Drilling in: Offense

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Lions Offensive unit analysis

QUARTERBACKS: Starter - Matthew Stafford. Backups - Jake Rudock, Matt Cassel.

Ten years into his NFL career, Stafford is beginning to get his due as one of the best quarterbacks in the league. He's made 112 straight starts, thrown for nearly 35,000 yards and delivered more than his share of late-game heroics. Stafford needs to take fewer sacks and he lost far too many fumbles last season (seven), but the Lions have clearly built their team around Stafford and will go only as far as he can take them. Rudock and Cassel will battle for the backup job this summer after alternating work with the second-team throughout spring workouts. Cassel is the more experienced option, and his past relationship with Matt Patricia is hard to ignore, but Rudock is the better player right now. It's possible the Lions keep three quarterbacks.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter - Kerryon Johnson. Backups - LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Nick Bellore, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington, FB Nick Bawden.

The Lions probably won't lead the NFL in rushing this year, or even come close, but they are much more equipped to impact games on the ground after an offseason of change. Second-round pick Johnson and free-agent addition Blount should split the backfield workload, with Johnson likely emerging as the primary ball-carrier and Blount adding some oomph to one of the league's worst short-yardage rushing attacks. Riddick still should have a role as one of the best pass-catching backs in the league, but Abdullah's future is up in the air entering training camp. He could serve as insurance if something happens to Johnson or Riddick, or be the odd man out after three disappointing seasons. Bellore's switch to fullback full-time means the Lions will use more two-back sets this fall.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter - Luke Willson. Backups - Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo, Hakeem Valles, Sean McGrath, Marcus Lucas.

While NFL teams have become more and more reliant on tight ends, the Lions are trending in the opposite direction. After cutting Eric Ebron for financial reasons early in the offseason, the Lions signed Willson and Toilolo as free agents. Neither has ever had more than 31 catches in a season, and those two plus second-year pro Roberts combined for just 31 receptions last fall. That number is bound to go up this year as Willson will play a feature role for the first time in his career and the Lions drafted Roberts with visions of him dominating the red zone. But with four good wide receivers plus a couple capable pass-catching running backs, the Lions see this tight end group for what it is: A complementary part of what could be a very good offense.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters - Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay. Backups - TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Teo Redding, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy, Deontez Alexander.

The Lions were the only team to have two wide receivers top 1,000 yards receiving last year, and this group should be even better this fall. Tate is in a contract year, and as he approaches his 30th birthday has shown no signs of slowing down. Marvin Jones had the most productive season of his career last fall while emerging as one of the best deep threats in the game (18 yards per catch). Golladay is poised for a big 2018 after showing flashes of brilliance as a rookie. And there aren't many No. 4 receivers better than TJ Jones, who caught 30 passes last year and can play inside or outside, but is coming off January shoulder surgery. The only real question about this group is whether Tate will be part of it for years to come, and we might not know that answer until next spring.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters - LT Taylor Decker, LG Frank Ragnow, C Graham Glasgow, RG T.J. Lang, RT Rick Wagner. Backups - T Corey Robinson, T Dan Skipper, T Brian Mihalik, T Adam Bisnowaty, T Beau Nunn, T Tyrell Crosby, G Kenny Wiggins, G Joe Dahl, G John Montelus, C Wesley Johnson, C Leo Koloamatangi.

On paper, the Lions should have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL. Recent first-round draft picks Decker (2016) and Ragnow (2018) will start on the left side, Glasgow, the only Lion to play every offensive snap last season, takes over full-time at center this fall, and Lang, a two-time Pro Bowler, and Wagner return for their second season together on the right side. Of course, the same could have been said last season, when the Lions finished last in the NFL in rushing and Stafford took a career-high 47 sacks. Some of last year's struggles were injury-related. Decker missed half the season with a torn labrum, and Lang and Wagner played through a variety of ailments. And while some health questions remain, the Lions are better prepared to deal with injuries this year after adding Wiggins in free agency and Crosby in the draft. If you're looking for one area the Lions can make the biggest improvement this fall, it's in the play of the offensive front.

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