2021 NFL Team Previews: Detroit Lions

2021 NFL Team Previews: Detroit Lions

This article is part of our Team Previews series.

Detroit Lions

Few organizations in recent memory have hit the reset button quite like Detroit did this offseason. With a new general manager, head coach and quarterback, things could get worse before they get better. The fact the Lions are among the teams with league-worst Super Bowl odds seem to reflect that.

Offseason Moves

Key Acquisitions

Best replacement Detroit could find in exchange for Matthew Stafford.

Value signing missed the entire 2020 campaign with a torn labrum.

The 2015 first-round pick hasn't played a full season since 2016.

Proverbial jack-of-all-trades will help D'Andre Swift carry the load.

Key Losses

Franchise leader in most passing stats moved after 12 seasons.

New front office let another team give big money to the 27-year-old.

The nine-year veteran is getting a fresh start elsewhere.

The 2018 second-rounder never lived up to his draft pedigree.

A Look Under the Hood

Head Coach: Dan Campbell (Year 1)

Offensive Coordinator: Anthony Lynn (Year 1) - Erhardt-Perkins scheme

Defensive Coordinator: Aaron Glenn (Year 1) - 3-4 scheme

2021 Vegas Projected Wins: 5 (T-31st)


2020 Record: 5-11

2020 Points Scored: 377 (20th)

2020 Points Allowed: 519 (32nd)

2020 Point Differential: -142 (30th)

2020 Run-Play Rate: 37.0 percent (29th)

2020 Offensive Snaps: 991 (27th)

2020 PFF O-Line Ranking: No. 13

Full 2020 Team Stats


Projected 2021 Depth Chart

QB: Jared Goff / Tim Boyle

RB: D'Andre Swift / Jamaal Williams / Jermar Jefferson / Dedrick Mills

WR1: Tyrell Williams / Geronimo Allison

WR2: Breshad Perriman / Amon-Ra St. Brown

WR3: Quintez Cephus / Victor Bolden / Kalif Raymond

TE: T.J. Hockenson / Darren Fells / Alize Mack

O-Line: LT Taylor Decker / LG Jonah Jackson / C Frank Ragnow / RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai / RT Penei Sewell  (RotoWire Rank: No. 11)

Kicker: Randy Bullock / Matthew Wright

Full 2021 Depth Chart

Top Storylines

A Complete Organizational Overhaul

Possibly realizing that hiring as many ex-New England staffers as possible won't actually transform you into the Patriots of the NFC, Detroit ownership cleaned house this offseason by hiring an entirely new front office and coaching staff to turn things around. This would have happened whether or not Matthew Stafford, the Lions' franchise leader in virtually all passing statistics, desired a new situation. However, because he seemingly wanted no part of a rebuild after making just three playoff appearances in 12 years, the team needed to find a new signal-caller this spring, too.

While there aren't many more challenging situations for a new regime to figure out, GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell seemed to get a more than decent haul in return for Stafford, who they dealt to the Rams for Jared Goff, two future first-round picks and a third-round selection in the 2021 Draft. Detroit decided against spending any of its seven draft picks on a developmental quarterback this spring, which suggests Goff will have a chance to be more than a bridge QB, especially because of the way the Lions restructured his contract. By nearly doubling his dead cap hit to $30.5 million in 2022, it essentially guarantees he'll don Honolulu blue and silver for at least the next two seasons.

True Hope Is Swift

Though tied to Jared Goff for the foreseeable future, the Lions might be wise enough to bet against him finding more success in Detroit than he did in a prime situation in L.A. under Sean McVay. Assuming so, look for the Lions to make second-year running back D'Andre Swift the centerpiece of the offense.

As a slight surprise to fall to the second round of last year's draft, Swift (5-9, 215) made good on lofty pre draft comparisons to Alvin Kamara (5-10, 215) during his rookie year as a stout runner who popped for 4.6 yards per carry and impressed as a receiver out of the backfield. Although Swift has a long way to go to approach Kamara's value as a fantasy asset, Detroit's suddenly fearsome offensive line could help Swift close the gap this fall.

Like Kamara, who has benefited from a top-tier offensive line most of his professional career, Swift seems poised to run behind a unit that could compete with New Orleans for best in the league. With two steady guards complementing the league's highest paid center (Frank Ragnow) and 2021 seventh overall pick Penei Sewell joining Taylor Decker to give Detroit two first-round talents at tackle, its bases are covered. Unlike previous Lions backs before him, Swift seems set up to thrive even if newcomer Jamaal Williams steals playing time.

