Detroit Lions: Predicting the Wide Receiver Depth Chart

Melissa Heyboer@MelissaHeyboerFeatured ColumnistJuly 3, 2012

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 07:   Calvin Johnson #81 of the Detroit Lions makesa touchdown catch against  Patrick Robinson #21 of the New Orleans Saints during their 2012 NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on January 7, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

When you compare the 2011 Detroit Lions to the 2012 team, there are a few similarities. There are the obvious ones: a healthy Matthew Stafford, a questionable run game and a secondary that, by all accounts, still needs some serious upgrades.

And then there’s the Lions receiving corps—a receiving corps that essentially reminds all Detroit fans that, in the words of Bob Marley, "every little thing, is gonna be alright."

Of course, it helps when you have someone like Stafford in the pocket. But even before this year’s NFL draft and the start of free agency, the Detroit Lions' wide receiver depth chart was nothing to gawk at.

With the best (the word “arguably” is just not needed here) wide receiver in the league, and some talented veterans and still-improving youngsters right behind him, the Lions' depth at receiver is relatively easy to predict as they head into training camp. 

1. Calvin Johnson

Yep. I could probably leave this section blank because, let’s be honest, what else really needs to be said about Johnson that hasn’t already been aired?

Johnson is coming off a career year, a year other receivers generally only see when they're sitting on their couches, controller in hand and Madden on the gaming console.

It’s easy to assume regression is imminent when an athlete puts up the kind of numbers Johnson did last season, but when you use regression and Calvin Johnson in the same sentence, it just doesn't compute.

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 18:  Titus Young #16 of the Detroit Lions catches a touchdown in front of DeMarcus Van Dyke #23 of the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum on December 18, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Obviously, Johnson is Stafford’s No. 1 option. The proof of that is in the more than 1,600 yards he put up last year. It’s also a good reason he sees double- and triple-coverage on a frequent basis.

Unfortunately for the rest of the NFL, it generally doesn’t faze him. 

2. Titus Young

Offseason indiscretion aside, there’s no reason to believe Young won’t be Stafford’s No. 2 option down field. And if the Lions and Scott Linehan run a two-receiver set, Young and Johnson will be there.

Even as a rookie, Young was arguably the second-most valuable receiver on the roster, lacking only Nate Burleson's experience and maturity. But he’s continued to improve since day one, and I can only imagine that 2012 will be his breakout year.

Young could easily break the 1,000-yard mark this season, especially when you consider the looks he’ll get as the result of added coverage to Johnson.

3. Nate Burleson

 Burleson is obviously a talented receiver, but what he brings to the Lions offense—and the locker room in general—is veteran experience and leadership.

His worth may not be directly reflected in his numbers, but his versatility is probably his biggest asset. He doesn’t offer the most threatening presence on the field, but he’ll be a valuable slot receiver this season who has the ability to break tackles and open the field for other receivers.

When needed last year, Burleson was effective at taking some of the pressure off Johnson. The brunt of that responsibility will likely be in Young’s hands this year.

4. Ryan Broyles

The Lions' second-round draft pick is poised to do big things.

His expectations may seem lofty considering he hasn’t played a down of football in the NFL yet, but he’s a talented receiver who proved himself to be an elite on-field presence at Oklahoma.

Broyles seems to be healing quickly from his ACL injury and is expected to participate fully in training camp. And with his good hands and ability to run effective routes, he could eventually—maybe even this season—take Burleson’s place on the depth chart.

5. Maurice Stovall

 Jim Schwartz had high hopes last season for Stovall, but unfortunately, an injury early in the season dampened those expectations and affected the role he had with the team.

Stovall was a free agent at the end of the season, but agreed to terms with the Lions back in early June. Stovall will likely see more time on special teams, but his size and ability to fight off defenders complement the receiving game. If he stays healthy this season, he’ll see more time there.

6. Jarett Dillard

 Dillard was the No. 2 receiver on the Jacksonville Jaguars last year, which isn’t exactly saying much when you consider the team. After all, Blaine Gabbert is no Matthew Stafford.

Dillard will surely compete for a roster spot, and the Lions may only carry five receivers on the roster. But while his 29 catches for 292 yards and a touchdown last season aren’t exactly attention-grabbing, he’s a talented receiver who I’m guessing hasn’t quite realized his full potential on a struggling Jacksonville team.

He’s a terrific route runner and was one of the most dynamic wide receivers in Rice University’s history. Unfortunately, injuries and under-performance have hindered his expectations.

But if anyone can make a star out of a struggling WR, it’s Stafford. 

Other notables

Stefan Logan, Nate Hughes, Terrence Toliver and Patrick Edwards.

All of these guys will be competing for a spot—even Logan.

Logan was primarily a return specialist last year, but he has been known to fill a role in the backfield or as a receiver when needed. There are several guys who could challenge him on special teams, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if he doesn’t make it out of camp.

As for the other three, I don’t see Hughes or Toliver making the roster, but Edwards seems like the most likely possibility, should one of them stand out in camp.

Edwards could also be a lock for the Lions practice squad. He possesses some of the same qualities as Broyles, but could benefit from a couple years in the trenches. I also wouldn’t be terribly surprised if he is one of the aforementioned players who challenges Logan as the Lions return man.  


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