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Offseason Team Previews

2021 Lions Offseason Preview

by Hayden Winks
Updated On: February 16, 2021, 2:40 pm ET

My goal with the Offseason Preview series is to get caught up with each team’s 53-man roster, offensive and defensive schemes, team needs, and offseason capital within a 10-minute read. The basics will be at the top -- cap space, draft picks, cut candidates, notable departures -- and the film and analytics takes will be at the bottom. I hope to write these in a way that they’re referenceable throughout not just free agency and the NFL Draft, but also the 2021 season as we look into weekly matchups. The offseason is the time for me to get outside of our fantasy football bubble and learn more about what’s going on at the other positions. You can read the rest of my 2021 Offseason Previews here and can follow me on Twitter (@HaydenWinks).

 


Lions 2020 Recap

Lions2020

 

The Lions were a bottom-three unit in three of the main four categories: rushing EPA offense (31st), rushing EPA defense (30th), and passing EPA defense (32nd). That’s tough to do, especially when not actively tanking, but coach Patricia found a way. The passing offense (20th in EPA) wasn’t very good either, but Matthew Stafford didn’t have much help after Kenny Golladay (five games) was diagnosed with a bad case of contracticitis. As usual, Stafford was an aggressive passer downfield (8th in aDOT), leading free agent Marvin Jones to a career-high 76 receptions with 978 yards and nine touchdowns. This duo will not return in 2021. The future is now in the hands of Jared Goff, T.J. Hockenson, D’Andre Swift, and franchise tag candidate Kenny Golladay. There are a few pieces in place, but Detroit is certainly heading into a rebuild.

 


Lions 2021 Offseason

Notes

 

Lions Cap Space

-$1.5 million (23rd)

Lions Draft Picks

1.07, 2.41, 3.72, 3.89, 4th, 5th, plus compensatory picks

Lions Departures

QB Matthew Stafford, DE Romeo Okwara, WR Marvin Jones, FS Duron Harmon, WR Danny Amendola, LB Reggie Ragland, LB Jarrad Davis, RB Adrian Peterson

Lions Cut Candidates

CB Desmond Trufant ($6.1M cap savings), Slot CB Justin Coleman ($4.9M), DT Nick Williams ($4.7M), DT Danny Shelton ($4.0M), LG Joe Dahl ($2.8M), LB Christian Jones ($2.6M), QB Chase Daniel ($2.3M), TE Jesse James ($2.2M)

 


Lions Depth Chart

Position

Base Offense

Notable Backups

Personnel

11

-

% of Passes

76%

-

QB

Jared Goff

Chase Daniel

WR

Kenny Golladay (if tagged)

 

WR

Quintez Cephus

 

WR (Slot)

???

 

TE

T.J. Hockenson

Jesse James

RB (Early Down)

D’Andre Swift

 

RB (Third Down)

D’Andre Swift

Kerryon Johnson

LT

Taylor Decker

 

LG

Joe Dahl

 

C

Frank Ragnow

 

RG

Jonah Jackson 

Logan Stenberg

RT

Halapoulivaati Vaitai

Tyrell Crosby

 

Offensive Coordinator: Dan Campbell will be taking on a CEO-like role as head coach and will delegate play calling to his coordinators, in this case OC Anthony Lynn. The Chargers Offense went through different iterations throughout Lynn’s time as head coach, going from league-slow pace with Rivers to a fast-paced offense with Herbert. In Detroit, Lynn likely plans for a balanced approach that could be frustratingly too run-heavy -- Lynn is a former RBs coach -- and he’ll have to game plan around Jared Goff’s limitations as a downfield thrower. Overall, it’s hard to imagine this offense being overly creative with the pieces they have and a slow start in September and October could flip this team into evaluation mode. We’ll see if Lynn gets enough quality receivers to field the 11-personnel base offense Detroit ran in 2020.

Passing Offense: Advanced stats and box scores show that Jared Goff is an efficient passer, but removing play-action and YAC schemer Sean McVay from the equation could prove to be disastrous. Remember Goff’s 5.3 YPA rookie season with Jeff Fisher? It won’t be that bad, of course, but Goff remains a limited passer downfield and is skittish under pressure. Last season, he had a 3.5 YPA when under pressure compared to a 7.9 YPA when kept clean per PFF. The offensive line needs to play well in 2021. At receiver, all three starters from 2020 are unsigned and only Kenny Golladay is likely to come back due to the franchise tag, assuming he doesn’t force a sign-and-trade immediately. It’s going to be a below-average group, one that could feature a rookie or two. With that said, the Lions are sitting pretty with T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift, two borderline top-10 receivers at their respective positions. Overall, Goff will have an average skill group.

