Friday, February 3, 2012

Top 5 Positions of Concern: Offense

1. Receiver

I don't think the Lions necessarily have to add any players to the talent they already have at the wide receiver position, but some reordering of the depth chart may be necessary.

Nate Burleson and Titus Young were Detroit's two worst graded players according to ProFootballFocus. The big difference being that Young's grade stems primarily from penalties, whereas Burleson's grade came largely from his play in the passing game. As long as Young shows in camp what he showed towards the end of the season there should be no reason that he doesn't get bumped up to that number two receiver spot.

Behind CJ, Burleson, and Young are Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall, both core special teamers with less than 70 offenseive snaps each on the season. Stovall and Davis are also both free agents this offseason. Tony Scheffler and Brandon Pettigrew will fill out four or five wide sets making those other receiver spots almost irrelevant (save for the case of injury). I expect the Lions will bring both Davis and Stovall into camp barring them leaving for other teams where they may have a chance to contribute on offense, but I think the Lions are hoping for Nate Hughes, Marcus Harris or Terrence Toliver to land those spots.

2. Tackle

This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone. The difficulty with Detroit's starting tackles are their knack to be just good enough to stay in the starting line up, but just bad enough to draw the ire of their fans.

There are two different stories here:

Backus started the year about as poorly as one could imagine. Then, after the bye week, he played extremely well. The Lions front office is faced the the decision of rolling the dice on Backus next year or rolling the dice and replacing him. They know just how good (and bad) he can be and I think if he recovers from that bicep injury he'll get another one or two year contract. If he plays the whole season like he did the second half of this past season there's no reason to disrupt the continuity of the offensive line.

Cherilus had a very different season than Backus. While Backus was consistently bad through the first half of the season and consistently stellar through the second half, Cherilus was inconsistent with his performances from game to game. He actually had more games where he played well than where he played poorly, but his poor play severely outweighed his positive play especially in the area of run blocking. Cherilus is actually a pretty solid pass protector, but a very poor run blocker. This isn't an immediate area of concern as Gosder is still young for an offensive lineman, but certainly somewhere the Lions could improve. Also, Gosder Cherilus was benched a couple times at the start of the season which doesn't bode well for him.

3. Center

Despite what anyone might say, Dominic Raiola is a pretty good center. The guy may let his emotions get the best of him sometimes, but he is a smart football player. His ability to read defenses is one of the main reasons the Lions' line held up so well the season. He is similar to Cherilus in the fact that he excels at pass blocking but is abysmal at run blocking. A key stat for Raiola is that he played more snaps than any other center in the NFL. The Lions can get by without addressing this position immediately, but Raiola's successor must be found soon.

4. Fullback

The Lions released their only true fullback in Jerome Felton this past offseason using tight end Will Heller in his place as a TE/FB hybrid. Much like the rest of Detroit's blockers, Heller excelled at pass blocking while failing at run blocking. I think this hybrid position is an intelligent move by the coaching staff, but they need to find someone who can play the position more effectively. It may just be what they need to get their ground game going.

5. Halfback

The Lions backfield could be stacked next season, or it could be worse off than it was this year. Right now the Lions have Jahvid Best, Mikel LeShoure, Keiland Williams, Joique Bell and Stefan Logan under contract. I have to imagine Kevin Smith will be in the mix to make the 53 man roster next season as well.

The problem is that Best and LeShoure may never play a down of football again due to injuries. At this point it is looking positive for both players, but their careers are most definitely still up in the air.

Kevin Smith came out and once again showed why the Lions drafted him in the first place by putting in a career game against the Carolina Panthers, but then showed why the Lions released him by being too injured to put in another effective game all season.

I have to imagine if a running back they like falls to them in the first round they may just have to pull the trigger if things do not progress with LeShoure or Best.

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