A Healthy Detroit Lions’ Offense Brings Serious Versatility

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The Detroit Lions’ Offense Is Extremely Versatile If They Stay Healthy


People often overuse the word “versatility” when it comes to the NFL. Many times, people use the word to describe players that can do many things but do none of them well. In recent memory, analysts used it to describe Joe Lombardi’s offense. Versatility, in terms of the current Detroit Lions’ offense, means what it should mean. It means options.

The Detroit Lions offense suffered some devastating injuries last year, specifically to the offensive line and their backfield. Without adding any new pieces this offseason, the Detroit Lions would have had a much improved outlook going into next year. The front office added a few significant components to an already promising attack, adding versatility that could very well translate into a more explosive offense in 2017. Let’s take a look at the different pieces that make this offense formidable and the different ways they can be utilized.


Matthew Stafford is Detroit’s franchise quarterback. He is the centerpiece of the Detroit Lions’ offense. That is the situation now. That will be the situation in the future. Fans that cannot get on board with Stafford should probably find a new team to root for. Everything that the Detroit Lions’ front office is doing, they are doing with Stafford in mind. Fans that don’t like Stafford are likely going to have a hard time watching this team for a very long time.

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Last year, Stafford threw a lot of short passes. The media beat us over the head with Cooter’s “quick-pass-offense”.  Throwing short passes is not all that Stafford can do. As fans, we know this. The Lions never opened up the offense the way that they could have last year. The media severely underestimates what this offense is capable behind the arm of Matthew Stafford. He has the arm to take shots down the field. He has the arm to hit those shots down the seam.

The first year of Jim Bob Cooter’s Offense only scratches the surface of what it can be with Stafford’s arm talent. If Cooter opens this offense up, look out defenses. Stafford showed us what he can do in the fourth quarter. Cooter has the opportunity to make those more daring calls more consistently and really make this an exciting offense to watch.

Running Back

The Lions are in a position to do a lot of different things at running back. All of those things depend on Ameer Abdullah staying healthy. If he manages to do that, the Lions have a lot of really nice pieces at the position. We could see as many as three to four backs contributing, at least in some fashion, on an every-game-basis.

There were some rare occasions over the past couple of seasons where we saw Riddick and Abdullah line up in the backfield together. This is something that we could see a lot of in this upcoming season, provided Abdullah stays healthy. This personnel could give the Lions a lot of intriguing options. Abdullah is the primary running back. He also is no slouch as a receiver out of the backfield. Riddick, while best in the receiving game, can run the ball if necessary. With both of them on the field, it would be very tough for defenses to key on any specific type of play.

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As of right now, Zenner and Tion Green look to be the guys that Detroit wants to run in short yardage situations. Dwayne Washington was that guy going into last year, but he struggled mightily and fell out of favor late in the year. He is still a raw and inexperienced runner and, optimistically, may still turn into the short yardage player that the Lions hoped he could be. These guys are the thunder to Abdullah and Riddick’s lighning.

Tight End

I strongly believe that the Detroit Lions’ offense hinges on the tight end position in 2017. Luckily, this is a position that the Detroit Lions’ front office spent a good deal of resources on in the offseason. We will (hopefully) never have to see the abominations that were our three-tackle-sets. The Lions have added some key blocking pieces that will complement Eric Ebron’s receiving capabilities.

Darren Fells, a free agent the Lions signed from Arizona, excels as a blocker. Analysts have noted that he is stronger as a pass blocker but is considered at least an adequate run blocker. This is something that Eric Ebron was not in 2016. We will likely see Fells mostly in goal line and short yardage situations, but the key is that the Lions can actually run those formations now. Too often the Lions were forced into three-tackle-formations or forced to play with three receivers from inside the five yard line. The Lions now have the option to use three receivers rather than being forced into it.

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Michael Roberts, the Lions’ fourth round draft pick, is another piece at tight end that will bring some versatility to the offense. I would argue that he is one of the most crucial pieces to the looks that Detroit can bring in 2017. Roberts is a big tight end. He is a big tight end that can move bodies. He can play the blocking role that Darren Fells was brought in to play. As a bonus, he can also catch the ball. Roberts is going to develop into a nice redzone threat for the Detroit Lions’ offense as the year develops. Defenses can’t key on him. He can stay in to block or he can get out and run a route. Where Ebron can be a receiver, and Fells can be a blocker, Roberts can do both.