Rushing Offense: The Lions’ entire starting offensive line is set to return pending cuts, and both LG Joe Dahl (five games) and RT Halapoulivaati Vaitai (10 games) are likely to suit up more in 2021. This unit was 13th in run blocking and 10th in pass blocking last season per PFF, so the offensive line arguably is the strength of this roster. That’s good news for D’Andre Swift, who won’t be dealing with Adrian Peterson’s 156 carries again. The second-year pro averaged 17.0 PPR points per game on 16.0 expected PPR points in games after the Lions’ Week 5 bye (Post-Bye Rookie Bump™). Swift belongs in RB1 discussions as a pass-game specialist with 200-250 carries sitting in his lap. Knee brace king Kerryon Johnson isn’t much of a threat after posting 3.6 and 3.5 yards per carry in each of his last two seasons.

 

Position

Base Defense

Notable Backups

Coverage

Cover 1 Man

-

% of Plays

31%

-

CB

Jeff Okudah

Amani Oruwariye

CB

Desmond Trufant

 

CB (Slot)

Justin Coleman

 

SS

Will Harris

 

FS

Tracy Walker

 

LB

Jamie Collins

 

LB

Jahlani Tavai

 

DT (1T)

Danny Shelton

 

DT (3T)

Nick Williams

Da'shawn Hand

Edge (5T)

Trey Flowers

Christian Jones

Edge (7T)

Julian Okwara

 

 

Defensive Coordinator: New Lions DC Aaron Glenn was the Saints’ defensive backs coach from 2016-2020. In New Orleans, the Saints primarily played man defense, leading the NFL in Cover 2 man usage (23%) last season. That’s similar to how the Lions played under coach Matt Patricia (lots of Cover 1 man) in 2020 except Glenn knows how to communicate with his players. The primary difference between the two philosophies is their blitz rates. The Lions were 25th in blitz rate last year despite being 32nd in pressure rate, while the Saints finished 14th in blitz rate despite already ranking seventh in pressure rate. Overall, the defense on paper won’t look much different schematically, but I trust Glenn to game plan and coach his players better than Patricia, someone disliked so much that Matthew Stafford crossed off New England as a trade partner.

Passing Defense: If you’re playing man defense, you better have some good corners. Last year, the Lions didn’t. Desmond Trufant had by far his worst season while only appearing in six games, 2020 third overall pick Jeff Okudah took his lumps as a 21-year-old, and slot corner Justin Coleman was a walking first down. Both Trufant and Coleman are cut/trade candidates this offseason and neither are long-term options even if they remain on the team through the offseason. Okudah has to play like a top-10 pick for the Lions to dig themselves out of their No. 32 passing EPA ranking from last season. Up front, the Lions had one of the worst edge presences in the NFL last season (27th in adjusted sack rate), and their best defensive player DE Romeo Okwara (5th in hurries, 8th in sacks) is a free agent. Detroit desperately needs veteran DE Trey Flowers (seven games) and 2020 third-rounder Julian Okwara (six games) to play more this upcoming season. Overall, the Lions’ 2021 goal should be to play average pass defense, and even that seems optimistic.

Rushing Defense: The Lions were 30th in rushing EPA defense and allowed the most rushing touchdowns (27) in the league last year. Their linebacker play was the main reason for that. Jamie Collins took a step back as a 31-year-old and the rotation behind him was filled with backup-caliber players. Among them, only Collins and 2019 second-round bust Jahlani Tavai return with LBs Jarrad Davis and Reggie Ragland headed to free agency. The interior defensive line consists of average to below-average starters in NT Danny Shelton, DT Nick Williams, and DT Da'shawn Hand. All three are under contract for just one more season, so it’s a position of need in the draft, particularly with Shelton ($4.0M cap savings) and Williams ($4.7M) being cut candidates.

LionsDEF

 


Lions Team Needs

1. Wide Receiver - Kenny Golladay will either be franchise tagged or signed to a long-term contract, but Marvin Jones’ comments about free agency suggests he is definitely gone, leaving at least one starting spot open on the perimeter. 2020 fifth-rounder Quintez Cephus is best viewed as a backup. The Lions need to find Golladay a strong running mate for the Goff experiment to pan out.

