By Nick Shook
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The Detroit Lions proved correct the popular thought of football being a pass-first game in 2017.
Detroit finished seventh in points scored (410) and 13th in the NFL in yards per game (337.8), despite finishing dead last in rushing with 76.3 yards per contest.
That’s simply remarkable.
Detroit missed the playoffs due to a 9-7 finish and a strong year from the NFC South, which produced both wild cards. For much of the season, though, the Lions were in the hunt. Their downfall was a lack of consistency from week to week.
We “could” do anything. An asteroid “could” strike the planet before kickoff Sunday. You “could” stumble upon the greatest source of renewable energy on earth and effectively render fossil fuels useless. Dez “could” have caught it.
But Jones has reason to be confident, starting with, well, himself.
Jones morphed into one of the league’s most under-appreciated big-play threats in 2017, seemingly coming down with a huge grab on a weekly basis. The numbers — 61 receptions, 1,101 yards and nine touchdowns — back it up. The most telling: His 18.0 yards per reception, the highest per-catch mark of any receiver with 20 or more grabs in the 2017 season.
Yes, you read that correctly. No one was consistently worth big gains through the air more than Jones.
Add that in with top-three passer Matthew Stafford, fellow 1,000-yard receiver Golden Tate, the return of left tackle Taylor Decker and a healthy Rick Wagner, and the Lions are set up for success in 2018.
“With our second year, you seen a lot of improvement,” Jones said. “You seen a lot of continuity within all of us, cause it was all of our first year in the system, [offensive coordinator] Jim Bob [Cooter] included, so we’re all getting to know each other and stuff. And this past year I think a lot of things were done. It was great in terms of how we connect with each other, what we expect and stuff like that. and he’s great at doing it, so it’s nothing but excitement coming forth.”
Much has been made of the improvement of Detroit’s offense since Stafford and Cooter were paired together in the middle of the 2016 season. Imagine if Detroit can get something going on the ground while also expecting a defensive improvement under Matt Patricia, who’s expected to be hired as Detroit’s new head coach after Super Bowl LII.
The Lions rolled with speedy-but-flukey back Ameer Abdullah (3.3 yards per carry in 2017) and satellite back Theo Riddick in 2017, but enter a draft rich at the running back position. Detroit’s second-round pick (52nd overall) could be used to find a key contributor (USC’s Ronald Jones, Daniel Jeremiah’s No. 12 prospect, comes to mind).
The adjustment period under a new head coach, the potential personnel changes (is Eric Ebronreturning?) and the way the rest of the NFC North takes shape (Aaron Rodgers‘ healthy return, the future of the Vikings, Chicago’s continued rebuild) will all directly affect the potential of Jones’ prediction coming true. With Stafford, Jones, Tate and even the promising Kenny Golladay, the Lions appear to be positioned for more offensive success in 2018.