Welcome to week three of the Lions analysis, where we can officially say the offseason is over! Just as I sent off my article for last week on the Quarterbacks (check it out here if you missed it) I cracked a beer and sat down to enjoy a lovely sunset in the beautiful summer weather…. Then the world of Detroit Lions football proceeded to go insane, so needless to say it’s been a fun week of crazy. To recap for those of you who just crawled out of your air raid shelter (points to anyone who gets the obscure movie reference), Arian Foster was brought back from the dead just in time for Miami to illustrate to the world they refuse to let Detroit have nice things, moving on from overpaying the Lions old players to overpaying players the Lions might be interested in looking at. Then it was announced that the Lions planned to kick the tires on Ol’ Jimmy ‘Pickles’ Clausen, which probably struck the fear of god into Dan Orlovsky for a half second until he realized how bad Jimmy Clausen was. Finally though, the highlight of the week came through as Anquan Boldin decided to sign on with his pal coach Caldwell and come to Detroit, instantly reshaping the outlook of the Detroit Lions offense. Because of this, to capitalize on all the attention and make you people like me more, I have bumped up the wide receivers addition to this week. So lets break it down and view your new Detroit Lions wide receiver group for 2016.
The Lions major free agent signing this year, Marvin Jones is looking to break out into the role of a true #1 wide receiver after living in the shadow of Megatron’s prodigy AJ Green in Cincinnati over the last four years. Last season he put together the best year of his career with 816 yards receiving, but he’s going to have to have another career year this season if he wants to be viewed as a quality pickup by the majority of the Detroit fan base, with his cap number especially in mind. While I believe there will be more of a 1a/1b relationship with Jones and Golden Tate this season, Jones without question has the tools to be a true number one if he can put all the pieces together. He’s a very versatile player that has the ability to line up all over the field, a strong route runner, has decent size and good jumping ability for those toss up balls, and has great hands. At 26 years old, we should see him continue to refine his skill set and become an even more polished player over the course of his contract, in turn leading to more on the field production. While he’s suffered some injury troubles in the past, he’s been hyper productive when on the field and now he’s entering a much better situation in Detroit. Expect Jones, if he can stay on the field, to put up some huge numbers people aren’t forecasting.
2016 projection: 95 receptions, 1200 yards, 9 TD’s
The last word you would use to describe Golden Tate as a wide receiver is “prototypical”. The man is anything but. He’s a tenacious, powerful outside receiver stuffed into the body of a slot man, with some of the leagues best hands combined with some of its most dangerous play after the catch. I don’t know what exactly you’re supposed to call him, which I think drops his overall perception in the national media unfairly, but the guy can flat out play. The emotion and desire he brings to the game alone are crucial, production aside, and his production is pretty damn great as well. Last year he had a slightly down season from his first year Detroit, finishing with the same yardage essentially as Jones, however he also didn’t have a stretch like he did in 2014 where he was alone as the number one receiver. Many people forget that his 2014 explosion of a season led to him gaining the seventh most receiving yards in the NFL, placing him above the likes of Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, and Deandre Hopkins. With continued increased opportunity now that Calvin is gone, I have no worry that he couldn’t reach closer to those 2014 numbers in 2016. Expect to see him, like Marvin Jones, in a ton of different looks as he is versatile enough to cover almost the entire route tree despite being primarily focused on intermediate and shorter routes where he can exploit holes in the defense with his unparalleled abilities after the catch. Lets just hope he doesn’t get injured returning punts, which he forced the coaching staff to let him do next season (I’m currently knocking on all the wood I possess).
2016 projection: 105 receptions, 1250 yards, 5 TD’s
The newest Detroit Lion, Anquan Boldin is a borderline future hall of fame wide receiver, and with that distinction comes the inevitable understanding that the guy you’re talking about is old. Boldin is no exception to this rule at 35 years, but the fact of the matter is I don’t give a damn. The man is tough as nails and has a phenomenal resume to pull out for any of the doubters with no significant drop offs in production throughout his thirteen year career. If I’m going into a dark alley in the middle of the night I’ll leave A’shawn Robinson at home and I’m heading in there with a grown ass man in Boldin, that’s the kind of guy we are talking about here. With that said however, expectations we make at this point need to be fair. He’s not going to be flying all over the field and making a ton of plays after the catch, Boldin is a classic possession receiver that will get to his position and out-muscle everyone for the ball. While I don’t project him to get the same amount of production this season as the #3/#4 option in Detroit’s offense, if you need 6 yards on third down at a crucial moment, he’s going to get you 6 yards on the button, and that will be a crucial role to play at key moment’s next season. Most important of all though, he is going to be a phenomenal leadership presence in the locker room for this young team. Good luck to anyone he doesn’t think is working hard enough, they will be held to account…
2016 projection: 50 receptions, 550 yards, 6 TD’s
God it must suck to be Jeremy Kerley sometimes. You fight from the fifth round of the draft to having a breakout year in 2012, then you get a little banged up the next year, and from that point on get slowly phased out of the offense until you’re released. Then he becomes a priority free agent signing in a pretty great situation for him as a whole, only to be once again shoved aside as Anquan Boldin enters the room. I had a lot of faith in his ability to be a significant contributor to the offense at wide receiver this year, as another shifty slot receiver running quick routes and crossing patterns, however at this point that simply will not happen without injury. End of the day he’s a great short term veteran depth piece we can use in a few packages and get some good value out of. He also contributes on special teams and will hopefully be taking the majority of the punt returns away from Golden Tate, saving our poor hearts from any potential injury scares.
