The Professor’s 2021 NFL Preview: NFC North – Detroit Lions

TheProfessor_NFL Preview Lions

Detroit Lions

Team Projection

TeamPoints ForPoints AgainstGames FavoredPythagorean Expected Wins

Motor City with head coach Dan Campbell appears set to be an awful lot of fun.

After an introductory press conference that included references to biting kneecaps, Campbell floated the idea of acquiring a pet lion that he can have on a chain as he goes about the building. Is it ridiculous? Certainly. But it sounds like Campbell would be a blast to be around and work with. I’d definitely be amped to work with a dude like him. Obviously, none of this will matter if the Lions don’t win, but Detroit’s first offseason shows a clear vision, which is promising for a rebuilding program. Of course, they have to stick to the plan during the years to come for that to matter, but after signaling the start of a new era with the trade of quarterback Matthew Stafford, general manager Brad Holmes, and Campbell have prioritized building a foundation on the offensive and defensive lines.

Despite the cries for them to add a receiver with the 7th overall pick, the Lions had to have been thrilled when offensive tackle Penei Sewell fell to them, given their priorities. With Taylor Decker already in place as a quality left tackle, Sewell will kick over to the right side. Frank Ragnow, who signed a contract to become the league’s highest-paid center after the draft, is a lynchpin in the middle and left guard Jonah Jackson will look to build on a promising rookie campaign. The right guard spot is a question mark, but with options including Tyrell Crosby, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, and Logan Stenberg, the Lions should have at least average play from whoever wins the job, and a solid swing tackle to boot.

On defense, Detroit added a big-time defensive tackle in Michael Brockers via trade, and also signed Nicholas Williams and Kevin Strong before spending second and third-round picks on Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill to round out the room. With Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara in place as high-end contributors at the end and the potential for Da’Shawn Hand and Julian Okwara (Romeo’s younger brother) to add some production, this line will cause opponents difficulties.

The rest of the roster is a work in progress, but that’s to be expected in Year One. Jared Goff was acquired from the Rams in the Matthew Stafford trade, and while he’s coming off a poor year, Goff is at his best working off play action, and with the Lions committed to building a run-heavy offense, he should have plenty of opportunities to work that part of his game. The running back duo of D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams is set up well behind this offensive line, and they could certainly take a lot of Goff’s plate.

That could be important, because while the line looks formidable, tight end T.J. Hockenson is set to be the lead pass catcher for this offense, and while that’s not the worst thing in the world, the dropoff from him to the next guy is notable.

Fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St.Brown’s proclamation that he’s coming in to take someone’s job was somewhat ironic in the fact that there really isn’t anyone’s job to take – every receiver who played a notable role for this team in 2020 is gone. They’ve been replaced by a pair of free-agent acquisitions in Tyrell Williams, who was cut after missing almost all of his two seasons as a Raider due to injury, and Breshad Perriman, who has put together a couple of strong four-game stretches in the past few years, but had a rough 2020 with the Jets and has failed to produce with any consistency in his career.

I do like the potential of Quintez Cephus; he hasn’t had much chance to produce, but he immediately stood out on film as a player who plays bigger than his listed 6’1, 208 pounds, and is a solid route runner, particularly on in-breaking routes. He has all of 20 catches for 349 yards and 2 touchdowns to his name, and fell to the 5th round of the 2020 Draft, so he’s no sure thing, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see him make the most of the opportunity in front of him.

The back end of the defense is likewise questionable. Linebacker Jamie Collins had an above-average 2020, but there’s a lack of proven options beyond him. The corner position is particularly thin; while linebacker Jahlani Tavai and the safety duo of Tracy Walker and Will Harris are at least solid, the fact that Amani Oruwariye is their most accomplished corner is fairly remarkable. Quinton Dunbar had a strong 2019 for Washington before a brutal 2020 in Seattle but could bounce back, and Jeff Okudah, the 3rd pick of the 2020 Draft, could make a jump in year two, though it will have to be a big jump after his disaster of a rookie season.

All in all, it’s difficult to expect big things from the Lions this season, but they’ll be a tough team to play against because of their strength on the lines. It’s hard to envision the defense being great with their current back end, so the big variable in whether they finish at the bottom of the league or the middle of the pack is how Goff and the passing game perform.

QB Passing Projections

Jared Goff2117414.3612.70.687.484584.424.513.316.23

QB Rushing Projections

Jared Goff2117512.01102.41.910.914.416.23

Skill Projections, Rushing

D’Andre SwiftRB2517211.74.01848.27.445.057.112.98
Jamaal WilliamsRB9417151.63.79574.63.032.323.18.27
Breshad PerrimanWR122179.46.7463.
Jermar JeffersonRB3281746.42.73126.

Skill Projections, Receiving

D’Andre SwiftRB251779.862.98.08508.91.512.96.212.98
T.J. HockensonTE431767.294.710.30975.88.623.035.011.55
Jamaal WilliamsRB941773.045.36.05274.32.510.110.38.27
Breshad PerrimanWR1221757.445.715.78721.
Tyrell WilliamsWR1521763.733.615.60524.93.18.612.65.17
Quintez CephusWR1631765.836.013.99504.
Amon-Ra St.BrownWR1881768.333.111.74389.
Darren FellsTE2181774.529.310.87318.
Kalif RaymondWR2781755.115.913.46213.
Isaac NautaTE2911765.217.68.75154.


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Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.