Best Offenses in the NFL | The Detroit Lions Take the Next Step

by Joel Ybarra · Best Ball Plays & Strategy

Reaching the Top Tier

The Detroit Lions have been football’s darlings the last two seasons. They have also cemented themselves as one of the best offenses in the NFL. Dan Campbell was hired as head coach after the 2021 season and has unquestionably changed the culture in Detroit. Lions fans are starting to believe, and so is the rest of the NFL. The Lions had a winning record last season after finishing last in their division for the four years previous. Jared Goff is coming into his prime as a quarterback and the Lions have added some electrifying young talent. 2023 will be the year that reveals if this Lions team is a real contender.

The Lions offense was already one of the ascending offenses we predicted would take a substantial step forward in 2022. They were right on schedule, landing at No. 5 in the league (13.2-percent) in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA, behind only the league’s best offenses: the Chiefs, Bills, Eagles and Bengals. This was after the Lions were No. 29 (-17.7-percent) in the league in offensive DVOA the previous season (2021). The offense has already risen to the top tier of NFL offenses, but they are not taking their foot off the gas in Detroit. They continue to add youth and bolster the infrastructure. It’s time to see what this Lions team can do with another year in their new offensive system.

An Ascending OC

Ben Johnson, previously the Lions’ tight ends coach, became the new OC following an unproductive 2021 season, and turned the Lions’ offense around. The team scored 7.5 more points per game on offense last season, and accrued 57.4 more total yards per game, including 40.2 yards passing. The Lions also won six more games, finishing 9-8 for their first winning season since 2017. Things turned around quickly with Johnson’s new system and play-calling. Johnson is calling for an even more explosive offense in 2023.

The Lions didn’t add a lot as far as skill position players on offense ahead of the 2022 season, except to sign free agents D.J. Chark and Josh Reynolds to short-term deals. They did draft Jameson Williams in the first round of the 2022 draft, but he played just 78 total snaps in his rookie season, as he was recovering from injury. Still, Johnson manufactured the seventh-most passing yards in the league using Amon-Ra St. Brown as the centerpiece of the passing game. St. Brown had more than a quarter of the targets (28.1-percent Target Share) and receiving yards on the team (72.6 per game). T.J. Hockenson was averaging 56.4 yards per game before being traded to the Vikings. Chark averaged 45.6 receiving yards in 11 games. The departure of those last two, as well as the team’s two starting running backs, leaves some foom for others to step up.

An Ascending QB

The consensus in Detroit is that Jared Goff is playing the best football of his career. The eighth-year veteran made a huge leap after his first season in Detroit (2021), when Anthony Lynn was OC. Goff was no. 9 with a 93.5 True Passer Rating in 2022, no. 5 in QBR (61.2) and no. 2 with 175.3 EPA, after finishing no. 13, no. 24 and no. 24 in those metrics in 2021. Those 2022 efficiency numbers were the best of his career, except for a no. 6 True Passer Rating in 2017 with the Rams, just a shade better than last season’s mark.

Colton Pouncy reports Goff was great in play action and against the blitz last season. Goff also improved his deep ball accuracy to 6.4 (no. 7) last season, his best mark in three seasons. According to the Pouncy article, Goff also improved his ability to take care of the ball over the second half of last season. He reports Goff did not throw an interception over his last 324 attempts to end the season. Goff has cleaned up his game and become more effective as a passer in this Lions’ offense. As stated, the offense was already a top-five unit. That means for the foreseeable future, Goff will be the guy leading a super-charged offense. It is a unit that will only improve with new skill position talent on board.

Tooling Up: Youth and Speed

The Lions’ brass have been stocking up on young offensive talent the last two seasons. They upgraded their running back room this past offseason, signing David Montgomery in free agency and drafting Jahmyr Gibbs at pick no. 12 overall. Montgomery is more than two full years younger than Jamaal Williams and a bigger back, weighing 10 pounds more than Williams. The two have similar workout metrics, but Montgomery is a more elusive back. He posted a 34.5-percent (no. 9) Juke Rate in 2022, compared to Williams’ 14.2-percent (no. 52). Montgomery also evaded 81 tackles (no. 8) last season. That was 42 more than Williams, who recorded just 39 (no. 38) Evaded Tackles on 61 more rushing attempts.

Gibbs is what the Lions always hoped Deandre Swift would be. He is speedier, with 4.36 40-speed, making his 110.1 (91st-percentile) weight-adjusted Speed Score superior to Swift’s 105.3 (81st-percentile). Gibbs will add a jolt to the offense, complementing Montgomery’s sturdiness and tackle-breaking prowess. Behind a superb offensive line, the rushing attack will be more productive than in 2022, when they ran for the 11th-most yards in the league. They will also keep defenses off-balance as Johnson punctuates the rushing attack with play action.

