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Grading Every Lions Starter's 2013 Regular Season

Jeff RisdonContributor IDecember 30, 2013

Grading Every Lions Starter's 2013 Regular Season

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    The Detroit Lions' 2013 season is in the books, mercifully capped by a 14-13 loss in Minnesota. What was once so promising faded to another year of bitter disappointment and frustration. 

    It's hard to believe, but there really were a lot of positives for Detroit this year. These grades will reflect those high points as well as the December doldrums. 

    Every regular starter will be graded here. In cases where players shared roles, all will be addressed as long as at least four starts were registered by a player. 

    The grading criteria here are a little different than the normal weekly grades. This is more of an overarching impression for the total season performance. Expectations are considered but not heavily weighed.

    All stats used here are courtesy NFL.com. These slides will also feature scoring figures obtained from Pro Football Focus (or PFF), which requires a subscription to view premium statistics. 

    Here are the regular-season grades for every Lions starter: 

Quarterback

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    Matthew Stafford

    The numbers are pretty impressive for the box-score scouts. Stafford threw for 4,650 yards and 29 touchdowns, good for third and fifth in the league respectively. 

    His rocket of an arm was both a blessing and a curse. While it facilitated some truly amazing plays—the quick slant to Calvin Johnson in Arizona or this frozen rope to Kris Durham—it also led to many interceptions and misfires. 

    The 19 interceptions were the sixth-most in the league, and they mounted with alarming frequency as the season progressed. His propensity for fading in the fourth quarter really hurt the Lions down the stretch. 

    Still, it's hard to imagine the offense putting up near as many yards or being as potent without him. 

     

    Grade: C+

     

Running Back

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    Reggie Bush

    Bush's debut season in Detroit was a case of highs and lows. His explosiveness as both a runner and a receiving threat fundamentally changed the offense for the better. 

    Bush brought a big-play dynamic which was sorely lacking. He rushed for over 1,000 yards and also topped 500 as a receiver while scoring seven combined touchdowns. 

    Alas, Bush also lost four fumbles. He missed two full games and parts of others with a litany of minor injuries. At times his running was tentative and ineffective.

    Grade: B

     

    Joique Bell

    The Detroit native had a breakout season, joining Bush in producing over 500 yards both as a receiver and a runner. They are the first teammates in NFL history to accomplish that feat. He finished second on the team in both receiving yards (547) and touchdowns (eight). 

    Bell's ability to break tackles is what stands out. Pro Football Focus credited him with forcing 32 missed tackles through 15 games, ranking 12th in the league despite being just 28th in carries. 

    Moreover, his hard-charging style and relentless effort earned him wide admiration from fans and not just Lions fans either. 

    Grade: A-

Wide Receivers

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    Calvin Johnson

    Johnson remains cemented as the best wide receiver in the game. In the two games he missed, the Lions offense was pathetic. 

    Despite battling a knee issue which kept him a fixture on the injury report, Johnson still managed 84 catches for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

    Those are monster numbers, but they represent a letdown from the last two seasons. While the touchdowns spiked up, so did the dropped passes. By his lofty standards, this campaign was not top grade.

    Grade: B

     

    Kris Durham

    The 2013 season proved beyond any doubt that Kris Durham should never be a starting wide receiver in the NFL ever again. He cannot get separation from coverage, and his hands are not good. 

    Even his best attribute, blocking, is nothing more than average. Pro Football Focus agreed, ranking Durham 107th out of 110 wideouts overall. If he's higher than fifth on the Lions depth chart next season, it's not a good thing. 

    Grade: F

     

    Nate Burleson

    He started the season so strongly, with 19 catches in the first three games. Then he broke his arm in a car accident and missed two months. 

    When he came back, Mr. Lionblood was not the same. He managed just 20 more catches over the final six weeks and was not able to get himself open as reliably. Burleson does earn a bump for leadership, but he'll need to do more between the sidelines next year to justify his position.

