Everything to know about the Detroit Lions before the 2024 season

Everything to know about the Detroit Lions before the 2024 season

Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

By The 'Gander Staff

July 9, 2024

From the explosive offense to the revamped secondary, here’s what to expect from the Detroit Lions this offseason.

At halftime of last January’s NFC Championship Game, the Detroit Lions were poised to clench their first ever Super Bowl appearance. Then the second half happened. The San Francisco 49ers overwhelmed the Lions’ lackluster secondary, overcoming a 17-point deficit to tie the game by the end of the third quarter, and taking the lead early in the fourth. Detroit’s Cinderella season came screeching to a halt with a heartbreaking three-point loss.

But the Lions have spent the offseason reloading, and they’re ready to try running the gauntlet again. With less than a month until the start of the NFL preseason, we’re breaking down the biggest storylines surrounding the Detroit Lions.

The Offense

Amon-Ra St. Brown #14 of the Detroit Lions catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Zyon McCollum #27 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the fourth quarter of the NFC Divisional Playoff game at Ford Field on January 21, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Playcaller

The Detroit Lions had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL last season, due in large part to their offensive coordinator, Ben Johnson. A longtime assistant to head coach Dan Campbell, Johnson has established himself as a wizard of offensive Xs and Os, and he clearly loves the Lions. He has turned down head coaching opportunities two years in a row in favor of pressing on with his work in Detroit. This year, he’ll continue to scheme up plays to ensure that quarterback Jared Goff has plenty of opportunities to succeed.

The Playmakers

Of course, Ben Johnson can only call the plays; it’s up to Goff and his teammates to execute. Luckily, the Lions have plenty of offensive weapons.

That starts with slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, who just signed a contract extension to become one of the highest paid receivers in the league. It’s hard to argue he didn’t deserve it: Pro Football Focus (PFF) gave him an elite 90.7 receiving grade last season, trailing only Brandon Ayiuk and Tyreek Hill. He manages to win at every level of the passing game, consistently creating separation from defenders, and managing to win more 50/50 balls than he loses when he is covered. And once he’s got the ball in his hands, he becomes a track star. Last year, he recorded nearly 700 yards after the catch and forced 17 missed tackles. Barring injury, he’ll almost certainly be Goff’s top target again in 2024.

A pair of rookies complemented St. Brown perfectly last season, and should do so again. Former Alabama running back Jahmyr Gibbs shared the rushing workload with veteran David Montgomery to create a dynamic thunder-and-lightning backfield, and now many consider Gibbs a top-10 back. Meanwhile, Sam LaPorta finished the regular season with 86 catches, an NFL record among rookie tight ends.

St. Brown, Gibbs, and LaPorta form the nucleus of the Lions offense, but questions linger about the team’s depth. What separated the 49ers from the Lions in that NFC Championship Game was the sheer number of offensive threats San Francisco presented: Christian McCaffrey, Brandon Ayiuk, and Elijah Mitchell each scored touchdowns in that game, and Deebo Samuel recorded eight catches for 89 yards. Tight end George Kittle had a relatively quiet game, but had to be accounted for at all times.

For the Lions, a lot rides on the development of wide receiver Jameson Williams. The former first-round pick missed most of his rookie season due to injury, and started last year with a four-game suspension. Upon returning, he showed flashes of promise thanks to his lightning speed, but never became the consistent deep threat fans hoped for. But Dan Campbell recently called Williams the most improved player of offseason training. If that’s true, a field-stretching Williams could take this offense to the next level.

The last big question for this group of playmakers: What receiver will line up wide opposite Williams when St. Brown is in the slot? Josh Reynolds filled that role to the tune of 40 catches for 608 yards and five touchdowns last year, but signed with the Denver Broncos this offseason. Now, second-year wideout Antoine Green looks like the favorite to fill the vacuum, but he has some competition. The Lions traded with the Cleveland Browns for veteran Donovan Peoples-Jones just before the trade deadline last season, and recently gave him a new contract. Meanwhile, journeyman Kalif Raymond has been productive in a limited role with the Lions, and may look to push for a starting role.

The O-Line

The good news for Goff, Gibbs, and Montgomery is that they’ll be operating behind arguably the best offensive line in football, anchored by tackle Penei Sewell. PFF graded Sewell as the best blocker in the league last season, and the Lions rewarded him with a huge contract extension.

One area of concern emerged when the Lions lost guard Jonah Jackson to the Los Angeles Rams in free agency, but they quickly replaced him with former Raven Kevin Zeitler, who graded better than Jackson last year.

Rumors have swarmed that 28-year-old center Frank Ragnow has been considering early retirement, but he’s committed to continuing his elite level of run blocking this year.

If you’re a Lions fan, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bigger reason for optimism than this group of blockers.

