The Detroit Lions enter the 2011 campaign with something they have not had in the past 10 years: expectations. With the added pressure of hype comes pressure on players who are not used to feeling it. To counteract this, unsung heroes need to step up.
The Lions are a young team filled with talent. There are plenty of guys that have the ability to step up and make a difference. The Lions will need veterans like Calvin Johnson and Kyle Vanden Bosch to put the team on their back. These efforts, augmented with young breakout talent, could lead to the playoffs.
Here are the 7 members of the Lions that should be breakout stars this year.
Jahvid Best saw his rookie campaign cut short by injury. While there are some concerns about his durability, the addition of Mikel Leshoure should ease these worries for Lions fans.
When Best is on the field, he is a monster. He has breakaway speed and can take any touch all the way to the crib. If he gets sustained carries, he could have an eye opening year. Last year, he averaged 3.2 yards per carry. This year that number could improve greatly with an improved offense around him.
I am rarely a proponent of rookie wide receivers. It simply is not a position that guys pick up quickly. I think that Young could be the exception to that rule, however, this year.
In the Lions' system, they will ask Young to run routes over the middle for first downs. He seems to have very steady hands and could fill the Wes Welker, possession receiver role very nicely. He could also see some action on end arounds and slants too. These would seem to all be to Young's strengths.
The only thing we might have to work with him on is ball protection, as you can see from the picture.
This defense is starving for a star in the secondary. Last year the secondary was absolutely abysmal. They couldn't defend the pass, they couldn't help against the run. The Alphonso Smith blooper play kind of summed up their year.
If Delmas could break out as one of the top safeties in the league, this might be one of the better defenses in the league. The signs are there that he could have such a breakout year. As a little known draft prospect out of Western Michigan, he has shown great improvement from his first two years.
His leadership and play will go a long way towards determining the success level of the Lions this year.
While we can all agree that the kid has a great story, and we all root for him, his play on the field could be an even bigger story this season. The linebacking core was much maligned last season as it really was porous. This should provide Campbell a great opportunity to get some snaps.
At every level, Campbell has surprised. He was lightly recruited out of high school yet made a name for himself at Army. He was forced to spend some time serving in the armed forces but is back full time with the Lions.
He brings an aura of leadership and determination that could really help out on the field. He has the skills to cover sideline to sideline and is pretty good in pass defense.
A breakout season could be just what the Lions need to get going.
Stefan Logan has developed into one of the more dangerous return men over the past couple years. The impact that a quality returned can make cannot be overstated. Remember the impact Dante Hall had several years back? He was practically a rock-star.
His stats were good last year as he was fourth in the NFL is kickoff return average and fifth in punt return average. He was the only player in the league to be in the top 5 of both. If he has a repeat performance or builds upon last year, he could be looking at a Pro Bowl berth.
Brandon Pettigrew has quietly made himself into one of the premier pass-catching tight ends in the league. He can block and he can catch.
I don't need to explain the value of a great tight end, especially with a below average offensive line. If Pettigrew can continue his development, his career trajectory would lead him to having a great year.
Pettigrew could be one of the biggest breakout stories this season throughout the NFL; he is supremely talented and has the desire to be great.
At age 45, Jim Schwartz has paid his dues. He has worked his way up from North Carolina Central to the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans to being the head man in Detroit. He has brought a hard nosed style to the team and has emphasized toughness.
Schwartz has been doing a great job in Detroit changing the culture of the team over the past 2 years. If the Lions breakout this year, he will receive a lot more notoriety and could enter the upper echelon of coaches.
In 2011, the Detroit faithful finally has hope. Whether the Lions come through on this promise remains to be seen. These 7 breakout stars could be the difference between 6-10 and a playoff run.