Three most important Detroit Lions entering 2012


NFL training camps are well underway and the 2012 preseason has kicked off. As the Detroit Lions prepare for their first live action, let’s have a look at the three players most important to the team’s success:


Matt Stafford


The Lions quarterback is coming off a scintillating 5,038-yard season with 41 touchdown passes. If it wasn’t clear to anyone before, he’s now the face of the franchise and the clear on-field general.


But Stafford still has room to improve. Many already see that improvement in training camp but he needs to be a leader, a performer and someone who is going to the boat steady when it rocks.


There’s no question Stafford has every talent gift possible for a quarterback. All he needs to do now to move into the Drew Brees/Peyton Manning conversation is to take more command on the field, be a leader in the locker room and keep the team focused on football when off-field distractions like coach handshakes, legal indiscretions and media criticism seeps in.


Without him, this team is barely a playoff contender and isn’t the Super Bowl darkhorse NFL odds makers deem them to be.


Calvin Johnson


Johnson is critical to the Lions success. Next to Stafford, he’s as important as it gets.


Johnson just signed a massive contract extension and there might be more pressure on him now that the ink is dry. He’s been outstanding in his career so far and it’s hard to see him being anything but that going forward.


Defenses gameplan for him, double- and triple-team him and he still finds ways to get the ball. He’s critical to the Lions passing game.


Cliff Avril


Avril is arguably the most important piece on the defensive side of the ball. Double-digit sack artists entering their prime don’t grow on trees, which is why Avril is so important.


He might be even more valuable this year after the team dismissed starting cornerback Aaron Berry. The secondary still looks weak for Detroit so they’ll need their front four – led by Avril – to make things rough for opposing quarterbacks.


Bonus: Ryan Broyles (among rookies)


Riley Reiff and Ryan Broyles will likely have the biggest impact as rookies but if Reiff isn’t on the field to start, Broyles will be the one that has the biggest impact.


Although he’s probably the team’s No. 4 receiver, the Lions need all the weapons they can get. Their offense is good but if they run into a team like the New Orleans Saints again, they’ll need to be prolific. The hope is that Broyles can help offer that.


Stafford has weapons but as the Saints showed the Lions, sometimes you need to have more than just one elite receiver. The Lions need multiple options for Stafford and Broyles could be one of those this year.