Each week, theScore will go division by division, highlighting which three players’ performances will most impact their team’s season in 2017.

Ezekiel ‘Ziggy’ Ansah

Which is the real Ziggy Ansah? The 2015 version who looked like the NFL’s next great pass-rusher when he racked up 14.5 sacks, or the 2016 version who had just two sacks and was a complete liability against the run?

The Lions need an answer, and they need it soon. Ansah is entering the last year of his rookie contract, and despite his inconsistent play, he’ll surely be seeking a big-money deal after watching other edge defenders cash in.

Detroit didn’t make any significant signings on defense, so the team is presumably banking on Ansah bouncing back. The Lions’ offense looks set to remain among the league’s top units, but the defense lacks playmakers. Ansah returning to form could push the Lions into the contender category.

Ameer Abdullah

With Matthew Stafford 2.0 excelling in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s system last season, the Lions’ offense should only be better in 2017. The same can’t be said of the ground game, however.

A foot injury ended Abdullah’s second season after just two games, and no other back on the Lions was capable of carrying the load. Detroit sputtered for the rest of the campaign, ending the year as the 30th-ranked rush offense.

But Abdullah looks healthy and should be set to regain his starting role. If he can deliver on his potential and help balance the Lions’ offense, it will go a long way to helping the team challenge for the NFC North crown.

T.J. Lang

The Lions’ offensive line was average in 2016, but that was an improvement compared to its plays over the past few seasons.

The line was helped by Cooter’s system, which emphasizes the quick pass, and looked set to improve with the offseason additions of Lang and Rick Wagner. However, the loss of left tackle Taylor Decker, who was surprisingly solid in his rookie season, has the potential to severely disrupt the unit.

This is where Lang’s experience should be vital. The longtime Packer is one of the league’s top guards and will need to continue to play at an elite level to keep the line from crumbling.

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)

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