2016 projection: 25 receptions, 275 yards, 0 TD’s, starting PR
TJ Jones came on strong last season and showed the solid improvement as a wide receiver that we were waiting to see from him for a fair bit of time now. He will have to continue that upward trajectory and keep working hard if he wants to keep a roster spot moving forward with the team. However, I think what he showed last year went a long way to keeping him safe this season, barring some sort of implosion in camp of course. While I like Jones, I don’t expect to see a ton of him on the field, primarily in four receiver sets. I believe he will grow off the 2015 campaign and build into potentially staying on as a more long term piece then once expected.
2016 projection: 20 receptions, 225 yards, 2 TD’s
Moving on down the depth chart we get to the journeyman / veteran depth section of the list. Andre Caldwell has been a part of some big moments, most notably winning the Super Bowl last year, however in generally minor roles. While he has been a special teams stalwart for a while now, which fills a need, he’s on the wrong side of 30 and with Boldin now in the fold his opportunity at a spot has more likely than not just ended.
2016 projection: Cut
Another Andre who on the other hand might be more interesting is Andre Roberts. He is also primarily a special teams contributor with return and gunner abilities, he has several advantages over Caldwell. He is 3 years younger, has shown the ability to produce at a much higher rate, and better fits our overall team needs. While he hasn’t fulfilled past expectations post breakout with Arizona (having been cut by Washington just two years into his big money deal there), with an adjusted outlook he should be a solid depth piece going forward. If we end up taking 6 receivers into the season, expect him to be the 6th.
2016 projection: 10 receptions, 115 yards, 0 TD’s
Veteran special teams/PS guy who has so little written on him that Rotoworld’s last story on his page was from February 2014. Not making the team, moving on.
2016 projection: Cut
Fuller has had an up and down journey through Detroit. He managed to get off the practice squad and make the final 53 in 2014, only to disappear for long stretches with random plays that keep you interested. He was supposed to be our answer as a deep threat wide receiver after Titus Young went off the deep end and clearly that has not worked out. Now that he is starting camp on the PUP list, with a ton of talent in the building, it would be near impossible for him to make the roster. Appreciate the good times but happy trails, Corey.
2016 projection: Cut
The last group we’ll look at is the UDFA’s, identifying which one of these guys is the diamond in the rough that might have the potential to contribute for us somewhere down the road at wide receiver. Jay Lee in particular is the most popular of those guys among the fan base to date and it is easy to see why. At one point viewed as an early day three pick, the number two receiver for Baylor is a solid vertical threat with enticing measurables. With that in mind though there is also a reason he went undrafted. His hands are questionable to say the least, and his route running is limited with the ones he runs being less then ideal in quality. He undoubtedly has a lot to work on if he’s going to be a regular season NFL quality player, but so do a lot of these guys and his potential keeps him in a lot of people’s minds. He should be in the mix until the very end of camp
2016 projection: Cut
Another wide receiver that will come down to the final cut days. If Jay lee oozes potential, Quinshad Davis is straight from the potential factory. He has great size, speed, and can make some crazy catches, however he is very very raw making a limited contribution to North Carolina in part due to injury, part due to limited experience. The dilemma for coaches will come down to whom they are more interested in, a slightly lesser project with a lower ceiling, or a much bigger project with a much higher ceiling. I would lean toward the latter.
2016 projection: Practice Squad
Jace Billingsley is a great story, coming from a tiny town in the middle of nowhere Nevada. The first player from his little town to go to the NFL, a hometown hero for years, this will be a great experience for him and he will be great to watch him play wide receiver in the third and fourth quarters of preseason until he’s inevitably cut. Hopefully he gets picked up by someone and continues his dream toward becoming the next Danny Woodhead, I hope he gets there because that just sounds fun.