Mailbag: Lions' 2020 Ceiling
It's time for another edition of the SI All Lions mailbag.
This week's topics include Kerryon Johnson finding his rookie-year success, Jarrad Davis' body transformation, whether the Lions actually fixed their pass-rush, whether making the Super Bowl is a possibility and the one game that I have circled on Detroit's schedule.
Without further ado, here are the questions:
*Questions edited for clarity
1.) Kerryon Johnson looked impressive as a rookie. He didn’t look impressive last year. Which year is more representative of what he is? -- @dynastycraig
Answer: Johnson had one of the more disappointing seasons of any Lions player in 2019. After averaging 5.4 yards per carry his rookie year, he was only able to muster a 3.6 yard-per-rush average in his sophomore campaign. With only five fewer carries last season than in his first, he rushed for 238 fewer yards.
There are a lot of factors that come into play here, with the first being injuries. He ended his rookie year on the injured reserve, which could have slowed down his offseason workouts a bit. I will say that Kerryon’s year two did not match up with year one in terms of explosiveness.
Another point to note, in a new scheme under Darrell Bevell, Johnson saw the 13th-most eight-plus defenders in the box for any running back in the NFL in 2019. For a good portion of the season, he was in the top three for that category. With all the heavy formations that Bevell utilizes, the byproduct was running against more defenders close to the line of scrimmage. However, Bevell did start to spread the offense out a little more as the season progressed. He used less two tight end sets, and mitigated the fullback’s role -- which really made for less congestion in the box.
After coming back from the injured reserve in Weeks 16 and 17, Johnson averaged 4.52 yards per attempt. If I had to guess, I believe those two weeks are more indicative of what Kerryon can provide. He isn’t a big bruising back that can move the pile, as he needs space to operate.
2.) What do you think of Jarrad Davis' body transformation this offseason? -- @ArquetteAustin
A: Just to be clear, I think there are some misconceptions about Davis’ “body transformation.” The before photo was taken in the offseason last March. Coming into last preseason, he had already bulked up to 245 pounds, but at 14 percent body fat. At this point, he is now a few pounds heavier and leaner at the same time, with only 9.8 percent of body fat.
Michigan Elite Conditioning for Athletes has led to some amazing results for a handful of Lions players. It really does a great job getting its players into top-notch physical shape. In theory, it should make them a better player. Unfortunately, being big and strong doesn’t always help with instincts and the ability to understand the game. Athleticism and size have never been flaws of Davis’ skill set, as he has that in spades. It is great that Davis is taking his offseason workouts so seriously, and it very well could help him improve. We all know he is one of the hardest-working players on the team. The biggest concern for me regarding Davis is still his instincts, and that’s a trait that can’t always be taught.
3.) How are the Lions going to fix the lack of pass rush? I didn’t see it in FA or the draft. -- @kevinlh1975
A: In the pass-rush department, Nick Williams is an upgrade over A’Shawn Robinson, Danny Shelton is an improvement over Damon Harrison and rookie Julian Okwara has a much higher ceiling than Devon Kennard. You could say the Lions got better. But, if the defensive philosophy of not putting an emphasis on getting to the quarterback continues, it could just be more of the same as last year. In Patricia’s hybrid defense, there needs to be more creativity and stunts from the linebackers in order to manufacture pressure. I don’t believe this scheme is conducive to ever putting up elite sack numbers. It just needs to be at least middle of the road.
4.) Do we have a chance to get to the Super Bowl? -- @beverlygmorse1
A: I wish I could say they have a chance to even reach the Super Bowl, but it is highly unlikely. There are quite a few NFC teams that are loaded with talent. The Lions would need the perfect storm of luck and absolutely everything to go their way. The many question marks on the team would have to far exceed expectations as well. I think the ceiling might fall around nine to 10 victories this year. At this point, they just don’t appear to be a complete team. Given the time of year, it never hurts to have hope. Isn’t that pretty much the epitome of what being a Lions fan is all about?
5.) What is the one game on the schedule this season you can’t wait to sit down and watch? -- @TSellers125
A: Honestly, it’s probably Week 1 against the Chicago Bears. As I mentioned earlier, there is a bunch of unknowns on the team, and you can’t really gauge how it will all play out until you see it in live action on the field. If the Lions are going to make any type of noise in 2020, I feel you have to come away with a win at Ford Field against perhaps the weakest of the Lions' three NFC North rivals.
It’s also tough to beat the excitement of Week 1.