2011 Recap: For the first time since 1999, the Lions made it into the playoffs, losing to the Saints in the first round. The Lions started off the year hot, going 5-0 en route to a 10-6 finish. Their offense was explosive and Matt Stafford captured the Comeback Player of the Year Award for his efforts, finishing third in yardage and tossing 41 touchdowns. Unfortunately the Lions defense couldn't match their offense as they finished 22nd in yards against. Overall, I think any Lions fan would admit it was a great season for Detroit.
Offseason Review: The Lions haven't made that many changes through free agency to their up-and-coming team. They re-signed Stephen Tulloch, clearly a Schwartz favourite. A name to keep an eye on is Everette Brown. Drafted in the second round by the Panthers three years ago, many thought Brown had a promising future. After two absolutely invisible years in Carolina, he signed with the Lions. With an already strong defensive line and aggressive system, will Jim Schwartz be able to find a spot for Brown as a rotational player?
Hit the jump for the draft review, player spotlights and analysis from Pride of Detroit's Sean Yuille.
Draft Review: I can't seem to create a strong opinion one way or another on the Lions draft. I commend them for taking Riley Reiff, finding a nice mix of need and talent at the 23rd pick. It's scary to think what Stafford could do with more time in the pocket. Ryan Broyles was their second rounder. I thought he'd be available later, and they passed on Rueben Randle for him. Broyles is a question mark coming off a major injury. Ronnell Lewis in the fourth round was a solid pick, but the rest of the draft elicits very little emotion from me.
Most Dangerous Player to the Titans: I'm breaking away from the recent QB picks here and giving this title to Megatron. It doesn't seem to matter who the QB is for Calvin Johnson. In my opinion he's the best receiver in the league.
Overrated Player: It was extremely tough for me to find someone I thought was overrated on the Lions roster. They've got a lot of young talent ready to break out, and the others aren't highly thought of in the first place (looking at you Alphonso Smith). This title goes to Nick Fairley. I have my doubts he ever lives up to his potential.
Underrated Player: Somehow Nate Burleson has created a 10 year career. It's easy to forget about the other Lions' targets when Calvin Johnson is so dominant, but Burleson's a good backup plan on the other side.
Insider Info: Here's what Pride of Detroit's Sean Yuille had to say about the current state of the Lions:
Following their first trip to the playoffs in more than a decade, hopes are high for the Detroit Lions in 2012. While their offseason was mostly spent re-signing players rather than landing any big free agents, the Lions were able to turn a very small amount of cap space into new deals for Calvin Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Cliff Avril (franchise tag), Jeff Backus and others. These moves allowed the Lions to keep their core group of players intact. They have 21 starters returning, and with guys like Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure finally healthy, the team should be better than it was in 2011. (Thanks to off-field issues, Leshoure will be suspended the first two games of the season and Fairley likely will be suspended as well. Leshoure's debut is expected to be in Week 3 against Tennessee.)
In terms of what expectations are for the Lions in 2012, I would say sustaining the success they had last season and making another playoff run is the baseline hope for fans. This year, it would be nice to see the Lions win only their second playoff game since 1957, but at the very least they should return to the postseason. It won't be easy, as every year there is a lot of turnover when it comes to which teams make the playoffs, but I think the Lions have done enough this offseason to not only secure some important long-term pieces, but also to ensure that the franchise will be in contention for a playoff spot in 2012.
My Thoughts: The Lions are like many young teams trying to make that next step in the playoffs. They have to get their defense up to snuff if they're going to make that move. Their offense will be near an elite level but only a handful of offenses are good enough to overcome atrocious defensive performances. I don't think the Lions offense will be at that point this year. I love this roster though and I really like their chances this season.