Welcome to Tuesday 10, where every Tuesday over the summer, we'll count down 10 Detroit Lions who are vital to the team's success in 2013. Today, we continue things by examining number seven, a somewhat overlooked veteran wide receiver who will continue to play a big role for Detroit's offense.
When Detroit Lions' experienced wide receiver Nate Burleson went down with a broken leg against the Chicago Bears last fall and was shelved for the remainder of the season, many fans may have underestimated what a damaging blow that ended up being to the offense and the team.
Don't count quarterback Matthew Stafford among those naive to Burleson's positive impact, however. Last week, after Stafford signed his new mega-deal, he was asked by various media outlets what happened to accelerate Detroit's frustrating 2012 plummet to 4-12. Among other things, Stafford cited injuries to most of his key targets, and Burleson's name was routinely one of the first he mentioned. Without receivers he was familiar with, Stafford had to work through growing pains with new, younger players.
Prior to his injury, Burleson was certainly helping his Lions out. Through five games, he had amassed 171 yards through the air and two touchdowns, the most critical score coming as Detroit forged a fourth quarter comeback against the Philadelphia Eagles. More than numbers, though, Burleson has a veteran connection with Stafford that only comes between two players who have been partners for a few years. When that went missing, Stafford only had Calvin Johnson to rely on at the receiver spot, which was a problem.
Likely working harder than he ever has in his career, Burleson has been determined to get back into form by the beginning of the season, and has been an active participant in offseason camps despite not being 100 percent. That's good news for Detroit, who needs his production and leadership to help diversify the offense. The Lions would like to see Burleson healthy, producing as well as he did in his first two years with the franchise, when the veteran pulled in 1,382 yards combined with nine touchdowns.
In fact, considering Burleson is the only NFL-tested sure thing behind Johnson this fall at receiver and is versatile as a Swiss Army knife, it's a good bet he'll become Stafford's most consistent number two option. Titus Young is gone, nobody knows how Ryan Broyles will look at game speed after another ACL surgery and rookie Corey Fuller is rough around the edges. That opens the door for a wily veteran like Burleson, who's smooth route running across the middle of the field and on the sidelines often gets under the skin of opposing defenses.
Detroit didn't add a big name second option to supplement Johnson on the outside this offseason, perhaps because they're confident they already have that player in Burleson. Though he's getting a bit older, Burleson will be looking to prove he's aging like a fine wine, especially after many will be doubting him in the wake of rehabbing a very tough injury.
For a player who's already long been intensely self-motivated, that should be a winning combination for Stafford and the entire Lions' offense.
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