Ranking the 2014 Impact of Detroit Lions' Free Agent Signings so Far
It's late March. The Detroit Lions have made all of their free-agency moves, with the exception of one or two smaller deals, and the draft is still over a month away. Aside from the distraction of basketball, we're bored.
So why not invent a gimmick to really put the Lions' offseason in perspective, you say? Maybe take the free agents, both new arrivals and returns, and put them in a ranking based on their 2014 impact?
I like your style. Consider it done.
All statistics and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
7. The Bottom of the Roster
The Lions had a few under-the-radar moves that only the hardcore will have acknowledged so far. Most likely, there's a reason these guys attracted little attention as their contributions will be limited to special teams and the practice squad.
Guys like tight end Matt Veldman, linebacker Julian Stanford and cornerback Chris Greenwood will have to fight just to make the roster. Meanwhile, wide receiver/return man Jeremy Ross and safety Isa Abdul-Quddus will serve as special teams aces and little else.
There is also the distinct possibility that only one or two of these players is a member of the franchise by the start of the season. Successful teams constantly churn the bottom of their rosters in search of that diamond in the rough.
Perhaps one or two of these players fit into that category, but it's much more likely that they're camp fodder.
6. Defensive Tackles Vaughn Martin and Corvey Irvin
The top three spots in the defensive-tackle rotation are locked down. Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and C.J. Mosley have nothing to fear from new arrivals Vaughn Martin and Corvey Irvin and retread Andre Fluellen.
The three non-entrenched rotation guys (see what I did there?) will be fighting for the fourth spot, a role that should come with a decent amount of playing time. While the defense will surely have some new wrinkles under new leadership, Gunther Cunningham is still a part of the franchise and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek was one of the few to survive the offseason culling.
Regardless, if the three "newcomers" can combine for three sacks, it will be a wildly successful season for the trio.
5. Wide Receivers Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham
General manager Martin Mayhew knows he can't count on these two to hold their keep as the second banana to Calvin Johnson. Each was forced into that role at some point due to injuries and neither inspired much confidence within the fanbase and probably not in the front office.
That's OK. Kevin Ogletree and Kris Durham aren't meant to play such a prominent role with a winning team. That's not who they are.
What will be interesting is if both will make the team this year. With the addition of Golden Tate and the likelihood of Detroit adding a receiver or two in the draft, both Ogletree and Durham need to perform in the preseason to be Lions come September.
If one or both sticks, their role will be to catch the 20-30 targets they might combine for in 2014. Other than that, maybe make a tackle on special teams.
4. Fullback Jed Collins
Finally, this slideshow is getting somewhere, considering fullback Jed Collins will see some significant playing time.
Collins is the only true fullback on the roster and he defintely excels at blocking above all else. Presumably, he'll be in charge of blowing open holes and keeping Matthew Stafford safe from those defenders who slice through the line.
While his main duties will be knocking heads, Collins will also be charged with keeping defenses on their toes. In his 58 career touches, he has notched seven touchdowns, so Stafford could use Collins as a secret weapon while defenses focus on all the tall receiving options in the red zone.
3. Tight End Brandon Pettigrew
I can hear you groaning from here, but it wasn't too long ago that Brandon Pettigrew was considered an up-and-coming tight end. With Joe Lombardi at the helm of a new offense, Pettigrew has an opportunity to reinvent himself as the two-talent threat he was drafted to be.
So forget about last year's drop (pun intended) to 64 targets, his lowest such total since his rookie season. The new offense, much like the current version of the New Orleans Saints' offense that Lombardi helped put together, will be predicated on finding the open man and getting him the ball.
The Lions have at least four threats who will demand more attention than the sixth-year pro. With Pettigrew's body control, he can seal off smaller linebackers and defensive backs and even make the occasional move after the catch.
There's still a role for him in Detroit. Now he must seize the opportunity.
2. Running Back Joique Bell
Running backs tend to fall off the cliff quickly. That speed and familiar burst just isn't there at some point, or the ability to immediately bounce back from yet another collision fails them.
Reggie Bush isn't there yet, but he isn't getting any younger. The Lions know that. That's why Mayhew was never going to let running mate Joique Bell go.
Bell and Bush will prolong each other's careers since neither will ever have to carry the full load. Additionally, they complement each other quite well, even down to both fumbling the ball too often (nine combined last year).
If Lombardi truly follows the Saints style, then there will be plenty of room for two running backs in the backfield. New Orleans has proven it's a winning formula as its rotation of Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram all received at least 50 carries last year.
1. Wide Receiver Golden Tate
It seems that most every piece of news that touches on the Lions' offseason centers around wide receiver Golden Tate. He's the shining star of Mayhew's meager haul.
That's not a knock on him. He has both impressive hands and an ability to make plays with the ball, as his four drops and 530 yards after the catch last year would attest.
Those skills will serve Tate well lining up opposite Calvin Johnson. Tate will see plenty of single coverage and his ability to create space will easily earn him the most targets he has yet seen in his short career.
The biggest question mark for Detroit heading into 2014 was wide receiver. The Lions aren't done with the position (I hope), but they took a giant step towards righting that positional ship when Tate signed on the dotted line.
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