There are several players the Detroit Lions cannot afford to lose if they plan on returning to the playoffs this year, but there are five guys that, although they will be critical, are probably under the radar.
The game of football can be broken down into three basic facets: offense, defense and the disrespected special teams. All three are equally important to the outcome of virtually every NFL game, and all three are capable of showcasing outstanding individual play.
Yes, Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh will be critical to the success of the 2012 Lions. If you’re looking for spoon-fed reading, you should probably just move on. We all know their importance.
I’d rather work under the assumption that my grandmother and the ladies of Kappa Kappa Gamma are not the core audience for Bleacher Report, although they should give it a whirl, and try to peel back the onion at least one layer.
The following are five players that should have a sizable effect on the win/loss column for the Detroit Lions in 2012.
Here is the second offseason installment of the Van Etten V…
Even with the first-round steal of Riley Reiff, the most talented offensive lineman on the roster is Rob Sims.
Manning the left side of the line with Jeff Backus, Sims has been the most consistent lineman for Detroit since Martin Mayhew dealt practice-squad extraordinaire Robert Henderson to the Seattle Seahawks for the services of Sims.
The Lions also swapped a fifth-rounder for a seventh-rounder as part of the trade, but upgrading the guard spot while losing a player who is now a member of the Arena League’s New Orleans VooDoo was a move the boys from Barter Kings would be proud to call their own.
But more importantly, guards are not really the strength of this team. Reiff has created depth at the tackle spot, even with Jason Fox again sidelined with knee issues for the first week of mandatory camp; is anybody out there really surprised?
After Sims, the second-best guard on this team is offensive-line weak link Stephen Peterman.
Like I said—not really a strength. If you’re upset Peterman is still a starter on this team, imagine how underwhelming the swing guard is for this team that cannot supplant Peterman.
Better yet, what happens if Sims goes down? Peterman becomes the best guard on the team? Scary thought, I know.
Additionally, Sims is versatile enough to slide down and play center if Dominic Raiola happens to get snakebitten with injury.
Reiff will get most of the headlines this offseason and rightly so, but the lineman the Lions cannot afford to lose is Rob Sims.
So guess who the Lions found in the seventh round with Seattle's 213th selection in the 2010 NFL draft?
Yes, Willie Young was the selection, and the deal with the Seabags continues to get sweeter by the year.
Young showed flashes in his rookie year, became a consistent contributor last year and is now a player the team is counting on to be a major factor in 2012.
With Cliff Avril and Tom Lewand playing a monetary game of cat and mouse, Willie Young is the asset that allows the Lions to play hardball with regard to the demands of Avril.
According to Pro Football Focus, Young has shown he gets to the quarterback better than most defensive ends in the NFL.
Of all 4-3 defensive ends with at least 100 pass rushes, Young had the fourth-highest Pass Rushing Productivity rating (13.4, behind just Trent Cole, Jason Babin, and Chris Long) bringing pressure on one of every six plays. While it’s impressive how often he gets to the quarterback, it is how he does it and when he has that has made him especially interesting. He lined up on the left side for over 86% of his pass rushes, going up against the opposing right tackle. He has shown both the strength to engage the right tackle and push him right back into the quarterback and the speed to just run around the blocker.
After this season, Lawrence Jackson will be a free agent, Kyle Vanden Bosch will be another year closer to retirement and Avril will again wage war with Lewand. If Young continues to take advantage of his playing time, he will become the defensive end Detroit cannot lose.
The return of a healthy Louis Delmas to the weakest level of the Lions defense could be the best addition few are talking about and might show how invaluable he is.
Louis Delmas will be playing for a new contract next season. He will be an unrestricted free agent heading into 2013, and his ability to cover the ever-increasingly important receiving tight end is not lost on Jim Schwartz.
There is no more strong safety or free safety. There are just safeties, and a prototype guy is Lou Delmas. He's 6-0, 205 pounds. He covers, he can play in the box, he can play deep zones, he's got great range and he can cover a tight end."(via detroitnews.com)
To advance in the playoffs with premier pass-catching tight end Jermichael Finley in the division, along with Jimmy Graham, Vernon Davis and Jason Witten in the conference, Detroit must show an ability to cover the elite tight ends.
Much has been said and written regarding the lack of interceptions for Delmas, but what many fail to see is the drop in production from the tight end position when Delmas is in the game.
When comparing the four games against the Packers and Saints, both Finley and Graham had their productivity nearly cut in half when Delmas was on the field. These numbers are not anomalies; they magnify Delmas’ effect on the game.
This will be Delmas’ fourth year in the league, and although he has had his moments, the jury is still split on whether he should be given a long-term deal after next year.
If Delmas can stay healthy, help improve the defense up the middle and continue to show a passion for big hits, Delmas could replace Tiger-great Lou Whittaker in Metro Detroit as the new “Sweet Lou.”
Detroit’s own elite tight end, Brandon Pettigrew, is another Lion that needs to be on the field.
The offense last season was prolific—there’s no denying that—but let’s not kid ourselves with selective memory and think Stafford sat in the pocket and read The Hunger Games.
Stafford took more than his fair share of hits, and his QB hit-total of 78 was 12th worst in the league—and that does not take into account the hurries and scrambles that accompanied many of his pass attempts.
This is exactly why Pettigrew was the second-leading receiver on the team, with 83 grabs. Serving as Stafford’s safety valve, Pettigrew was on the receiving end of more passes than any other tight end in the league not named Graham or “Gronk.”
The offensive line may be improved, but don’t expect the front five to suddenly become a parapet from which Stafford surveys the field at his leisure. The rush will often be in Stafford’s face again this year, and Pettigrew will be the 6’5” landmark Number 9 will be looking for.
Can you really have a rookie in a list of cannot-lose players? In the of case Ronnell Lewis, I’m going against the grain.
He’s never played a snap in the NFL, never played defensive end in college and is learning the position on the fly, so how can he be so critical?
The one place where a freakish talent with no experience can make an immediate impact on Sundays is special teams.
Yes, you have your lane to protect, but other than that, special teams is pretty simple—seek and destroy.
I’m sure most have, but if you still haven’t seen the Ronnell Lewis highlight montage, take a look and tell me this guy will not make an immediate impact on kick coverage.
The one guy who has firsthand knowledge of the carnage Ronnell is capable of creating is former Oklahoma Sooner and fellow Lion rookie Travis Lewis. Here’s what he told The Oakland Press about his collegiate teammate:
Hammer that’s his name, you’ll know — pull up his Youtube highlights on kickoffs and you’ll know why we call him the Hammer. The guy straight-out flies around to the ball. He’ll be a demon on special teams.
There is a method to the madness of Martin Mayhew’s draft strategy, and improving the not-so-special teams of 2011 appears to have been part of the plan.
Ronnell Lewis will remind many of Zack Follett. Let’s just hope his career carries on much longer than the cult hero from Cal.