The odds-on favorite to have the first overall pick in 2022, the Detroit Lions’ goal is not to necessarily compete but to build a foundation for the future. The Lions’ depth chart saw significant change during NFL free agency that will have many role players seeing larger snap shares than in years past.
Detroit Lions Depth Chart
Quarterback: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
Running Back: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Kerryon Johnson
Wide Receiver: Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, Quintez Cephus, Geronimo Allison, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Damion Ratley, Victor Bolden Jr.
Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Josh Hill, Hunter Bryant, Hunter Thedford
Offensive Tackle: Taylor Decker, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper
Offensive Guard: Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Logan Stenberg, Jonah Jackson, Evan Brown
Center: Frank Ragnow
Interior Defensive Line: Nick Williams, Michael Brockers, Da’Shawn Hand, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell, John Atkins, Kevin Strong
EDGE: Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Joel Heath
Linebacker: Jamie Collins Sr., Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Robert McCray, Alex Anzalone
Cornerback: Jeff Okudah, Quinton Dunbar, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford, Corn Elder
Safety: Will Harris, Tracy Walker, C.J. Moore, Godwin Igwebuike, Bobby Price, Jalen Elliott
Kicker: Randy Bullock
Punter: Jack Fox
Long Snapper: Don Muhlbach
Detroit Lions Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
While the Matthew Stafford trade is still jarring, especially to lifelong Lions fans, it was the right move for him. He deserves to compete in the postseason, and the team in its current form cannot do so. In a rebuild, acquiring draft capital is critical, and they got a significant return for Stafford and enter 2021 with Jared Goff under center. Without Sean McVay in his ear, we will find out what kind of QB he really is. The question remains if the Lions will bring in a rookie that can wait in the wings on the depth chart.
Could Tim Boyle push Goff into a QB battle during camp? The former Packer developed a cult following in Green Bay and likely learned a great deal under Aaron Rodgers. While he has just 4 career passes under his belt, Boyle displayed a strong arm and decent awareness during preseason games. Granted, that is against backups, but hey, stranger things have happened.
When the Lions finally handed over the backfield to D’Andre Swift, he showed why he was one of the class’ best backs. The Georgia Bulldog played in 13 games (four starts) and rushed 114 times for 521 yards and 8 touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 46 passes for 357 yards and 2 scores. The significant additions are on the coaching staff with RB coach Duce Staley and OC Anthony Lynn. From 2018 to 2020, the Chargers RBs were third or higher in the NFL in target share. This should pair perfectly with Swift’s skill set.
With Adrian Peterson hitting free agency, the Lions looked to add to their RB depth chart. They signed former Packers RB Jamaal Williams to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Williams rushed for at least 460 yards in each of his four years in Green Bay, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He’s also caught at least 30 passes in each of the last two seasons.
Kerryon Johnson rounds out the backfield. Entering his fourth season, Johnson managed to play in all 16 games last year, logging 295 offensive snaps.
With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones gone, the Lions’ WR depth chart looks significantly different. While Detroit will likely address the position in the draft, they made some moves during free agency as well.
The first of which was adding a familiar name in Breshad Perriman. The son of former Lions standout receiver Brett Perriman, Breshad would be the WR1 if the season started today. Across 2019 and 2020, he recorded 66 receptions for 1,150 yards and 9 touchdowns with the Buccaneers and Jets.
Tyrell Williams also signed with the Lions during the offseason. He spent the past two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders, hauling in 42 catches for 651 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2019 before spending last season on injured reserve.
An under-the-radar player for the Lions is Quintez Cephus. Although he did not receive much playing time last year, Cephus was a talented rookie coming out of Wisconsin who fell in the draft due to an off-field issue. He amassed 93 receptions for 1,496 yards and 13 touchdowns in his time at Wisconsin. He is not a burner but is a physical and aggressive receiver who runs solid routes and could develop chemistry early with Goff.
Signed in 2020, Geronimo Allison will debut with the Lions after opting out of last season.
It will not shock me at all if T.J. Hockenson sees a Travis Kelce or George Kittle-type target share this season. With over 334 targets (59.5%) now up for grabs, Hockenson is primed to join the elite ranks. Despite having both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Goff threw to his TEs often thanks in part to the Rams’ devotion to 12 personnel.
In 2019, Goff targeted TEs 156 times (fourth-most) and 126 in 2020 (12th-most). Given the reduction in talent on the perimeter, Hockenson could easily see over 120 targets since the Lions will be playing much of the season from behind.
Taylor Decker started all 16 games for the Lions last year and serves as one of Detroit’s cornerstones on their depth chart. Signed to a four-year deal before the 2020 campaign, Decker allowed only 26 pressures on 1,066 offensive snaps.
Tyrell Crosby was an 11-game starter for the Lions last season at right tackle and will remain so if they do not address the position early in the draft. Crosby has played over 1,000 snaps over his three years in the NFL and allowed 5 sacks and 14 pressures last season.
Matt Nelson received an exclusive rights tender from the Lions in free agency to keep him on the team for 2021. Nelson switched from defense to offense and started one game at right tackle in 2020.
