NFL Detroit Lions

5 Detroit Lions Who Mean the Most to the Team’s Future

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5 Detroit Lions Who Mean the Most to the Team's Future

Detroit Lions
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions had one of the most disappointing finishes in NFL history in 2013. After a 6-3 start, the Lions finished 1-6 to miss their chance at the NFC North regular season title. Injuries and inconsistency led the Lions to this fall, but not all was lost as some intriguing players showed flashes during the season.

The Lions will have to rely on yet another coaching staff to turn around their notoriously bad results. On offense, the Lions have plenty of talent with QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson, giving the team a very explosive passing attack. On defense, the team has some good pieces in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley but little beyond them. The Lions, like every other NFL team, will try to rectify their roster through free agency and the draft, but there are some intriguing pieces already on the roster who could affect the future of the Lions in the coming years.

Those who appear on my list of the top five players who will most affect the future of the Lions will not be among the big-name players. Names like Johnson or Suh did not qualify for this list; instead, these are players who had solid seasons in 2013 and with an added dose of luck can turn the Lions' fortunes around in 2014.

Plenty of players could have made this list. RB Reggie Bush had a solid initial season with the Lions in 2013, but he is already a big-name player so he did not qualify for the list. On defense, safety Glover Quin has already established himself in this league, thereby eliminating him from this discussion.

The five Lions on this list are the players who will have the biggest impact on the team's success or failure over the next two or three seasons. A few of these players are players trying to bounce back from injury or are trying to turn themselves into stars for the Lions. These five will determine if the Lions continue their struggles in 2013 or bounce back to their magical 2011 season.

Brian Kalchik is a writer for Follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook and connect with him on Google.

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5. LaAdrian Waddle

LaAdrian Waddle
Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

With inconsistency plaguing the right tackle position last year, former undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle played surprisingly well, replacing the ineffective tandem of Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox.

Waddle has played his way into the starting lineup and teamed with a talented young group in Riley Reiff and Larry Warford. Detroit's offensive line, not the skill position players, will determine how far the Lions will go in the very winnable NFC North.

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4. Devin Taylor

Devin Taylor
Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Former fourth-round pick Devin Taylor filled in well for the Lions' defensive line after Jason Jones was injured late in the year. At 6-foot-8, Taylor's height and athleticism is an added component to an already talented defensive line.

If Taylor can continue to improve under a new coaching staff, the Lions' front four has enough talent to dictate the outcome of games all by themselves.

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3. Joseph Fauria

Joseph Fauria
Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

With current starting tight end Brandon Pettigrew's future in doubt, undrafted free agent and dancing master Joseph Fauira has a golden opportunity to be a big-time player.

Fauria's regular season stats were not impressive, but what will help the Lions down the road is his ability to score touchdowns in the red zone. If Fauria can continue his impressive rookie season, the Lions' passing attack can be that much more explosive in 2014 and beyond.

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2. Ryan Broyles

Ryan Broyles
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Former Oklahoma Sooners wide receiver Ryan Broyles had a stellar career at Oklahoma by putting up impressive numbers. In the NFL with the Lions, Broyles can't get out of his own way, going through back-to-back injury-riddled seasons.

His inability to remain healthy has led to talks about drafting a wide receiver in the first round. If Broyles can get back to his days at Oklahoma, the Lions' passing attack will be like it was in 2011 and 2012 as the best component of the team.

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1. Darius Slay

Darius Slay
Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Last year's second-round pick Darius Slay struggled in his rookie season, being benched midway through the season.

Slay's talent is second-round worthy, but those results have to show up on Sundays. With the Lions rumored to be taking a cornerback at No. 10 overall, Slay is being put on notice for his poor performance. If he can prove he was worthy of a second-round pick, the first part of fixing the Lions' porous pass defense will be underway.