Home > NFL, Roster Roundouts > Roster Roundouts ’10: A Detroit Lions Season Preview

Roster Roundouts ’10: A Detroit Lions Season Preview

See all of the previous LiveBall Roster Roundouts articles: BucsBrownsChiefsJaguarsRams, Seahawks, Bengals, Bills.

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Detroit Lions (projected finish: 4-12)

Team synopsis: The Lions are, as read word-for-word in the book of Schwartz, adding talent before trying to mold it into scheme.  The result was last year’s very unrefined team.  Thus, with the drafting of man-child Ndamukong Suh, Detroit fans are buzzing about their team for the first time since before the 2008 season.  As dominant as Suh will be, he can’t be a difference maker if Matthew Stafford doesn’t play more like he did in the two Detroit wins last year, and less like in his 9 losses.

Best Players

  • WR Calvin Johnson (drafted — Georgia Tech/2007 1st round pick)
  • TE Tony Scheffler (received in trade — Denver/LB Ernie Sims)
  • LT Jeff Backus (drafted — Michigan/2001 1st round pick)
  • RG Stephen Peterman (signed — Dallas/2007 waivers)
  • DT Ndamukong Suh (drafted — Nebraska/2010 1st round pick)
  • FS Louis Delmas (drafted — Western Michigan/2009 2nd round pick)

Best Prospects

  • QB Matthew Stafford (drafted — Georgia/2009 1st round pick)
  • RB Jahvid Best (drafted — Cal/2010 1st round pick)
  • WR Derrick Williams (drafted — Penn State/2009 3rd round pick)
  • TE Brandon Pettigrew (drafted — Oklahoma State/2009 1st round pick)
  • LB DeAndre Levy (drafted — Wisconsin/2009 3rd round pick)
  • CB Amari Spievey (drafted — Iowa/2010 3rd round pick)

The biggest thing going in favor of the Lions right now is that they’ve added more total talent this offseason than a single team could reasonably be expected to.  They traded off what few assets they had from the 0-16 team, and got good return for them.  In two years, the Lions have put in place 11+ offensive players who could all start for five other teams in the league, with a lone exception: the Quarterback.

The draft is the primary source of the Lions’ ability to rebuild, and since Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz took over the Lions in January 2009, they’ve leveraged their good draft position and high quantity of picks into a legitimate talent base.  The problem is when the Lions took a really raw quarterback with accuracy issues out of an SEC school, they knew that there would be a significant development curve.  Where the Lions, perhaps, made a grievous error in estimate is when they presumed they would have more time to develop Stafford then they actually would.  Just one year into the Matthew Stafford experience, expectations for the 22 year old quarterback are sky-high, and unfortunately, there’s not a lot of evidence that you can develop a quarterback in one year — let alone one as raw as Stafford.

This year, the Lions have given him a running game, led by the trio of Maurice Morris, Kevin Smith, and rookie Jahvid Best.  That should take a significant amount of pressure off of Stafford’s shoulders.  Not to short the potential impact of this trio of backs, but Stafford’s pressure is shared by that of star WR Calvin Johnson.  Johnson was a superstar from the day he signed with the Lions, and one of the interesting undertones to the Lions 0-16 season is how well Calvin Johnson played as the year went on.  But last year, he was hobbled by a weakened knee, and really was a detriment to his own team out there.  He’s healthy now, but the issue for Johnson is that, in his fourth year, he can no longer provide value based on expectation alone.  Stafford’s level of success in the pros is tied at the hip to Calvin Johnson: you don’t take a big-armed poor-accuracy quarterback unless you have an established big play, soft hands receiver to make him look better than he is.  Johnson has, in three years, amounted to a lot of promise, but could really set the Detroit franchise back years if he and Stafford don’t take a huge stride forward this year.  Unfortunately, I don’t have a good feeling one way or the other for this development.

Johnson will be surrounded by plenty of receiving talent, the best of which is TE Tony Scheffler, acquired from Denver for LB Ernie Sims, but also includes FA signee Nate Burleson — another player who derives his value from Johnson’s development, and ditto for second year Penn State product Derrick Williams.  The entire Lions passing game runs through the Calvin Johnson enigma, and so if he misses significant time this season, it will mean that the Lions offense will be highly one dimensional.

The offensive line will do a good job protecting Matthew Stafford.  LT Jeff Backus is nearing the end, but he can still handle LT, and in the absence of a Calvin Johnson breakout, remains the very best pick of the Matt Millen era (also: the first).  RG Stephen Peterman got a three year contract extension as the first move made by Jim Schwartz when he rolled into town, and he played up to it in 2009.  C Dominic Raiola is still an above average NFL offensive lineman, even into his early thirties.  He was the second pick of the Millen era in 2001, as the second piece of an offensive line that should have been much better than it has been in the last decade.  A fifth round pick netted LG Rob Sims from Seattle, a pure scheme guy who is an excellent fit plugging a huge weakness in Detroit.  It was a hefty price tag, but solves a major hole.  RT is up for grabs, where 3rd year OT Gosder Cherilus has a slight edge over 12th year veteran Jon Jansen.

