Back in August, the Lions were looking ahead to the 2009 season as a chance to redeem themselves from the 0-16 record of 2008. Few fans thought they would suddenly become playoff contenders, but most hoped that they would rack up enough wins to finally reach respectability in the league. Mission not quite accomplished.
Although it is true that 2-14 is better than 0-16, there was just not enough improvement to warrant a great deal of kudos. The Lions were consistently outclassed and outplayed by even mediocre opponents. Only one team wound up with a worse record this year: the St. Louis Rams who came in at 1-15. Coincidentally (or maybe not), their only win of the year came when they visited Ford Field.
The one constant throughout the season has been that the Lions are severely lacking in overall talent. By the end of the year, some positions were being filled by players who would barely make the roster of most NFL teams, let alone be named starters. There is only so much coaching and game planning can do to overcome the dismal “talent gap” that the Lions faced on a near weekly basis.
On a brighter note, the Lions have perhaps the best crop of rookies to have graced Ford Field in a decade. Although QB Matthew Stafford and TE Brandon Pettigrew were lost to injury this year, they each showed enough promise to give coaches and fans hope for the future. Safety Louis Delmas is a legitimate contender for Defensive Rookie of the Year and has become a true leader of the team. It also looks like the Lions have found potential fixtures in linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill.
There are also a number (okay, a small number) of veterans who are solid contributors. Calvin Johnson may be the only elite player in the bunch, but there are others who are good if not great players. These include linebackers Julian Peterson and Larry Foote, center Dominic Raiola, and offensive tackles Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus (although Cherilus is on the bubble – Backus too for that matter).
This leaves just about every position outside of quarterback, tight end and linebacker as a “need” to be addressed in the offseason. Detroit will once again have premier draft position – something that has been of little avail throughout the last decade. However, if the Lions front office can pull off a 2010 draft on par with 2009, the “talent gap” will be greatly lessened for years to come.