In part 3 of our 2016 Detroit Lions NFL season preview, we look at an area of the team that is going to be under possibly the biggest microscope going into 2016 – the wide receiver spot.
As we all know, one of the greatest wide receivers of all-time, Calvin Johnson, announced his retirement from the NFL after the end of last season, leaving a massive void in the passing game. The running game is going to be a bigger key this season than ever before in terms of loosening up coverages down field for Matthew Stafford to take shots against defenses.
In terms of the receivers themselves, the potential for a big year through the year is outstanding, however, the deep threat is going to be a big situation the team will have to look at. No one will be able to replace Calvin Johnson, hands down, but this looks like a Lions team that will be looking at running many more designed plays where precision is going to be emphasized much more as opposed to just being able to throw it up & wait for Johnson to out jump three guys for a touchdown.
Let’s take a look at each receiver individually:
Golden Tate will most likely be the #1 wide receiver in the Lions passing game this season. Tate had 90 catches for 813 yards and six touchdowns. Many of Tate’s plays came from underneath routes & slant patterns that allowed Tate to go down the field for great yards-after-catch numbers. Tate will be looked at to go much deeper & be the elite playmaker the Lions will need in order to get the corners to play honest & open up the running game more.
Tate showed signs of being a great #1 receiver at many points last season when Johnson wasn’t playing due to nagging injuries. The Lions offense still moved very well & the ball was spread around the field, so expect Tate to have a career year where he could be a guy who could break the 100 catch plateau very easily.
Jones is the newest receiver the Lions signed in the offseason from the Cincinnati Bengals. Jones has mainly been a possession receiver for most of his young career to this point. Last season, Jones was used as a second-third receiver most of the time behind A.J. Green & Tyler Eifert. Jones didn’t have a single 100-yard game in 2015, & hasn’t had a 100-yard game since 2013 (missed 2014 with injury). With the coverage that will be on Tate this year and with the amount the Lions call passing plays, expect Jones to have at least 2-3 100-yard games in 2016.
Jones played the role of Tate in the last few seasons, being the safe option when Green & Eifert were covered, so this year, he will be the #2 receiver & he does have the speed to take the top off of a defense, but the big question will be whether he will earn the trust of the coaching staff & Matthew Stafford to go deep & make some plays.
At this point, we are going to stop the preview because right now, it is hard to say if the other wide receivers are going to even make the roster. Jeremy Kurley & T.J. Jones look to be the 3rd & 4th receivers, but combined they had 26 catches last season. The Lions signed Andre Caldwell from the Denver Broncos last month & he will be competing for the 3rd or 4th receiver job.
With 51 catches & over 430 yards last year in an offense that even though it was run by Peyton Manning & Brock Osweiler, wasn’t the high powered attack or draft any in the 2016 NFL Draft, which we think could be a big issue. The passing game is missing a true big play threat, but the passing game could go more underneath & just go for 15-20 yard gains consistently as opposed for always going for 45-50 yard bombs that was the norm in the Calvin Johnson era.
What we are not taking into consideration is that tight ends will be used heavily in the passing and blocking attack for the Lions, but that will be discussed more tommorow. The main idea that any Detroit Lions fan can agree on is that it is a new era in offensive football for this team – and an era that will make Stafford & the entire offense as a whole better because of the balance.