On Wednesday, the Detroit Lions signed a wide receiver who has never caught a pass from a better quarterback than Jason Campbell.
With veterans Steve Breaston and Laurent Robinson also coming in for workouts, the Lions decided to go with former New York Jet and Oakland Raider Chaz Schilens on a one-year deal, according to Tim Twentyman on the Lions' official website.
Fun fact: Not only is Schilens a former Jet and Raider, but he's also a former Detroit Tiger—sort of.
Chaz Schilens, WR signed by Lions today, is a former draft pick of the Tigers.— Chris McCosky (@cmccosky) July 24, 2013
Baseball pedigree isn't exactly something NFL scouts look for in a player, but that's not really why he was signed, either. It's just interesting.
Is this the signing the Lions have been waiting for all offseason? Is this the move that finally gives the Lions that outside receiving threat to pair with Calvin Johnson?
In short, probably not.
Schilens is a big-bodied receiver at 6'4", but in five NFL seasons, he has all of 100 receptions for 1,191 yards and nine touchdowns. His 2012 season with the Jets, in which he caught 28 balls for 289 yards and two touchdowns, was a pretty typical year for him.
At this point, Schilens isn't even a lock to make the final roster (though admittedly he has a very good shot at it).
That said, a receiver's stat line can be misleading. Schilens is a 27-year-old receiver with good size who had sub 4.4 speed at the 2008 NFL scouting combine. He hasn't produced much in his first five years in the league, but maybe that has to do with catching passes from JaMarcus Russell, Jason Campbell, (un-retired) Carson Palmer and Mark Sanchez.
There's no way to know how much of Schilens' lack of success is his fault and how much is the fault of being part of a dysfunctional passing offense. Schilens even alluded to it himself at one point.
Since he was drafted in 2008, here's how Schilens' passing offenses have fared each year:
2008 (Raiders): 32nd
2009 (Raiders): 29th
2010 (Raiders): 23rd
2011 (Raiders): 11th
2012 (Jets): 30th
Aside from a bit of a renaissance with Palmer in 2011, it's been pretty much straight cellar-dwelling. Maybe Schilens could be a solid deep threat, if he had someone willing to throw the ball to him instead of the other team.
That said, Schilens hasn't caught a pass for more than 30 yards since his rookie year, when a 60-yard reception accounted for more than a quarter of his production all year. "Downfield threat" isn't a role he has filled very much in his career.
In other words, the Lions are banking on Schilens being another "square peg." He hasn't caught on with either of his previous teams, but maybe that's not his fault.
Seriously, look at how epically bad Oakland's passing offense was in 2009, when Schilens did some of his best work (also check out the 30-second mark to answer your questions about Schilens' athleticism and physicality).
You think Matthew Stafford's mechanics are terrible? At least he can deliver the football on a simple curl route without making his receiver lay out against his body for it.
Now, does all this mean that Schilens is just a good arm under center away from being a breakout star? Aboslutely not. Talent has a way of overcoming bad quarterback play (see: Johnson in 2008 and Larry Fitzgerald every year except that one time when Kurt Warner was good).
The Raiders drafted him in the seventh round in 2008, so it's not like he had sky-high expectations coming into the league.
On top of that, Schilens is at a major disadvantage being signed on the eve of training camp. At this point, he's less familiar with Detroit's system than even the rookies. Even if he could theoretically catch on with the offense, there's no guarantee he will get there by the end of training camp.
Schilens also has an extended injury history. He has only played in all 16 games once in his career—his rookie year. He played in only 13 games combined in 2009 and 2010 but was in 15 games in both 2011 and 2012. It seems he's shaken the injury bug as of late, but it's something to keep in mind anyway.
Ideally, the Lions would look for him to step in and play immediately as a downfield threat who can stretch the field opposite Johnson. Detroit has been looking for that type of player since it traded Roy Williams in 2008 (who wasn't even that good to begin with).
Realistically, it's probably more likely that he has the best season of his career—which isn't saying much. This is a guy whose best season was in 2009, when he caught 29 passes for 365 yards and two touchdowns.
What will be Chaz Schilens' role with the Lions this year?
Of course, that was in only eight games, so if you extend that production over a full season, it's pretty solid. But Schilens has played three full seasons since then and hasn't once gotten close to his 2009 numbers, so it might be a little optimistic to assume he suddenly explodes in Detroit.
Still, after Johnson, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles, Schilens doesn't exactly have high-level competition to contend with. He'll need to be better than guys like Micheal Spurlock, Kris Durham and Mike Thomas to make the roster, which shouldn't be a huge problem (since the Lions wouldn't have pursued Schilens if they were happy with their WR depth in the first place). The Lions will also be happy with his special-teams experience.
To sum up, this is nowhere near a blockbuster move for the Lions, but it is a good low-risk, moderate-reward move that at best gives them a reliable receiving option, and at worst ends with a roster cut and nothing lost.