By Brian Kalchik @BrianKalchik on May 17, 2014
With the 2014 NFL season a mere 110 days away, it’s time to begin projecting what the starting lineups could look like come Week 1.
For the Detroit Lions, the team was instantly upgraded this offseason through free agency with players like Golden Tate, along with draft picks Eric Ebron and Kyle Van Noy. However, last year's collapse is still fresh in everyone's minds.
Here is my projection for Detroit's starting lineup in the 2014 season.
Matthew Stafford heads into his sixth season as a starter in Detroit and is still one of the NFL's best young quarterbacks. After some early injury issues, Stafford has been a durable an elite quarterback at times.
While inconsistent, Stafford is still only 26 years old and after signing a monster contract this past year, He is the unquestioned starter, and backing him up will be Kellen Moore and Dan Orlovsky.
Reggie Bush will have the starting job at running back, but Joique Bell will also see significant action as well. Both Bush and Bell accumulated over 500 yards rushing and receiving in 2013, making them one of the best backfield tandems in the NFL.
Reserves Theo Riddick and Mikel Leshoure should see some snaps as well, most likely in special situations like third down and short yardage. Fullback Jed Collins will help as a blocker.
The Lions addressed their glaring need for a quality starter opposite All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
By signing free agent Golden Tate to a million contract this offseason, the Lions added the leading receiver from the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, and a player who complements Johnson. Backups Ryan Broyles, Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham and sixth-round pick T.J. Jones will provide solid depth and playmaking ability.
After re-signing Brandon Pettigrew this offseason and drafting tight end Eric Ebron 10th overall in the Draft, Detroit has two solid starting tight ends.
Ebron will be used like Jimmy Graham was in New Orleans under new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Pettigrew will be an good inside receiver and a quality blocker. Third-string tight end Joseph Fauria had a breakout season last year and will be a major threat in the red zone.
Both Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle were first-year starters last year and were solid players for the Lions.
Reiff replaced the retiring Jeff Backus and helped the Lions become the sixth-best pass protecting team in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. As an undrafted rookie last year, Waddle was a major surprise, especially as a starter in the second half of the season. Corey Hilliard is a good backup option for the Lions.
Guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford were solid starters for the Lions last year.
Left guard Sims is entering his fifth season in Detroit and despite being rumored to be a cap casualty, he will be a starter. Right guard Warford was one of the best rookies last year and is arguably one of the best right guards in the league. Don't be surprised if backup Rodney Austin slides in at guard, especially if Sims starts to struggle.
After also being a free agent this offseason, the Lions brought back center Dominic Raiola on a one-year deal.
Despite being 35 years old, Raiola had one of his best seasons last year and is approaching his 13th consecutive season as a starter. After drafting their center for the future in rookie third-round pick Travis Swanson, this could very well be Raiola's last season in the Motor City.
Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones were projected to be the starters last year, but Jones suffered a knee injury in just the third week of the season.
Ansah, last year's No. 5 overall pick, justified his selection by notching eight sacks and two forced fumbles. Jones showed some flashes in his first three games, but injuries don't guarantee anything in the NFL. Backups Devin Taylor, Darryl Tapp and rookie Larry Webster are solid backup options.
Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley provide the Lions with one of the most formidable tackle duos in the league.
Suh is coming off a Pro Bowl season and is one of the most disruptive interior linemen in the NFL. Fairley is entering a contract year, and despite plenty of talent, Fairley has been inconsistent at times. Backups Andre Fluellen, C.J. Mosley and rookie Caraun Reid will provide solid depth on the interior.
On the outside, DeAndre Levy played well in 2013, but with rookie second-round draft pick Kyle Van Noy on board, the Lions could have one of the best outside linebacker tandems in football.
Levy had a breakout year, finishing tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions. Van Noy was mainly a pass rusher at BYU, but he will supplant Ashlee Palmer on the outside. Palmer will be a solid backup to Van Noy and a good special teams player.
Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch has been one of the most underrated linebackers in the NFL since he joined the Lions in 2011.
Tulloch is the unquestioned quarterback of the defense, a solid run defender and a more-than-capable pass defender. Tulloch has recorded over 100 combined tackles in each of his first three seasons with the Lions. Behind Tulloch, the Lions have career backups and special teamers in Julian Stanford and Travis Lewis.
Cornerback is the biggest position of uncertainty on the roster, but there are options.
Chris Houston and 2013 second-round pick Darius Slay are the starters, but both struggled last year. Slay was initially a starter, but was benched multiple times for poor performance. Houston is Detroit's best corner, but he was plagued by injuries for most of 2013. Backups Rashean Mathis, Bill Bentley and rookie Nevin Lawson will provide solid depth.
After being a strong safety last year, Glover Quin will now slide over to free safety after the release of Louis Delmas, who signed with the Miami Dolphins.
Quin is an excellent cover safety who earned a 6.7 rating from Pro Football Focus in coverage, and a sure tackler. Quin's ability to play both the free and strong safety positions could make him a versatile defender. Watch out for undrafted rookie free agent Gabe Lynn as a third safety.
Former Baltimore Raven safety James Ihedigbo signed with the Lions after a lengthy delay this offseason, and he is the projected starter at strong safety.
The 30-year-old is coming off one of his best NFL seasons, especially in run support. Ihedigbo's familiarity with new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who came over from Baltimore, gives him a leg up as a starter. Don Carey could see some time if Ihedigbo, a career backup, struggles.
Detroit's kicking game was inconsistent last year with David Akers and Sam Martin, but the return game got a jolt when Jeremy Ross joined the team mid-season.
With Akers now gone, the kicking duties will be given to seventh-round pick Nate Freese. Punting duties will again be handled by Sam Martin, who is looking to bounce back after a poor rookie season. Ross gives the Lions one of the best return men in the NFL.
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