Detroit fans love their Lions. That isn’t a shocking revelation to anyone. Unfortunately, it is an unrequited love that has delivered only one playoff victory in the last 60 years. Lions fans are hungry for more, and this ravenous desire for a winning team leads many Detroiters to grasp for any potential bright spot, even in something as meaningless as the preseason.
This year’s surefire superstar is rookie receiver, Kenny Golladay. The third round selection from Northern Illinois had a big day in Detroit’s 24-10 win over Indianapolis in the preseason opener, snagging three receptions for 53 yards, including a pair of highlight-reel touchdowns.
It was a nice debut for the Chicago native, but I want to encourage all Lions fans to pump the brakes. The most important word in the previous paragraph is “preseason.” The game itself means little more than an inter-squad scrimmage or a long practice. Golladay certainly shined, but history has shown that there is no guarantee that his performance will translate to the regular season.
This phenomenon of crowning the next big thing for the Lions based on their preseason performance seems to happen on a yearly basis, but when the games actually count, these “Future Hall of Famers” tend to fall off the face of the earth. It is a lesson that should make Detroiters wary of the next big thing, but apparently, they have short memories.
Don’t believe me? Let’s see how well you remember some of these gems.
2016 Preseason: Jace Billingsley
Lions fans were looking for someone to help ease the pain of the retirement of Calvin Johnson, and this young receiver from Eastern Oregon fit the bill. Jace Billingsley caught almost everything thrown his way and showed an uncanny ability to slip tackles and earn extra yards. Heck, he led the entire NFL in YAC for the preseason. What a great third option he was going to be behind Marvin Jones and Golden Tate!
What happened? Billinglsy spent 2016 on the Practice Squad and has still yet to play a single snap in a real NFL game.
2015 Preseason: Zach ZennerJan 1, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions fullback Zach Zenner (34) runs the ball during the second quarter against the Green Bay Packers at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports
Detroiters have been desperate for a hard-headed, between the tackles, bulldozer back since Cory Schlesinger left the Lions more than a decade ago. Well, they found him in undrafted free agent rookie Zach Zenner. He broke records at South Dakota State, running for over two thousand yards in three straight seasons. Maybe the Lions got lucky with this throwback gridiron warrior, who led the NFL in rushing yards that preseason.
What happened? Zenner managed just 17 carries before getting hurt his rookie season, and 10 of those touches came in one game. Last year, Zenner did play in 15 games, but only got double-digit touches four times, and had three or fewer carries seven times.
2014 Preseason: Nate Freese
After most Lions fans knowing only two placekickers their entire lives – Eddie Murray and Jason Hanson – it looked like they had found their next scoring leader in seventh round draft pick Nate Freese. He exploded in the preseason, hitting all six of his field goal attempts, including three from over 50 yards. Well, at least one position was locked in for the next decade. Or not.
What happened? Freese missed four of his seven attempts in the first three games of the 2014 season, then the Lions cut him. He never attempted another kick in the NFL.
2013 Preseason: Havard Rugland
Wait, who the heck is Havard Rugland? You just made that name up, Otto. Well, perhaps you will remember him better by his nickname: Kickalicious. Yep, the Norwegian YouTube kicking sensation donned the Honolulu blue & silver and Detroiters instantly fell in love with him. Who better to replace their long-time kicker than a guy who has never kicked in a football game before? He made all three field goals he attempted, including a 50-yarder. This guy has a shot in the NFL, so he might as well get it with the Lions.
What happened? After getting cut by the Lions, Rugland only had one other team even give him a look. He has never attempted a kick in a real NFL game.
Before the vitriol begins, I am not saying that Golladay is Kickalicious or even Billingsly. He will get plenty of opportunities to get on the field this season and may end up having a long NFL career. However, Golladay is going to have trouble making a huge impact with Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, T.J. Jones, Theo Riddick, and Eric Ebron all better pass-catching options.
Lions fans, all I am asking you to do is to keep that in mind before you start planning a trip to Golladay’s enshrinement in Canton.