    Grade: C

Tight Ends

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    Brandon Pettigrew

    After a slow start to the season, Pettigrew appeared to be a lost cause. It even spawned this column from September, "Why Brandon Pettigrew Hurts the Lions."

    The free-agent-to-be turned things around in the middle half of the season. His shaky hands suddenly became trusty, and his inconsistent blocking solidified as well. Unfortunately it didn't last, as he fell off once again in his final few outings before missing the last two games with an injury.

    His status will be one of the more pressing offseason questions for the Lions.

    Grade: C-

     

    Joseph Fauria

    One of the more electrifying presences of the 2013 NFL rookie class, Fauria came from out of nowhere to score seven touchdowns. Those all came on his first 12 receptions, primarily as a red-zone specialist. There were blown blocking assignments and misread routes along the way. 

    A funny thing happened on the way to labeling Fauria a fluky niche player. When given an expanded role late in the season, he thrived. He wound up as PFF's 12th-rated tight end for the season and looks like a full-time starter going forward. 

    Grade: A-

Offensive Line

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    Riley Reiff

    Heading into the season, left tackle was one of the biggest questions surrounding the Detroit Lions. Riley Reiff, who played sparingly as a first-round rookie in 2012, took over the position.

    Reiff was better than expected. He had some dominating games, notably blanking Julius Peppers. He also had some struggles, such as the first Green Bay game. He's not an elite talent, but he was more than good enough to earn a passing grade. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Rob Sims

    The veteran guard had an up-and-down season. His pass protection was generally solid, the Giants game being an exception. Sims was better on the move as a run-blocker but appeared to lose a little agility from recent campaigns.

    Grade: C

     

    Dominic Raiola

    For an aging veteran who had to take a massive pay cut just to stick on the team, Raiola turned in arguably the best season of his career.

    The Detroit center added bulk but didn't lose any agility. Raiola still had issues with stout nose tackles, but he stepped up his run-blocking prowess. He gets bonus points for leadership, even with his embarrassing incident with the Wisconsin band. 

    Grade: B

     

    Larry Warford

    The fact that Warford garnered as much positive notoriety as he did as a rookie right guard tells you all you need to know about the War Daddy. He was a fixture near the top of PFF's Rookie of the Year race, and he's already one of the best guards in the league, period. 

    Grade: A

     

    LaAdrian Waddle

    It took some time before the undrafted rookie took over at right tackle. Once he did, No. 66 looked like he belonged right away. His play tailed off a bit late, and he missed the final game with an injury.

    Still, Waddle did not allow a sack while playing half the season as a rookie free-agent. He showed he deserves to enter camp as the starter, and he offers real long-term promise for the position. 

     

    Grade: A-

     

    Corey Hilliard

    Hilliard has been the swing tackle for a few seasons, and his play in the starting lineup at right tackle confirmed that he fits better in that reserve role. There was a very visible drop-off in run-blocking between he and Waddle. 

    Grade: C-

Defensive Line

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    Ndamukong Suh

    His modest statistics (49 tackles, 5.5 sacks) don't come close to illustrating his dominance. He was a strong contender for Defensive Player of the Month in September, and his performance against Green Bay on Thanksgiving might be the most overwhelming performance by any defensive tackle all season. 

    He did have some dumb penalties, notably in the opener against Minnesota, and there were several games where the team needed him to produce more than "close but no cigar" on sacks. Yet he deserves All-Pro designation for what is his most complete season to date. 

    Grade: B

     

    Nick Fairley

    One of the most inconsistent players in the league, the enigmatic Fairley is at times invisible, other times dominant. And there's no rhyme or reason for the vacillations in play. I guess it all balances out in the end.

    Grade: C

     

    Ziggy Ansah

    Ziggy led the Lions with eight sacks in his rookie campaign, while also forcing two fumbles. He had four other sacks and three forced fumbles wiped out by penalties. 

    The Lions drafted him fifth overall to be an impact performer. Mission accomplished. The fact that his run defense progressed nicely is gravy. Ansah is going to be a force going forward as he learns the intricacies of the game. 

