The Detroit Lions have finally shown how dangerous they can be when healthy. After two injury-plagued seasons in 2009 and 2010, the Lions found themselves on the outside looking in at success. With their main components finally healthy, the Lions wound up in the playoffs for the first time since 1999.
However, Detroit also showed how vulnerable they are with pieces missing due to health. The Lions defense and running game took a major fall due to injuries. The lack of a run game made the Lions a one-dimensional offense, and major holes were exposed with an injured secondary.
The Lions have plenty of vital players who can't afford to get hurt this season. Playing in the brutal NFC North with a statement season at hand, the Lions need to be as healthy as possible.
The only thing worse than the Lion's off-field issues this offseason would be more injury concerns. Here are five players who can't afford an injury this season for Detroit.
Jahvid Best is one of the most explosive players on the Lions' roster but has yet to give Detroit a full dose of his talent. Best played almost his whole rookie season with turf toe, along with three well-publicized concussions over his first two years.
The Lions traded up to draft Best in 2010, and they need that investment to pay off. Detroit's offense lacked that versatile back who creates mismatches all over the field. Best's versatility as a receiver and a shifty, game-breaking back are vital for the Lions.
Doctors have been quiet regarding Best's durability concerns. Best reported he was symptom free in June, but that won't be proven until the start of the season. If healthy, the Lions can create special offensive packages for Best to take advantage of his oppositions.
If Best's health continues to be a question, his career in the NFL could be in jeopardy.
After being viewed as an underachiever in Atlanta, Chris Houston has been a pleasant addition to the Lions defense since he was acquired in 2010. One might not call Houston a "shutdown corner," but he has possibly been the most consistent cornerback the Lions have had in a long time.
Durability is also a concern for Houston, who has done his fair share of limping off the field with nagging stinger injuries. Houston also missed two games against the Saints and Vikings after Stephen Tulloch accidentally drove his helmet to his knee against the Packers.
Houston has plenty to prove in 2012. entering a contract year as the Lions' only returning starting corner. The Lions drafted three cornerbacks in 2012 and signed Jacob Lacey during free agency. With a new core of corners and the team cutting Aaron Berry, Houston has to be an anchor on defense this year.
Houston is talented enough to always have a job in the NFL. However, if he's looking for a long-term deal from the Lions this offseason, he'll have to prove he's worth it.
This slide is pretty obvious when talking about Matthew Stafford and his durability. Stafford showed how valuable he is to the Lions after throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns in 2011, leading his team to a 10-6 record and a playoff berth.
The former No. 1 draft pick's injury history has been well-documented since his rookie season. Stafford has separated his shoulder three times since 2009 and also suffered a season-ending knee injury his rookie year. Despite the durability concerns, Stafford's toughness has been on full display since his 2009 heroics against Cleveland.
Due to a suspect offensive line, Stafford continues to take plenty of shots from defenders. However, when given enough time, Stafford can pick defenses apart with his elite arm strength and infinite offensive weapons.
As the Lions' franchise quarterback, this team will go as far as Stafford carries them. As long as he's on the field and upright, the Lions have a chance to do damage in the NFC. Stafford has helped a turnaround of this franchise and provided a huge spark within this offense. Calvin Johnson would probably tell you the same thing after the dynamic season they had together.
2012 could be a make-or-break season for Louis Delmas as a Detroit Lion. The elite talent and leadership are clearly visible but haven't been displayed enough. In his last year under contract with the Lions, it's put up or shut up time for Delmas.
Delmas' value to the Lions was on full display last season after his injury against the Packers on Thanksgiving. The Lions dipped from a top-10 pass defense all the way down to No. 22. Delmas also played all of 2011 with a nagging groin injury, missing significant practice time.
Detroit's defense will go as Delmas goes this season. Far too often in his career he has been injured on the sideline instead of producing on the field. Delmas also has had issues taking bad angles to a ball carrier and missing tackles.
When Delmas is completely healthy and not making mental errors, he's as good as any safety in the league. The Lions don't want to lose their one of their most talented players, as well as a vocal leader, to free agency. Delmas is long overdue for a breakout season with the Lions. If he's playing up to his full potential, he can carry this defense a long way.
The Lions were ecstatic to have Riley Reiff fall to them with the No. 23 pick in the draft. Detroit is a bit old and unstable on the offensive line, meaning Reiff should see plenty of action this season.
Reiff is a versatile lineman who can play guard as well tackle and can play the right or left side of the line. After finally signing his rookie contract, Reiff could be plugged into the Lions' rotation right away. Whether he'll be groomed to take over left tackle for Jeff Backus or replace Gosder Cherilus at right tackle, Reiff should see the field quite often in his first year.
Reiff doesn't have any documented injury history, which is great news thus far. The Lions have big plans for Reiff, and they need him at 100 percent in order to develop properly. Nick Fairley started his rookie year as a rotation tackle on defense but has hopefully earned a starting role. After injuring his foot during camp last year, Fairley took plenty of time to recover and stunted his development.
The Lions could use Reiff's depth and versatility next year on the offensive line. In due time Reiff should take over as a long-term starter, but he must stay healthy throughout camp and the regular season. Reiff isn't a project player who will take time to acclimate to the NFL. Reiff will play his rookie season and will play often.