The Lions are hoping Kenny Golladay takes another step forward this season
Matt Patricia's first year as an NFL head coach didn't exactly go as planned for him or the Detroit Lions. After spending 14 seasons as an assistant with the New England Patriots, mainly as the defensive coordinator, the Lions felt that the 44-year-old was ready for his first head coaching job. But the three-time Super Bowl champion coach found out the hard way that having your own team is no easy task. The Lions finished the 2018 campaign with a 6-10 record, went 2-4 against the NFC North, gave up 25 or more points in nearly half of their games (seven), and missed the playoffs for the second straight year.
Some Lions fans believe that the $135 million that was given to quarterback Matthew Stafford could have been better spent on other positions on the team. But the franchise believes that Stafford is worth the investment, and he does have some pieces to work with. But there are some players on this Lions roster who need to step up in 2019 in order to change this team's fortunes. Here are a few in particular who have a chip on their shoulder and are looking to lead the improvement efforts in Patricia's second season at the helm.
Kenny Golladay, WR
The 2017 third-round draft pick out of Northern Illinois wasn't expected to be the Lions No. 1 wide receiver as last season began not with Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate on the roster. But Jones dealt with injuries and Tate ended up getting traded to Philadelphia, giving Golladay the opportunity to establish himself in this offense. He led the team with 70 catches for 1,063 yards, five touchdowns, and averaged 15.2 yards per reception. So why is he on this list? Golladay has to show that last year was no fluke and that he can produce in a situation where he'll draw more of the defense's attention. Jones should be able to bounce back after landing on injured reserve because of a knee injury but the only significant addition Detroit made at the wide receiver position this offseason was sign free agent Danny Amendola. Golladay became a dependable weapon for Stafford in 2018 and he'll likely need to be even more productive this season for the Lions' offense to reach its true potential.
The Lions have not had a 1,000-yard rusher since Reggie Bush did so back in 2013. Many players have taken handoffs in the Lions offense since then, a list that includes LeGarrette Blount, Theo Reddick, Kerryon Johnson, Zach Zenner, Ameer Abdullah, Nick Bellore, Tion Green, Dwayne Washington, Justin Forsett, and Joique Bell, among others. Johnson, Reddick, and Zenner are currently on the roster, along with free-agent pickup C.J. Anderson, rookie Ty Johnson, second-year fullback Nick Bawden, and Mark Thompson, a 2018 undrafted free agent who spent last season on the Ravens' and Jets' practice squads. How many of these backs make the 53-man roster remains to be seen, but Detroit needs more out of a running game that ranked 23rd in the league last season (103.1 ypg) and averaged 4.1 yards per carry.
Much of the attention will probably be on Johnson, the team's second-round pick in 2018 who showed flashes as both a runner (5.4 ypc) and receiver last season but was limited to just 10 games because of a knee injury. Johnson needs to show he can stay healthy and handle a heavy workload. Anderson was a late-season revelation for the Rams after getting released by Carolina and the Lions are hoping he still has more left in the tank. Reddick has been more effective as a pass catcher than a ball carrier during his career but his receiving numbers took a dip last season. Zenner made the most of his carries in 2018 (4.8 ypc, 3 TDs) but he seems best suited for a complementary role. The wild card is Johnson, whose speed could introduce a new element into the backfield.
A'Shawn Robinson, DT
The 2016 second-round pick out of Alabama has yet to perform in accordance with his draft status. Last season, Robinson registered 49 tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in 13 games. For the most part, Detroit was solid on defense last season and added free agent Trey Flowers to bolster the pass rush, but he won't be able to do it alone. One of the keys to a good defense is controlling the line of scrimmage, which is where Robinson comes in. The Lions need Robinson to take that next step so he can team with Flowers and fellow defensive tackle Damon Harrison to make things tough for opposing offenses.
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.