The Detroit Lions are in an interesting position in 2021, ushering in a new era with new head coach Dan Campbell and quarterback Jared Goff. Detroit set itself up for the future when the franchise acquired Goff, also receiving two first-round picks to take on Goff’s contract while dealing away Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams.
Detroit has built one of the top young offensive lines in the NFL, with first-round pick Penei Sewell the next franchise tackle — even if he isn’t starting his career protecting Goff’s blind side. The Lions also have one of the best tight ends in the game in T.J. Hockenson and an intriguing running back duo in D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams — part of a core on offense the team will look to rebuild under new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.
The defense added Michael Brockers, a veteran looking to improve the league’s worst unit (in points and yards) last year. Detroit also allowed the most passing and rushing touchdowns in 2020, a tough task for new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn — who is going to take risks with the secondary (similar to his style in New Orleans).
Whether the Lions are good or not in 2021, Campbell is changing the culture by having a hungry team that’s going to fight for 60 minutes. An old-school type of football style will re-emerge in Detroit, as the Lions have a few years to rebuild the franchise back into a winner.
As the dog days of summer get underway, let’s take a look at the Lions depth chart and where all the new additions stack up as Campbell heads into his rookie campaign.
Note: Asterisks denote rookies.
Give the Lions credit for ensuring Goff is the No. 1 quarterback for this season. Detroit could have drafted a quarterback at No. 7 overall to compete with Goff for the starting job, but the offense benefits by having a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback leading a rebuild. If Goff pans out in 2021, the Lions don’t need to hunt for a quarterback in 2022 and can build around him with their future draft capital.
Look for a strong running game in Detroit as Lynn designated Williams the “A” back and Swift the “B” back. The “A” back is typically the bigger back that can run between the tackles for all-three downs. This is a true competition that could get even more intriguing if Todd Gurley joins the roster. The Lions will have hungry veterans in Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman looking to rebuild their careers, while St. Brown — a fourth-round pick — will compete for playing time.
Detroit has one of the top young offensive lines in the league as the unit’s average age is 24 years old. Four starters are 25 or under and Dekker is the oldest of the starting unit at 27. The Lions also have depth at guard and tackle with Vaitai, who is in the second year of a five-year contract worth up to $50 million. Expect Vaitai to compete for a starting job.
The Lions are going to a 3-4 full-time in 2021, so Okwara and Flowers are set for snaps at outside linebacker as well. Brockers and Onwuzurike are pinned to line up on the inside in certain packages.
Detroit has some work to do in improving this unit, which is going to take more than a one-year fix. Re-signing Okwara was big for the Lions pass rush, as he netted 61 pressures and 10 sacks in a breakout year in 2020. The Lions also added Brockers to the mix, along with his 28 pressures and five sacks from last season. The Lions allowed the fifth-most rushing yards in the league last year, so they added depth at defensive tackle in Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike — as both will compete for starting snaps with Penisini when the Lions rotate on the line.
Collins leads a linebacker group that added Anzalone this offseason, who should compete for playing time as he started nine games for the New Orleans Saints at MIKE last year. Tavai wa sone of the worst coverage linebackers in football last year, so the MIKE job isn’t settled yet. Barnes played the MIKE at Purdue in his senior season, but can also line up in a base defense as an extra edge rusher or play the “JOKER” position.
Okudah was injured throughout his rookie season, but he’ll get a chance to bounce back with Glenn — a former cornerback — as his new coach. Detroit gave up a league-worst 112.4 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks in 2020, mainly because the Lions didn’t have much of a pass rush to back up the secondary. Improvement up front will drastically alter this secondary for the better.