Why Nate Burleson Is the Most Underrated Player on the Detroit Lions Offense

J.P. ScottSenior Analyst IJuly 25, 2012

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

There are a lot of high-powered pieces in what is expected to be another elite offense for the Detroit Lions. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford get most of the attention, while Titus Young and Brandon Pettigrew are often mentioned as potential breakout players.

Perhaps the most overlooked piece is wide receiver Nate Burleson.

Burleson's positive attributes start with his experience. Entering his 10th season, he has developed into a savvy veteran who understands opposing defenses and where he needs to be in order to best help the offense.

At one time a guy who possessed elite speed, Burleson has evolved into a solid route-runner as he has aged and carved himself out a role as a traditional possession receiver. This is a role that guys like Titus Young and Ryan Broyles are not expected to take on.

That's not to say he has lost all of his quickness, as evident in his role in Detroit's rushing game where he registered 11 carries for 85 yards in 2011; much of that production coming on end-around plays.

Nothing about his numbers during his time in Detroit are gaudy; however, they are consistent. 

Over the past three seasons as a Detroit Lion, Burleson has averaged 63 catches for 731 yards.

During the same time, Calvin Johnson has averaged 1,261 yards, essentially providing the Lions with 2,000 yards of receiving production from their top two receivers annually. 

While opposing secondaries are focused on Calvin Johnson and Titus Young as deep threats, opposing linebackers will be keeping one eye on Brandon Pettigrew.

This leaves Burleson in one-on-one coverage to do what he does best: settle into holes and catch balls at 10 yards a clip, often in 3rd-and-long situations.

Like most of his career, Burleson probably won't catch many touchdowns in 2012, but he'll be open and available as a safety net for Matthew Stafford all season.