    Grade: B+

     

    Willie Young

    The starting left end had a nice bounce-back season from his miserable 2012. He consistently generated pressure on opposing quarterbacks, though he managed to finish with just three sacks. While he had some gaffes in run support, he also made a lot of hustle plays. 

    His grade gets docked a bit for having at least one penalty in each of the first five halves of the season, two of which wiped out turnovers. 

    Grade: B-

Linebackers

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    DeAndre Levy

    The veteran was one of the most improved players in the entire league. His six interceptions tied for second on the season. 

    Levy made a lot more impact plays than he had in his entire four years prior. He established himself as one of the better coverage linebackers in the league and deserved a Pro Bowl selection.

    Grade: A-

     

    Stephen Tulloch

    Tulloch led the team in tackles and spearheaded the dramatic improvement in run defense. He played much more north/south, making more plays closer to and behind the line of scrimmage. 

    There were some ugly moments in coverage (hello Cincinnati!) but overall he handled himself pretty well. His 3.5 sacks were a nice bonus, though he's clearly not a natural blitzer. 

    Grade: B

Secondary

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    Louis Delmas

    Much like Fairley, the starting safety is wildly inconsistent. He's a gambler, and while that attitude pays off with big plays like the interception in the finale, it can also surrender big plays. His flippant regard for safety drew some deserved penalties while also knocking out teammate Bill Bentley (pictured). 

    Two things which help his grade: Delmas stayed healthy all year, and his range in coverage was much better than in prior years. He also earns a bump for being the vocal leader of the defense and a great ambassador in the community. 

    Grade: B-

     

    Glover Quin

    The other starting safety also displayed some inconsistency. His coverage ability against tight ends was solid, and he proved very good at swooping in on run support to submarine ball-carriers. 

    Yet he had some notable clunkers. His pursuit angles were iffy at times, and he flat-out whiffed on a few tackles as well. The two sacks and three interceptions help level the ledger.

    Grade: C+

     

    Chris Houston

    The veteran corner had a couple of really strong games (Dallas, Arizona), but otherwise Houston was in over his head when matched up with the oppositions' top receivers. His maddening inability to anticipate or locate the ball in the air allows receivers to make plays even when Houston has tight coverage.

    Lingering injuries, which forced him to miss three of the final four games, mitigate the negative grade. So does his generally willing run support. But if Houston is the top corner on the roster again next fall, the Lions have a problem. 

    Grade: D+

     

    Rashean Mathis

    Signed off the street late in preseason, Mathis was a godsend. He was the best cover corner on the team, and it wasn't really close. Mathis proved reliable and positionally responsible, a steadying influence for the youngsters behind him on the depth chart. 

     

    Grade: B

     

    Bill Bentley

    The Lions start three corners and just two linebackers, and Bentley manned the slot when he was healthy. Unfortunately he missed several games with various injuries. 

    The second-year pro was solid in short-area coverage and run support, but struggled the further away he got from the line. He played well enough to earn the same role next season.

    Grade: C+

Specialists

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    Sam Martin

    The rookie punter and kickoff specialist proved worthy of the fifth-round draft pick. He finished ninth in the Pro Football Focus punter ratings and 10th in the league in net punting. 

    Martin had some consistency issues but appears to be the long-term solution at what has been a problem spot for the Lions in recent years. 

    Grade: B-

     

    David Akers

    He made 19-of-24 field goals, a low percentage for a low number of attempts. Two of his kicks were blocked, though one of those was not his fault. It was a disappointing season, likely his only one in Detroit. 

    Grade: C

     

    Jeremy Ross

    After taking over the return specialist role from Micheal Spurlock (Grade: D) halfway through the season, Ross seized the opportunity. He averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return, good for fifth in the league for those with at least 15 returns. 

    In addition, four of his 15 punt returns netted at least 20 yards. That's better than double the rate of Stefan Logan a year ago. The job will be Ross' entering 2014, and Lions fans should feel good about that.

    Grade: A

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