What a difference one year can make for the Detroit Lions.
With the 2021 regular season just days away, the Lions hardly resemble the 5-11 team from 2020.
The new regime now includes general manager Brad Holmes, head coach Dan Campbell, and another former No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Jared Goff.
Those are only a few of the notable changes. The turnover in staff has created an entirely different landscape in terms of expectations, roster construction, culture, coaching philosophies, and the overall long-term outlook of the organization.
Yes, Holmes might use the euphemism of a “retool” rather than a rebuild, but there is no denying that Detroit's newest general manager intends to construct his team from the ground up.
The final roster is filled with young, developing players who were kept on the roster in favor of safer, more well-known veterans.
There are 24 new players on the 53-man roster, only four players over the age of 30, and are one of the youngest teams in the entire NFL. That screams of a team looking at the long-term future over the immediate short-term success.
In saying that, there will be plenty of in-season tinkering with the squad as well. The current roster is by no means a finished product.
Make no mistake, unless there are a ton of big surprises from some unheralded players, the Lions are going to struggle this season -- and that’s okay.
There is an obvious plan in place to turn the ship around down the line. Expect plenty of growing pains and turnover of the roster but keep an eye on what bright spots the Lions have in the pipeline for next season and beyond.
The days of the Lions being a high-powered passing attack are likely over for now.
Goff has shown in the past he can really rack up the stats in the right system and when surrounded by quality personnel.
Unfortunately for Detroit's new 26-year-old quarterback, he won’t be in the best situation in his inaugural season in Motown. Add in the fact that Goff has struggled the past couple of years since his Super Bowl run, it's fair to assume he won’t be able to find that 2018 season magic.
When looking at the wide receivers group, plenty of reasons for concern arise. Objectively, the Lions probably have the weakest wideout room in the entire league.
Not that you need elite talent at the position to have a successful offense, but teams still need to be more balanced in other facets of the game to make up for the deficiency. Look for Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson and the running backs to help pick up the slack in the passing game to methodically move the ball down the field.
If there is one thing the Lions can hang their hat on, it’s the offensive line. Taylor Decker is a proven left tackle, and center Frank Ragnow is among the best centers in the league. When you include the promising left guard Jonah Jackson, along with rookie Penei Sewell, the opportunity is there for the Lions to have a very formidable offensive front, barring any unforeseen injuries.
However, there is not a lot of depth up front, and Sewell is trying to shake off the rust from a year off while also switching to the right side of the line.
No matter the case, it’s likely the Lions' strongest position group on offense. If the offensive line can live up to expectations, it should provide the team with an improved run game -- which is when Goff is at his best.
Neither the oft-injured D’Andre Swift or Jamaal Williams have proven they can excel at creating rushing yards for themselves with poor blocking up front. If the offensive line can open some running lanes, it shouldn’t be an issue since the running back talent is there.
Perhaps the biggest issue with the running game will be situational football. The Lions need to remain close in games in order for them to continue running the football.
Overall, the Lions will need to be able to rush the football in order for the offense to be successful.
Actually, to be successful as a team in general, a lot will be predicated on the offense's ability to run the ball.
A ground and pound offense will only help open up throwing the football as well. Don’t expect a downfield attack, but more long drives that take what the defense is giving them.
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Despite the defense looking awful under Patricia, there is a very good chance that they could look a lot better just due to the coaching change.
It would actually be very difficult to get much worse. For example, the Lions' secondary was put in an awful position last year -- perhaps the worst situation to be in in the entire league.
No pash rush and predictable man-to-man coverage made life difficult for all of the defensive backs in the secondary. There is some younger talent in the secondary on this current roster that still has some potential in the right circumstances.
The Lions' oldest rostered cornerback is third-year man Amani Oruwariye (25). That should speak volumes as to the direction they are trying to go. They’re trying to find talent who can be here a few years down the road.
By default, the Lions' secondary should improve, though. When corners don’t have to cover for five to six seconds at a time, their play will look much better.
Even though the Lions had minimal pass rush last year, it wasn’t all due to the talent on the defensive line. In Patricia’s scheme, it was run first and gap control on the way to a quarterback dropping back.
Under new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s guidance, there will be an emphasis on gap shooting and getting to the quarterback. There will be interior pass rushers who can beat one-on-one matchups. Interior pressure only helps the edge rushers as well.
Perhaps the biggest issue for the Lions' defense is still at linebacker. Veteran Jamie Collins struggled last year and hasn’t particularly looked great when outside of a Patriots system. Alex Anzalone has pretty much been a career backup as well. He has plenty of starts on the stat sheet, but there are flaws in his game that keep him limited. Rookie Derrick Barnes has looked very promising in the preseason playing against backups. Hopefully, he can turn into a starter sooner than later.
At the end of the day, the defense has some firepower to make plays. New defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn will need to bring out the best of the talent available, which is sometimes a lot easier said than done.
Record Prediction: 4-13
When looking at the Lions roster compared to the rest of the NFL, there is a noticeable lack of high-end talent as well as depth. That’s typically the case when trying to overhaul years of mismanagement.
Considering how young the roster is and the number of players they are looking to develop, it’s unfair to expect greatness in the first year of Holmes’ tenure.
As mentioned before, it's completely acceptable for the Lions to have some real growing pains in an effort to set the organization up for future success. As long as there is some ostensible growth from the start of the season to the end, it should be considered a win for the Lions.
Quarterback: Jared Goff, David Blough
Running backs: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, Jason Cabinda (FB)
Wide receivers: Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, KhaDarel Hodge, Tom Kennedy
Tight ends: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
Offensive line: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell, Matt Nelson, Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg
Defensive tackle: Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, Nick Williams, Levi Onwuzurike, John Penisini, Kevin Strong
EDGE: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Charles Harris
Linebacker: Jamie Collins Sr., Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman
Cornerback: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, A.J. Parker, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Bobby Price, Jerry Jacobs
Safety: Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Dean Marlowe, C.J. Moore
Specialists: P Jack Fox, LS Scott Daly, K Austin Seibert