Lions report, February 2017: Year in review and free agency preview
QB: 2016 fantasy leader QB Matthew Stafford 4327 passing yards, 207 rushing yards, 26 total TD, 10 INT
Stafford was consistent in his yardage total again in 2016. His TD number dropped a little, but he made up for some of that with increased rushing yardage. His production did decline in the last few games as he played through a finger injury. There is no indication that the finger will be a lingering problem. He did decline to participate in the Pro Bowl as a replacement due to the finger. The Lions closed the season with a loss at home to Green Bay in week 17, and then went out in the wild card round to Seattle. The offense was exposed for its lack of playmakers in those games. In reality, the Lions did a good job putting up as much as they did in some of the volume stats offensively as the Lions were last by far with only 152 offensive possessions on the season, well below the league average of 177 according to one football analytics site. This was a function of the aforementioned lack of big plays on offense combined with a bend but don’t break defense that allowed an NFL record completion percentage. Backup QB Dan Orlovsky is set to be a free agent, and he has said the Lions have informed him they aren’t going to bring him back. That makes QB Jake Rudock the backup for now. The big storyline will be if Stafford signs a big extension as expected as 2017 is the final year of his current contract. It’s the only move that makes sense, although many Lions fans who are blind to the economic realities of the NFL will likely complain about the dollar amount.
RB: 2016 fantasy leader RB Theo Riddick 357 rushing yards 1 TD, 371 receiving yards 5 TD.
Riddick of course was injured down the stretch, and RB Zach Zenner emerged as the work horse, with 110 total yards and a TD in week 17, and 86 total yards in the wild card round. The forecast for 2017 is a little unclear. A lot of people think the Lions need to use a high draft pick on a running back. They have been trying to fix the running game seemingly ever since Barry Sanders retired, and that was almost 20 years ago. I would tend to think the committee approach is still the way to go here, and RB Ameer Abdullah deserves one more chance to show he can avoid the injury bug by the way. Riddick isn’t going anywhere as he is one of the best pass catching backs in the league and Zenner’s stock went up with his performance. But people saw the impact Ezekiel Elliott had in Dallas and there could be some mock drafts with the Lions going running back in round 1. Technically the Lions have a free agent at this position, barely. RB Joique Bell was a late season pickup but is not in the plans for 2017.
WR/TE: 2016 fantasy leader WR Golden Tate, 1077 yards, 4 TD; TE Eric Ebron 711 yards, 1 TD.
Tate ended up having a solid year after a very slow start, and WR Marvin Jones was the opposite, doing little after a great start. WR Anquan Boldin ended the season on a down note with two dumb personal fouls in the loss to Seattle. Boldin will be a free agent and while he was a good fit in 2016, I don’t know if the Lions will look to bring him back at his age. Ebron continues to be frustrating with his drops but he isn’t going anywhere in 2017. The Lions will need to decide if they are going to pick up Ebron’s option for 2018 though. With no depth behind him, maybe drafting a tight end would make some sense. The Lions definitely need playmakers on both sides of the ball and they could look for a receiver early in the draft if they don’t bring Boldin back. Boldin was essentially a starter as the Lions pretty much used the 3 wide formation as their base offense. WR Andre Roberts was a serviceable 4th receiver and return man and he will be a free agent who could return.
D, K, ST: Detroit does not have any high profile free agents on their defense. They do have a couple of offensive linemen that would draw some interest around the league (OG Larry Warford and OT Riley Reiff) but it is clear that the Lions won’t be using the franchise or transition tags. The elephant in the room is Aaron Rodgers and the Lions need to draft players that can help them beat the Packers. They need pass rush help as DE Devin Taylor did not improve in 2016 and will likely leave as a free agent. It’s way too early for me to be looking at mock drafts but I believe I have seen DE Taco Charlton of Michigan as a popular choice so far for Detroit at 21. The Lions need more talent at all levels of their defense so I would expect a similar approach as last offseason, with a conservative approach to free agency and a best player available draft plan. No issues with the kicking game as PK Matt Prater had a solid season and will return in 2017.
Home: CHI, GB, MIN, ATL, CAR, CLE, PIT, ARI
Road: CHI, GB, MIN, NO, TB, BAL, CIN, NYG
The Lions along with the rest of the NFC North play the NFC South and AFC North in 2017. I am not a big believer in trying to analyze schedule strength based on the previous season, but it could be worth noting that the Lions had a pretty weak schedule in 2016. Did that contribute to their playoff berth? Maybe a little. The haters are already drooling about how much tougher their schedule will be in 2017 but everyone is 0-0 as far as I’m concerned.
The Lions will draft 21st in the first round of this year’s draft after going 9-7.