I have a theory that the Detroit Lions may carry as few as five wide receivers on the Week 1 roster. My reasons include the inexperienced offensive line needing help blocking, and that Eric Ebron may emerge as a serious offensive threat.
Add to that the fact Joseph Fauria is one year removed from catching seven touchdown passes during the 2013 season, and you have a compelling case that the tight end position may be one of the most important cogs in the Lions offensive machine.
Obviously, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will get the lion’s share (no pun intended) of targets, but Fauria (when healthy) and 2nd-year emerging star Ebron, may get plenty of “hot route” and “check-down” looks from QB Matthew Stafford.
Both may be featured in the red zone, as well.
Ebron received comparison to now-Seahawks TE Jimmy Graham from Lions new WR Lance Moore. Whether it is simply training camp hyperbole or an accurate description of the two tight end’s skill-sets, being compared to a sure-fire NFL Hall of Famer by a teammate of both players is impressive.
Both Ebron and Fauria are more familiar with second-year offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi‘s playbook and schemes. Fauria’s biggest obstacle is to stay healthy.
After his rookie season in 2013 where he caught those seven touchdowns on 18 total receptions for a combined 207 yards, Fauria has been limited by injuries, including already missing time in this year’s training camp–at a public practice at Novi High School.
“He’s got a little tweak, and it might take him a couple days to get back,” Coach Jim Caldwell said.
He originally injured his ankle in a freak household incident last September, but Fauria returned to catch six balls in the seven games he played, one of which was a touchdown. He re-injured the ankle in Week 14 and missed the rest of last season.
If he can get healthy, both he and Ebron will be counted on heavily, as the Lions may have to be thin at wide receiver, due to having to allow roster spots for blocking tight ends to help with the inexperienced offensive line.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a blocking tight end, but at least one other tight end may make the roster, as a backup and/or to handle special teams duties. Casey Pierce, Jordan Thompson, and newly-signed Jacob Maxwell will be vying to be Pettigrew’s back-up.
Which brings me to my theory that the Lions may keep as few as five wide receivers on the roster. I project Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Corey Fuller, Lance Moore and Jeremy Ross (unless he loses BOTH kickoff and punt return duties) to be the five wide receivers.
If the Lions in fact keep six wide receivers, or Ross is cut from the team, the others trying to make the team (in no particular order) are Ryan Broyles, Andrew Peacock, Greg Salas, TJ Jones, and 2015 undrafted rookie free agents Jarred Haggins and Vernon Johnson.
The Lions would be wise to keep as many of those extra wideouts on the practice squad as possible. The four preseason games will ultimately determine which wide receivers make the final roster and who makes the practice squad, but one thing is for certain, there are more camp bodies than potential spots on the roster, so many of the guys on the outside looking in are auditioning for other teams.
As for Ebron and Fauria, they should find themselves on the field in obvious passing downs, and give way to Pettigrew on obvious running downs, including short yardage situations. Whether the Lions go to a two tight end set in running situations is yet to be seen.