Detroit Lions: 8 Unknowns Who Could Be Major Contributors by 2013
Who is this man, and why is he wearing a Lions jersey in an official photo? How long ago was that photo taken?
To answer all these questions, the man pictured here is Mike Moore, a 2010 undrafted free agent wide receiver who spent the entirety of 2010 on the practice squad.
He is one of several players in the Lions organization that has made little to no impact on the team thus far, but could be primed to make a huge leap forward over the next couple years.
Taking those steps will require some coaching, some seasoning, a stellar training camp, and a little luck, but here are eight players who could go from zero to hero—or at least zero to consistent role player—over the next two seasons.
Since he's already been listed, let's talk a little more about Mike Moore.
A former teammate of Matthew Stafford's at Georgia, Moore is marginal as a playmaker, and may only be successful as a fourth or fifth option if you go strictly by things like speed, route-running, and hands.
What is going to keep Moore around is his taste for contact. Not just that he likes to hit people, but that he may be one of the most polished young blockers in the league from the wide receiver position.
Watch the embedded video, in which Moore knocks defenders off their feet, seals off openings for running backs, and drives cornerbacks 15 yards off the play.
Obviously, Moore's blocking skills won't be enough to keep him around as a receiver—that's what tight ends are for—but they serve as a nice foundation for a player who could be gunning for Derrick Williams' roster spot as soon as this fall.
If Moore can brush up his receiving skills enough to become a viable possession guy, his blocking could become a valuable asset if the Lions decide to run out of a four-wide set.
While considered by some the most underrated member of the Lions' roster last year (or at the very least, the guy who deserved more time than he got on the roster), Randy Phillips is still a relative unknown, even to the average Lions fan.
An undrafted safety prospect out of Miami, Phillips lit it up during training camp and preseason, only to be one of the last roster cuts of the summer. After several weeks on the practice squad, Phillips was called up to the 53-man roster, and put up reasonable stats in limited minutes.
Phillips' production will be limited again in 2011, with Louis Delmas, Erik Coleman and Amari Spievey likely ahead of him on the roster (special teams ace John Wendling will likely need a spot, too).
But if Phillips shows near as much in camp in 2011 as he did in 2010, and peppers in some consistency, he could easily be a viable candidate for a starting role in 2012.
Even if there doesn't turn out to be room for Phillips on the roster, at worst, he could prove to be valuable trade bait. A sixth-round pick for an undrafted free agent isn't bad at all.
This one just barely counts, because I'm pretty sure most people knew the name Lawrence Jackson by the end of 2010.
Still, Jackson was a solid rotational contributor to the Lions last season, but you get the feeling he's only scratching the surface of what he can do.
That's scary for a guy who was a first-round pick in the same draft as Cliff Avril. If he continues to grow as he has since he joined the Lions, he could further strengthen an already ridiculously good defensive line.
Perhaps he'll even grow out of his rotational role and into that of a starter.
The 2010 edition of Mr. Irrelevant, unlike most, may prove to have some value fairly soon.
The Lions' selection of Titus Young doesn't bode well for it, but it's still possible. Toone is effectively gunning for the same roster spot as Mike Moore and Derrick Williams, unless the Lions decide to take five wide receivers into this season.
Toone is facing same same disadvantage as Williams in trying for that spot, though. Both were receivers drafted at least partially for their return skills, and Stefan Logan has put the brakes on any more tryouts for return men.
Still of the three, Toone has perhaps the most demonstrable receiving skills, and his scouting report may as well read "poor man's Wes Welker."
If the Lions can tap into that, Mr. Irrelevant could become Mr. Valuable Role Player.
The bad news is newly-drafted fifth-round pick Doug Hogue has effectively no idea how to play linebacker.
The good news is he has elite physical skills and lots of time to learn.
Hogue has only two seasons under his belt as a linebacker—his last two years at Syracuse—yet showed enough speed and pop in those two years to warrant a draft pick.
Hogue's problems are primarily mental. He has far more to learn than even your average draft pick (and even the most prepared college players get overwhelmed in training camp), and make no mistake, it is going to take him a while to get acclimated.
It's not just that he has to learn the position, either. He hasn't played linebacker long enough to develop any natural instincts, or defense long enough to even have a firm grasp on things like proper tackling techniques.
What Hogue does have, however, is a former linebacker for a head coach, and a reputation as a quick study. His problems are correctable, and his physical skills will amplify them once he figures out what he's doing.
When Hogue learns the NFL game and his position, he could grow into not just a solid starter, but possibly a league-wide star.
It's hard to say what the Lions have in Aaron Berry.
Every defensive coach on the team loved him in training camp, to the point where he was made the starting nickel corner for the Lions in Week 1.
A shoulder injury cut that game—and his season—short, but not before he notched his first career interception.
So where is Berry's ceiling? How good can the undrafted corner out of Pitt be? Are we talking starting corner? No. 1 corner? Or just a good nickel corner?
Considering he looked like a good nickel corner straight out of college, and most cornerbacks need three to four years to tackle the steep NFL learning curve, it's exciting to think of how good Berry could be if he develops.
When Jason Fox was drafted in the fourth round in 2010, he was considered a high value pick.
Only a knee injury suffered in his senior season kept Fox from being a second-round pick.
Then Fox spent the vast majority of the 2010 season inactive, which caused a bunch of people to forget about his existence.
Meanwhile, Fox was receiving intensive coaching, strengthening his knee, and bulking up the rest of his body, presumably to take on an expanded role in 2011.
I have a hunch that Fox's silent progression last season had a whole lot to do with the Lions passing on a shiny new offensive tackle in the 2011 draft.
What if that need is already filled, and we just missed it?
There has been lots of talk of Bobby Carpenter possibly being the answer for the Lions at outside linebacker. The former first-round pick has bounced around the league and may find a long-term home with the Lions.
But what about the other linebacker they brought in last season at a bargain-bin price? Ashlee Palmer seemed to be in on more plays toward the end of last season than anyone.
Despite only starting five games in 2010, Palmer finished the season with 55 tackles, a sack, and three forced fumbles.
Also notable is that he is entering only his third year, and his second with the Lions (his rookie season was spent with the Buffalo Bills).
Palmer isn't going to blow anyone away with his athleticism, but he showed some instincts last season, as well as a nose for the ball and the big play. He's not superstar material, but don't be surprised to see Palmer stick around as a solid OLB starter or difference-making reserve for years to come.