The Jets face the Detroit Lions on Monday night. Let’s take an in-depth look at their roster, depth chart and system to assess who to be wary of on gameday.
Detroit’s 2017 season was ultimately a disappointment as they were eliminated from postseason contention with a week to go after losing a fourth quarter lead in Cincinnati. They still ended up with a winning record though, having won three of their last four and six of their last nine, and are favored to win on Monday night.
Despite missing out on the postseason and not being voted to the pro bowl, Matthew Stafford quietly posted career highs in yards per attempt (7.9), quarterback rating (99.3) and touchdown/interception ratio (2.9) in 2017. He only had more than one interception in two games all season.
Stafford is backed up by Matt Cassel, who has started one game for Tennessee in each of the last two seasons.
The Lions have pretty good continuity on the offensive line as four of their starters played together a lot last season and started the last three games in the roles they will have this year.
Pass protection was an issue last season, as Stafford was sacked a career-high 47 times and had a career-high seven fumbles. Ricky Wagner’s five sacks allowed led the team, although a lot of the sacks were coverage sacks.
Graham Glasgow replaced Travis Swanson at center towards the end of last year, having begun the year at guard. Taylor Decker, the 16th overall pick in 2016, started at left tackle, although he missed the first half of the season. Two veterans, Wagner and TJ Lang, were given $9.5 million per year each to be the starting right tackle and right guard last year. The 30-year old Lang ultimately went to the pro bowl as an alternate, although he led the Lions with seven penalties.
Joe Dahl started at left guard with that group in the last three games of last year but the Lions will hope that rookie Frank Ragnow - the 20th overall pick - will provide an upgrade, and he did a good job as a run blocker in preseason. The versatile youngster Dahl remains with the team as a back-up.
The bench also includes Kenny Wiggins and another rookie, Tyrell Crosby. Wiggins has 25 career starts, including all 16 games for the Chargers last year. He graded out poorly though and gave up the second-highest amount of pressure in the league at his position.
The Lions don’t list a back-up center, having released former Jet Wesley Johnson in final cuts. Glasgow was hurt in preseason, but made a quick recovery. In the event he gets hurt again, the Lions will likely just move Ragnow to center, where he played extensively at Arkansas.
The Lions looked set to trade Ameer Abdullah during the offseason, but he made the roster after Zach Zenner was placed on injured reserve. Abdullah led the Lions with 552 rushing yards last year, but only averaged 3.3 yards per carry.
Theo Riddick and LaGarrette Blount are both officially listed as starters. Riddick caught 71 passes last year in a third-down back role. Blount, a power back, led the Lions in preseason with a pedestrian 98 yards on 27 carries. Blount beat the Jets three times with New England, but only averaged 3.4 yards per carry in those games.
Also on the roster is promising rookie Kerryon Johnson, who showed some promise with a 4.5 yards per carry average and five catches for 43 yards in preseason action.
Former Jet Nick Bellore has turned into a pretty useful fullback, having made the conversion a few years ago.
Golden Tate is the Lions’ top receiver and he led them with 92 catches last season, as he posted the third thousand-yard season of his career. However, Marvin Jones actually led the team in receiving yards (1,101) and touchdowns (nine). Jones has had success against the Jets in the past, scoring four times in the Bengals’ blow-out win in 2013.
Jones was first in the NFL and reserve Kenny Golladay was fifth in terms of yards per reception last year, underlining Detroit’s big play potential. Jones alone had 20 plays of 20 yards or more in 2017. Golladay could be set to break out after an impressive rookie year in 2017.
The Lions have some good options on the bench too. TJ Jones, a possession/slot option, caught 30 passes last year and diminutive undrafted rookie Brandon Powell had a dynamite preseason with 16 catches.
At tight end, Eric Ebron is gone, following a 53-catch season. The Lions signed former Seattle Seahawk Luke Willson to replace him. Levine Toilolo, a blocking specialist, and Michael Roberts, a promising fourth round pick who caught just four passes as a rookie, are the back-ups. Little-known Hakeem Valles also made the roster following an impressive preseason campaign.
