As the 2016 season inches closer to kicking off, it’s time to project who starts for the Detroit Lions on offense as they open the campaign on September 11 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.
Detroit Lions Projected Offensive Starters for 2016
Quarterback: Matthew Stafford
Were you expecting anyone else? Stafford heads into 2016 looking to establish his legacy in the league. 2016 will be a pivotal year for Stafford and his future as the Lions quarterback.
Running back: Ameer Abdullah
Abdullah’s playing style is straight out of a video game. He’s a turbo charged back who bounces off defenders like a pinball. Abdullah struggled to produce in 2015 but will look to break out in his sophomore campaign, aided by Joique Bell‘s departure from the Lions roster. Proponents of Abdullah are using the “volume” argument, expecting gaudy statistics from the former Nebraska Cornhusker.
Look for the Lions to use Stevan Ridley for the power element of their backfield, while Theo Riddick will be utilized in the passing game. This was the case last year when he was the second-most targeted running back in the league. But Abdullah provides superior burst and lateral agility and the Lions hope that he will be fully healed from a torn labrum suffered in December.
Wide Receivers: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones
While it’s unreasonable to expect mere mortals to step into Calvin Johnson‘s shoes, the Lions face the unenviable task of replacing the retired legend. General manager Bob Quinn hopes that the $40 million he gave to Marvin Jones will help fill at least some of the void.
The former Cincinnati Bengal caught 65 passes for 816 yards and four touchdowns in 2015 as a 1A option behind A.J. Green. Jones will now enter into a similar relationship in Detroit with Tate. Look for Jones’ targets to increase this season as Tate doesn’t demand the same volume of passes as Green did in Cincinnati. It will be important for Lions fans to temper expectations. If you don’t expect Jones to put up Megatron numbers, you won’t be disappointed.
Tate has shown a penchant for stepping in and producing when Calvin Johnson was out or playing hurt. While Tate is not a traditional top receiving threat, he works best as a short-area target for Matthew Stafford. Together Jones and Tate will be, at the least, a serviceable duo to lessen the blow of Megatron’s retirement.
Tight Ends: Eric Ebron, Brandon Pettigrew
The Lions are looking for Ebron to play a formidable role on the offense after two inconsistent seasons. After a rookie campaign in which he caught 25 passes for 248 yards, Ebron nearly doubled his production in 2015 with 537 yards on 47 receptions. Ebron will need to develop into a mature leader on the field as he becomes arguably the most important factor in the Lions offense in the post-Calvin Johnson era.
The veteran Pettigrew is coming off an injury last season which saw him tear the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee for the second time. Since the Lions drafted Ebron in 2014, Pettigrew has been used primarily as a blocking tight end. However, look for Pettigrew to become more involved in the passing attack as Bob Quinn has made upgrades to the offensive line. If Pettigrew can heal properly from his knee injury, look for the tight end duo to become crucial weapons for Matt Stafford.
Right Tackle: Riley Reiff
A versatile fourth-year player, Reiff has been a mainstay at left tackle for the Lions, starting 48 of the last 49 games as Stafford’s blindside protector. His move to right tackle can be attributed to his struggles with speed rushers as well as the Lions drafting of former Ohio State Buckeye Taylor Decker. The move also has a financial motive, as Reiff is going into the last year of his rookie contract and could prove too costly to retain if the Lions are forced to pay him left tackle money.
Right Guard: Larry Warford
Warford had concussion issues in 2015 on top of a high ankle sprain that cut his season short. The 2013 third-round pick out of Kentucky will look to stay healthy this season and act as a key cog in the Lions offensive line.
Center: Travis Swanson
Despite a push from Graham Glasgow, the Michigan Wolverine who was taken with the 95th pick in the 2015 Draft, the starting center spot will be Swanson’s to lose to start the season. A third-round pick in 2014 out of Arkansas, he started five games as a fill-in guard and center in his rookie season and then followed that up with an inconsistent sophomore campaign taking over for the retired Dominic Raiola. He was a key part of assignment issues that plagued the Lions early last season and will have to prove he can be consistent if he is to keep the starting center position.
Left Guard: Laken Tomlinson
The second-year pro out of Duke started 14 games last season as a rookie and proved to be a big, athletic addition to the Lions young offensive line. Much of the Lions offensive development will depend on Tomlinson improving on a surprisingly solid first NFL season.
Left Tackle: Taylor Decker
The Lions have been grooming their 19th pick from April’s draft to start at left tackle this fall. Decker was drafted by the Lions with hopes that he could protect Matt Stafford’s blindside and bolster an offensive line that allowed 44 sacks last season, good for tenth most in the league, and was also last in the league in rushing.