Detroit Lions: Breaking down the running backs and wide receivers
As Detroit Lions training camp opens, we take a look at the offense. Specifically, running backs and receivers. Will they actually be better in 2018?
Happy training camp day! Another installment of Kick in the Crotch Weekly. August 10th is the first preseason game against the Oakland Raiders. Are the Detroit Lions better in their RB and WR units in 2018? Who is going to make the 53-man roster? There is a lot to discuss, so let’s get to it!
This series focuses on evaluating position units: OL, offensive line, DL, defensive line, LB, linebackers, RB, both running backs and quarterbacks, WR, both wide receivers and tight ends, and DB’s, defensive backs. This is the fourth installment but will cover two units instead of just one like the previous three installments.
2017 Detroit Lions review
DISCLAIMER: Again, for this evaluation piece I am going to use the Pro Football Focus grades as a measure of overall performance. I do not, however, view these grades a the only measure to judge a player’s success from the previous year, but simply a starting point to a conversation.
The 2017 roster can be seen here. I’ve included grades for the new additions for reference, too (in italics).
Grades of RB unit (quarterbacks and running backs)
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Matthew Stafford: 83.3 (above average)
Matt Cassell: 50.8 (poor)
Jake Rudock: 49.8 (poor)
LeGarrette Blount: 69.9 (below average)
Kerryon Johnson: NR (rookie)
Ameer Abdullah: 42.0 (poor)
Theo Riddick: 77.7 (average)
Zach Zenner: 67.2 (below average)
Dwayne Washington: 47.9 (poor)
Nick Bawden: NA (rookie)
Nick Bellore: NA (last year at ILB)
Grades for WR unit (receivers and tight ends)
Golden Tate: 86.4 (high quality)
Marvin Jones, Jr.: 82.2 (above average)
Kenny Golladay: 69.0 (below average)
T.J. Jones: 77.5 (average)
Eric Ebron: 75.6 (average)
Luke Willson: 48.1 (poor)
Darren Fells: 73.0 (average)
Levine Toilolo: 63.8 (below average)
Michael Roberts: 69.1 (below average)
The Detroit Lions stats page shows that the leading rusher in 2017 was Ameer Abdulah, with 552 yards and 4 touchdowns. The leading receivers, Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, Jr. both eclipsed 1,000 yards (1,003 and 1,101, respectively).
At tight end, Ebron was third on the team with 574 yards and four scores. Stafford was tops on the team with 4,446 yards and 29 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Ebron’s very good second half of the season was encouraging, but he never lived up to his top ten pick status; he was ultimately waived in a cap cut measure due to his $8.25 million dollar salary.
As successful as the offense was overall (7th in the NFL in points), the rushing attack was last in yards (just over 76 yards per game). In the absence of a run game, the Detroit Lions threw the ball in many short-yardage situations, opting to spread teams out instead of using heavier sets. Ultimately, converting 39% (82 of 209) of their 3rd downs, which was 17th in the NFL.
The Lions could only average a league-worst 3.4 yards per attempt, and it didn’t seem to matter which person ran the ball. Tion Green, since waived, averaged 3.9 yards (45 attempts) to lead the team. That sums up why this was an area of the roster where Bob Quinn, general manager, wanted to upgrade.
Matthew Stafford kept the aerial attack going despite the lack of run game and a porous offensive line, which featured 11 combinations of starters. The line, running backs, and tight ends all contributed to the problems in the ground game, as well.