What a weird year for the Lions. They outgained opponents by nearly a thousand yards, but still went 4-12, losing their final 8, after entering the year with hopes of improving on a 2011 playoff appearance. A 3-8 record in games decided by 7 or less and a 30th ranked -16 turnover differential doomed them and they were once again one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. Fortunately for them, their issues aren’t as major as most of the teams who finished with double digit losses. They got blown out in just 2 games and if they can avoid turnovers and penalties, they can once again be competitive in 2013. They also have a top-5 pick to add more talent to the mix. Expect them to focus on defense.
The Lions really need help at cornerback. The only cornerback who graded out positively on ProFootballFocus at the position was Chris Houston, who is a free agent. They have Bill Bentley and Jonte Green, 2012 3rd and 5th round draft picks, but Bentley is coming off a major injury and they need a blue chip prospect at the position.
Thanks to injuries and general inconsistencies, the Lions had 6 different players make several starts at safety last year. Their only above average player at the position is Louis Delmas, a very injury prone player who is a free agent this offseason. They were decent against the pass this year, 16th in YPA, because of a strong pass rush, but they desperately need some blue chip talent in a secondary where they’ve been patchwork for a while.
The Lions once again had one of the best pass rushes in the league this season. However, that was because of stud defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh. Their defensive ends didn’t really play that well. Cliff Avril had a down year by his standards while playing under the franchise tag. He rejected a 3 year, 30 million dollar deal last offseason from the Lions and won’t get a bigger one than that from them this offseason, so he could easily be elsewhere next year.
Meanwhile, Kyle Vanden Bosch was ProFootballFocus’ worst rated 4-3 defensive end, struggling mightily both as a pass rusher and a run stuffer. Owed 5.5 million in 2013, his age 35 season, he probably won’t be back. Behind Avril and Vanden Bosch, once promising rotational ends Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young both struggled this year. They need to add a stud defensive end to compliment Fairley and Suh in the middle and may need 2 new starters. They won’t let Damontre Moore get past them at #5.
Both starting outside linebackers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are free agents. Durant should be brought back, but Levy has really struggled since moving from middle linebacker to outside linebacker following the 2010 season and with Stephen Tulloch in the middle, moving him back there is not a realistic option. They used some late round picks last year on outside linebackers, but I don’t know if any of them can start this year.
Gosder Cherilus, once written off as a bust as the 17th overall pick in 2008, Cherilus had the best season of his career this season, just in time to be a free agent. The Lions will have to avoid overpaying him based on what he did just this season, but he should be brought back. If he’s not, Riley Reiff can step in at right tackle right away, but his long term future is at left tackle, where Jeff Backus will be a 36 year old in a contract year next season, assuming he’s even brought back. They’ll need a long term bookend for Reiff if Cherilus isn’t brought back.
Obviously Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh are long term starters, but the Lions really like to rotate defensive lineman to keep them fresh and since it’s worked so well for Suh and Fairley so far, they’ll probably want to continue that. However, top reserves Sammie Lee Hill and Corey Williams are both free agents this offseason.
The Lions have Calvin Johnson and have used 2nd round picks on Titus Young and Ryan Broyles in the last two years, but they still have an immediate need at wide receiver. Broyles will probably start next season on the PUP after tearing his ACL late this season and Titus Young has been suspended indefinitely for conduct detrimental to the team, including purposely lining in the wrong position during a game in an attempt to sabotage the team. Behind them, Kris Durham and Mike Thomas really struggled down the stretch. They don’t need to draft another receiver, but they could use another veteran in the mix. They may opt to restructure the deal of veteran Nate Burleson, a 32 year old receiver who is owed 4.5 million next season.
Jason Hanson still is a good kicker at age 42 (43 in July), but he’s a free agent and may just opt to hang them up. If he can’t be brought back, they’ll need to replace him.
The Lions ranked dead last in the NFL in net punting average. Nick Harris, a free agent, needs to be replaced.
I don’t know what happened to Stefan Logan. Once one of the best return men in the league, Logan fumbled a ridiculous 6 times on special teams this year and he wasn’t even good when he didn’t fumble as the Lions ranked 31st in the league in kickoff return average with him as their primary return man. He was benched for week 17 after he randomly called a fair catch at the 4 yard line against Atlanta week 16 and I don’t expect him back in that role next season. They need to find someone to replace him.
You can basically copy and paste what I said above. With Logan as their primary punt returner, the Lions ranked 22nd in the league in punt return average.