB2 with matchup value at the minimum. I set his bar at 4,179 combined yards with 27 TDs and 11 Ints.

The development of TE T.J. Hockenson and RB D’andre Swift set the tone for Stafford's success in 2020.

Other option: David Blough, Chase Daniel

Running Backs

Over the last three seasons, the Lions running backs only scored five passing touchdowns with regression in their yards per catch (6.7 in 2018 and 6.6 in 2019). Last year their RBs gained 1,902 combined yards with nine TDs and 76 catches.

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D'Andre Swift

As the lead rusher for Georgia over the last two seasons, Swift ran for 2,267 yards on 359 carries with 17 rushing touchdowns. He also picked up 56 catches for 513 yards and four more TDs. His season ended with only three carries for 15 yards over his final two contests.

Even with a productive resume in 2018, he failed to rush for over 75 yards in 10 of his 14 games while working almost in a 50/50 split role with Elijah Holyfield. Swift flashed his explosiveness over a two-game stretch in early November (33/342/3 plus seven catches for 61 yards). He only had one game with over 20 touches.

Last year Swift played well in Week 1 (16/147) while earning a full load midseason over a five-game stretch (647 combined yards, five TDs, and 11 catches on 114 touches). His best success came against Kentucky (21/179/2).

He missed time with a left shoulder issue last year while battling a groin issue in 2018.

Swift may have landed on the best franchise for him to make an impact in his rookie season. In my opening projections, I gave him the lead running back job, which came to 1,320 combined yards with nine TDs and 48 catches. He has an ADP of 45 in mid-June in the high-stakes market as the 23rd drafted.

Kerryon Johnson

In back-to-back seasons, Johnson missed a significant portion of the year with knee injuries.

His season started with three flat games (193 combined yards with two TDs and five catches) due to no running room (2.6 YPC). After a good game (157 combined yards with two catches) in Week 4, his production was minimal in his other four contests (180 combined yards with two TDs and three catches) while missing eight games with a right knee injury (left knee in 2018).

His play the previous year invites upside, but two knee issues should be enough of a sign to proceed with caution.

Johnson is the 35th off the board in the early draft seasons with an ADP of 94, which won’t be the case going forward with RB D’andre Swift added to the roster.

Decent talent, but he could be outside looking in when the lights go in September.

Jason Huntley

Over his first three seasons at New Mexico State, Huntley gained 1,216 combined yards with 14 TDs and 94 catches while receiving 312 combined touches. As their lead runner in 2019, he gained 1,282 combined yards with 11 TDs and 40 catches on 194 chances.

His explosiveness showed last year in his yards per rush (7.1), but Huntley struggled to find open field in the passing game (4.8 yards per catch – 10.4 in 2017 and 2018).

He also has five kickoff returns in his college career.

Other options: Bo Scarbrough, Ty Johnson, Wes Hills

Wide Receivers

The wide receiver opportunity has been consistent over the past three seasons. They averaged 207 catches for 2,838 yards and 18 TDs on 337 targets per game. In 2019, their wide receivers gained over 20 yards on 60 plays (6th in the NFL). All of this was done last year without their starting quarterback for a half of a season.

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Kenny Golladay

Coming into 2019, Golladay had the look of a breakout type wide receiver. He ended the year with a step back in catches (65) and targets (116), partly due to the loss of QB Matthew Stafford for eight games.

Surprisingly, Golladay finished with a spike in TDs (11) and career-highs in yards per catch (18.3) and catches over 20 (22) and 40 (6) yards.

Four of his five games (8/117/1, 5/121, 6/123/2, 4/132/1, and 4/158/1) with over 100 yards receiving came over his first eight games (healthy Stafford).

Even with his success, the Lions only gave him double-digit targets in two games. Golladay is on the verge of being a lockdown top-ten wide receiver. His initial projections came to 77 catches for 1,144 yards and 11 TDs. His early ADP is 28 as the eighth wide receiver drafted.

Marvin Jones

Jones was on pace to set career-highs in catches and targets if he didn’t miss the final three games with an ankle injury.

He dominated in three games (6/101/1, 10/93/4, and 8/126/1). His season ended with four straight games with fewer than 50 yards receiving.

Over the last two seasons, he missed ten games.

Hitting the back nine, but the Lions didn’t add any threats to steal his targets. In the WR3 mold, when healthy while earning WR4 interest in the early draft season with an ADP of 111. Not my kind of fight at this stage of his career. I have projected for 66 catches for 895 yards and six TDs.

Danny Amendola

The Lions gave Amendola the third-most targets (97) of his career while gaining the highest number of yards per catch (1.09) of his career.

Over his last three seasons, he averaged 61 catches for 637 yards and 1.3 TDs over 45 games while playing for three different teams.

His best play in 2019 came in four games (7/104/1, 8/105, 8/95, and 8/102). Amendola gained fewer than 40 yards in ten of his other 11 contests. He scored his only TD in Week 1.

Only a bye week cover while being a waiver wire tease if he plays well early in the year. Amendola starts 2020 at age 34.

Geronimo Allison

Last year fantasy owners thought Allison would blossom as the WR2 for the Packers. Even with a full season of games for the first time in his career, he caught 34 passes for 287 yards and two TDs on 55 targets while gaining only 8.4 yards per catch.

Only once last year (3/52/1) did Allison gain over 50 yards receiving. Over four seasons in the NFL, he has 89 catches for 1,045 yards and seven TDs on 146 targets,

Capable of a big game as back-end wide receiver in the Lions rotation, but he may need an injury to get enough snaps to be playable at some point this year.

