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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / State Of The League: Detroit Lions

State Of The League: Detroit Lions

A first look at the 2021 Detroit Lions!
Publish Date: 07/14/2021
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster

The NFL Draft and free agency is in our rearview mirrors. There is very little day to day NFL news aside from random minor transactions across the league and conversations about where/when this star player will be traded. The NBA and NHL playoffs are in full swing. Baseball is gearing up for a long, hot summer. The dog days of Summer are upon us. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look down the line at what else the coming summer months hold for us: Training Camp and the NFL preseason. We will be going over all 32 teams’ offseason, division by division: their player personnel moves, coaching changes, and projected preseason depth charts. We went over Daaaa Bears and their moves, now we move on to the Detroit Lions.


Detroit Lions Pre-Training Camp Projected Depth Chart

Position Starter Backup
QB Jared Goff Tim Boyle
RB D’Andre Swift Jamaal Williams
FB Jason Cabinda
WR1 Tyrell Williams Breshad Perriman
WR2 Quintez Cephus Victor Bolden Jr.
WR3 Amon-Ra St. Brown Kalif Raymond
TE T.J. Hockenson Darren Fells
LT Taylor Decker Dan Skipper
LG Jonah Jackson Tommy Kraemer
C Frank Ragnow
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai Logan Stenberg
RT Penei Sewell Tyrell Crosby
DL Michael Brockers Da’shawn Hand
NT Alim McNeill John Penisini
DL Levi Onwuzurike Nick Williams
OLB Trey Flowers Austin Bryant
LB Jamie Collins Derrick Barnes
LB Alex Anzalone Jahlani Tavai
OLB Romeo Okwara Julian Okwara
CB1 Jeff Okudah Quinton Dunbar
CB2 Amani Oruwariye Ifeatu Melifonwu
CB3 Corn Elder Mike Ford
FS Tracy Walker C.J. Moore
SS Will Harris Dean Marlowe
K Randy Bullock
P Jack Fox
LS Don Muhlbach
KR Amon-Ra St. Brown
PR Amon-Ra St. Brown

*BOLD player name = Rookie*


Detroit Lions 2021 NFL Draft Class

Round 1 (7th overall): OT Penei Sewell, Oregon

Round 2 (41st): DL Levi Onwuzurike, Washington

Round 3 (72nd): DL Alim McNeill, North Carolina State

Round 3 (101st): CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse

Round 4 (112th): WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC

Round 4 (113th): LB Derrick Barnes, Purdue

Round 7 (257th): RB Jermar Jefferson, Oregon State

Detroit Lions Offseason Player Personnel Moves

Expired Contracts
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Info / Notes
Everson Griffen DE 34 DET
Danny Amendola WR 36 DET
Jesse James TE 27 DET Released
Adrian Peterson RB 36 DET
Tony McRae CB 28 DET
Russell Bodine C 29 DET Released
Joe Dahl G 28 DET Released
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Acquired via
Jared Goff QB 26 LAR DET Trade
Michael Brockers DT 30 LAR DET Trade
Jamaal Williams RB 26 GB DET Free Agency
Tyrell Williams WR 29 LV DET Free Agency
Breshad Perriman WR 28 NYJ DET Free Agency
Alex Anzalone LB 27 NO DET Free Agency
Corn Elder CB 27 CAR DET Free Agency
Quinton Dunbar CB 29 SEA DET Free Agency
Dean Marlowe SS 29 BUF DET Free Agency
Kalif Raymond WR 27 TEN DET Free Agency
Tim Boyle QB 27 GB DET Free Agency
Charles Harris OLB 26 ATL DET Free Agency
Randy Bullock K 32 CIN DET Free Agency
Alijah Holder S 25 DEN DET Free Agency
Alex Brown CB 25 KC DET Free Agency
Chad Hansen WR 26 HOU DET Free Agency
Darren Fells TE 35 HOU DET Free Agency
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Departed via
Matt Stafford QB 33 DET LAR Trade
Kenny Golladay WR 28 DET NYG Free Agency
Marvin Jones WR 31 DET JAX Free Agency
Desmond Trufant CB 30 DET CHI Released
Justin Coleman CB 28 DET MIA Released
Matt Prater K 37 DET ARZ Free Agency
Jarrad Davis LB 27 DET NYJ Free Agency
Miles Killebrew S 28 DET PIT Free Agency
Oday Aboushi T 30 DET LAC Free Agency
Jamal Agnew WR 26 DET JAX Free Agency
Christian Jones LB 30 DET CHI Released
Darryl Roberts CB 31 DET WSH Free Agency
Chase Daniel QB 35 DET LAC Released
Mohamed Sanu WR 32 DET SF Free Agency
Danny Shelton DT 28 DET NYG Released
Reggie Ragland ILB 28 DET NYG Free Agency
Josh Hill TE 31 DET Retired
Duron Harmon SS 30 DET ATL Free Agency
John Atkins DT 29 DET ATL Free Agency
Kerryon Johnson RB 24 DET PHI Released
Player Position Age 2020 Team 2021 Team Info / Notes
Romeo Okwara OLB 26 DET DET
Don Muhlbach LS 40 DET DET
Jalen Reeves-Maybin LB 26 DET DET
Michael Ford CB 26 DET DET
Jason Cabinda LB/FB 25 DET DET
Matt Nelson T 26 DET DET
Jack Fox P 25 DET DET


