A lack of depth at the skill positions hampered the Detroit Lions in 2021, and adding pieces to the equation this offseason will be vital.
It was not surprising the Detroit Lions offense was less productive after swapping quarterbacks with the Los Angeles Rams last offseason. The trade of Matthew Stafford for Jared Goff was an automatic downgrade.
Add in injuries to the offensive line and eventually injuries that sidelined running back D’Andre Swift for four games and tight end T.J. Hockenson for the final five games, and it was even worse. Goff himself even missed three games himself, to an oblique strain, a bout with COVID-19 and a knee injury respectively.
The new offense installed by head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn sputtered early in the season, as the offensive line was hit by injuries. The first significant injury was to left tackle Taylor Decker.
Decker seriously injured a finger right ahead of Week 1, and he missed the first eight games of the season. Rookie Penei Sewell moved from right tackle to left tackle, then back to right tackle when Decker was ready to go.
The second significant injury occurred Week 4 in Chicago, when All-Pro center Frank Ragnow suffered a toe injury. Surgery put him on season-ending IR. Thankfully, reserve Evan Brown stepped up and played well in Ragnow’s absence.
The biggest test for the offensive line was in Week 5-8 when both Ragnow and Decker were out. It’s no coincidence the Lions lost all four games.
According to Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ website, Detroit’s starting five offensive lineman are under contract through the 2023 season. On the idea of being healthy and on the field together, with some depth behind them that now has some experience, they will project as one of the better units in football.
As mentioned, Swift missed four games. But Jamaal Williams was a capable complement, and when called upon Craig Reynolds proved to be quite a find. The ground game looks to be well-situated, and Campbell will surely favor running the ball whether he keeps calling plays next season or not.
Lions could use more pass catchers
The Lions knew going into the 2021 season they were deficient at wide receiver. Free agent departures Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones were replaced by Tyrell Williams and Breshaud Perriman–Williams was injured for the season in Week 1, and Perriman was cut before the season even started.
Rookie wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown proved to be a steal in the fourth round of the 2021 draft. He had a record-setting run over the final six weeks of the season, over which he had 51 catches, and he jumped into Pro Footbal Focus’ top-25 wide receivers for the season. He finished the season with 90 receptions for 912 yards and five touchdowns.
Hockenson did his work in the first 12 games of the season, with 61 catches for 583 yards and four touchdowns. In his absence, the Lions wound up scraping by for tight end depth.
Besides St. Brown, Swift and Hockenson, one other Lions’ pass catcher had more than 30 catches in 2021 (Kalif Raymond-48), and Raymond joined St. Brown and Hockenson as the only three above 500 yards (576).
Via free agency or somewhere in the draft (or even post-draft, based on the haul of undrafted free agens who contributed this season), the Lions need to add some depth to their skill position talent this offseason. Particularly at wide receiver and tight end, it will be critical to get done.