5 Detroit Lions Who Don't Deserve a Starting Job
The 2011 season was the Detroit Lions' best in over a decade. They went 10-6, made the playoffs and shattered every team passing record along the way. For those reasons it's understandable that the Lions made very few personnel moves this offseason. They returned 21 of 22 starters.
Like the old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
With that said, there is always room for improvement. Even though the Lions didn't make any flashy free-agent signings, there are some starters who are in danger of losing their top spot on the depth chart.
Reasons for this vary. It could be a hot-shot rookie who has impressed so far in camp, or maybe a starter has simply performed poorly.
Whatever the reason, here are five such players who, as of today, don't deserve to start.
5. Ben Graham
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Despite the title of this article, I won't go so far as to say Ben Graham doesn't deserve to start. He's a wily veteran who's seen and done it all. He's played in a Super Bowl and he's played in the Australian Football League.
More importantly, he's performed punting duties for Detroit quite well since he was brought in early last season to replace the injured Ryan Donahue.
This offseason Donahue has been slightly better through two preseason games with a 42 yards per punt average while Graham has averaged 41.8.
Obviously both players are very good and evenly matched. The Lions really couldn't go wrong with either of them.
Here's the rub: Donahue beat out Nick Harris last offseason. Harris was a special teams stalwart so Detroit saw something special in Donahue that prompted them to make a change.
Getting injured doesn't change that unless the injury impacts his ability to punt. It doesn't.
The other consideration is age. Graham is 38 years old and Donahue is 24. Why not invest in youth going forward and keep Graham's number on speed dial in case of emergencies?
4. Corey Williams
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According to Detroitlions.com's unofficial depth chart, Corey Williams is listed as the starting DT opposite Ndamukong Suh.
It shouldn't be a surprise. Williams has been a solid player in Detroit for the past two years. He's started nearly every game in that two-year span and he's been a consistent run-stopping presence in the middle of the field.
In Williams' mind, it's imperative that he starts. 2012 is a contract year for him and he needs to have a better-than-solid year if he wants a new—bigger—deal from the Lions. It probably wouldn't help his cause if he lost his starting job.
Regardless of his contract situation, the Lions should seriously consider whether Williams should be the starter.
Now that Nick Fairley is healthy, they should pair him with Ndamukong Suh from day one. They're both more skilled at pressuring the quarterback than Williams and because of that they offer more big-play potential.
They're equally as skilled at stopping the run as well.
Much of the talk this offseason has been about how good Fairley has performed during camp. His combination of strength, quickness and athleticism has wowed anyone who's watched him.
Even with his troubles earlier in the summer, he's shown enough to earn the starting spot. Plus, he and Suh are the Lions' future at the position, not Williams.
They shouldn't waste any more time. Williams will make an effective backup. It's time for Detroit to release the Suh and Fairley Show to the rest of the NFL.
3. Nate Burleson
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Nate Burleson is a class act and a valuable presence in the Lions' locker room and on the field. He might be a 10-year veteran, but he has a lot left in the tank. He can still produce at a high level on Sundays.
With that said, a changing of the guards—or should I say receivers—appears to be on the horizon.
With Titus Young's performance this offseason, how can the Lions postpone it any longer? He's too explosive not to be the No. 2 receiver this season.
That doesn't mean Burleson shouldn't be a big part of the offense though. The Lions run enough offensive sets with three and four receivers that he'll be on the field plenty.
The idea is that Young deserves to see the bulk of Burleson's targets. If you look at last year's numbers, it's clear that Young deserves more looks.
Last season Burleson totaled 73 receptions and Young had 48. Despite nearly 30 less targets, Young totaled only 150 less yards. He averaged five more yards per reception and he had three more touchdowns.
With Young, immaturity questions still linger—but that shouldn't matter. It's about what a player can do on the field. Players like Ndamukong Suh have done far worse and continue to start.
Young's transgressions pale in comparison.
It's time for the Lions to make it official and name him No. 2.
2. Alphonso Smith and Jacob Lacey
Everyone knows the Lions' situation in the secondary is far from decided though. Jacob Lacey and Bill Bentley have received plenty of reps with the first team as well.
The Lions should ultimately go with Bentley. Even though he's a rookie and will be prone to his share of rookie blunders, he's shown enough in camp to be given the starting nod.
His interception against Cleveland in the first preseason game was textbook. Unfortunately, he should have had two. Despite coach Jim Schwartz's criticism of that missed opportunity, the Lions can't overlook Bentley's big play potential.
They know what they're getting with Smith. He has big-play potential too. Unfortunately, he's just as likely to make big plays as he is to give them up.
Lacey really hasn't wowed anyone and would be better suited to the nickelback anyway.
Bentley came into camp ready to work hard and learn from his veteran teammates. His ultimate goal of starting in Week 1 appears well within his reach.
The Lions just need to avoid the pitfall of going with a veteran over a rookie simply because of the experience factor. Bentley is a special player and deserves the starting nod.
1. Amari Spievey
Last offseason the safety battle between Amari Spievey and Erik Coleman was a big story. Spievey won that battle outright and maintained the job the entire season. He was a solid but inconsistent performer.
Mistakes in coverage were frequently his downfall.
The Lions were looking for him to take a big step forward this offseason and show that he could minimize those mistakes.
So far that hasn't happened. Spievey hasn't shown enough and John Wendling and Erik Coleman are getting the majority of time with the first unit.
Spievey has missed time due to injury also. His headache issues—possibly related to the concussion he suffered at the end of last year—likely play a part in his demotion as well.
However, Wendling has been a pleasant surprise for the Lions. He came up with some big plays of his own—one sack and a nice pass breakup in the red zone.
Whether he can continue that for a full season remains to be seen.
For now, it's clear that Spievey is getting outplayed and will need to work his way back into the starting lineup.