The hope for an upgraded roster and coaching staff have Detroit Lions fans seeking a return to the playoffs. Key additions will be vital, but Jim Caldwell and Co. will be counting on impactful improvements from some of their young prospects and blossoming veterans. If the Lions want to be contenders, they will need a handful of these returning players to step up in the 2014-2015 season:
- Nick Fairley- Less McDonald’s and 30 pounds lighter, Fairley is back to his 295-pound figure that led Auburn to a National Championship. The Lions electing to pass on Fairley’s $5.5 million player option for 2015-2016 has gotten the big boy finally motivated. With Suh, Fairley and Ansah, there really is no excuse for a team that ranked 28th in sacks last season.
- Ziggy Ansah- His lack of football experience but massive potential compares favorably to Jason Pierre-Paul. After 4.5 sacks his rookie season, Pierre-Paul became a superstar in his sophomore season accumulating 16.5 sacks for the eventual Super Bowl champions.
- Darius Slay- The sophomore second rounder has the ability to be an electrifying playmaker in the secondary, but his technique, especially early last season, was exposed. A well-documented offseason with Rod Woodson could help Slay eliminate mental errors. An expected first week starter, Slay may be the biggest x-factor for the Lions defense.
- Bill Bentley- Each of his first two preseasons, Bentley has looked like a man on a mission. Then the regular season comes around, and his flaws are flaunted around the field. Just like Slay, Bentley’s technique needs work, yet he will be thrusted into a major role this season. His agility makes him the front-runner to start at nickelback, covering smaller, speedy receivers up the middle.
- Chris Greenwood- A guy with plenty of raw talent, he has yet to take full advantage of his size (6-foot-1) and speed (4.42 40 time). The Albion alum could emerge as a quality number four corner this summer with the potential for more.
- Ryan Broyles- Just be healthy for half a season, that is all I ask! It’s hard to tell if Broyles will be able to move after countless surgeries, but at the very least, he has a nice pair of hands. If his speed is just decent, he will be a nice possession receiver for his quarterback.
- Matthew Stafford- The most obvious of them all saved for last. He has the coaching staff, the weapons and at 26 years old, the excuses stop now. Stafford must be great or the Lions will falter once more.