The Pass-Catcher Who Will Step Up

Unfortunately, Jameson Williams is suspended for the first six games of the upcoming season due to a gambling misstep, after the Lions spent a first-round pick on him in the 2022 draft. Williams is a field-stretcher. With D.J. Chark – another deep threat – gone to Carolina, the Lions will be looking to fill that void downfield. The team brought back Marvin Jones, who filled a deep ball role (13.5-yard ADOT) in Jacksonville last season. At 33 years old, however, Jones seems like a stop-gap until Williams gets back in the fold.

The Lions will still be looking for a second option in the passing game to complement St. Brown. They drafted Sam LaPorta aggressively at pick 2.03 in the draft. LaPorta is a run-after-catch specialist with more speed than T.J. Hockenson, who the Lions traded to the Vikings after seven games last season. At 6-3 and 245-pounds, LaPorta gives up some size to Hockenson, but LaPorta ran a 4.59 40-yard dash, compared with Hockenson’s 4.70 40-time. LaPorta will step in as an integral part of the Lions’ explosive passing attack.

The Offensive Line

The Lions have three former first-round picks who make up the key pieces of their offensive line – center Frank Ragnow, left tackle Taylor Decker and right tackle Penei Sewell, selected seventh overall in the 2021 draft. Left guard Jonah Jackson (selected 3.11 in 2020) and veteran Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who is slated to return from a back injury that kept him sidelined all of 2022, make up the interior of the line.

The o-line is a strength for the Lions, especially in pass protection. They allowed just 22 sacks in 2022, no. 2 behind only the Buccaneers’ o-line. They were not as proficient in the run-game, recording bottom-half metrics in Stuffed Run Rate (18-percent, no. 18) and Power Success (65-percent, no. 20), per Football Outsiders‘ basic offensive line metrics. The unit was seventh-best in the league in Adjusted Line Yards, however. That is a metric which indicates how many of a team’s rushing yards are attributable to the offensive line. An offensive line which already has a lot of experience playing together will continue to provide protection for Goff and runway for the improved running back talent on board.

Ascending Assets to Acquire

Jared Goff

Goff had his best season in 2022, but is perennially faded by fantasy drafters. He is being drafted as QB17 in Underdog drafts, in the 11th round overall. That is in the same range as Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson, both of whom Goff outperformed last season. Goff scored 17.1 fantasy points per game (no. 14), which was well ahead of Rodgers, who scored 14.8 PPG (no. 21) and Wilson, who scored 15.8 PPG (no. 18). Goff is still ascending. Although Rodgers and Wilson will also have upgraded environments in 2023, they both declined last season. Goff’s ceiling is closer to Kirk Cousins‘, who is being drafted as QB13, a round ahead of Goff. Their production was similar last season (see table below) and Goff did it on fewer attempts.

Best Offense in NFL Detroit Lions

2022 Passing Production – Jared Goff vs. Kirk Cousins

David Montgomery

Montgomery’s value is depressed because of the addition of Gibbs, even though Montgomery is going to get more than half the volume in 2022, including the goal line work. Montgomery is being drafted as RB26 (round eight) while Gibbs is being drafted as RB14 (in the fourth round). True, the Lions invested the 12th overall pick in Gibbs, but they also invested in Montgomery, signing him to a three-year, $18 million deal in free agency. Gibbs is the more electric option, but the Lions will not be shelving Montgomery. He is the more sizeable back who has proven to be handle 20 touches a game at the NFL level.

Don’t forget the silly production Jamaal Williams achieved on this offense last season, scoring 17 touchdowns and earning an RB18 finish. If the rushing workload is divided up between Montgomery and Gibbs the same way it was between Williams and Swift, Montgomery will receive 60-plus more carries than he did last season. With that kind of volume, he will easily return value on his RB26 price tag.

Sam LaPorta

Yes, LaPorta is a rookie tight end, but with D.J. Chark and T.J. Hockenson gone and Jameson Williams suspended for the first six games of the season, LaPorta will become the second option in the passing game, after St. Brown. LaPorta was the second tight end taken in the NFL Draft at 2.03, after only Dalton Kincaid. The other Lions’ tight ends are undrafted third year player Brock Wright and fifth-rounder James Mitchell, who is entering his sophomore season. LaPorta is the move tight end. He can easily outdo his TE20 (14th-round) draft capital in this offense.

Reaching for A New Plateau

This Lions’ offense already ascended to become one of the NFL’s best offenses in Johnson’s first season. The Lions continue to put the finishing touches on this offense that has all the right foundational pieces in place, meaning last season’s offensive performance was a new baseline for them. They won eight of 10 games to close the 2022 season and are now the favorites to win the NFC North. All signs point to this already-productive offense to be even more difficult for defenses to stop in 2023.