Detroit Lions Offseason Review

A new knee biting era is upon us in Detroit. The tear down and massive rebuild has begun – again. Gone are several key starters, including star quarterback Matt Stafford. After a disastrous run under former head coach Matt Patricia, Detroit went in the total opposite direction. Dan Campbell, coming over from New Orleans where he was tight ends coach/assistant head coach, won ownership and the front office over with his charisma, intensity, and one liners. His first interview as head coach was…different, to say the very least, and was filled with coach jargon and a rant about guys biting kneecaps. While the hiring of Campbell was an interesting one, the rest of the coaching staff filled out nicely, and new general manager Brad Holmes showed a keen eye for talent while with the Rams. It was a rough offseason for Lions fans, but the hope is that this is the first step towards long term respectability. 

Once the offseason began and a new long term rebuild was about to begin, Stafford requested a trade out of town after 12 seasons as the face of the franchise. His wish was granted, as Detroit shipped him to the Rams for QB Jared Goff and three draft picks – a 2021 3rd, 2022 1st, and 2023 1st round pick. While Stafford goes to greener pastures to try and compete for a Super Bowl, the Lions get the dubious task of seeing if Goff can be the long term answer for this team at quarterback. Stafford never won a playoff game in Detroit, while Goff has appeared in a Super Bowl, but Goff fell out of favor with the Rams and head coach Sean McVay, and regressed pretty noticeably the last two years. Detroit passed on taking Justin Fields, showing confidence in Goff, but if he isn’t better than he has been, then the team will be looking for his replacement early in the 2022 NFL Draft.

The Lions had to completely restock their skill positions due to all the talent lost this offseason. Adrian Peterson is a free agent and the team released Kerryon Johnson after three mediocre seasons, so they signed runningback Jamaal Williams as a free agent. Williams was a solid compliment to Aaron Jones in Green Bay, and will likely garner about 10 touches per week as the backup/short yardage specialist behind the rising D’Andre Swift. New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn (former Chargers head coach) is going to make sure this backfield gets plenty of work this season. The big remodeling came at receiver, where the team lost its top three options from 2020 – Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola – as well as several backup receivers. Golladay was fresh off his first Pro Bowl appearance coming into last season, but ended up playing in just five games due to injury. Once the team didn’t franchise tag him, it was clear he was on his way out. The team did try to make up for those losses early in free agency, signing veterans Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman to one year deals. Williams missed all of the 2020 season due to injury, while Perriman is a journeyman who is on his fifth team in six seasons and has been little more than a deep threat. Many analysts and fans figured the Lions would use an early draft pick on a receiver, but the team opted to address other needs and waited until the 4th round to select Amon-Ra St. Brown out of USC. St. Brown isn’t overly shifty or fast, and he struggled on the outside in college, but he is a good route runner and had a lot of success in the slot. St. Brown has been working closely with Goff this offseason, and with so many players gone at the position and little done to adequately replace them, there should be plenty of opportunity for him to soak up more targets than most 3rd day picks are used to in their rookie season.

