Position preview: Have the Detroit Lions improved at wide receiver?

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The Detroit Lions have featured the best wide receiver in the NFL in Calvin Johnson for many years now. The problem is they have featured little else to go along with him at the position. Far too often, quarterback Matthew Stafford has seemed to force the ball to Johnson, but in reality, there wasn’t much else to work with.

Nate Burleson seemed to be on his way to an excellent season last year before a fluke car accident derailed him. Burleson’s injury history was too extensive for the Lions to consider having him return this season and they cut ties with him. They also recently had to cut ties with the troublesome yet promising Titus Young. Young’s problems have continued since his departure from Detroit, getting arrested again this weekend on assault charges. Upgrading the wide receiver position was a prime goal in this past offseason for Martin Mayhew, and he seems to have accomplished his mission.

Mayhew was aggressive in signing super bowl champion Seattle Seahawks leading receiver from last year, Golden Tate. Tate comes with a reputation of sure hands and seems to be on the upswing towards the prime of his career. Tate managed 64 receptions for 898 yards in 2013 and in part came to Detroit to play alongside Johnson, fully well knowing that he would find more open space in the shadow of Johnson.

While Tate is a major upgrade over what the Lions had offered up as compliments to Johnson, Mayhew is counting on former second round pick Ryan Broyles to recover from three straight season ending injuries to become a steadying force as the Lions third wide receiver. Broyles has always had the potential and has show flashes, but just can’t stay on the field. T.J. Jones was also drafted in the fourth round to compete for the slot position playing time. Other than that the Lions feature a number of players with upside but haven’t been successful in Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Patrick Edwards. Jeremy Ross has shown his worth as a kick returner, but has yet to show whether he can perform as receiver. There are reports that Ross has improved as a route runner during off season workouts.

The drafting of Eric Ebron at tight end factors in here as well. Ebron is a tight end in the sense that Jimmy Graham is a tight end. He’ll line up more often in the slot than he will on the line and his blocking skills are suspect. Ebron is more of wide receiver than a tight end, and he was drafted to use the open space in the middle of the field to the Lions advantage with his size and speed.

The Lions are better at wide receiver than they were last year and still have the best player in the game at the position. The majority of the balls will be thrown to Johnson and Tate, and if they stay healthy Stafford could have his best statistical season yet, which is no small feat. The Lions aren’t exactly loaded at wide receiver, but with Johnson in the mix, they will produce at a high level regardless.

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