Detroit Lions end of season grades

With the 2020 NFL season coming to an end, one could question how the Lions performed as a whole throughout the year. With their record standing at 5-11 it could be wondered what went wrong for Detroit this season, and what went right.

During the offseason the Lions signed linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Desmond Trufant, and strong safety Duron Harmon during free agency who have all had down years statistically compared to years past. In the first round of the 2020 draft the Lions took cornerback Jeff Okudah out of Ohio State who has struggled, despite this he has shown some promise and could be a solid starter for years to come. The Lions’ greatest pickup of the offseason was without a doubt the rookie running back out of Georgia, D’Andre Swift, who looks like he could be the future franchise running back in Detroit.

Detroit came out of the gates with a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the Chicago Bears which included a dropped would-be game winning touchdown catch by rookie D’Andre Swift. In a Week 2 42-21 blowout loss against the Green Bay Packers, Detroit’s biggest issue was exposed by Packer running back Aaron Jones, their run defense. Following their Week 5 bye week, Detroit had a convincing 34-16 win against the struggling Jacksonville Jaguars which also appeared to be the breakout game for rookie running back D’Andre swift, finishing the game with 116 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Despite all of the momentum the Lions had going into Week 11, they were shut out by the PJ Walker led Carolina Panthers, an embarrassing loss that effectively ended Detroit’s playoff hopes. A Week later, after a devastating loss to the Houston Texans Detroit fired Head Coach Matt Patricia and General Manager Bob Quinn. Quinn had Patricia had both failed to meet expectations for what they were brought in for as Detroit’s defense struggled, and they failed to bring in many big name free agents.

 Week 13 was a revenge game from Week 1, Detroit fought back from an early deficit much like Chicago did the first time around, and it was the Lions who stopped the Bears on the final drive. With the Lions seemingly back in the playoff race their Week 14 game against Green Bay became a must win, and while the game went down to the wire, it was clear from the start that this Detroit defense could not stop the duo of Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams.  Despite the absence of star running back Dalvin Cook, the Lions fell in their Week 17 game against the Vikings. To add to this, in Matthew Stafford’s potential last game as a Lion, he threw for 293 yards and three touchdowns, practically carrying the team on his back.

After this disappointment of a season, fans have questioned what direction the Lions should take moving forward. The best decision is for them to build through the draft as Detroit isn’t necessarily a high profile free agent destination. The Lions should look to take a receiver in the draft, heisman winner Devonta Smith if available, because both Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay are free agents this offseason. One of them is almost sure to leave. Besides revamping the roster with an infusion of young talent, Detroit should work to get a head coach that can bring the best out of their players. A potential candidate is the Dearborn native, defensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, Robert Saleh. Saleh would help the Lions’ struggles on defense just as he did for the 49ers and make them at least a middle of the pack defense. Another potential candidate is Kansas CIty Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Bieniemy could play to Detroit’s strengths as a pass first offense, similarly to what he did in KC. This would also help develop the Lion’s quarterback and receivers of the future like what Bieniemy did with Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill. The Lions have also talked with Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles who despite struggling as a head coach with the New York Jets, has thrived in Tampa and looks to be one of the better coaching candidates available.


Despite the Lion’s struggles, quarterback Matthew Stafford had a great season even though he spent the late season battling with injuries. He finished the season with over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns through the air. His backup Chase Daniel, who played the majority of Detroit’s Week 16 outing against Tampa Bay, was mediocre at best and struggled to get the ball in the endzone. As a whole the Quarterback position deserves a grade of an A-, only brought down by the poor play of Stafford’s backups.

Running backs

While the run game did get worse as a whole from the year before in terms of pure rushing, the running back by committee strategy that was applied this year seemed to work better. Veteran Adrian Peterson, who was brought in as a preseason pickup, served as the short yardage back and he filled that role well being the team’s leading rusher.  Rookie second rounder, D’Andre Swift was the change of pace back, brought in when the offense needed an explosive run, he was also effective catching the ball out of the backfield with 357 yards receiving. Former bellcow running back, Kerryon Johnson, was brought in to do the dirty work and pass block in obvious passing situations and has been one of the best in the league at doing that. Overall the running back position as a whole has definitely improved from last season and will get a grade of a B- because while they improved they still aren’t anything outstanding.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends

