Dec 24, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) walks to the field prior to the game against the San Diego Chargers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE

Franchise Development 11 of 32: The Detroit Lions


The 2011 Detroit Lions broke into the playoffs, right on schedule with the 3-year plan. The first season you endure, the second one you mature, and the third one you arrive. The team rode a few star players to a 10-6 record and a Wild Card berth in the playoffs.

Sorry I couldn’t think of another good rhyme.

The Lions are taking a talented but unbalanced team into 2012. I’ll explain, but here’s their 2012 draft at a glance:

1 23 Riley Reiff T Iowa
2 54 Ryan Broyles WR Oklahoma
3 85 Dwight Bentley CB Louisiana-Lafayette
4 125 Ronnell Lewis DE Oklahoma
5 138 Tahir Whitehead LB Temple
5 148 Chris Greenwood CB Albion
6 196 Jonte Green CB New Mexico State
7 223 Travis Lewis LB Oklahoma

The 2011 Detroit Lions were one of the most unbalanced offenses in the league and 2012 would seem to be no different. QB Matt Stafford proved he could stay erect for an entire season and responded with what would have been hailed as one of the great seasons any QB ever had statistically. He passed for 5,038 yards, 41 TDs versus 15 INTs. Having the best wide receiver in the NFL, Calvin Johnson, doesn’t hurt. Megatron had 96 catches with 1681 yards and 16 TDs. Folks, if you do the math, that’s 6 catches, 105 yards and a TD EVERY SINGLE GAME on average.

TE Brandon Pettigrew, another team top draft pick, is coming into his own with an 83-777-5 showing in those categories last season. While that’s under 10 yards a catch, it means he’s doing what he’s asked to and seems to be a steady if not flashy target there.

With their running back situation in a mess due to injury and legal troubles, the Lions are looking to Jahvid Best to split duty between runner and receiver out of the backfield. The problem is his history of injuries with concussions. He and everyone around him have proclaimed him healthy and that’s certainly a good thing, but you can’t be sure of anything until he’s taking an NFL-style beating in real games. Second year man Mikel Leshoure is going to be starting the season on a 2 game suspension due to the personal conduct policy – weed arrests.

Um…does’t marijuana make you slow and lethargic? Bucs RB LeGarrette Blount is that way naturally, but I know of no RB that needs to become slower and even more lethargic.

When I mean unbalanced, I’m not speaking of hulking defensive tackle Ngamukong Suh specifically. In fact, I’m actually including him as part of the help – if he himself can keep a lid on his temper this season. He’s the anchor of arguably the deepest front four in the NFL. The Giants are every bit as good on the outside but lack Detroit’s inside strength.

2012 top pick Nick Fairley hasn’t even been a force yet unless you include off-field issues. You really can’t get away from them when you talk about this team. After a much-talked about junior season at Auburn, he followed teammate Cam Newton into the NFL’s first round last year. A nagging foot injury held him back last season and yet another marijuana arrest got his name in the news this offseason.

Suh is the most talented DT in the league, bar none. Nobody has all the package of natural talent, moves, and cerebral nature that he brings to the table and it’s a shame a few nasty but very public incidents has clouded that fact. He’s strong as an ox, nimble as a great left tackle, and as thoughtful as any good MLB. Veteran Corey Williams will start beside him once again at right defensive tackle.

Ouch.

DE Cliff Avril, another very good and very young talent at 26 years old is planning to sit out of camp over his franchise tender that he hasn’t yet signed. That’s a fluid situation but should be settled by opening day. 12-year veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch will start on the right end of the line. That’s a great mix of young talent and veteran players. They generally go 6 deep in the DL rotation with no real drop-off.

Behind them in their 4-3 base sets will be MLB Stephen Tulloch as their signal caller. Unfortunately, there’s not much help beside him. DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant combined with Tulloch for a whopping five sacks as a trio for all of 2011 along with fewer than 300 tackles.

That’s not a very good performance to say the least.

As below-average as the linebacking corps is, the secondary is worse. The only bright spot is safety Louis Delmas and his steady play. He’s in that oft-overused “hard-hitting” safety group and isn’t known as a playmaking ball-hawk. What that translates to is he gets there after the pass is completed and makes the tackle before the other player has much of a chance to bust a move. In other words, he doesn’t give up many big plays. Well hoo-ray. He’s a SAFETY and that’s his JOB! I suppose on this defense “doing your job” is lauded. Oh – the Lions will no longer have the services of CB Aaron Berry either. He had a DUI and 3 counts of assault filed against him in 6 weeks. CB Chris Houston had five picks and 14 passes defended, which are decent statistics for a corner, but he’s no shut-down guy.

I’ve actually been watching the Lions assemble this team since they took Matt Stafford in the 2009 draft. Up until this year, they’ve been drafting the “best player available” with most of what they’ve done. Delmas was a second-rounder I believe. Megatron was already there but was a 2nd pick overall. Same with Suh. They even took Nick Fairley with a deep DL before last season, and in 2010 took TE Brandon Pettigew in the first round despite apparent huge needs elsewhere.

It appears they’re taking a similar approach in the 2012 draft. T Reilly Reiff was undoubtedly the top player on many teams’ boards when he fell along with all the other offensive linemen down the board. Detroit’s tackles are not great but not that weak either…yet they nabbed Reiff. Expect him to start and play right tackle in the NFL with some left tackle ability and give them some insurance on the bench no matter who actually gets the starting nod.

Second round pick Ryan Broyles from Oklahoma could well work his way into the starting slot WR role at 5’10″ 188 lbs and owns nearly every school receiving record as it is. The 2011 incantation of Detroit’s squad was heavy on the passing game with little running game or defense beyond their front four. It was thought they’d really address that defense hard, but you either take the guy at the top of your board when your pick comes up or you don’t.

It looks like Detroit has been taking the BPA again in 2012. It’s a fascinating but maddening strategy in that it can yield you help in places you don’t really need it or makes you skip over places where you do. With the best WR in the game and veteran speedster Nate Burleson on the other side, WR was not a position of great need. Broyles could really make this offense a monster if he translates. We’ll see how the rookies do soon enough.

With their 2012 draft in mind and their playoff-bound team 2011 in mind, the Detroit Lions took…..

…two steps back. With the apparent improvement of DAAAA Bearssss in the offseason coupled with the preseason turmoil, the Lions will probably miss the playoffs this year and finish third in their division. They may battle the Bears down until week 16 or 17 but the character issues are catching up with them. They got deeper in some areas but not really that much better…especially on defense, where they need to improve the most.

Next up…the Green Bay Packers.

Tags: Calvin Johnson Detroit Lions Featured Jahvid Best Louis Delmas Matt Stafford Mikel Leshoure Nate Burleson Ndamukong Suh Nick Fairley Reilly Reiff