The Detroit Lions finished up one of their most successful seasons -- record-wise -- in franchise history. Now, the offseason begins with the combine, free agency and the NFL draft.
To start that process moving, we looked at the position groups over the past two weeks (finishing today with specialists) and analyzed what worked, what didn’t and projected what could happen between now and training camp, a little over six months away.
The good: Sam Martin had another good season as Detroit’s punter and kickoff specialist. He was rated fifth in the league by Pro Football Focus in kickoffs, with an average distance of 71.2 yards, and he had 53 touchbacks. According to PFF, Martin’s 25.7 kick return percentage was No. 2 in the NFL among typical kickoff guys, behind only Graham Gano. Martin was rated as the No. 3 punter according to PFF, behind St. Louis’ Johnny Hekker and Indianapolis’ Pat McAfee. His max hang time of 5.54 seconds on a punt this year was No. 4 in the league according to PFF. He forced 22 fair catches, tied for 10th in the league. Muhlbach was again a top-flight snapper. Prater steadied a weak kicking game over the last three months of the season, giving the Lions a reliable option for the first time since Jason Hanson retired. After his debut against Minnesota, when he missed two field goals, he was extremely accurate -- including two field goals in the playoff game against Dallas.
The bad: Detroit’s kicking game was atrocious in the first five weeks of the season as the team went through two other kickers (Nate Freese, Alex Henery) before somewhat lucking into the availability of Prater. Of all the decisions Detroit’s coaching staff made this season, sticking with an inconsistent Freese out of training camp might have been the worst one in hindsight. Martin’s good season will be overshadowed by his shanked punt against Dallas. Ross’ returns were average at best and he often did not make smart decisions on kick returns to take the ball out of the end zone. According to PFF, he was tied for the 38th-best kick returner. He led the NFL in fair catches on punt returns, although that might have been a product of poor blocking on returns as much as his skills.
The money (using 2015 cap numbers from ESPN Stats & Information): Martin in the only specialist under contract right now and he’ll have a cap number of $625,075 next season.
Potential cuts: None. Martin is not going anywhere and everyone else is a free agent.
Draft priority: Not high. Detroit wouldn’t draft a long-snapper if the team moves away from Muhlbach and drafted a kicker last year with no success. The only area there might be a draft need is at returner, but that player will likely be a receiver/defensive back/running back first.