The 2019 NFL season seems like it will be one of the most competitive in a long time. While some teams, like the Patriots and Saints, are still heavy favorites to win their respective divisions, the race for the playoffs looks to be a tough one overall. There are a few teams in particular who have quietly improved over this past offseason. Although these teams did not make the playoffs this past season and will still likely struggle to make the playoffs this season, they’ve placed themselves in a much better position to have a chance. The Detroit Lions are one of the under-the-radar risers for the 2019 season.
Under-the-Radar Risers 2019: Detroit Lions
2018 Record: 6-10
The NFC North will arguably be the most competitive division this season. The Lions finished 2018 last in the division, but this offseason and training camp should leave their fans more hopeful for 2019.
While they lost Golden Tate, other receivers such as Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones have developed into great options on the outside. In the slot, Danny Amendola has apparently been solid at camp. Moreover, the Lions brought in Jesse James and drafted T.J. Hockenson, which should allow them to effectively run two tight end sets similar to the Eagles and early decade Patriots.
Last season, Kerryon Johnson was on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards had he played all 16 games. Splitting reps with former Rams running back C.J. Anderson should make for a productive backfield. Last season, the Lions’ offensive line was ranked 16th in the league. This season, the offensive line has gotten juggled around a bit with Frank Ragnow at center and Graham Glasgow at right guard, which should improve the unit overall. Some analysts have gone as far as predicting Ragnow to be the best center in NFL history. While that’s quite the lofty prediction, it isn’t far-fetched to think that the previously average Lions’ offensive line could be a top 10 unit this coming season.
Even with all of this improvement on offense, the defense might be the more significantly improved unit. On the defensive line, the Lions brought in Trey Flowers and Mike Daniels. Flowers alone would have improved both the pass rush and run defense immensely, but the addition of Mike Daniels may bring this group over the top.
The secondary is looking solid as well. Darius Slay is already a Pro-Bowl corner, but the Lions had been looking for a corner to play across from him. It seems like fifth-round pick Amani Oruwariye is climbing the depth chart to answer that call. Oruwariye was projected as a second-round pick and considered a steal by most analysts.
Finally, the Lions seem to be creating a defense very similar to the Patriots unit that Patricia played such a large role in creating. It seems safeties Andrew Adams, Quandre Diggs, and Tracy Walker may be viable to create a heavy nickel package. If there is any downside to this situation, it’s slot corner Justin Coleman who has underperformed at camp. But in the worst case, the Lions might be able to start Oruwariye in the slot as he adjusts to playing in the NFL.
Whether or not the Lions are ready to make a run this season remains to be seen. But the Lions are a young team with a lot of potential. Even if they are unable to make the playoffs this season, they seem to have laid the foundation this past offseason for several seasons to come.
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