Quintez Cephus

Cephus played well in 2019 (59/901/7), with his best success in three games (6/130/2, 5/114, and 7/122).

He missed 2018 with an off the field issue that Cephus later beat in a court case.

Over his career at Wisconsin, he averaged 16.1 yards per catch with 13 TDs over his final 24 games.

Other options: Chris Lacy, Jamal Agnew, Geremy Davis, Travis Fulgham, Victor Bolden

Tight Ends

The catch rate (58.4) for the Lions’ tight ends came in a much weaker area than expected last year. After a dip in TE chances and production in 2018 (42/458/4), Detroit almost matched their 2017 targets (114) last year (113). Matthew Stafford will throw to his tight ends if he has a viable option, which falls on the development of T.J. Hockenson.

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T.J. Hockenson

In his first NFL start, Hockenson posted an impact game (6/131/1), but his success was more of a result of a bad TE defense by the Cardinals.

Over his next 11 games, he caught only 26 passes for 236 yards and one TD on 50 targets. His catch rate (52.0) suggests Hockenson needs more time to develop.

His season ended after Week 13 due to right ankle injury.

In his final season at Iowa in a split role with Noah Fant, he flashed big-play (15.5 YPC) and scoring ability (six TDs on 49 catches).

For now, a TE2 with upside, but he may be tough to time when setting your lineups in 2020. Hockenson has an ADP of 135 in mid-June as the 15th tight end drafted. His initial projections came to 57 catches for 649 yards and five TDs.

Other options: Jesse James, Isaac Nauta, Matt Sokol, Hunter Bryant

Kicker

Matt Prater

Over the last five years, Prater had been one of the better kickers from 50 yards or longer (29-for-37 – 78.3 percent). His success pushed him to 24th in field goal percentage (83.8) all-time, with most of his failure coming from 40-for-49 yards (74/105).

He’s had over 30 field goal chances in four straight years while averaging 35 extra-point chances per season.

More of a matchup option while needing Detroit to show growth offensively to be trusted as week-to-week play in the fantasy market.

Defense Schedule

Detroit has four games (IND, TEN, and MIN X 2) vs. teams that are expected to run the ball well this year. Their best edge should come against Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Chicago (2).

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The Lions will be challenged in three games (ATL, TB, and NO) via the pass. They have seven contests (ARI, IND, WAS, MIN X 2, and CHI X 2). The Cardinals and Colts should be improved passing the ball in 2020.

Defense

The Lions dropped to 21st in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (1,855) with 13 TDs and seven runs over 20 yards. Runners gained only 4.1 yards per rush while averaging 28.4 rushers per game.

Detroit fell to last in the NFL in passing yards allowed (4,551) with 33 TDs and seven Ints. Their defense finished with only 28 sacks while allowing 72 catches over 20 yards.

DE Romeo Okwara

After setting career highs in tackles (39) and sacks (7.5) in 2018, Okwara struggled to get to the quarterback (1.5) last year with regression vs. the run. His ceiling is low showcased by his one start in 2019.

DT Da'Shawn Hand

Over his first two seasons, Hand missed 16 games. In his rookie season, he played well defending the run while flashing upside in the pass rush. Hand looks the part of a high-end run defender with questions with his motor and value as a pass rusher. He offers a foundation piece to a defensive line thanks to his strength and power.

DT Danny Shelton

In his second season with the Patriots, Shelton set a career-high in both tackles (61) and sacks (3). He grades as a plus in run support with some improvement rushing the quarterback over the past two seasons. Shelton is a former first-round draft pick (2015).

DE Trey Flowers

Flowers rewarded with a productive season after signing a big contract in 2019. Over his last three seasons, he averaged 57 tackles and seven sacks while grading well against the run.

LB Jamie Collins

In his second chance with the Patriots, Collins turned into a top playmaker. He finished with 81 tackles, seven sacks, three Ints, seven defended passes, one TD, and three forced fumbles. His run defense isn’t ideal while continuing to miss too many tackles.

LB Jarrad Davis

Last year Davis missed five games due to an ankle injury. He played great in his second year in 2018 after getting drafted in the first round in 2017. Davis finished with 100 tackles, six sacks, and five defended passes. Even with his success, Davis did have risk vs. the run, which wasn’t helped by a high number of missed tackles.

LB Reggie Ragland

In 2018, Ragland picked up 86 tackles with minimal value in the pass rush (0.5 sacks). The Chiefs only gave him seven starts last year. He held his own vs. the run while chipping in with some pressure on the quarterback.

CB Desmond Trufant

Trufant set a career-high in interceptions (4) in 2019 while only playing in nine games. He’ll help in run support, but his cover skills aren’t where they were when coming into the league.

CB Jeff Okudah

The Lions believe Okudah has the talent to fill the vacated shoe of Darius Slay in his rookie season. He should start in his first NFL game while offering upside in coverage.

S Duron Harmon

The Lions are expected to give Harmon plenty of snaps in 2020 after seeing plenty of action for the Patriots over the previous seven seasons. He’ll create turnovers with improvement in run support.

S Tracy Walker

In his second year, Walker posted 103 tackles, one Int, and eight defended passes over 13 games. Even with success, he did allow too many touchdowns with only league-average value defending the run.

Team Defense Outlook

Detroit has some interesting pieces on their defense, but they need to put pressure on the quarterback to correct their failure in pass coverage last year. I expect the run defense to be improved while still lacking the overall playmakers to make a push higher than league average as a fantasy defense. Possible matchup value if their cornerbacks play at a high level.