Detroit Lions Review and Offseason Plan: Wide Receivers


Nov 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) celebrates with wide receiver Ryan Broyles (84) after catching a pass for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Thanksgiving day game against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Today we take a look at how the Detroit Lions’ wide receivers performed during the 2012 season with a little help from the fine folks at Pro Football Focus.

The radar chart below shows the Pro Football Focus grades for the Lions’ receivers and compares them to the best, worst and league average ratings. PFF grades each player on each play to produce a massively useful tool for evaluating the totality of a player’s season compared to others at his position.

2012 Season Review
Calvin Johnson – The PFF numbers tell us what we already know, Calvin Johnson is a stud. His +26.1 rating in the passing game is second only to Andre Johnson‘s +29.0, although Demaryius Thomas and Reggie Wayne rated as the second and third overall receivers due to better run blocking and penalty ratings. Final stats: 122 rec, 1,964 yards, 5 TD

Nate Burleson – The biggest problem with Burleson, besides getting hurt, was that he was wildly inconsistent in 2012. He alternated between solid positive and solid negative ratings from PFF through the first four weeks of the season and then had very little impact either way in his other two games before leaving with a broken leg. Final stats: 27 rec, 240 yards, 2 TD

Titus Young – There is no other way to describe Titus Young’s season as anything but a failure. Instead of seeing him take a big step forward in year two, he sabotaged his team and his own development. Pro Football focus rated Young number 99 out of 105 qualified receivers (based on 25% of team snaps), but that includes a +2.9 in the win over the Seahawks – the best non-Johnson rating for Lions’ wide receivers in 2012. The potential is there, it just hasn’t materialized like the Lions need. Despite such a low rating, there is some clear separation between Young (-7.6) and T.J. Graham (-15.3), PFF’s worst rated WR. Final stats: 33 rec, 383 yards, 4 TD

Others – Ryan Broyles didn’t play enough snaps to make PFF’s league-wide list but he did rate out at a +2.5 for the season. Project that out to a full 16-game schedule and Broyles was right around league average. He will need to improve as a run blocker but he should continue to prove himself as an asset in the passing game once he returns healthy. Mike Thomas provided nothing of value. Kris Durham‘s play landed him somewhere between oddly intriguing and nothing more than a warm body. Kassim Osgood is listed as a wide receiver but is really just a special teams player.

Offseason Plan
I feel like the specter of Matt Millen will never leave the Detroit Lions until they have a solid and complete group of wide receivers. The Lions enter another offseason in which they will need to address the position in one form or another.

Calvin Johnson: Yes, good, next.

I held out hope for Titus Young, not necessarily that he would ever play for the Lions again but that the light bulb would turn on to the point that someone was willing to give the Lions something for him. His recent twitter rant shows that has not happened, in fact, there may not even be a light bulb in the socket. Titus Young: goodbye.

Ryan Broyles and Nate Burleson will spend the offseason rehabbing from their injuries. There is no doubt that Broyles will be counted on as a member of the 2013 Lions but Burleson’s status with the team is somewhat in doubt. He is under contract but the price tag doesn’t jive with the bigger picture. Burleson has stated that he is willing to renegotiate his deal to make it more team-friendly and that he wants the Lions to be his last NFL stop. If the Lions can accommodate this given their salary cap limitations, I am in full support. Burleson can still contribute and is a solid leader.

I’m sure there was some grand vision for fitting Mike Thomas into the offense when they traded for him at the deadline. Unfortunately that plan wasn’t evident. The Lions need to find a role for Thomas, specifically in maximizing the usefulness of his speed. Otherwise, he’s of little use to the Lions.

Kris Durham is an exclusive rights free agent so the Lions will be able to keep him on the cheap. It’s a wise move to at least carry him through training camp to get some more time to figure out if he is more towards the intriguing side of things than just a warm body.

The glaring need here is a deep threat to play on the outside opposite Calvin Johnson. The Lions can’t go into next season with just Calvin Johnson and a bunch of slot receivers and that’s pretty much what they have right now. Titus Young was supposed to be that guy but he can’t stay in Detroit. I find it unlikely the Lions can fill this role through free agency so that means fans should brace themselves for another draft pick to go for a wide receiver. That’s sure to cause consternation but the Lions almost have to do it. More importantly, they have to get it right when they do.

*Those that have been around the Detroit Lions blogosphere for a while may recognize the approach presented as similar to Ty Schalter’s ‘Old Mother Hubbard’ series on The Lions in Winter. Don’t worry, he’s cool with what I’m doing here and has assured me that he’ll be back with Old Mother Hubbard later in the offseason.