LIONS INSIDER

10 QUESTIONS WITH TWENTYMAN: Who will be the biggest red-zone threat this year?

Posted Jul 26, 2017

Tim Twentyman answers 10 fan-submitted questions as the Lions prepare for training camp.

From time to time during the offseason Tim Twentyman will answer 10 good questions from his Twitter account @ttwentyman in a feature we call "10 Questions with Twentyman.”

20man: It might end up being a tough call to get down to four or five receivers, whichever number the Lions ultimately decide to keep on the initial 53-man roster. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay are in.

After that, there’s a group of very capable players that all bring a unique set of skills to the position who all had pretty good springs. Among that list are TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and Ryan Spadola. We’ll see if someone from that group, or maybe someone not on that list, separates themselves from the pack in training camp and the preseason.

20man: I believe running back Theo Reddick is one of the best red-zone threats in all of football. Jim Bob Cooter can do so much with Riddick from a matchup standpoint near and around the end zone. There’s not a linebacker in this league that can cover him out of the backfield. He can also motion out into the slot and force a defense to move pieces around to account for him there. Riddick had five receiving touchdowns last year. All five were in the red zone and three were from one yard out.

20man: The NFL is different from the other three major sports leagues in that it doesn’t have a developmental league. There are no minor leagues in football. College is the minor leagues to the NFL. Rookies have to pick things up quickly and make an immediate impact, or they simply aren’t around long.

Rookies have to show they belong in year one. They make their biggest leap in development in year two. By year three, teams typically know what they have in a player. But the first step is making the roster as a rookie by showing they can impact the game. Fans shouldn’t expect a rookie to come out and be a Pro Bowl player in their first year, but they should be contributors as either starters or rotational players.

20man: As long as Ziggy Ansah remains healthy, they should be fine there. It becomes a problem area in my opinion if Ansah misses any significant time or has to deal with a nagging injury as he did last season with the high ankle sprain. Kerry Hyder Jr., Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, Armonty Bryant (suspended the first four games) and co. can all come in and be a complement to Ansah’s Pro Bowl talent on the other side. But without Ansah to anchor the unit, its effectiveness could be seriously hampered.

20man: People forget that Abdullah played in all 16 games as a rookie. He battled a shoulder injury toward the end of his rookie season, but played through it. The foot injury last year was kind of a fluke thing. I remember when most people thought Matthew Stafford was injury-prone after dealing with a couple injuries his first two seasons in the league. He’s started every game since. I’m not too worried about Abdullah’s durability just yet.

As far as the depth at running back, I think it’s very solid heading into camp. Abdullah and Riddick are good at what they do, and comprise a nice one-two punch at the position. Zenner played well at the end of last year when he was asked to be the featured back because of injuries to Abdullah and Riddick. Zenner has experience and a good overall skillset for a third running back. Matt Asiata is a five-year pro who started six games for the Minnesota Vikings last year with six rushing touchdowns. He’s just trying to just make the roster as a fourth or fifth back in Detroit.

20man: How long will they be without Decker? That’s a big factor. We should get an update on his status and outlook this weekend. If we’re talking about getting through the first month of the season or the first six games until the bye week, I think they can hold down the fort until Decker returns. Who knows, maybe a change of scenery and a different scheme will be a perfect fit for Greg Robinson. Cyrus Kouandjio has started games at left tackle in this league. There could certainly be some early-season tests, however. Arizona (Week 1), Carolina (Week 5) and Minnesota (Week 4) all ranked in the top five in sacks last season.

20man: That would certainly be an ideal situation for the Lions and their third-round pick this offseason. Golladay is a big receiver with a skillset unique to this group of receivers. He was good in OTAs and minicamp, but now he’ll deal with contact and bump and run coverage. It will be much different than what he was used to in college. Defensive backs up here are stronger and faster. If he can adjust and still make the same number of splash plays he made this spring, he’ll certainly find his way onto the field sooner rather than later, probably as the No. 3 guy behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr..

20man: Lions general manager Bob Quinn said shortly after last season that his expectation was for Abdullah to get 200 carries as Detroit’s lead back last season. I’m guessing he could have similar expectations for this upcoming season. Lions head coach Jim Caldwell has said many times he prefers the running back by committee approach, which means Riddick and possibly others will get touches too, but in the end, I’d expect Abdullah to be over 200 and maybe double the next player on the list.

20man: That’s tough to say right now. A big part of the determining factor in whether they keep two or three is how well Brad Kaaya plays in the preseason in front of the 31 other teams, and if the Lions think he would clear waivers to the practice squad if he didn’t beat out Rudock for the backup role.

Ideally, if Rudock beats out Kaaya, the Lions would place Kaaya on the practice squad so they could keep another roster spot at a position that would help them on gameday, when the active roster is just 46. It would be exactly what they did with Rudock last year. Kaaya could practice and develop on the practice squad, and the Lions don’t have to use up a roster spot for that to happen. If needed, Kaaya can be brought up to the active roster at any point. That is probably the most ideal situation, if he doesn’t beat out Rudock for the backup job.

20man: The open competition for the kickoff and punt return jobs is going to play a big factor in the initial 53-man roster. Jones is among a handful of players vying for both jobs. If he wins one or both, he’s on the roster. Jones ran with the first-team offense in the slot for most of the open OTAs and minicamp. He’s entering his fourth season. He’s proven he can be productive in stints. He knows the offense. He also has NFL experience returning punts and kicks. All of those factors give him an advantage. For what it’s worth, last year was the only time the Lions kept fewer than five receivers on the initial 53-man roster in the Caldwell era. He kept six in 2014, five in 2015 and only the four last year.