The offseason training program for the Detroit Lions is almost completed and the next step for the players after roughly a six-week break is the start of training camp at the end of next month. Training camp is when the competition heats up, and jobs are won and lost.
Players in this league make big leaps in production year over year for a number of different reasons – more experience, higher comfort level or better scheme fit just to name a few.
From this current group of Lions players, here’s a look at five with the potential to have breakout years due to some of those factors:
Kenny Golladay, WR, second season
We got a glimpse of what Golladay can do both in Game 1 and Game 16 last season. In between, there was a nagging hamstring injury and some inconsistencies that happen with most rookie players.
But Golladay’s raw talent was certainly evident. He had six catches of 30-plus yards last season, and finished with 28 receptions for 477 yards and three scores in 11 games.
So far during the spring and early summer, Golladay’s looked much more comfortable as a route runner, and he and quarterback Matthew Stafford have been on the same page during the OTA and minicamp practices open to the media.
Golladay’s size, speed and gained experience should allow him to be even more of a matchup weapon this season in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense alongside Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr.
“This may be the hottest take of the year, but I feel like Golladay has the possibility to be a No. 1 receiver,” former Lions receiver and current NFL Network analyst Nate Burleson told detroitlions.com earlier this offseason.
Jarrad Davis, LB, second season
Davis was thrown into the mix as a starting MIKE linebacker from Day 1. That’s a tough task for any rookie, but Davis handled the job efficiently. Veteran safety Glover Quin, who commands the respect of everyone in the Lions locker room, called Davis a natural leader during last season.
Head coach Matt Patricia has brought over with him a defensive scheme that values versatility and expects a lot from its linebackers. Davis led all rookies and first-year players with 96 tackles in 14 games last season. There’s no reason to think he won’t continue to excel in Patricia’s multiple scheme defense that relies heavily on linebackers making plays.
Davis struggled some last year in coverage, but has worked extremely hard this offseason on that area of his game. He’s smart, athletic, fast and versatile, and has the potential to be a big-time player in this new defense.
Quandre Diggs, DB, fourth season
Diggs has made a living early in his career as an instinctive and hard-hitting slot cornerback. It's a role Diggs played again most of last season, but late in the year, due to an injury to starting safety Tavon Wilson, Diggs was moved to safety the last five games of the season.
He had a stretch in those five games where he recorded an interception in three straight games. Diggs finished the season with 55 tackles, nine passes defended and those three picks.
Diggs has spent time at both the slot cornerback spot and at safety during the open portion of OTA and minicamp practices this offseason. More of that time has been spent at safety, however, with Wilson still working his way back from injury.
Diggs is instinctive, physical and has shown the ability to see things develop before they actually do. Those are all terrific traits for a safety.
“He’s smart, physical, can tackle, all those different things,” fellow safety Quin said of Diggs after he made the switch last year.
“So, when you see a player that is like that, with the ball skills he has, you obviously feel like, ‘Man, if we can put the guy at safety, he should be able to handle it.’”
Whether or not Diggs will play safety or nickel cornerback in the fall is unclear, but having an entire offseason to train his eyes and learn the scheme should serve him well wherever he ultimately slots in. He was impressive at safety last year, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t be ever better with the work he’s gotten at the position this offseason.
Devon Kennard, OLB, fifth season
The versatile outside linebacker was one of Bob Quinn’s first targets in free agency as the Lions aimed to revamp their linebacking corps and add size to that unit.
In Kennard, the Lions have a player with experience both as an off-the-ball SAM linebacker and as a pass rusher. For a defense that plans to be very multiple, those are nice traits to have at their disposal.
Where Kennard could ultimately make his biggest gains in 2018 is as a pass rusher. The Lions are going to bring pressure from a lot of different fronts and angles, and Kennard is likely to factor into those plans. He’s coming off a four-sack season for the New York Giants last year, and had 4.5 sacks as a rookie in 2014.
In this defense, with the way the Lions plan to use him, there’s the potential to see those sack numbers significantly rise this upcoming season.
Michael Roberts, TE, second season
Eric Ebron was released this offseason, which means the tight end position is open for someone to step up and take the reins. Roberts is certainly in the mix to be a player who can do that.
He’ll have competition for the role from Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Hakeem Valles and others, but this is a terrific opportunity for the athletic Roberts to step up and see a significant leap in production from last year when he caught just four passes as a rookie in more of a blocking role.
Roberts says he feels much more comfortable in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense in year two, and that’s allowing him to play faster and make more plays. He’s made a couple eye-catching plays during open practices this spring and summer.