The beauty of a new NFL season is that anybody could break out and be a star. In 2010 it was Cliff Avril for the Lions, and in 2011 it was Chris Houston. In 2012 there are plenty of players who could improve out of sight and become more than was expected before the season began. In this article I will try to line up six players who based of training camp reports and my personal opinions will become great players for the Detroit Lions in 2012.
As he was mentioned in the title, it seems wise to mention Titus Young first.
Young was a player who I was very high on in the 2011 draft, and to my mind he was disappointing in his first season in Honolulu blue. While he provided highlight plays and plenty of touchdowns in the last half of the season, he was not that consistent and had more than his fair share of brain explosions.
However, Young has reportedly been on fire so far at training camp, making plays all over the field and victimizing the young secondary opposite him. Given that he will be lining up with Calvin Johnson on Sundays this season, Young should have plenty of opportunities to excel against single coverage where his speed and quickness will be too much to handle.
2012 Predictions: 65 catches, 950 yards, 14.6 YPC, 8 TD's
Willie Young may not be a brand name like Titus Young, but he will possibly have a bigger season. With Cliff Avril missing time with his holdout, Young's development will give him the third defensive end spot for the season at the least. His burst off the snap and improving strength makes him the best pure pass rusher on the Lions roster. And on a defensive line that places a premium on getting to the quarterback, Young will get plenty of opportunities to show his stuff.
While I have always been high on Willie Young ever since Pro Football Focus started singing his praises, but his showing at training camp makes his breakout seem imminent. He has been in the backfield consistently and even made the highlight play of camp so far when he took an interception to the house.
2012 Prediction: 11 sacks, 35 tackles, 3 forced fumbles
Everybody knows about Dwight Bentley after he became a third-round pick for the Lions and the first defensive back taken by the Lions. Originally, he was expected to play a very limited role in 2012 as he learnt the pro game behind Chris Houston, Aaron Berry and Jacob Lacey. However, with Lacey off his best and Berry let go following some offseason arrests, Bentley has been given the starting right cornerback job at camp, and he has run with it.
Bentley was drafted for his raw man coverage skills and athleticism, and those have been on display so far in camp. He was thrown straight into the fire, being asked to deal with Megatron mano-a-mano, and while he was outclassed a great deal, he fought hard. He did a much better job against the rest of the Lions receivers, and while he will not be claiming an island next season, he should perform well and develop into a stud.
2012 Prediction: 2 interceptions, 45 tackles, 10 passes defended
Fairley's rookie season was largely lost to a foot injury that sapped his explosiveness and game time. However, he did put in an amazing performance against the New Orleans Saints in the regular season on national television where he dominated the best interior offensive line last season for an entire half. This will be but a taste of things to come as Fairley will (hopefully) put his eventful offseason behind him and show the entire league why Martin Mayhew took him in the first round last year.
At training camp in 2012, Fairley has been taking first-team reps with Ndamukong Suh at defensive tackle and even defensive end, and this shows that the coaching staff finally feel able to let him loose.
He has also added a lot of muscle and supposedly strength over the offseason, and given that, when healthy, he was a load to handle before, he may demote Ndamukong Suh to the second best defensive tackle on the roster.
2012 Prediction: 9 sacks, 50 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles
When people look back on the Martin Mayhew era, it would not surprise me if they end up saying that his best draft pick was taking Travis Lewis in the seventh round of the 2012 NFL draft.
Lewis fell because of injuries and supposed lack of athleticism, but ever since he took the field for the Detroit Lions in the rookie minicamp, he has looked more like a first-rounder than a seventh. The Lions coaches have been singing his praises constantly, and his leadership, recognition and game speed sets him apart.
Lewis is the only player on this list who I do not think will start at the beginning of this season, as Stephen Tulloch has the middle linebacker spot nailed down, and DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are the incumbents outside him. However, I am sure that by Week 10 it will be Travis Lewis who prowls behind our defensive line. He is too instinctual, too talented and too hard working not to start, and his performance will make one of Levy or Durant expendable come free agency next year.
2012 Prediction: 7 games started, 80 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 3 passes defended
I admit that I thought Jason Fox's career was over once the Lions took Riley Reiff in the 2012 NFL draft. While he had talent, his injury history and poor performances in the 2011 preseason left me with little faith in him. However, I believe I am going to be proved a fool to doubt him, and I am very glad of this.
Fox always had the ability to be a good pass protector at left tackle, but his lack of strength and poor footwork had always let him down in the past. However, reports from training camp are that he has been rock solid in pass protection against the Lions' edge rushers, and that is not to be taken lightly.
With Jeff Backus nursing an injury currently, a strong camp could make Fox the Day 1 starter at left tackle and in the future allow Riley Reiff to play right tackle, which better suits his talents.