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Detroit Lions’ Positional Recap, Wide Reciever: Outside Calvin Johnson, Modest Contributions

February 10th, 2014 at 11:34 AM
By Max DeMara

Every Monday/Tuesday during the winter, we're taking a closer look back at the progression of every position on the Detroit Lions during the 2013 season.

The Detroit Lions came into the 2013 season needing a big year from their receivers, namely, players not named Calvin Johnson. When the season began, it appeared as if Nate Burleson was going to provide that type of production. Then, an accident along I-696 may have changed the complexion of the season.

'Detroit Lions vs Minnesota Vikings 2012/09/30' photo (c) 2012, kdoebler@att.net - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Burleson would be lost for the majority of the year with a broken arm. In his place, the Lions struggled to develop anyone else, with Kris Durham, Kevin Ogletree and Jeremy Ross all trying their hand. Problem was, none could be the difference-maker Burleson looked to be. Now, with Burleson aging and the others struggling, what direction will Detroit go? Here's more about where they were in 2013 and where they're headed.

1. Calvin Johnson. It was another great season for Johnson, who once again fought through injuries to put up fantastic numbers. Johnson scored 12 touchdowns and grabbed 1,492 receiving yards, and yet, because he didn't have many running mates, it seemed like the effort was futile. Johnson is still capable of making circus catches, amazing plays and big performances. He had 300 yards receiving against the Dallas Cowboys, showing his brilliance. For the team to have success and for Johnson to avoid getting worn down, he needs a big time running mate, which the Lions will likely make a priority this offseason.

  • Will He Stay? Of course. Johnson's an all-world performer and the Lions have him locked up for the foreseeable future.
  • 2014 Outlook: Count on more of the same from Johnson. If the Lions get some receiving help, his numbers could get even better, considering some of the wear and tear on his body might be limited. At this point, the question is, what can Johnson do next on the field?

2. Nate Burleson. Prior to the pizza box incident, Burleson looked to be on the way to putting up fantastic numbers. Through three games, Burleson had put up 284 yards, and while he hadn't scored a touchdown, he was a viable number two for Johnson. After the incident, Burleson made his presence felt immediately, going for 77 yards and a touchdown. When healthy, Burleson can be a solid player, but given his age, can he continue along that path for Detroit?

  • Will He Stay? Unknown. Burleson seems to want to come back, but will the Lions want to keep him with their salary cap problems? Will they want to get younger, or will they keep Burleson on to be a veteran leader at the position? 
  • 2014 Outlook: Burleson can still be a difference maker in the right scheme, and he's a good teammate. He can put up numbers and be a solid three receiver. He's probably not a number two, though.

3. Kris Durham. Forced into major action by Burleson's injury, Durham was thrust into a significant role at the position and didn't set the world on fire. Despite a few solid games, he consistently struggled with drops and routes. Considering he was occupying space, he should have done a better job to maximize the opportunity without Burleson in the fold. Despite 430 yards and two touchdowns, it felt like Durham should have contributed much more with attention on Johnson and dysfunction at the position.

  • Will He Stay? Probably. Durham is an exclusive-rights free agent, and friends with franchise face Matthew Stafford. He also has the size teams like in a wide receiver. He should never be counted on to contribute a major role again, but otherwise, he can still be a solid bit-part player for the bottom of the roster.
  • 2014 Outlook: Much of the same as 2013, if not significantly less. The Lions will add other players, meaning Durham's role will likely diminish. He didn't prove himself when given the chance.

4. Kevin Ogletree. The wide receiver was a mid-season addition from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and didn't really get into the mix with regards to catching passes. Ogletree had a few nice games (think his one-handed catch against Green Bay on Thanksgiving) but didn't run away with the opportunity much like Durham, Michael Spurlock and company. Perhaps the staff didn't use him properly. That will be up to Jim Caldwell to decide.

  • Will He Stay? Not likely. The only way Ogletree gets back into the fold is if the Lions choose to go cheaper on the free agent market. He didn't jump when opportunity knocked, and as a result, the new coaching staff will probably have to make a tough decision.
  • 2014 Outlook: Ogletree can be a bottom of the roster type contributor on a deep team. Beyond that, not much should be expected.

5. Jeremy Ross. A Jacoby Jones look alike, Ross had a solid game against the Green Bay Packers on Thanksgiving Day at wide receiver, and has carved out a major role on special teams already as a kick returner. The Lions should give him a bigger look at wide out and see if he can become for Detroit what Jones is for Baltimore. Caldwell had Jones as an offensive coordinator, so Ross might see a major role for the team next season.

  • Will He Stay: Most likely. Ross, like Durham, is an exclusive rights free agent. He took the kick returner job with both hands this fall, and deserves a shot at wide receiver for that reason.
  • 2014 Outlook: If Ross is given more of a role in the offense, his production could only skyrocket. Expect him to see a bigger role, and perhaps contribute more big plays or scores.

Next week, the offensive line and tight ends, both of which took a major step forward at times in 2013, will be put under the microscope.

Max DeMara is the managing editor of Lions 101. You can find him on this site's Twitter @detroitlions101

Tags: Calvin Johnson, Detroit, Detroit Lions, Football, Jeremy Ross, Jim Caldwell, Kevin Ogletree, Kris Durham, Nate Burleson, NFL

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