The Defense

Aidan Hutchinson #97 of the Detroit Lions celebrates after a tackle during an NFC Wild Card Playoff football game against the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field on January 14, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.

Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

In January’s playoff loss, the Lions allowed 27 points in the second half. It was the culmination of concerns that swirled around their defense all season. They looked great against the run, but consistently struggled in pass coverage. After a busy offseason, they’re hoping they’ve remedied the situation.

The D-Line

The undisputed star of this defense is former Michigan Wolverine and Plymouth native Aidan Hutchinson, who applied pressure to opposing quarterbacks more than 100 times and tallied up 11 sacks last year. 

Hutchinson’s abilities give the defense a solid baseline, but they could benefit from another solid pass rusher to compliment him. James Houston showed promise in that role in 2022, but missed most of last season due to injury. Now, the Lions are betting that free agent Marcus Davenport can elevate the line. He struggled last year with the Minnesota Vikings, but before that, had been a disruptive force for the New Orleans Saints. A return to form for Davenport would make this line a nightmare for quarterbacks.

On the interior, the Lions signed former Cincinnati Bengal D.J. Reader to pair with standout Alim McNeil, ensuring they have plenty of big bodies to continue stuffing the run.

The Secondary

The single biggest problem area for the Lions last year was their pass coverage unit, and they’ve certainly made an effort to address the issue this offseason. Cornerback Emmanuel Mosely joined Detroit last season after tearing his left ACL with the 49ers the previous season, and tore his right ACL just a few snaps into his return. He could bounce back this year, but the Lions clearly aren’t betting on it.

In free agency, they signed former Las Vegas Raider Amik Robertson, but that may just be a depth move. More importantly, they traded for former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Carlton Davis and used their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Terrion Arnold of Alabama and Ennis Rackestraw of Missouri. In fact, many draft analysts ranked Arnold as the top defensive back of the draft. Now, as many as five players will all compete for the two starting outside corner spots.

It’s possible that one of those five becomes the team’s designated slot corner, but rookie Brian Branch of Alabama filled that role well last year, intercepting Patrick Mahomes and returning the pick for a touchdown in his professional debut. Branch could conceivably move to safety, but even with the departure of C.J. Gadner-Johnson, there’s a wealth of riches at that position, too, with players like Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu.

So while it’s tough to predict exactly what Detroit’s secondary will look like this year, it’s safe to assume that we’ll see at least some improvement thanks to the depth that general manager Brad Holmes has built.

The Kicker

We can’t talk about the Lions without acknowledging Dan Campbell’s aggressive decision-making. He has earned the moniker “Dan Gamble,” after all. In the NFC Championship Game, Campbell repeatedly opted against taking field goals in favor of going for (and failing) fourth-down conversions. In a three-point loss, it’s hard not to say those moments made a tangible difference in the outcome.

Campbell may maintain that same level of aggression, but the Lions have brought in the United Football League’s best field goal kicker, Jake Bates of the Michigan Panthers, to at least give Campbell pause on those critical fourth-down decisions.

The Competition

To make another playoff run, the Lions will need to outperform three teams with promising but unproven quarterbacks.

Green Bay Packers

After a long stretch of dominating the NFC North, the Packers parted ways with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and replaced him with Jordan Love last year. Love showed flashes of greatness, including a Thanksgiving thrashing of the Detroit defense, but questions still linger about whether he can take the next step in his development. If he does, expect the Packers to once again be the Lions’ biggest competition in the division.

Chicago Bears

The Bears moved on from quarterback Justin Fields this offseason and used the number one overall draft pick to take USC star Caleb Williams. Williams has loads of potential to become a top-tier passer, but he may take time to develop. He does, however, have plenty of weapons to ease him into the NFL: wide receivers D.J. Moore, Keenan Allen, and rookie Rome Odunze; tight ends Cole Kmet and Gerald Everett; and running backs Khalil Herbert, Roschon Johnson, and former Lion D’Andre Swift.

Minnesota Vikings

After quarterback Kirk Cousins signed with the Atlanta Falcons, the Vikings drafted former Michigan Wolverine J.J. McCarthy to lead their offense. McCarthy didn’t need to throw the ball a lot in Michigan’s run-first offense, but like Williams, he’s entering a quarterback-friendly environment with one of the league’s best wide receivers, Justin Jefferson, at his disposal in addition to Jordan Addison and former Lion T.J. Hockenson.

Overall Outlook

Sportsbooks are putting the over/under of Lions wins at 10.5. For context, that’s the same line they faced last year, and they finished with a 12-5 record. PFF ranks Detroit as a top-five team in the league, with a better-than-one-in-ten chance of making the Super Bowl. 

They’ll have to fend off Jordan Love’s Packers to win the division and figure out how to overcome the 49ers (as well as other potential NFC contenders like the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys), but overall, the future has never looked brighter for the Detroit Lions.

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