Detroit Lions 2017 Final Grades

With the immediate firing of head coach Jim Caldwell, it was obvious that the Detroit Lions and GM Bob Quinn had much higher expectations for the year. Finishing 9-7 and missing the playoffs was considered a failure.

Despite the disappointment, not all was bad on an individual position level. There were many bright spots on the roster. Let’s take a look at some strengths and weaknesses of the 2017 season.

Quarterback:

Another year and another prolific season by Matthew Stafford. He was among the best in the NFL in just about every major statistic:

  • 1st in 40+ yard passes
  • 3rd in passing yards
  • 4th in touchdowns
  • 7th in completion percentage
  • 7th in passer rating

The ninth-year quarterback put the offense on his back and took a beating while doing so. You can’t ask for much more out of a QB with the worst rushing attack in the entire NFL. His 99.3 passer rating was the highest of his career. The stats are all there, but he needs some help.

The one knock would be his poor performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Thanksgiving– every quarterback has a bad game once and a while.

OVERALL GRADE: A-

Running Back

The running back position is a rather tough group to grade considering the amount of help (or lack thereof) they received from the offensive line and overall scheme. No matter the case, the Lions still had the fewest yards and the worst rush average in the entire NFL.

Not a single back averaged over 4.0-yards per carry and it’s the fourth consecutive season without a single 100-yard rusher in a game. Ameer Abdullah showed flashes at the beginning of the year but fizzled late. Zach Zenner and Dwayne Washington were nonexistent and were surpassed by undrafted rookie Tion Green. At the very least, Green looked to be a serviceable big back with vision and power.

Theo Riddick was underutilized in the passing game due to the Lions needing to keep an extra blocker in on passing situations. He did show a little improvement running in-between the tackles when given the opportunity.

OVERALL GRADE: D+ 

Wide Reciever

Both Marvin Jones and Golden Tate had over 1,000-yards receiving. The Lions were the only team to have two wide receivers reach that mark.

Jones looked every bit the player we were expecting after he signed with the team last offseason. He made acrobatic catches look routine, lead all NFL receivers in average yards per catch (for player with 20+ catches), and had the 4th most in both 40+ yard catches and touchdown receptions. His 11 consecutive games of having a catch of 20+ yards is currently the longest active streak in the NFL.

Outside of our starters, the 3rd and 4th wideouts, Kenny Golladay and T.J. Jones, were equally impressive in their reserve roles. It might not even be fair to call Golladay a reserve as he actually played more snaps than Tate in each of the last four games.

Golladay was a big play machine and averaged 17.0-yards per catch– 2nd most for all rookies. His five catches of 40+ yards are the most by a Lions rookie since at least 1991.

The clutch T.J. Jones only had 30-receptions, but he made them count as 22 of his grabs went for a first down.

All of these numbers could be a product of a great quarterback, but overall, the receivers made the plays.

OVERALL GRADE: B+ 

Tight End

This was a tale of two halves for the tight ends. There was a night and day difference in Eric Ebron‘s play after the trade deadline/ birth of his son. The 24-year old almost doubled his production in receptions, yards, and touchdowns after week 8. His athleticism was a matchup nightmare and his strong finish likely cemented him fulfilling that 5th-year option the Lions picked up. He was Stafford’s favorite target the last four weeks of the season with 32-targets over that span.

The underrated aspect of Ebron was the development of his blocking. He was rarely put in precarious situations, but he did a decent job when asked to throw a block or two– an improvement from last year.

Blocking tight end, Darren Fells, started off the year strong but took more of a back seat to the younger guys as the season progressed. Multiple drops mitigated his role in the passing game and the versatile 4th-round rookie Michael Roberts chipped away at his playing time. Both reserve tight ends did their part but were merely average on the season.

OVERALL GRADE: B-

Offensive Line

The offensive line was by far the biggest letdown of the season. Sadly, they could not stay healthy and no continuity could be developed. There were 11 different line combinations out of the 16 games played. Starting left tackle Taylor Decker‘s shoulder injury in OTAs complicated things from the get-go.

Stafford was sacked the second most of any quarterback in the league and the Lions were dead last in rushing– both a big indicator of poor offensive line play.

Despite the rather unspectacular play, both free agent additions OG TJ Lang and RT Rick Wagner graded out as a top-12 player at their respective positions from Pro Football Focus. Known more for their pass blocking, the right side of the line only yielded 11 runs of 10+ yards– the third lowest in the league.

The left side of the line allowed the third most negative runs in the NFL.

Second-year OG/C Graham Glasgow showed promise as the center of the future after Travis Swanson went down with another career-threatening concussion.

As a whole, the unit severely underperformed when they were supposed to be the strength of the team.

OVERALL GRADE: D

Defensive Line

Another position group that was decimated by injury, but overcoming adversity is the name of the game in the NFL. Many fans were not all too pleased when GM Bob Quinn ignored the defensive line until day three of the draft. The lack of quality pass rushing depth came back to haunt him.

