Scouting the NFC North: Can the Detroit Lions take the division in 2020?

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Justin Coleman, Detroit Lions

Justin Coleman, Detroit Lions (Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images)

An early look at the NFC North, where the strongest division in football will be up for grabs in 2020. Can the Detroit Lions take it?

Detroit Lions fans, while many of us are working from home is a great time to look deeper at how our main competition, the other NFC North teams, have fared over the offseason to gauge where we are at. This week we’ll look at the big picture of each rival and compare them to the progress in the Motor City.  The big question that we can start to answer is, “Can the Detroit Lions win their division in 2020?”

First, we should recap where the Detroit Lions are at. Prior to a draft that saw them address areas of need at cornerback, running back, defensive end, offensive line, wide receiver, and defensive line, the Detroit Lions also added pieces at linebacker, defensive line, safety, offensive tackle, cornerback, as well as re-sign some of their own free agents.

The big veteran names added are Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, Desmond Trufant, Duron Harman, and Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Of course, there was a corresponding exodus of players which included Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Graham Glasgow, Rick Wagner, Darius Slay, and Devon Kennard; some were moved to make way for the cap hit of the newer addition, like Kennard being cut to sign Collins and Wagner being cut to sign Vaitai.

Overall, the biggest issues were best addressed by early draft picks where Jeff Okudah, D’Andre Swift, and Julian Okwara, were tabbed to fix huge deficiencies in the pass coverage, running game, and pass rush, respectively. The 2019 season unraveled quickly once injury problems had sidelined multiple starters, especially along the defensive front. Harrison, Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, and Mike Daniels were all supposed to make the defense very stout up-front but the unit never got going except for end Trey Flowers.

The offense took its main hit when quarterback Matthew Stafford went down with a fraction to his back and missed his first string of games since 2010, missing eight in all. Kerryon Johnson also missed significant time as the Detroit Lions depth was exposed in their backfield. Swift was selected in the second round of the draft, midseason pickup runner, Bo Scarbrough, brought some good power to the offense, and Chase Daniel was added as insurance at quarterback to provide some veteran savvy behind Stafford.

You can view the depth chart by the Ourlads website here, as it shows that the current roster doesn’t have big holes to fill. Depth at places like defensive tackle and linebacker are the big question marks remaining because the Lions rotate nose tackles, ends, and other edge rushers quite frequently. There are issues going into next year, should the regime headed by general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia be retained by owner Martha Firestone-Ford.

However, the window to win now is open if the team can enjoy a more injury-free year. The Detroit Lions must leverage their strengths on offense and cover their dearth of talent on defense, especially up the middle of the defense, and become a force that is better than the sum of its parts. If it can do that, the Detroit Lions roster and brain trust have a chance at a turn-around.

Without further ado, let’s look at the rest of the division.

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