Despite the loss of star receiver Kenny Golladay for the majority of the year, Detroit’s pass catchers played very well. Marvin Jones Jr filled in well for Golladay as he had one of the best seasons of his career with over 900 yards and nine touchdowns receiving. Sophomore tight end T.J Hockenson also stepped up his game by catching 67 passes for 723 yards and 6 touchdowns, notching his first Pro Bowl selection of his young career. Slot receiver Danny Amendola had another consistently productive season and rookie Quintez Cephus quietly had a solid year for the opportunity he was given. The receiving core played well considering they didn’t have their best player, a grade of a B is fitting because they didn’t have any big name players but still put up big name numbers.

Offensive Line

The Lion’s offensive line failed to keep Stafford clean for a majority of the season which may explain his injury issues late. Outside of Pro Bowler Center Frank Ragnow and starting left tackle Taylor Decker, this offensive line is very underwhelming. In terms of run blocking this offensive line was much better than they were at pass blocking, they were able to create gaps for Swift and Peterson to run through which helped open up the passing game. With the losses of Graham Glasgow and Rick Wagner in the offseason, the Lions O line definitely got worse, but despite this they were still a solid group and helped the offense to move the ball because of this they deserve a grade of a C.

Defensive Line

The line on the other side of the ball was more of the same and was very disappointing. Despite the fact that this position has playmakers, they just never meshed well. On one side of the line you have an underperforming run stopper in Trey Flowers who was ruled out for the season following a Week 8 forearm injury. On the other side you have an over performing edge rusher in Romeo Okwara who finished the season with 10 sacks. Besides that there’s an aging edge rusher in Everson Griffen and another run stopper in Danny Shelton who had a disappointing, 2019 Damon Harrison esque season. Outside of Okwara this group could only either rush the passer or stop the run, this lack of a second dynamic player on the line caused teams to run all over this Lions team. The core of a good run defense is a good d line and since the lions run defense was horrendous the d line should have a grade of a C+ thanks only to the bounce back year of Romeo Okwara.


While Detroit’s linebackers were solid at open field tackling, they were atrocious in pass coverage and couldn’t stop the run whatsoever. Aside from Christian Jones, all of the linebackers that started ten or more games allowed a passer rating of over 100 when targeted. Not only that but this linebacking core led the Lions to a bottom five rushing defense in the league in terms of yards. These linebackers also struggled to rush the passer with only a total of 2½ sacks among the entire core. Due to all these struggles the core deserves a grade no better than a D+, only saved by their solid tackle numbers.


The Lions secondary was awful to say the least, the only somewhat productive player was cornerback Amani Oruwariye and even then he wasn’t anything spectacular. Aside from Oruwariye, every defensive back that has received significant playing time has allowed an average passer rating of over 100 when targeted. The corners were especially bad in coverage but that should be expected when the scheme only has one true safety in for a significant portion of the game. Despite the fact that four of the six secondary players were new additions to the team, the group got drastically worse since last year. Even if cornerback Darius Slay had not left in free agency, he is having one of the worst seasons of his career so it wouldn’t make much of a difference. Overall, this group deserves a grade no better than a D, saved by above the average at best production of Amani Oruwariye.

Special Teams

Detroit’s special teams unit was one of the few true bright spots of the team from kicking, to punting, to returning it all worked. While place kicker Matt Prater wasn’t the most accurate he’s been in his career, he came up when it mattered most,  hitting game winning kicks in three games. Rookie punter Jack Fox showcased his talents as one of the best punters in the league, Fox was top six in both average yards per punt and punts inside the 20. Return specialist Jamal Agnew had a bounce back year posting top five averages in both return yards on punts and return yards on kicks. All in all, this special teams unit was much improved from last season and meshed very well with each other. The fact that this unit meshed so well together earns them an A- grade only being held back by Prater’s less than stellar kicking percentages.

Overall Grade 

The Detroit Lions still have a long way to go before they are Super Bowl contenders, but they have set a decent foundation for the years to come. With good management and coaching Detroit could be one of the premier franchises in the league, perhaps seeing improvements like the Cleveland Browns as many similarities can be drawn between the 2019 Browns and the 2020 Lions. All in all Detroit deserves a C grade as a team because while they underperformed, they fought to the end and were overall a better team than last year.