A third-round pick in 2020, Jonah Jackson stepped in from Day 1 as the starting right guard before moving to the left side due to injuries up front. Jackson started all 16 games and played 962 offensive snaps, allowing the sixth-fewest pressures in the NFL (34).
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has struggled since signing with the Lions. He moved from tackle to right guard and made 10 starts last year. He accounts for a $10.4 million cap hit in 2021.
Active for just two games last year, Logan Stenberg did record an offensive snap as a rookie. His only playing time came on 5 snaps on special teams.
Named second-team All-Pro in 2020, Frank Ragnow conceded 0 sacks and just 1 quarterback hit on 609 pass-block reps.
Lions Analysis | Defense
Interior Defensive Line
Defensive tackle Nick Williams agreed to a pay cut to stay with the Lions for 2021. He registered 23 tackles and 1 sack for the team last season while making 13 starts.
Well, this is awkward. Not long after the Rams traded for Matthew Stafford, Michael Brockers said the Rams “leveled up” at quarterback. He was then traded to the Lions during free agency and reunited with his former QB. Brockers declined to cut his pay, which prompted Los Angeles to trade him to free up salary cap space. He started all 15 games he appeared in during 2020 and amassed 51 tackles, 5 sacks, and 10 QB hits.
Entering his fourth season, all with Detroit, Da’Shawn Hand started just one game in 2020. He finished the year with 19 tackles in 10 appearances.
The Lions managed to bring back one of their depth chart’s most productive players last season in Romeo Okwara. Signed to a three-year, $39 million deal, Okwara cashed in after a career year in 2020. He generated 61 total pressures, fifth-most among edge rushers, to go along with a career-best 10 sacks.
Trey Flowers is entering the third year on his massive contract, but it may be his last. The Lions have a potential out after this season that would reduce his cap hit over the next two seasons from $46.85 million down to $18.46 in dead cap. Flowers fractured his forearm in Week 8 and missed the final nine games of the 2020 season. In 2019, Flowers totaled 7 sacks and 51 tackles in his 15 starts but saw a drop to just 2 sacks and 22 tackles during his injury-shortened campaign. Dan Campbell and the Lions will need to decide if Flowers will be a part of this rebuild or another cap casualty.
A 2017 first-round pick for the Miami Dolphins, Charles Harris joined the Lions on a one-year deal during free agency. The Falcons traded for him in 2020 but chose not to exercise his fifth-year option.
It’s now a family affair in Detroit after Julian Okwara joined his brother Romeo on the Lions’ depth chart. Entering his second year in the NFL, Julian played in six games while totaling 3 tackles last season.
Coming into his ninth season in the NFL, Jamie Collins led Detroit’s defense in tackles with 101 last season. The Lions lowered his cap hit by $4 million this year as they restructured his contract in the offseason. Collins is a versatile linebacker who can cover well over the middle and rush the passer.
Jahlani Tavai is in limbo as the Lions seem unsure how he can work into their new defensive scheme. A second-round pick in 2019, Tavai has not made the impact fans hoped for, accumulating 58 tackles in 31 games with 2 sacks.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin re-signed with the Lions for a fifth season. In 55 career games (three starts), he produced 59 total defensive tackles and 31 total special teams tackles.
Anthony Pittman was added to the practice squad last season and signed a reserve/future contract in the offseason.
Acquired from the Washington Football Team’s waivers, Shaun Dion Hamilton appeared in 46 games (seven starts) and racked up 89 tackles (63 solo), 2.5 sacks, 2 passes defensed, 2 forced fumbles, 1 interception, and 1 fumble recovery.
Due to injuries that hampered his development, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft struggled as a rookie. Appearing in nine games with six starts, Jeffery Okudah registered 1 interception, 2 passes defensed, and 47 tackles. Despite giving too much cushion at times, Okudah should be a playmaker for the Lions as a physical corner who can play downhill in run support with the best in the league.
After the flurry in free agency, the Lions were not done tinkering with their depth chart. On April 3, the Lions signed CB Quinton Dunbar to a one-year deal as they hope to shore up their secondary, which struggled mightily last season. Dunbar appeared in six games for the Seattle Seahawks last year as knee problems required season-ending surgery. He finished 2020 with 1 interception and 5 passes defensed.
A fifth-round pick out of Penn State in 2019, Amani Oruwariye started 15 games last season. Oruwariye racked up 53 total tackles, 7 passes defensed, and 1 interception.
Addressing the safety position will be a hot topic for Detroit as they attempt to stabilize their depth chart.
Will Harris played in 15 games last year but only recorded 35 tackles and 1 pass deflection. After playing on 67% of the defensive snaps in the first two games, his playing time saw a drastic downturn midseason.
Tracy Walker saw a dip in production in 2020 following a switch from free to strong safety. During the 2019 season, he logged 843 snaps, 1 interception, 7 pass breakups, and 103 tackles. In 15 games last year, Walker posted 87 tackles, 4 pass breakups, and no interceptions.
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