Position Preview: Wide Receivers

Posted Jul 16, 2013

Tim Twentyman says the wide receivers are a deep group, but is also one that has some question marks

We've reached the third installment of our position previews with training camp less than two weeks away. It's amazing to think rookies will be reporting to Allen Park in less than a week.

We take a look at the receiving position, which was decimated by injuries and other circumstances last year. It's a deep group, but one that still has some question marks.


Terrence Austin 5-11 171 24 3 UCLA
Nate Burleson 6-0 198 31 11 Nevada
Ryan Broyles 5-10 188 25 2 Oklahoma
Kris Durham 6-6 216 25 3 Georgia
Patrick Edwards 5-9 175 24 1 Houston
Corey Fuller 6-2 196 22 R Virginia Tech
Calvin Johnson 6-5 236 27 7 Georgia Tech
Micheal Spurlock 5-11 210 30 7 Mississippi
Devin Thomas 6-2 221 26 5 Michigan State
Mike Thomas 5-8 198 26 5 Arizona
Cody Wilson 5-9 191 22 R Central Michigan
Matt Willis 6-0 190 29 6 UCLA


Terrence Austin – Did not play in game –
Nate Burleson 6 27 240 8.9 26 2
Ryan Broyles 10 22 310 14.1 40 2
Kris Durham 4 8 125 15.6 27 1
Patrick Edwards – Did not play in game –
Corey Fuller (college) 13 43 815 18.9 69 6
Calvin Johnson 16 122 1,964 16.1 53 5
Micheal Spurlock (w/ SD & Jac) 12 23 200 8.7 22 1
Devin Thomas – Did not play in game –
Cody Wilson (college) 13 74 845 11.4 45 3
Matt Willis (w/ Den) 15 10 90 9.0 19 0


6: The number of times Calvin Johnson was tackled inside the 2-yard line last year. He finished with five touchdowns. Running back Mikel Leshoure was the beneficiary of some of that stat with nine touchdowns last year.
46: Receptions on first down for Calvin Johnson last year, which were the second most in the NFL behind Cincinnati's A.J. Green (52).
37: Points scored by the Lions in 2012 in the two-minute offense. That was the third most in the NFL and more than double the NFL average of 17.


The good: The Lions were the No. 3 team in the league last year in accruing yards after the catch (YAC). Lions receivers has 2,217 YAC yards, which was more than 400 yards more than the NFL average of 1,799.
The bad: The Lions led the NFL with 45 drops last season, according to Stats, LLC. The team also led the NFL in attempts (740), which would inherently lead to a higher number of drops, but 45 are way too many. That means Lions receivers (tight ends and running backs included) dropped a pass about 9.2 percent of the time a catchable ball was thrown their way. That needs to get better in 2013.
The fix: The first stats shows the Lions have an explosive passing game with receivers that have the ability to break a big play on any catch, even the short ones. That ability has gotten even stronger with the addition of running back Reggie Bush, who should make a big impact as a receiver, too. The Lions simply need to hang onto the ball more. Too many drops led to too many missed opportunities last year. When the average margin of defeat in 2012 was 7.75 points, every catch and potential big play missed made a difference.


"He thinks he can which is all that matters. That guy works harder than anybody I know and he thinks he can get better so I wouldn’t put anything past him. He’s a guy that can obviously run all of the routes – inside, outside – make all of the catches and is a smart football player, and a really good teammate."

--Matthew Stafford speaking on NFL AM about Calvin Johnson and whether his big receiver can be even better in 2013.


The Lions need a second receiver to emerge as a legitimate option opposite Megatron. The team was decimated by injury at the position last year with Nate Burleson (broken leg) and Ryan Broyles (ACL) missing significant time, but Johnson had 122 catches and the next receiver on the list was Titus Young (no longer with team) with 33, behind two tight ends and two running backs.

Nate BurlesonWR Nate Burleson is coming off a season shortened by injury. (Photo: G. Smith/Detroit Lions)

Broyles is a likely breakout candidate in 2013, if he can stay healthy. He has a unique ability to decipher man vs. zone concepts and find the open spaces in the defense. Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford refers to him as a "chain mover." He's a 50-catch candidate this season.

The Lions are solid at the top three receiver spots if Broyles and Burleson, who’s a solid possession receiver entering his 11th season, stay healthy.

Where it gets interesting for the Lions are the fourth and fifth spots. There’s a lot of excitement brewing -- both from coaches and fellow players -- with the development of Patrick Edwards. He’s been impressive this spring, but he has to carry that over into the preseason, which he wasn’t able to do as a rookie last year.

After Edwards, who I think has a great shot to make the team, the competition will be fierce.

The team traded for Mike Thomas last year and he told me he feels much better in this offense this spring having an offseason to acclimate himself further to the scheme.

Kris Durham made a few spot starts last year and averaged 15.6 yards per catch, second only to Johnson. He’s a big target at 6-foot-6 and has great hands.

Then there’s rookie sixth-round pick Corey Fuller. The team drafted him to stretch the field opposite Johnson, but knew he was a bit raw. Does he develop enough to earn a roster spot? The same can be said for Cody Wilson and his development.

Add veteran receivers like Micheal Spurlock, Devin Thomas and Matt Willis into the mix, and it’ll be interesting to see how the position shakes itself out and who emerges to the top of the depth chart over the next month.