By Brian Kalchik @RantsportsBrian on July 22, 2014
The 2013 Detroit Lions had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. After a 6-3 start, the team finished 1-6 and third place in the NFC North. But the Lions may have the most talented roster within the division. With several big free agent signings and improvement from younger players, Detroit will be looking to win their first NFC North title since 1993. Here now are Detroit's top 15 players heading into the 2014 season.
As an undrafted free agent last year, Joseph Fauria made only 18 catches, but seven of those went for touchdowns. He finished second on the team in TDs behind Calvin Johnson.
As a member of the Baltimore Ravens last year, James Ihedigbo had the best season of his career. Ihedigbo finished with 101 combined tackles, three interceptions and 11 pass deflections.
In a contract year last season, Brandon Pettigrew led all Detroit tight ends in receptions (41) and receiving yards (416). Pettigrew was re-signed this offseason to a four-year, $ 16 million deal.
In his first season as a Detroit Lion, Glover Quin finished with 57 combined tackles, three interceptions (tied for second on the team) and nine pass deflections.
Last year, Golden Tate was a key contributor for the Seattle Seahawks' Super Bowl 48 championship team. Tate finished as the Seahawks' leader in receptions (64), receiving yards (898) and finished tied for first in receiving touchdowns with five.
Stephen Tulloch once again was the leader of the Detroit defense. At middle linebacker, Tulloch registered 132 combined tackles, three and a half sacks and two pass deflections.
A first-round pick in 2011, Nick Fairley had his most productive season in his three-year Lions career last season. Fairley had 35 combined tackles, a career-high six sacks and forced two fumbles.
A backup last season to Reggie Bush, Joique Bell was one of the most productive Lions players, both in the running game and the passing game. Bell accounted for 650 rushing yards and eight touchdowns on 166 carries and made 53 receptions for 547 yards.
As Detroit's first-round pick last year, Ezekiel Ansah led the team in sacks with eight. He also forced two fumbles and had 32 combined tackles.
Detroit's biggest free agent acquisition last year, Reggie Bush gained 1,006 rushing yards (the first time a Lions running back gained over 1,000 yards since Kevin Jones in 2004). Bush also finished second on the team in receptions (54) and third in receiving yards (506).
The first overall pick back in 2009, Matthew Stafford still had a productive season in 2013 despite making some boneheaded plays and displaying poor mechanics. Stafford threw for 4,650 yards (the third straight where he threw for over 4,500 yards), had 29 touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating of 84.2.
Statistics can't measure how good an offensive lineman can perform, but as a third-round pick last year, Larry Warford was one of the top interior linemen in the NFL. He started all 16 games, and his play had some thinking that he would be a Pro Bowler.
DeAndre Levy was the biggest breakout player for the Lions last season. Levy finished with 117 combined tackles, six interceptions and 15 pass deflections. He was one of the biggest Pro Bowl snubs last season.
Despite all of his on-field antics, Ndamukong Suh is still one of the best defensive tackles in the game today. Suh went to his third Pro Bowl in his four-year career in 2013 after he notched 48 combined tackles, five and a half sacks and made six pass deflections.
Calvin Johnson is the best Lions player today and one of the best in the NFL regardless of position. Johnson didn't get anywhere near his record-breaking 2012 season, but he still finished with 84 receptions for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns.
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