Hockenson Primed for a Breakout

As Matthew Stafford left, so did pretty much every wide receiver that caught a pass for Detroit in 2020. Out are Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola. In are Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams and fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown. Considering Geronimo Allison opted out last season, 2020 fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus is the main holdover among Lions wideouts.

It will be interesting to see who from this group might break out as Jared Goff's go-to target, but after the team did about as little as possible to address the position this spring – both Perriman and Williams signed one-year, "prove-it" deals – it wouldn't surprise anyone if tight end T.J. Hockenson becomes the clear focal point of the passing game.

It's not unfair to claim Hockenson already did that at times when Golladay was injured in 2020, and the 18.0-percent target share that he saw last year probably is the absolute floor for Hockenson this season. Plus, Goff didn't shy away from using his top tight ends with the Rams, targeting Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett on a combined 22 percent of his passes over the past two seasons, despite having the likes of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods at his disposal. With no one close to Kupp or Woods on the Lions' current roster, Hockenson could blow that number out of the water.


⬆️  Rising: TE T.J. Hockenson

After improving in nearly every category between Year 1 and Year 2, Hockenson now is entering his third season as the presumed No. 1 in the passing game. A top-5 fantasy finish at his position is within reach.

⬇️  Falling: RB Jamaal Williams

Williams should be a reliable but unspectacular sidekick to the up-and-coming D'Andre Swift, just like he was for Aaron Jones in Green Bay. However, going from Aaron Rodgers to Jared Goff under center is not a good thing.

😴  Sleeper: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

Dinged in the pre-draft process for his lack of elite measurables, St. Brown was believed to have a chance of going as high as the second round. The rookie seems to be the closest thing Detroit has to a slot receiver.

🌟  Pivotal Player: D'Andre Swift

Detroit appears to be positioning itself as a run-heavy team in the transition to life after Matthew Stafford. Under old-school offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, Swift should get all the touches he can handle behind an upgraded offensive line, allowing him to thrive as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield.

Medical Tent

QB Jared Goff

After breaking his right thumb Week 16 of last season, the right-handed Goff underwent surgery and missed the Rams' regular-season finale before toughing it out in the playoffs at less than 100 percent health. However, months of offseason recovery time seem to have done the trick, considering there haven't been any reports of Goff facing a setback. In fact, local reporters sung Goff's praises during OTAs and minicamp this spring, putting to rest any worry that Goff's throwing hand is compromised in any way entering the 2021 season.

WR Tyrell Williams

After missing just two games over the previous four years, Williams underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum that wiped out the entirety of his 2020 campaign in Oakland. However, Detroit felt confident enough in the veteran's recovery to give him a contract in March, and he then went on to participate in both OTAs and minicamp this spring and summer. While the 29-year-old may have an advanced risk of re-injury as he approaches his 30th birthday, Williams at least is at full health entering training camp.

CB Jeff Okudah

Last year's No. 3 overall pick spent his rookie season playing through a groin injury that Okudah allegedly suffered during his final season at Ohio State, in addition to a hamstring injury that cost him both the final days of training camp and the 2020 regular-season opener. After struggling to perform effectively much of 2020, he eventually was shut down in December and underwent groin surgery shortly thereafter. Fortunately, there were no setbacks in Okudah's recovery, and the 22-year-old was given a clean bill of health ahead of training camp.

Job Battle

There probably isn't a more unsettled wide receiver depth chart than the one in Detroit. After the Lions let each of Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola walk in free agency this offseason, practically every spot needs to be refilled. While Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman are the favorites to open the year as the No. 1 and 2 options on the outside, it's less clear who will open the year as the team's preferred option out of the slot.

Whereas holdover Quintez Cephus already has a year of NFL experience under his belt and drew favorable reviews during offseason workouts, it sounds like fifth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown also turned some heads this spring while showcasing impressive route-running skills. The winner of this battle may not be declared until the end of the preseason, though it should be noted that he'll have to compete for targets over the middle of the field with Detroit's top two weapons in the passing game: tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D'Andre Swift.

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Logan Larson
Logan is a data scientist who helps with Detroit Lions coverage and fantasy football projections at RotoWire.
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