NFL 2018 power rankings countdown No. 21: Detroit Lions

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford #9 looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16: Quarterback Detroit Lions Matthew Stafford #9 looks to pass the ball during the first quarter against the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

A preview of the Detroit Lions ahead of the 2018 season.

Check back every day for a new 2018 team preview in this year’s NFL power rankings countdown.

Today’s team is the Detroit Lions.

21. Detroit Lions

Keegan’s highest rated player: Matthew Stafford, quarterback

Biggest strength: Matthew Stafford

Biggest weakness: Tight end

Best offseason move: Franchise tagging Ziggy Ansah

Worst offseason move: Not adding another tight end

Game to circle on calendar: Week 12, at Chicago

Breakout candidate: Kerryon Johnson, running back

Key players in contract years: LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner, Golden Tate, TJ Jones, Luke Willson, Ziggy Ansah, and Deshawn Shead

Offensive preview

The Lions’ offense will be once again powered by Matthew Stafford. The biggest question is who becomes the workhorse running back? The Lions appear to have multiple good running backs but none that is obviously better than the others. This is an underrated storyline headed into the season.

Stafford could contend for MVP this season, despite the fact that he is stuck on an average team. When Calvin Johnson retired there were some concerns about how Stafford would do without him, but he has silenced all doubts about his talent since than and improved as a passer. Don’t be surprised if Stafford throws for 30 touchdowns and 4,000 yards this season.

This backfield is strong, but the coaching staff needs to find a true workhorse back. LeGarrette Blount could be this guy, but don’t be surprised if rookie Kerryon Johnson is a key player in this backfield at some point. We’ll see if veterans Ameer Abdullah or Theo Riddick can contend for their old jobs. Both are good talents.

The receiving corps has not been as strong since Johnson retired, but it has a lot of depth. Golden Tate will be encouraged to succeed this season in a contract year, and the Lions have two more good receivers with Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones. If a team of underrated players was constructed, Jones would be on it.

The Lions need an upgrade at the tight end position. Luke Willson was under-utilized in Seattle, but he isn’t an upgrade over former first-round pick Eric Ebron.

It is hard to find a weakness in the Lions offensive line. Everyone on this unit, with the exception of Frank Ragnow, is an established veteran, and Ragnow should still be a quality starting guard this season despite his inexperience. This will be one of the best offensive lines in football.

This offense has potential, but it will still be the third best in the NFC North.

Defensive preview

The Lions have a defense with some talent, but a lot of holes that will be picked apart in a tough conference. Detroit was smart to avoid signing Ezekiel Ansah to a long-term deal; he has been inconsistent over the years, but if he dominates once again this season, he could get a contract in the $15 million per year range.

This defensive line will be able to get to the quarterback on a regular basis, mostly because of Ansah. One player to watch is A’Shawn Robinson, who has gradually improved as a pro, and was a top player coming out of college.

The Lions made a smart move adding Devon Kennard to their front seven, he will aid as a pass rusher in a way that they haven’t had at that position. The team’s best linebacker is Jarrad Davis, who impressed as a rookie. The additions of Christian Jones and Kennard certainly helped this defense.

The best member of the secondary is Darius Slay, who continues to impress as a ball-hawking cornerback. The rest of the Lions’ cornerback depth chart lacks the ability to inspire confidence, but the addition of Deshawn Shead will help.

The Lions’ safety tandem has some question marks headed into this season. Glover Quin is a great talent, but there could be a competition at strong safety between Tavon Wilson, Quandre Diggs and Miles Killebrew. It will be interesting to see who the starting strong safety will be later in the season. Detroit is young at this position, but it has a few players with potential.

Coaching staff/front office preview

The Matt Patricia hire was a smart move by Detroit. Former Bill Belichick coordinators have had some struggles in the NFL, but Patricia could break this trend. The only reservation I would have with this hire is the fact Patricia’s New England defense fell apart a bit last season, although some of those struggles were out of his hands.

The Lions’ defense may struggle early on due to the loss of Teryl Austin, who is a good defensive coordinator that could become a head coach someday. The Lions brought in Paul Pasqualoni as Austin’s replacement; this is a good hire as he has experience coaching at multiple levels.

Jim Bob Cooter doesn’t just have a great name, but is also one of the top offensive coordinators in the game. Cooter has had a big impact on Stafford, and he will help this offense navigate through a tough schedule in 2018.

Bob Quinn has done a great job during his time as general manager in Detroit. He is a New England disciple that is clearly helping in the process of turning this franchise around. In just over two years as GM in Detroit, he has assembled one of the best offensive lines in football.

Overall outlook for 2018

The Lions have a chance at contending for a playoff spot, but don’t fall in love with this team as they still have a rookie head coach, a few holes in their roster and play in a tough division.

This team is finally headed in the right direction for the first time in a long time, but don’t get your hopes up this season.

Next. Top 15 Packers to watch at training camp. dark

Previous teams:

22. Arizona Cardinals
23. Chicago Bears
24. Oakland Raiders
25. Baltimore Ravens
26. Washington Redskins
27. Cleveland Browns
28. Buffalo Bills
29. New York Jets
30. Cincinnati Bengals
31. Miami Dolphins
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers