COMMENTARY | The Detroit Lions are a team in a slight state of change and rebuilding. The offense is being forced to evolve because both tackles from last season (Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus) are gone and there are new skill position players to sprinkle in.
How exactly will this new look Lions unit fare in 2013? Matthew Stafford has thrown for over 10,000 yards in the past two seasons, but can he possibly keep up that scorching pace? Similarly, Calvin Johnson set single-season receiving yards in 2012, but will have a tough time duplicating such massive totals. And the biggest question may be how Reggie Bush will fit into the flow of Detroit's attack.
Let's breakdown what to expect from these players and more, starting with the quarterback:
Matthew Stafford, QB
The Lions signal-caller undoubtedly played worse in 2012 than he did in 2011. His pass attempts were up, but his yards, touchdowns and completion percentage were all down. Still, there is plenty to like about what Stafford can do in 2013. There will be a definite adjustment period with a new left tackle in front of him and Bush lined up in the backfield, but his options are becoming more varied.
Bush presents a legitimate passing threat and yet should also keep defenders somewhat close to the box on first and second down. Stafford is not going to have to force feed Johnson the ball because he will have Bush, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles to spread it around to. The emphasis on establishing a rushing attack should drop his sky-high attempts from a season ago, but a return to throwing touchdowns is certainly in order.
Projections: 415 completions, 620 pass attempts, 4900 passing yards, 41 touchdowns, 16 interceptions
Reggie Bush, RB
Here is the sudden wild card in the Lions offense. Bush has become a between-the-tackles rusher over the past two seasons with the Miami Dolphins, but was more of a jack-of-all-trades guy with the New Orleans Saints. How will Detroit use him?
Expect somewhat of a hybrid between those two versions of Bush. He is going to get a ton of carries, but will also be expected to catch passes out of the backfield and might occasionally return kicks. The important thing is that he should complement Mikel LeShoure nicely and be given some freedom in the open field on passing routes once Calvin Johnson takes all the coverage with him.
Rushing Projections: 205 attempts, 940 yards, six touchdowns
Receiving Projections: 70 receptions, 500 yards, five touchdowns
Mikel LeShoure, RB
The hope is that LeShoure can be the "thunder" to Bush's "lightning," but the bruising running back has still not found his footing at the NFL level. He averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last season and failed to have a run longer than 16 yards. Detroit needs him to elevate his game quickly if he is ever going to receive anything close to the 215 attempts he was given a year ago.
The arrival of Bush will obviously cut into his workload quite a bit, but that has to be seen as a positive because LeShoure is not a player that can be on the field at all times. He needs to be deployed in spurts and allowed to bulldoze between the tackles. Expect more of a goal-line threat and short-yardage producer out of LeShoure this season. He has to learn to walk before he is truly given the chance to run again.
Rushing Projections: 140 attempts, 650 yards, six touchdowns
Receiving Projections, 10 receptions, 45 yards, one touchdown
Calvin Johnson, WRHow do you project stats for a player that continually defies projections? Such is the dilemma when trying to assess the kind of damage Johnson can do in the 2013 season. Johnson is in his physical prime at age 27, he has chemistry with QB Matthew Stafford and has other pieces around him to shoulder some of the burden.
The best guess here is that a true commitment to developing a running game will cut into some of the absurd 205 targets that Johnson had last season. His targets may have risen in each of the past four years, but at some point Stafford needs to start looking in other directions. Bush, Burleson, Broyles and Brandon Pettigrew will allow him that opportunity this season. So while Johnson has to come down from the 1,964-yard high point from last year, he can improve on the five touchdown receptions he had. This is still the best receiver in football and he will make his presence felt.
Projections: 90 receptions, 1720 yards, 14 touchdowns
Nate Burleson, WRAssuming Burleson is fully healed from his broken leg by Week 1 then he should be the starter opposite Johnson. However, even a fully healthy Burleson is not the player he once was. The receiver is 31 years old and has 10 years of NFL wear and tear on his body. He has only one 1,000-yard receiving season in his career and it seems foolish to hope to ever see another one. Still, this is a guy who has a clear role within the Lions offense and could be extremely valuable in 2013.
Burleson is always going to be given single coverage while Johnson deals with multiple defenders on the other side. With Bush keeping the linebackers and secondary at least aware of the ground game he should be able to find seams at the second level that have not necessarily been available in recent years. Burleson has sure hands and runs crisp, smart routes. If he can find a window he will settle in nicely and make the catch. Johnson is going to be the one stretching the field vertically, but Burleson may see the dividends in the 12-15 yard range.
Projections: 65 receptions, 700 yards, seven touchdowns
Ryan Broyles, WRTechnically the third receiver is not a starter, but Broyles is going to see enough time on the field that he is worth covering here. That being said, expect Broyles to continue his ascent towards the No. 2 spot on this depth chart. The questions about his ability to stay healthy remain, but Broyles has come back from an ACL injury before and looked great in limited action last season. The hope is that he will be ready for Week 1, and if he is then he may be the most important player on the field.
Detroit needs a slot receiver that can create havoc over the middle of the field and give Stafford options once plays break down and Johnson has five defenders with him 30 yards down the field. This may be a slight exaggeration, but you get the point. Broyles is like a younger Burleson in the sense that he is great at running routes and always makes catches in traffic. His stats are going to balloon in the coming years, but they may still be only marginal this season as he recovers from that injury and is stuck behind Burleson on the depth chart.
Projections: 50 receptions, 550 yards, three touchdowns
Brandon Pettigrew, TE
When is Pettigrew going to bust through his proverbial wall and become the superstar tight end that he is capable of? It may never happen, but these projections say that 2013 will be a breakout year for the Lions TE. Some will laugh, some will scoff, but Pettigrew has all the physical tools to be elite and there is no reason for him not to produce this year.
The tough part about saying those things is that Pettigrew failed to rise to the occasion when Burleson, Broyles and Titus Young were all off the field last season. If he could not succeed at that point why would he suddenly be great? It's a fair argument, and there is no statistical reason that backs up the projections I am about to present, but here comes some faith in Pettigrew.
Projections: 85 receptions, 830 yards, seven touchdowns
Tony Scheffler, TE
Last up comes the former Western Michigan Bronco: Tony Scheffler. Perhaps the most underrated player in Detroit's offensive arsenal, Scheffler has become a valuable receiving target for Stafford as Pettigrew has become an adept pass blocker. He has 851 receiving yards over the past two seasons and is often forgotten over the middle of the field, allowing for easy 10-12 yard gains when needed. Scheffler is not going to repeat his six touchdown 2011 campaign any time soon, but he is still going to produce at a good rate.
Projections: 35 receptions, 350 yards, three touchdowns
Nick Kostora lives in Michigan and has covered the Detroit Lions for 4 years. His work has appeared on CNN, Bleacher Report and more.
You can follow Nick on Twitter @nickkostora
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- Calvin Johnson
- Matthew Stafford
- Reggie Bush
- Nate Burleson
- Ryan Broyles