Reloaded is an, um, loaded word when it comes to the NFL. No one likes to use rebuilding because that sounds so bad. Reloading is much easier to say. Truly, though, the Lions have managed to reload. That helps, of course, when you've got Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley manning the middle.
But losing Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril this offseason certainly set up Detroit to have a bad season, at least at the defensive end position. Instead, they drafted Ezekiel Ansah, signed Jason Jones and kept Willie Young around for depth. Suddenly this Jim Schwartz unit is terrifying once again.
Detroit's front four wasn't going to ever be bad, per se, but they're poised to really be destructive this season as a result of the additions they made. Ansah picked up another fumble recovery against the Patriots (Shane Vereen coughed it up) not too long after making a pick six on Mark Sanchez in his debut. Jones recorded two sacks. Young did ... this:
"MAY I HAVE A WORD, MR. TOM BRADY?"
Is kind of how I imagine that conversation going. Brady was about as non-responsive during the game and remained impressively diplomatic afterwards as well, pointing out just how good the Lions front four can be.
"They have a great front," Brady said. "I mean, they have some guys that can really rush the quarterback and put a lot of pressure on the ball."
It was two years ago when the Lions finally snapped their postseason drought. And it was in large part because of their impressive defensive line. Four defenders won't get you into the playoffs on their own, but there are pieces here to make a move in the NFC North. And if the pass rush keeps playing like it has in the preseason, there's reason to be bullish on the Lions.
Detroit Defensive Line, DL, Lions: Look, this was a team that appeared to have a major hole at defensive line. They're thrilled, early on, about getting Ansah even if he's dealing with a possible concussion. He, Suh and Fairley could be devastating for years to come. That group and that depth just lets you relentlessly attack quarterbacks from all different places and all different formations. That's what they did against Brady and Co. and it's going to make life miserable for many opponents this year.
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots: The more and more that leaks out about Gronk, the more and more I think -- and, truly, this is just a hunch -- that Gronk is back earlier than expected. He's not getting shown off to the press during practice, Belichick is being grumpy about his status and there's a lot of swirling drama when it comes to his recovery and the timeline when he'll end up getting on the field. Wouldn't the Pats have already put Gronk on the PUP if they were going to? Doing so now would let them keep another body around camp before getting the roster down to 53. If he's back by Week 3 all of a sudden there's nothing to worry about. Unless you're Tim Tebow and Gronk missing the PUP is taking your roster spot.
Luke Kuechly, LB, Panthers: Was going to actually lead this article with Kuechly originally. Ended up writing 1,200 words on why he can win the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year award instead. Needless to say I'm quite high on Kuechly. His stock in terms of becoming one of the best linebackers in the game is going through the roof. Click here for that.
Terrelle Pryor, QB, Raiders: Pryor led the way for Sorting the Sunday Pile (my weekly recap piece, he said continuing his link-whoring ways) this week. And with good reason, as he showed something Matt Flynn doesn't have: potential. Pryor wasn't Rich Gannon circa 2002 out there on Friday but no one expected that. Instead he used his athletic upside to make some seriously impressive plays that actually allowed the Raiders to find the end zone. Considering the white-washing the Bears were handing out at the time, that's actually an accomplishment. Pryor's going to start Thursday against the Seahawks and if he plays well it could very well seal him winning the starting gig in a no-upside situation in Oakland over Matt Flynn. The irony of Flynn losing another starting quarterback job against Seattle is just too painful to think about.
Greg Toler, CB, Colts: Toler was a really nice under-the-radar signing during free agency this past year for a team that spent a bunch of money on dudes (LaRon Landry, Gosder Cherilus, Erik Walden, etc.) that are pretty huge risks, even if they are upgrades at their respective positions. Toler's struggled to stay healthy for much of his career but when he's on the field boy can he play. Toler had a very nice interception in Week 2 of the preseason, helpfully documented by the Colts on Twitter:
Indianapolis Colts (@Colts) August 19, 2013
Cortez Allen, CB, Steelers: The loss of Keenan Lewis in free agency looked like a mildly devastating hit for the Steelers. But colleague Ryan Wilson, who studies the Steelers pretty, pretty, preeeee-tay heavily, was amped up about Allen's performance. And he should be -- returning from injury, Allen led the Steelers with tackles during their preseason game with six. Allen, who came on strong at the end of 2012, provided solid coverage for a unit that needs someone capable lining up across from Ike Taylor to start the season. If Allen, who came back pretty quickly from his injury, can grow from this performance, the Steelers should be quite excited.
Quarterback Depth Chart, QB, Bills: As I'm writing this, I'm about to go draft C.J. Spiller at the No. 2 overall spot in my main fantasy draft. That makes me happy but also a little scared because Jeff Tuel is the Bills starting quarterback after E.J. Manuel went down with a mysterious preseason knee injury and Kevin Kolb could see his career ended because of concussions. Backing up Tuel, an undrafted free agent who before Monday morning didn't even have a Wikipedia page? Matt Leinart, signed off the free agent scrap heap and Thaddeus Lewis, former Duke quarterback somehow acquired in a trade. What does it say that you need to trade for Thad Lewis and, even worse, what does it say that Lewis was rostered ahead of Leinert? The Bills might love Tuel and maybe he surprises but if you think this is anything other than a trainwreck I have a Mario Williams contract I'd like to sell you.
Jonathan Stewart, RB, Panthers: What the hell is going on with this guy? Stew's a potential dynamic back who's never been given the chance to really step up and be a feature back. Doesn't look like he'll get that shot this season -- the Panthers put one half of Double Trouble on the PUP list Tuesday. That leaves DeAngelo Williams and Mike Tolbert as the primary runners for Carolina over the first six weeks of the season. And it leads me to wonder why we haven't seen Stewart run, why we've seen him pull out of a charity golf tournament and whether he's even going to come back this season. Those running back contracts look worse and worse by the day.
Joe Looney, OL, 49ers: Looney might say that he didn't mean to go low on Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but it's largely irrelevant. What he did, even if it was "following through" with his block, was a scrub move. The only "good" that comes out of this -- along with the brutal injury Dustin Keller suffered thanks to D.J. Swearinger -- is the NFL will try and keep people from targeting knees when they target people. I love the idea of keeping the onus off the head and making sure that people don't suffer injuries that way, but blowing up knees is no good Joe Looney.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Cardinals: This could actually be the entire Cards running game after their debacle of a preseason game against the Chargers this weekend. Mendenhall's dealing with an MRI on his knee and maybe it'll be alright, but that's definitely up in the air at this point given his past. The bigger issue right now is losing Jonathan Cooper, the Cards first-round pick. Cooper suffered a broken leg during the preseason matchup on a fluke play and as a result will miss significant time. Bruce Arians doesn't think it'll be the whole season but that one injury really, really dings any sort of upside I thought the Cardinals might have. They'll scare people with the Carson Palmer/Larry Fitzgerald/Michael Floyd combo but this running game is going to be brutal.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Browns: Preseason Hall of Fame inductee Weeden came back to the pack in Week 3 against the Colts. He didn't look like the confident passer and the Browns offense looked, as Mark Sessler of NFL.com coined it, Shurmurish in their execution. Now we've got Weeden, who went 12-of-25 for 105 yards, telling everyone not to panic because oh god he said not to panic you should panic. Sorry but when someone tells me not to panic I instinctively panic. Weeden blamed the "really, really good" defense of the Colts but, hey, that's the NFL. Defenses are bound to not be terrible.