2. Corner(s) - The Lions were dead last in passing EPA defense in 2020 while primarily playing man coverage, something new DC Aaron Glenn is likely to bring with him from New Orleans. 2020 first-rounder Jeff Okudah will get better (he’s 21 years old for crying out loud), but CB2 Desmond Trufant is coming off his worst season and slot CB Justin Coleman isn’t an NFL starter. Detroit needs to find long-term starters at both spots if Glenn’s aggressive, man coverage style is going to work.

3. Edge Rusher - This can be as simple as re-signing DE Romeo Okwara, who finished sixth in hurries per pass rush and eighth in sacks (10.0) last season. If Okwara walks, the Lions will be relying on his younger brother, 2020 third-rounder Julian Okwara, as a starter alongside veteran DE Trey Flowers. The two combined to play just 13 games last season. Detroit was 27th in adjusted sack rate in 2020. It’s a major need.

4. Linebacker - 2017 first-rounder Jarrad Davis didn’t pan out and 2019 second-rounder Jahlani Tavai is on that same path. Jamie Collins (a potential trade candidate) is under contract through 2022, but the Lions desperately need another body for the long- and short-term. The Lions were 30th in rushing EPA defense last season in large part due to their linebacker play.

5. Slot Receiver - 35-year-old Danny Amendola is set for free agency (or retirement), and the Lions don’t have a one-for-one replacement on the roster. New OC Anthony Lynn used 11-personnel on 79% of the Chargers’ pass plays last season, a similar mark to the Lions’ 76%. Slot receiver is certainly a “starting spot” in this offense.

6. Free Safety - Veteran FS Duron Harmon is set for free agency, possibly leaving the Lions needing a one-for-one replacement. Current safeties Tracy Walker and Will Harris mostly played in the box last season, although Walker could slide to free safety in 2021 if a quality free safety isn’t readily available.

 


2021 Fantasy Football Rankings

Consider these my way-too-early 2021 fantasy football ranking ranges ahead of free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, and here’s where each player ranked in PPR points, expected PPR points, and PPR points over expected last year.

D’Andre Swift (RB1/2) - The 2020 second-rounder was eased into the mix as a rookie, averaging 10.4 PPR points before the Lions’ Week 5 bye and 17.0 PPR points after it. With Adrian Peterson’s 156 carries out the way, Swift projects for 200+ carries, most goal-line work, and all of the pass-down opportunities. That gets Swift a seat at the low-end RB1 table, especially with the Lions’ entire starting offensive line set to return.

FA Kenny Golladay (WR2) - Golladay is technically a free agent, but the Lions can slap the franchise tag on him if they can’t settle on a long-term contract, something the organization obviously wants to work out. Assuming he returns, Golladay will be potentially looking at top-10 receiving volume in 2021 with Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola set for free agency. Golladay’s 14.6 aDOT (17th highest among receivers) from last season likely ticks down a hair with Goff replacing Stafford, but that change should make him more consistent week-to-week even in what should be a below-average offense.

T.J. Hockenson (TE1) - The 2019 No. 8 overall pick had a mini-breakout season last year, finishing as the TE7 per game (11.3 PPR) on TE7 fantasy usage. Hockenson’s 7.2 YPT from last season wasn’t anything to write home about, but his volume should be very strong next season with Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola out the building and OC Anthony Lynn familiar with using a plus tight end (Hunter Henry). Hockenson is a top-six option at a barren position, and there’s room for a third-year leap, too. Goff will love having him as a safety blanket.

FA Marvin Jones (WR5) - When asked about his contract status, Jones said “the free-agent process is something I’m very excited about.” So it would be a surprise if he returned to Detroit. Jones is coming off his second-best season of his career (76-978-9) and profiles as a No. 2 outside receiver for another year or so. It’s unclear where he’ll land in free agency -- hopefully as the Rams' deep threat -- but Jones can have a few big games in 2021 as a capable deep threat even as a 31-year-old.

Jared Goff (QB3) - This feels like the opposite of Ryan Tannehill. Goff has been an efficient passer in an elite scheme, but what will happen when he heads into a worse situation? If his one season without Sean McVay is any indication, this could get ugly. OC Anthony Lynn is likely to take a run-heavy approach given the strengths of the offense are across the OL, at TE, and with Swift at RB, so there’s little ceiling to chase with Goff even if the coaching downgrade is an offseason narrative that goes busto.