Between the three tight ends that we are likely to see in 2017, there are a lot of different looks that Jim Bob Cooter can bring. Stafford now has two serious receiving threats at the position. The Lions’ offense also has two guys who can help grind out the short yards in the running game.

Wide Receiver

This is the position that excites me the most for this upcoming season. I think that we should all be excited. Seen as a position of weakness going into the offseason, the Detroit Lions have a lot of different ways to toy with defensive coordinators with the group of pass catchers that they have.

The Lions’ offense lost Anquan Boldin this offseason. He could still come back. That is possible, but the front office seems to have found ways to replace his production and role in the Lions’ offense in case he decides not to return to Detroit.

Kenny Golladay is the only major addition to this group in the offseason. A third round pick in the 2017 NFL draft, Golladay looks to be a project player with immense upside. He may not have significant contributions next year, but he could very well develop into a guy that becomes a staple of the offense going forward. His size and athleticism offer a tantalizing peek into what might be in the years to come.

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Rather than adding to the wide receiver position by adding wide receivers, the Lions have bolstered the position by adding pieces elsewhere and by getting their guys healthy.

By adding Darren Fells and Michael Roberts to the tight end position, the Lions have freed up Eric Ebron to play more of a receiving role. The Lions  never drafted him to be a guy that was going to do serious work in the blocking department. I’m sure the front office hoped that he would develop in that area, but everybody knew that blocking would never be a strength of his game.

For the first time in his career, the Lions have the opportunity to utilize Ebron properly. They have the ability to maximize his skill set. It wasn’t Quinn that drafted him, but you better believe that the Roberts and Fells signings were meant to move him to that receiving tight end role. He might take over the big-slot role that Boldin held last year. He might not, but you can be sure that he will be utilized more properly this year.

Theo Riddick is going to have the opportunity to move out into a slot receiver role more frequently as well. With Abdullah healthy and more faith in Zenner, Riddick is going to have plenty of opportunity to catch passes rather than trying to take on a full workload as a running back. Many people, including myself, feel this is the role that suits him best.

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Between Ebron and Riddick, you have two different kinds of slot receivers. You have Ebron, the big slot that can beat you with his size and athleticism. Then you have Riddick, the smaller slot who can beat you with his quickness and route running. The Lions are going to have the opportunity to deploy one or both of these guys in different situations and keep defenses on their heels.

The Lions’ New Look

Detroit has never had the opportunity to utilize some of their players properly. Those players have their chance this year. Riddick is going to get a chance to do what he does best. He is not going to have to carry an entire running game. He is going to get the opportunity to catch the ball and be electric in space. Ebron is going to get to focus on being a receiver rather than a traditional tight end. He will still have blocking duties. He must improve in that area, but this removes some of that pressure.

With the addition of Roberts and Golladay, the Lions’ offense has some much needed size in the redzone. The redzone was a problem last year. It shouldn’t be this year. Zach Zenner, Tion Green, and Dwayne Washington are all going to have every opportunity to develop into a short yardage back that the Lions desperately needed last year.

The Lions now have the opportunity to run offenses that feature any combination of two running backs, three tight ends, and three receivers. That is versatility that the Lions’ offense never had last year. Jim Bob Cooter had to resort to bubble screens and reverses to bolster a struggling running game. Offensive linemen played out of position. Ebron was both the blocking and the receiving tight end, and Dwayne Washington shouldered the bulk of the carries for a time. Those days are over. Detroit has options now. Those options just need to stay healthy.

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Thanks for checking out the article everyone. Go Lions! You can follow me on Twitter @Lanny1925 and be sure to join the community on the Detroit Lions subreddit.

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About the Author

Sean Lanigan
I love fantasy football, fantasy baseball, music, books, video games, and all things nerd. I'm a big football fan and a bigger Detroit Lions fan. I was born in Michigan but have spent the vast majority of my life living in Viking and Packer country. If you are a Lions fan in Minnesota, hit me up, and let's watch some football.