The Detroit Lions Then and Now: Wide Receivers and Tight Ends


Then and Now is a SideLion Report mini-series in which we look at each position group from the 0-16 season of 2008 and compare it to the current roster.

Note: Since I’ll be discussing the wide receivers and tight ends here, you may want to begin by reading the quarterback edition of Then and Now if you haven’t read it already. Check it out here.

The 2008 season began with realistic hopes for the Lions passing game. Jon Kitna was a capable, albeit it weak in crunch-time, quarterback with a trio of receivers at his disposal. Calvin Johnson was entering his second season as a professional, Roy Williams should have been entering the prime of his career, Mike Furrey was just two seasons removed from leading the NFC in receptions and Shaun McDonald was coming off the best season of his career. Like everything in the 2008 season, the passing game didn’t go according to plan.

Calvin Johnson blossomed into a superstar but Roy Williams was shipped off to Dallas (Thanks Jerry!), Mike Furrey was unceremoniously shut down due to a concussion and Shaun McDonald couldn’t duplicate his production from a year prior before landing on IR with an ankle injury. On the bright side, one-for-four doesn’t seem so bad for a team that went zero-for-sixteen.

The final receiving statistics for the 2008 season show just how much the passing game was Calvin Johnson and nobody else:

No.GRec ▾YdsY/RTDLngR/GY/G
81Calvin Johnson1678133117.112964.983.2
34Kevin Smith16392867.30272.417.9
84Shaun McDonald12353329.51262.927.7
86Michael Gaines162326011.31331.416.3
87Mike Furrey91818110.10252.020.1
11Roy E. Williams51723213.61253.446.4
16John Standeford91524416.30361.727.1
32Rudi Johnson1412887.31340.96.3
82Casey Fitzsimmons1412857.11160.96.1
45Jerome Felton139535.90120.74.1
83John Owens168567.01190.53.5
19Keary Colbert456412.80281.316.0
36Aveion Cason74276.80150.63.9
44Moran Norris114164.0060.41.5
89Daniel Campbell112121.00211.021.0
10Brandon Middleton812323.00230.12.9
Team Total16281329911.7189617.6206.2

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2011.

You know you’re in trouble when names like John Standeford and Keary Colbert start showing up. The 2008 Lions played from behind so often that one would think they would at least have put up decent numbers in the passing game but that wasn’t the case as they averaged just over 200 yards per game. I’m sure they would have thrown the ball a lot more if they could have held on to it or if the defenses was capable of getting it back before giving up a long drive. Basically, the 2008 Lions were so bad that it prevented them from doing something less-bad.


Calvin Johnson is still the top dog but it no longer takes more than two other pass catchers to equal his reception total. Drops aside, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler give the Lions a legitimate pass catching threat from the tight end position, unlike Michael Gaines and John Owens. Nate Burleson‘s 55 catches were only fourth most for the 2010 Lions but would have been second most on the 2008 Lions. Calvin Johnson‘s 2008 and 2010 numbers are remarkably similar but the production around him has risen significantly:

No.GRec ▾YdsY/RTDLngR/GY/G
81Calvin Johnson*1577112014.512875.174.7
84Brandon Pettigrew167172210.24354.445.1
44Jahvid Best16584878.42753.630.4
13Nate Burleson145562511.46583.944.6
85Tony Scheffler15453788.41253.025.2
28Maurice Morris14251706.80161.812.1
80Bryant Johnson141821011.70241.315.0
34Kevin Smith61112311.20271.820.5
45Jerome Felton168546.80190.53.4
21Aaron Brown68455.60101.37.5
89Will Heller164379.31130.32.3
12Derrick Williams733010.00170.44.3
Team Total16383400110.4268723.9250.1

Provided by View Original Table
Generated 5/26/2011.

The 2010 Lions improved on their 2008 performance by about 100 receptions, 700 yards and eight touchdowns. The roster has obviously been upgraded in the last couple of years and that has translated into a more balanced passing attack. It is interesting to note that the top receiver (measured by number of receptions) was Calvin Johnson, a wide receiver, followed by Brandon Pettigrew, a tight end, and Jahvid Best, a running back. The same order appears in the next set of three with Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler and Maurice Morris. The balance is good but it highlights the need for a third wide receiver.

I like the position the Lions passing game is in with the addition of Titus Young. If he can truly bring a DeSean Jackson-type vertical threat to the offense then the field should open up even more than we saw last year. The combination of Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best gave the Lions receiving threats at three different levels. Young could increase that to four levels next year.

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