The Detroit Lions are not a team that is garnering a lot of hype heading into the 2020 NFL season, after their disastrous 3-12-1 2019 campaign last year. Additionally, the 10,000+ days since the last Lions playoff win does not inspire much confidence in this organization across betting markets. However, I do not think these historical stats are an accurate reflection of this team’s overall talent and potential for the 2020 season. I believe the season-long props that project the Lions retaining their position at the bottom of the NFC North present great value, and I will dive into specific picks in this Detroit Lions 2020 betting preview.
2020 Detroit Lions betting preview
The Lions came out of the 2020 NFL Draft with one of the top five draft classes in the league. Granted, they made it easy on themselves by holding tons of draft capital, drafting third overall after a poor 2019 season, and adding a third and fifth-round pick in a trade with the Eagles for cornerback Darius Slay. Regardless, they were able to add elite talent at positions of need across the roster that should help bolster this team.
First and foremost, Jeffrey Okudah is one of the top cornerback prospects and should be able to step in and guard opposing team’s top receivers on day one. He possesses all the physical and mental traits you look for in a corner, showcased by his 8.94 Relative Athletic Score (RAS). Expect him to be a major upgrade over Slay, despite Slay’s All-Pro status.
The Lions also added my top running back in the 2020 Draft in D’Andre Swift, who is sure to bring explosiveness to the Lions’ running back position that has been lacking in recent years. While I expect last year’s starter Kerryon Johnson to handle the majority of short-yardage, Swift’s ability to turn nothing into something both in the run and pass games to should get him on the field for the majority of snaps this season. I also fully expect Swift to take advantage of these opportunities, as his ability in space likens him to former great Barry Sanders. Swift was an absolute steal in the early second round.
Adding value in the later rounds of the draft
In addition to these elite-level talents, the Lions were able to add a few guys on the second and third days of the draft that can fill holes in this roster and provide quality depth. With the 67th pick, the Lions selected DE Julian Okwara out of Notre Dame, who has all the physical tools to be an elite pass rusher. If he can add a few pounds and a move or two to his pass-rushing repertoire, Okwara can certainly burst onto the scene as a great pass-rusher in 2020 at the “Jack” linebacker position for Matt Patricia.
Also, in the third round, the Detroit Lions added guard Jonah Jackson out of Ohio State. As a graduate transfer to Ohio State from Rutgers, Jackson certainly has the college experience to step in on day one in the NFL. He is the presumed starter at right guard to fill the void left by Graham Glasgow.
I believe Jackson’s extra year of experience, coupled with his stellar 2019 campaign as a force along the Buckeye offensive line, proves that he is ready. If not, the Lions also drafted OG Logan Stenberg out of Kentucky, who has first-day starter potential. While I ultimately think it will be Jackson, one of these two guards should at least be a capable starter, if not more.
Offensive acquisitions and departures
The Lions did not add much to the offense in 2020, and frankly, they did not have to. They have built a fantastic receiving core featuring Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Geronimo Allison, and T.J Hockenson that can rival any team in the NFL. When healthy, this team was only lacking elite-level talent at the running back position, and they addressed that with the drafting of Swift.
There is no denying that questions still remain along the offensive line. They bring back last year’s starters on the left side of the line and at center, but the entire right side of the line will need revamping. We previously discussed how the Lions third-round pick Jackson is the presumed starter at right guard. Anytime a rookie is slotted as a starter, particularly a third-round pick, there is a reason to worry.
At right tackle, the Lions went to free agency and signed Halapoulivaati Vaitai to a 50 million dollar contract over five years. Vaitai mainly served as a reserve for the Eagles for the past few years, but he did valiantly man the left tackle position during the Eagles Super Bowl run following Jason Peters’s injury in 2017. That was not enough for Vaitai to carve out a full-time starting role, however, as he saw just three starts in 2019. The 6-6, 315-pound tackle will get his chance at a starting role in Detroit in 2020, and it will certainly be interesting to see if he can take advantage of this new opportunity.
Defensive acquisitions and departures
The most notable departure this offseason was Slay, but I don’t expect him to be missed much with the aforementioned draft pick Okudah, and the signing of long time Falcons cornerback and former Pro Bowler Desmond Trufant. I expect Trufant to benefit from a change in scenery and have a bounce-back season from an underwhelming 2019 campaign.
Can former New England Patriots defensive stars have an impact on the Lions?
The acquisitions did not stop there as Patricia, along with GM Bob Quinn, brought in three solid defensive players he formerly coached as defensive coordinator for the New England Patriots. Danny Shelton will slide into the uber-important nose tackle spot in the Patricia scheme and has proven to be a very solid and durable run-stopper during his time in the league.
Linebacker Jamie Collins is coming off a highly productive season in New England, where he had 81 tackles, seven sacks, three INTs, and three forced fumbles. I expect him to be all over the field again in 2020 and lead a linebacking corps that was void of an experienced leader in 2019.
Lastly, Duron Harmon was brought in from the Patriots to start at free safety for the Lions. Harmon has appeared in 111 straight games and is great at reading opposing quarterbacks and patrolling the back end from deep throws. He will further bolster this secondary that struggled mightily in 2019.
Beyond the obvious roster holes they fill and the talent they bring, these three players bring veteran experience and winning mentalities over from New England. Patricia will call on them to show the rest of the defensive unit what it physically and mentally takes to win in this league. If they succeed, this unit has the talent to be very good, if not an elite, top-five defense in 2020.
Continue to see what else can impact the Lions in 2020 and if they have a win total worth betting on.