One of the things that attracted the Lions to new head coach Matt Patricia is his success with New England’s defense. They’ll be hoping he can help them improve upon their 27th overall ranking from last year, without damaging the playmaking ability that saw them rank third in the league in turnovers. New England’s defense was actually below the Lions’ in 29th, though.
The Lions list their official depth chart in a 4-3 configuration, but Patricia is expected to run a hybrid system, like most Bill Belichick disciples these days.
Ezekial Ansah, a top five pick playing on the franchise tag, is the team’s top pass rusher. He posted 12 sacks last year and 14.5 in 2015, although he only had two in 2016.
The other starting end is a player who was once on the Jets’ roster, Kerry Hyder. He had eight sacks in 2016 after moving from defensive tackle to defensive end but missed last year with an Achilles tendon injury.
It’s all change at defensive tackle with veteran additions Ricky Jean-Francois and Sylvester Williams listed as starters. Williams is a former first round pick who started 11 times with the Titans last season. Jean-Francois is with his fourth team in two years.
2016 second rounder A’Shawn Robinson started every game last year, but was a disappointment as he only recorded half a sack. He might have a bigger role on Monday night because Jean-Francois did not practice on Friday due to illness.
There isn’t a great deal of quality depth on the defensive line with only two other players listed. These are rookie Da’Shawn Hand and recent waiver claim Romeo Okwara.
After a productive rookie year that saw him record 96 tackles and two sacks, Jarrad Davis will be expected to take on more of a leadership role now that leading tackler Tahir Whitehead has departed for Oakland. The Lions will need Davis to cut down on his number of missed tackles and improve in coverage.
Christian Jones and Devon Kennard have been signed to be the other two starters after each started 11 games last year - Jones with the Bears and Kennard with the Giants. Jalen Reeves-Maybin provided depth as a rookie and will remain in that role this year, but Steve Longa is on injured reserve.
Off the bench, youngsters Marquis Flowers and Eli Harold could see some action as edge defenders when Detroit go into 3-4 formations. Both are recent additions, as Flowers was surprisingly cut by New England and Harold was acquired from the 49ers via trade.
The Lions’ secondary is keyed by pro bowl cornerback Darius Slay, who was tied for the league lead with eight interceptions last season. The Jets might be wise to stay away from Slay and go after the 5’9” Nevin Lawson, who was extended to remain in the starting line-up for the third straight year.
Three players who were rookies last year round out the rotation. Teez Tabor, a second-rounder, is the primary back-up. Fifth-rounder Jamal Agnew will move up the depth chart after the departure of veteran DJ Hayden. The undrafted Dee Virgin, who spent last year with Houston but did not play, was recently claimed off waivers.
The starting safeties are Quandre Diggs and veteran Glover Quin. Diggs converted to safety following an injury to starter Tavon Wilson, having previous been the team’s nickelback, and the team has opted to keep him in that role and sign him to an extension. Quin and Diggs each intercepted three passes last year, with Quin also adding four forced fumbles.
Wilson is back as the third safety, with Miles Killebrew, a hybrid safety-type, also listed as a second stringer.
The Lions have a solid kicking game. 34-year old Matt Prater is one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL and punter Sam Martin is well-respected too.
In the return game, Agnew had a huge year in 2017, returning two punts for scores and averaging over 15 yards per return. Abdullah is listed as the kick returner.
Powell is an option as well, though. He had an 80-yard punt return for a score in preseason. Jones and Tate are also capable of handling punts.
In coverage, reserve wide receiver Bradley Marquez could provide a boost as a punt gunner. He only played one game last year, but had 16 special teams tackles in 30 career games prior to that and had three in preseason. They’ve lost a few of their top performers, but Bellore, Killebrew and Reeves-Maybin should contribute.