Stat Predictions for Detroit Lions' Key Offensive Players
The Detroit Lions have finally restored the roar of the franchise. After a heavy overhaul of the roster over the past few years, Martin Mayhew has built a promising foundation of talent, especially on offense.
The Lions lit up the NFL last season, ranking fifth in offense as well as fourth in passing. The run game was non-existent due to an unhealthy and unproductive backfield. However, the high-volume pass attack was stable and consistent enough to carry Detroit to a 10-6 record.
Next season should feature the Lion's run game, creating more balance and less pressure on the offense. With Detroit's defense still a work in progress, the Lions' offense will be forced to carry a heavy load.
Here are projections of key Lions on offense next season.
1. Matthew Stafford
Ignore all the controversial talk and player rankings, Matthew Stafford is the real deal.
Stafford eclipsed just about every expectation this past season and has established himself as one the best young quarterbacks in the NFL. The future of the Lions franchise will go as far as a Stafford-lead offense takes them.
As far as the future of next year goes, another 5,000-yard season shouldn't be happening. With a healthy Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure after his two-game suspension, the Lions' run game should have an impact and create some balance on offense. Best's breakaway style with Leshoure's tough, physical running will take plenty of pressure off of Stafford.
Even with the presence of a run game, the majority of the Lions' success should come through the passing game. With a plethora of talent at wide receiver and tight end, Stafford will continue to sling the rock at a high rate.
The Lions face some tough defenses next season with the 49ers, Eagles, Texans and their NFC North opponents. However, Stafford's elite arm and his weapons pose a legitimate threat to any defense in front of them. Another successful season from Stafford should be expected in 2012-13.
2012 Projected Stats: ~4,500 yards, 36 TDs, 15 INTs
2. Jahvid Best
Jahvid Best's time with the Lions has been quite the roller coaster. We've seen the good, the bad and the ugly of Best in his first two seasons in the NFL.
We've witnessed an 88-yard touchdown vs. Chicago, as well as a three touchdown, 232 all-purpose yard performance against the Eagles. But highlight plays like that have been overshadowed by durability concerns and a lack of production.
The Lions have tried using Best as the primary back, but it's clear he's not built to carry that load. Even with Mikel Leshoure and Kevin Smith in the mix at running back, Best is still a vital piece to this offense.
Best is a home-run threat in the run game and pass game. Whether it's a screen on the outside or a quick dash to the edge of the defense, Best is due for a big play at any moment.
Expect Scott Linehan to design some creative schemes and favorable matchups for Best next season. No linebacker and very few defensive backs can keep up with Best, and the Lions will look to take full advantage next year.
2012 Projected Stats: ~650 rush yards, ~450 receiving yards, 8 TDs
3. Mikel Leshoure
No Lion on offense has more to prove next year than Mikel Leshoure. After a torn Achilles last offseason and a marijuana possession charge, the Lion's second-round draft pick needs to display his value next season.
Martin Mayhew traded up in the 2011 draft to land Leshoure. As Jahvid Best struggled to stay healthy, Detroit's run game was near invisible. Leshoure is the strong power back needed to compliment the Lions' run game.
Leshoure also has the explosiveness to pull off a long gain through the seam of the defense. The Lions could also use Leshoure's versatility in the pass game as well.
After his two-game suspension, Leshoure should slowly be worked in as the feature back of Detroit's offense. If he can stay healthy and out of trouble, Leshoure has a high ceiling of potential in the NFL. Next season will paint a vivid picture of Leshoure's future.
2012 Projected Stats: ~850 rush yards, 7 TDs
4. Calvin Johnson
What more can Megatron do?
In his first four seasons, he learned how to be a good NFL wide receiver. Last year, Calvin Johnson redefined dominance with 96 catches, 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Johnson already had the jump ball ability mastered due to his size and athleticism. Last season, however, Johnson expanded his game as a route runner, a blocker and a leader. After finally having a healthy Matthew Stafford all season, Detroit's quarterback-receiver duo formed arguably the best one-two punch in the NFL.
This is a pressure-filled season for the Lions as a team, and Johnson individually. After inking an eight-year contract extension and being voted onto the 2013 Madden cover, Johnson will be under a giant microscope. The world is eager to see if Megatron can break the Madden curse—and if he's worth his massive investment.
As long as Johnson is on the field, he will be a major piece in the Lions' offense. Stafford and Johnson should continue to strike secondaries next year, and for many more down the line.
2012 Projected Stats: 91 catches, ~1,600 yards, 15 TDs
5. Nate Burleson
If Nate Burleson wants to fulfill his wish of retiring as a Detroit Lion, he must present a strong case this coming season.
Not to suggest that Burleson hasn't lived up to expectations. In his first two years in Detroit, Burleson has provided a veteran leadership presence, as well as being one of the best underneath receivers in the NFL.
With a budding Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles' potential drawing raves, Burleson could see a drop in targets next season. Only so many passes can go around, and the aging Burleson could see his production slip.
I could see Burleson starting the season at a good pace. But the more comfortable Broyles and Young become, the more often they could be used in the pass attack over Burleson.
2012 Projected Stats: 65 catches, ~650 yards, 5 TDs
6. Titus Young
Titus Young has encountered plenty of growing pains since joining the Lions in 2011. Young has had his share of scuffles with opponents on the field, as well as melees with his own teammates. Nevertheless, Young's production on the field never suffered.
Young is versatile enough to burn defensive backs deep or with intermediate routes. The Boise State-product also displayed some of the best hands on the team last season.
Despite Young's immaturity on the field, he has plenty of time to grow as a young receiver. His potential with Detroit makes issues on the field worth the gamble.
The Lions have big plans for Young with this offense. Stafford has a big enough arm to hit the young speed receiver downfield for a big gain. Expect another stellar season from Titus this coming year with the Lions.
2012 Projected Stats: 60 catches, ~700 yards, 5 TDs
7. Brandon Pettigrew
It's time for Brandon Pettigrew to finally meet his full potential as the Lions' go-to tight end. Pettigrew had a great season last year with 83 catches, 777 yards and five touchdowns. However, the negatives and inconsistencies have overshadowed Pettigrew's talent and accomplishments.
Pettigrew is an elite talented tight end with issues of inconsistency. Far too many times has Pettigrew been flagged for holding, jumping offsides or an illegal block. Pettigrew was one of the infamous acts against New Orleans last season with foolish penalties that killed the Lions.
Dropped passes also remain an issue with the Pettigrew. If these issues are cleaned up next season, Pettigrew can make a strong case against Jermichael Finley as the best tight end in the NFC North.
Pettigrew's one of the best tight ends in the league and is in a prime position to prove it. He is much more than just a security blanket for Stafford. Pettigrew can be a consistent game changer in this offense. Look for Stafford and Pettigrew to continue their growth and development together next season.
2012 Projected Stats: 70 catches, ~750 yards, 7 TDs