Detroit was sitting pretty at 7th overall in the 2021 NFL Draft. There was still several blue chip prospects available, including guys like quarterback Justin Fields, wide receiver DeVonta Smith, and tackle Rashawn Slater, but one giant (literally) gift fell into Detroit’s lap when offensive tackle Penei Sewell was on the board. Sewell was the best offensive lineman in the country as a sophomore in 2019, but he opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid. It didn’t matter though – he would’ve been a top five pick if he were able to declare for the 2020 NFL Draft, and he still ended up in the top seven even after sitting out a year. Sewell’s combination of prototype size, length, and athleticism is rare at his position. His addition allows Halapoulivaati Vaitai to shift over to right guard, bolstering two different positions, and turning the offensive line into a strength. If healthy, the Lions’ offensive line has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL.

The defense got beefed up as well – pun intended. The Lions are changing to a 3-4 front base defense under new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn (formerly New Orleans’ defensive backs coach), and needed the personnel to implement the scheme change. The team needed to do something – this defense was the worst in the NFL: they finished last versus the run and 3rd down stops, set the franchise record for most points allowed (519) and yards allowed (6,716), and tied the 1981 Baltimore Colts for the most touchdowns ever allowed in a single season (68). Gross. I hate it. The coaching staff knew big changes were needed, and decided to build it from the inside out. Despite seemingly bigger needs elsewhere, the team used their 2nd and 3rd round selections in the 2021 NFL Draft on defensive linemen Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill. Onwuzurike has a quick first step and fits what the new coaching staff wants to do on defense, but he also opted out of the 2020 season due to Covid. He was up and down during Senior Bowl practices, but he showed a good motor, and the potential is there to be an effective inside rusher. McNeill is a girthy nose tackle with prototype size and strength. He was an elite interior run defender last season in college, and also has a very quick first step for such a big athlete. McNeill showed untapped potential as a pass rusher as well, and could be a better pro than college player. Both can play in multiple fronts and will be relied on heavily this season. They will be joined up front by former first round pick Michael Brockers. Brockers was also acquired in a trade with the Rams this offseason, and he will step into a key leadership role on a rebuilt defensive line. 

The defensive remodeling continued with several needed additions at both linebacker and in the secondary. Detroit re-signed Romeo Okwara (3 years, $37M) to pair with Trey Flowers at stand-up outside linebacker in the new defense, and the team has Jamie Collins to fill one of the inside linebacker spots, but another starter was needed as well as depth at the position. The team signed free agent linebacker Alex Anzalone from New Orleans to a one year deal, re-signed Jalen Reeves-Maybin to a one year deal, and traded back into the 4th round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select Derrick Barnes. While Anzalone is the favorite going into training camp to start due to his experience in the new defense, Barnes could be in position to get some decent playing time with a good training camp/preseason. He was a three year starter at Purdue, and has starting experience at both inside linebacker and on the edge. Detroit’s secondary will be totally different this season after all the turnover. Gone are a few backups, as well as former starters Desmond Trufant – who played in only six games after being signed as a free agent due to injury – and Justin Coleman (missed five games). Free agents Quinton Dunbar and Corn Elder were signed to one year deals, and both are expected to compete for starting roles. Okudah returns to start at one outside spot, but he will need to show massive improvement from last season, and Amani Oruwariye is in the mix on the outside as well. The team also signed Dean Marlowe from Buffalo in free agency to a 1-year deal to compete at safety with Will Harris, and at worst add to the special teams unit. Ifeatu Melifonwu was selected towards the end of the 4th round out of Syracuse to provide competition at the outside corner and possibly safety. At 6’2” 205 lbs., with plus athleticism, he is a prospect who could thrive with the right coaching.

This is clearly a rebuilding team, as so often has been the case for as long as I can remember. The talent was already lacking, and the team made a clew of changes on both sides of the ball in hopes of changing that and the culture. Campbell and Glenn are used to success and a well-run organization coming over from New Orleans, and the coaching staff is littered with former NFL players. There are positive reviews early on, which is more than can be said about any time under Patricia. The “Patriot Way” didn’t work in Motown, so this will be a welcomed breath of fresh air for the organization. The Lions will be one of the worst teams in the league, but there is new hope with the new regime.

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