Last year’s sack leader Kerry Hyder ruptured his achilles tendon in the preseason. Anthony Zettel filled in admirably but wasn’t enough of a threat to consistently create havoc. Quinn’s lackluster free agency signings played as advertised.

Ziggy Ansah ended up tied for the 8th most sacks in the NFL after having three different games with three sacks. Unfortunately, he would disappear for long stretches and could never stay completely healthy in a contract year.

The Lions ended up 20th in sacks and allowed the 2nd most rushing touchdowns in the NFL. It was probably no coincidence that the defense seemed to fall apart after Haloti Ngata was lost for the season. A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence had their moments but couldn’t be the regular difference makers.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

Linebackers

The Lions linebacking core had nowhere to go but up after last year’s struggles at the position. Rookie LB Jarrad Davis was the only big name addition. He played like a young player who is still learning the game. The Florida speedster was often the first to the ball but was also often found being blocked five yards downfield. Missed tackles were a big issue.

Not to add on, but he was demoted to the bench on passing downs as well after routinely getting burned in coverage. Despite all of this, you still saw flashes of brilliance that inspire hope for greatness in the future. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound thumper lead all rookies in tackles (96).

Davis was the first Lions linebacker to record at least one interception, one fumble recovery and a forced fumble in a season since LB Chris Claiborne in 2001.

With Davis manning the middle, it did allow Tahir Whitehead to slide back to the weak side where he could do what he does best. Whitehead was a big upgrade on the outside compared to the product that was put on the field a year ago.

Paul Worrilow had a forgettable season and made minimal impact as the third linebacker. Another rookie, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, was disruptive and demonstrated a nose for the football. There is definitely some potential there.

The Lions linebackers allowed the 2nd most passes completed to running backs (99) in the NFL but surprisingly allowed the 3rd fewest catches to tight ends.

OVERALL GRADE: C-

Cornerbacks

You could not ask for a better year from Pro-Bowler CB Darius Slay. Always known for his ability to lock down receivers, he was able to create turnovers this year to take that next step to greatness. He lead the entire NFL in interceptions and had no problem shadowing the best receivers in the league.

On the opposite side of the field, it was cornerback by committee. Nevin Lawson, DJ Hayden, and Teez Tabor all played a decent amount but no one separated themselves from the rest of the pack. The three aforementioned corners had a combined nine pass breakups while Slay had 26 on his own.

On a positive note, despite the limited amount of big plays from corners not named Slay, they did not allow many big plays either. As a unit, the Lions only allowed nine touchdowns to receivers all year– 3rd best in the NFL.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of this group is how well they all covered with an average-at-best pass rush in front of them.

OVERALL GRADE: A-

Safeties

The safety play was pretty solid as a whole. Glover Quin is still one of the best playmakers in the NFL and is greatly undervalued in the eyes of the national media.

One of the biggest disappointments this season was the apparent regression of second-year safety Miles Killebrew. Killebrew excelled on third downs last year and was expected to take on a bigger role this season. As the year went on, his usage surprisingly declined.

Killebrew played a total of 23 defensive snaps over the last five weeks combined– including zero in week 17 against the Green Bay Packers. Not a great sign for his future at safety with the team.

Even with starter Tavon Wilson going down, the coaching staff felt nickel corner Quandre Diggs was the better option at safety. The move paid off as Diggs was an instant playmaker. He recorded his first three career interceptions in his first three games at his new position. Not only was he picking off passes, he was the enforcer that everyone thought Killibrew would become.

The safety unit was responsible for eight interceptions and eight forced fumbles (including special teams).

OVERALL GRADE: B+

Special Teams

Rookie punt returner Jamal Agnew was one, if not the most, dynamic return man in the entire NFL. He finished first in the league in all of the following punt return categories:

  • Yards (447-yards)
  • Average (15.4-yards)
  • Longest return (88-yards)
  • Touchdowns (2)

For whatever reason, he could not find the magic on kickoff returns and was actually one of the worst returners in the league on that front. His 17.8-yard average on kickoff was barely more than he averaged on punt returns (15.4).

In the kicking game, K Matt Prater was ol’ reliable and was as clutch as ever. He finished the season with 130 points– just the second Lions player ever to finish with 130+ points in a season (Jason Hanson). Not only that, Prater became the first player in team history to make 30+ field goals in back-to-back seasons.

Punter Sam Martin had a rather enigmatic season. After missing six games on the NFI list due to reportedly tripping over a conch shell, Martin was unable to find his usual form. Martin has been very productive so far in his young career. He is the current franchise leader for highest career gross punting average (46.9-yards) and holds the Lions top-4 spots for highest net punting average in a season.

This season was not like his first four. There were multiple shanks and he had the lowest punt average to date. Expect a bounce-back season next fall.

OVERALL GRADE: B+

Conclusion:

The Lions ultimate goal was not achieved but there are plenty of facets to be encouraged about going into next season. Quinn is building and adding his coach to an already solid team. As a Lions fan, you know how the saying goes, “there is always next season.”

Follow Lion Lowdown on Twitter @LionLowdown or Logan Lamorandier @LLamorandier

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