3. Matthew Stafford – I know you’re asking yourself “How can a guy that passed for over 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns have more to prove?” Let me answer that question with another question. How can a guy who passed for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns not be considered a top 10 quarterback? This off-season Stafford has been constantly snubbed by peers, and by analysts. In NFL network’s Top 100 players of 2012 Stafford was ranked as the 41st best player of 2012. To put that into perspective Cam Newton, a rookie quarterback, who threw for less yards, less touchdowns (including Newton’s rushing touchdowns), and led his team to less wins, was ranked ahead of Stafford. Marshall Faulk also snubbed Stafford out of his top 10 quarterbacks because he wanted to see another complete season from Stafford, yet he ranked Newton, who is only a rookie, in his top 10. To add to the disrespect, in Jaw’s QB Countdown, Ron Jaworski ranked Stafford as the 14th best quarterback, because he wanted to see Stafford compete at a high level for another complete season.
It seems the analysts are not yet sold on Stafford being an elite quarterback, perhaps being able to throw to Calvin Johnson has something to do with it.
2. Mikel Leshoure – Leshoure is expected to be the every down, power back that the Lions’ run game has missed for some years now. There are high expectations for Leshoure this season because he was a high draft pick in 2011 (second round), he missed all of last season with an achilles tear, and he will miss the first two games of the season because of a suspension for possession of marijuana.
Leshoure needs to prove this season that he is willing to put the team in front of himself and that he can stay healthy, not to mention the Lions will more than likely expect Leshoure to assume a big role in the run game once he fully recovers from his Achilles injury. If Leshoure can live up to expectations, the Lions will have an easier time throwing the ball and controlling the clock late in games.
1. Nick Fairley – Fairley has the most to prove by far because he was a first round pick with gobs of potential, and he is the one of the keys to the defenses success. At one point Fairley was considered to be the number one pick of 2011, yet he slipped down the draft boards because his work ethic and motor were questionable. After one season Fairley has shown flashes of an elite defensive tackle, but he has yet to prove his work ethic (although he did show up to minicamp in great shape) and motor.
Fairley was drafted to play alongside Suh to help relieve the double teams Suh faces. If Fairley can reach his potential, the Lions’ pass rush will be unstoppable. Having one of the best pass rushes could lead to better play out of an unproven secondary.
The Lions possess a potent offense, but their defense is holding them back from being a top five team. Fairely’s development could ultimately give the Lions enough help to secure home field advantage in the playoffs, and give the Lions’ young secondary enough time to work out the kinks.
If Fairley can answer the questions about his work ethic and motor and mature, he just might reach his potential and help the Lions achieve their first Super Bowl.