Where—if at all—have the Detroit Lions improved from 2016?
The goal for all 32 NFL franchises is to improve every year. The NFL Draft provides the best way for teams to not only improve for the next season, but for the foreseeable future.
The Detroit Lions made the playoffs in 2016 and nearly won their first divisional title in over 20 years. However, many think the team accomplished this in spite of having a poor roster. The Lions’ defense, by advanced metrics, was the worst in the NFL. Detroit was forced to give significant playing time to eight of their 10 rookies, partially due to injuries, partially due to depth concerns.
Now that the Lions have added eight more players via the draft, it’s time to see if they are one of the teams that has gotten better since last year. Today’s Question of the Day is:
Is the Detroit Lions roster better than it was at this point last year?
My answer: Earlier in the week, we created a projected depth chart for the 2017 season. Thankfully, we did the same thing last year after the draft, so we can compare the two now:
I think it’s pretty clear the Lions are better offensively on paper. Nowhere is that more clear than on the offensive line. Obviously, we incorrectly assumed Taylor Decker was going to start at right tackle in 2016, but beyond that, Riley Reiff and Larry Warford were both upgraded to T.J. Lang and Rick Wagner this offseason. Additionally, the Lions look a little better at wide receiver, although the Lions obviously added Anquan Boldin later in the offseason—something that looks less and less likely in 2017.
Detroit looks better at tight end, considering Brandon Pettigrew and Tim Wright would go on to play zero snaps for the Lions in 2016. Instead, the Lions added a proven blocker in Darren Fells and a versatile rookie in Michael Roberts.
If there’s one area where the Lions may be worse, it’s at running back. At this point last year, the Lions had more depth and competition, even though they’d eventually get rid of Stevan Ridley. However, based on Monday’s news of Detroit’s interest in LeGarrette Blount and Matt Asiata, it appears Detroit will soon add some depth there.
If we’re talking front four, the Lions defense doesn’t look all that much better. The starters are essentially the same, but the depth is a whole slew of new names. They aren’t necessarily upgrades, but change was certainly needed after a disappointing 2016.
It’s everywhere else where the roster looks better. The Lions are seriously deep at cornerback, specifically at the nickel spot, after investing both a draft pick and a free agent signing to the position. Considering all of the issues the Lions had covering the slot, that is a huge upgrade.
At linebacker, the Lions appeared to be in good shape in 2016, but quick injuries to DeAndre Levy and Josh Bynes decimated their depth chart. Again, the Lions appear to be in good shape to start the season, but things could quickly go sour even with a single injury.
Overall, I’d say the Lions defense has been upgraded a little bit, but I would warn Lions fans to temper expectations for next year. The Lions are adding younger talent to their ranks, but just remember how optimistic we were about the defense last year.