Again, the offensive line is not among the best in the league, it’s merely one of the better units on a struggling team like the Lions.  The team’s struggles will continue this year because of it’s defense.  A year ago, the team had no semblance of a pass rush.  This year, Schwartz left Detroit on the eve of free agency to head towards Nashville and court DE Kyle Vanden Bosch to come to Detroit.  The pitched worked, but this hardly seems like much of a solution.  When Vanden Bosch came to Tennessee, he had untapped pass rushing skills that went unused in Arizona.  At this point, he’s a replacement level pass rusher.  He won’t be able to help Ndamukong Suh be a difference maker on the inside.  Similar to former Schwartz-product Albert Haynesworth in Washington, Suh figures to be dominant against one on ones and in short yardage, but if you try to find his contributions in a stat sheet at the end of the game, he’s going to be buried.  The Lions hope their acquisition of Corey Williams from Cleveland can help put pressure on quarterbacks, but Williams’ history of success is both antiquated and short lived.  He’s also likely to be the third DT behind Suh and 0-technique Sammie Lee Hill.

The linebackers have to play better than last year, but they probably will not.  MLB DeAndre Levy is the one player in the group with future value, he could be a very good middle linebacker.  But SLB Julian Peterson didn’t make an impact last year, and between Landon Johnson, Zack Follett, Vinny Ciurciu, Jordon Dizon, and Caleb Campbell, the Lions will need to find a third player to start this year where there isn’t an obvious choice.

The cornerbacks probably will be better than last year, if only because they couldn’t get any worse.  The team acquired Chris Houston in a trade with the Falcons.  He has some upside as a cover corner, but is very likely to get exposed with the lack of a pass rush in Detroit.  CB Amari Spievey is a much better prospect, and could develop into a number one corner within a reasonable timeframe.  Expecting great things this year is not very reasonable.  The depth is much better at corner than a year ago, with Jonathon Wade and Dante Wesley as adequate nickel and dime backs, but with no. 1 and no. 2 receivers working against Houston and Spievey this year, Wade and Wesley figure to make little short term impact.

Louis Delmas is a budding superstar in a bad defense, solidifying the important free safety position.  Marvin White is the front runner to be the strong safety, but the fact that he could lose his job to Ko Simpson or Marquand Manuel should let you know how marginal a player White is.  CC Brown won’t compete for a starting spot, but will be active on special teams, and wears a bulls-eye onto the field on defense, should something happen to Delmas.  As bad as the Detroit defense is projected to be, Louis Delmas may be the most important player in the NFC North this year not named “Johnson”.  The Lions can’t win without him, assuming that they can win with him.

Fighting for a spot on the roster

Aaron Brown, a RB from TCU, was a good returner last season, and ran well in spurts.  He’s the fourth running back and kick returner this year, which makes him expendable and gives him hardly any fantasy value, but he should stick around on the roster.

There’s an upcoming roster crunch at WR.  No player needs to have a better summer than Derrick Williams, who could win the 3rd WR spot with a good camp, but also could lose his prospect status and get booted from the roster with a disappointing showing.  Former Tampa Bay product Brian Clark is in town if Williams stumbles, he can both return punts and handle a fourth receiver role.  The Lions would love to release Dennis Northcutt and move on from the veteran, but he’s the incumbent third receiver.

Also in the mix for the third receiver spot is Eric Fowler, a local product who was plucked off Waivers from the Steelers in 2008, and came off the practice squad last year to appear in three games.  Fowler’s skill set is ultimately that of an NFL possession target, but can come off the outside in a third or fourth WR role.  The team still has Bryant Johnson on the second year of a two year deal, and would love to promote Fowler over the ineffective Johnson, but might not have that luxury.

The Lions have OT Jason Fox waiting in the wings as a future OT prospect.  He could move up to the third T spot next year, or the second if Cherilus flops and Jansen retires.  Right now, he’s the second LT.  Jansen will probably play as a swingman, playing inside off the bench when needed.  Then Trevor Canfield, Manny Ramirez, and Roy Schuening will compete for the 9th OL spot and backup LG.

There’s one spot at DT for Joe Cohen, Landon Cohen, Andre Fluellen, but up to two spots at DE for Turk McBride, Jared DeVries, and 7th round draft choice Willie Young.  In theory, the Lions could keep every last one of the five players in competition for the WLB job, but might choose to cut one and keep five safeties instead — as a precautionary measure towards having to ever put CC Brown in on defense.  None of those players would be a huge loss, but you’d like to root for Army product Caleb Campbell to make the roster, because who actually comes out of Army anymore?

There’s a small corner crunch upcoming, with the Lions just recently signing Dre Bly.  Bly could start, in which case any number of corners could be released, including Eric King, Wesley, Wade, Jack Williams, and Jon Hefney.  All of those guys are in the mix to be the fifth corner anyway.  If the Lions two projected starting corners do well, the team probably won’t keep Bly, who left the team under poor terms a few years ago.

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  1. Paul H
    July 28, 2010 at 9:53 am

    Man whatever, the Lions are going to win 4 games in the first half of the season bro.

  2. Tim
    July 29, 2010 at 5:23 pm

    I couldn’t even make it past the best prospects part. 1.” Matthew Stafford doesn’t play more like he did in the two Detroit wins last year, and less like in his 9 losses” — He only played in 10 games not 11 check your facts 2.putting Backus and Peterman over players like peterson, williams, Vanden Bosch is crazy. i would even put hanson over peterman.

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