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Roster depth: Detroit Lions

With wide receiver Kris Durham catching passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions offense will be the class of the NFC North.

With wide receiver Kris Durham catching passes from quarterback Matthew Stafford, the Detroit Lions offense will be the class of the NFC North.

Depth is important. Whether we like it or not, injuries happen — and when they do somebody needs to step up, because NFL opponents offer no quarter and every game is important.

In this four-part series, we’ll take a look at each team in the NFC North team, noting where they could be strong with depth and where they have weaknesses. First up is the class of the North, the Detroit Lions.


Matthew Stafford is the franchise. Detroit can’t afford to have him miss most of the season like he did in 2010. Fortunately, they have a good veteran backup in Shaun Hill, who can hold down the fort and maybe win some games if Stafford misses time. Hill knows the offense well and has proven himself in the past.

Detroit is weak in the third string. Kellen Moore was productive in college but just doesn’t have the arm strength to be a good passer in this league. Not that it probably matters anyway: no team is going far if both the first- and second-string quarterbacks go down.

Running back

Reggie Bush was acquired this offseason to be the presumptive starter. He is an explosive player who can run between the tackles and be a productive receiver.

With Bush in the mix, Mikel Leshoure is relegated to backup. Nevertheless, he can be a workhorse and will definitely still get a lot of touches. While he doesn’t have the explosion or speed, he has good vision and a nose for the end zone; plus he is a capable receiver.

Third stringer Joique Bell is bigger back who can catch the ball and averaged 5.0 yards per carry in 2012.

Wide receiver

Calvin Johnson remains the undisputed best wide receiver in the NFL, but there is no depth behind him. If he goes down, Detroit will be in trouble.

Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are both capable on the outside and run good routes but are better in the slot. If Burleson goes down, Broyles has what it takes to step in, as he proved during the Thanksgiving Day game last year.

Kris Durham provides another big target on the outside.

The only other deep threat is rookie Corey Fuller, an inexperienced prospect picked up in the sixth round. Burleson and Broyles can sneak deep but not consistently.

There is a lack of depth in the slot. In the absence of Broyles, Burleson would still need to play on the outside. Veteran Mike Thomas represents a significant step down in talent from Broyles.

Rookie tight end Michael Williams brings pride to the Detroit Lions offense.

Rookie tight end Michael Williams brings pride to the Detroit Lions offense.

Without Johnson, this offense has enough talent to be average at best. But average won’t cut it in the NFC this year.

Tight end

Between Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, who complement each other well, this offense has adequate tight end depth, although Scheffler is the only tight end on the roster who can stretch the field. Rookie seventh-round pick Michael Williams can block should Pettigrew miss time but is extremely limited as a receiver.

Offensive tackle

Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox will man the right tackle slot, but there is no one at left tackle behind Riley Reiff. Detroit had better hope Reiff stays healthy.


With Rob Sims and Larry Warford starting, there is talent at guard. Dominic Raiola will start at center, as he has since 2001. Versatile backup Bill Nagy has starting experience and can play guard or center but has struggled with injury the last two seasons. Undrafted free agent guard Rodney Austin is a long shot to make the roster, and center Dylan Gandy doesn’t provide quality depth.

Defensive end

This unit is a major unknown at this point. Rookie top-five pick Ziggy Ansah is the presumptive starter across from Jason Jones. Willie Young is inconsistent from year to year — a good backup in 2011 who underachieved in 2012. Fourth-round pick Devin Taylor has the size and long speed you want in a defensive end but is inexperienced. Look for them to take up to 300 snaps from the starters. Ronnell Lewis is a converted linebacker trying to play on the line.

Defensive tackle

Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley were top-five defensive tackles in 2012. Solid backup Corey Williams remains a free agent with his injured knee, while Sammie Lee Hill departed for the Tennessee Titans. Acquired in free agency, veteran C.J. Mosley can stuff the run but lacks pass rush skills. In a pinch, Jason Jones could rush the passer from the tackle position, but he will be busy at left end.


There is plenty of outside linebacker depth between Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis, but it remains uncertain who will be the strong side starter. Ashlee Palmer was a backup last year and seems to be the man most likely to step up.

Detroit lacks depth in the interior. DeAndre Levy or Palmer would move to inside linebacker if Stephen Tulloch got hurt.

With second-year cornerback Chris Greenwood roaming the defensive backfield, it will be hard to pass on the Detroit Lions secondary in 2013.

With second-year cornerback Chris Greenwood roaming the defensive backfield, it will be hard to pass on the Detroit Lions secondary in 2013.


At long last, Detroit seems to finally have depth at cornerback. Chris Houston will assume the No. 1 spot, although at this point he has no clear-cut backup. Bill Bentley, veteran Ron Bartell (who has battled injuries the past two years), rookie second-round pick Darius Slay, and second-year player Jonte Green will battle for the No. 2 and nickel slots. Chris Greenwood out of Albion College returns after his stint on injured reserve but remains very raw.


After watching Louis Delmas go down with knee injuries the last two years, Detroit has stocked up on safeties. Glover Quin has been healthy his four seasons. Don Carey stepped up and played well in 2012. Amari Spievey has talent and plenty of starting experience. Ricardo Silva also started in 2012. Should Delmas go down yet again, this team should be better prepared.

Then again, they thought the same thing last yeaer when they had Erik Coleman and John Wendling.


I'm amazed at how many people believe that the Packers improving their running game makes them a better team. It can't hurt, and it would be nice to be able to run the ball to control the pace of a game once they have a lead, but offense is not their problem. It's their defense that needs improving.

G & G
G & G moderator

I like the new Vikings stadium

PS I know ,I know...


Dom Capers Did Nothing Wrong
Dom Capers Did Nothing Wrong

*sigh* Some people:

""Passer rating is a fantastic indicator of overall body of work as long as it's given context."

Just plain wrong. You can't give any passer rating context outside of single-games, the season-long ratings, such as the ones you're citing, only tell the story of a guy's arm AND 1 single high-profile game or 2 can skew the entire season's statistic. A solid passer rating is simply quality completion percentage, higher avg/attempt, and a high td:int ratio. It doesn't factor in a qb's run ability (A strength of Elway's), his smarts at the line of scrimage and at the end of games (both strengths of Elway's), the type of pic thrown (pic6 vs wr-bobbled-ball) or his ability to play through injury and consistency.

As for the post-season, again, Elway = consistency. His numbers aren't great, but they aren't detestable. Favre is, as is his entire career, up and down erratically. He was either the hero of the game or throwing 4-6 pics. I'll retract the "significantly better" portion as I put too much emphasis on winning, but I would say at the very least comparable. Young is a HOFer and Favre should be a first ballot guy.

Your last paragraph, my point still stands: Great company. Except Joe Theismann has no place on that list. Theismann out-threw him his rookie and sophomore year and then retired after as 1700 yard 8 td- 16 pic season. He was hardly a titan of any time, with his 3-4 solid seasons in a run-heavy that featured a HOFer in John Riggins at tailback. Either way, the rest of those guys definitely didn't dwarf his numbers or hurt his ability to win games and make the playoffs. At the very least his numbers are as good or better than every player on that list except Montana's. Not to mention more consistent. Which, if you read my initial comment, was exactly my point."


Some idiot is trying to argue with me that Crosby/ovechkin are better than datsyuk. The only thing they have on datsyuk is a better shot.

Datsyuk wipes the floor with them

Big Deal
Big Deal

@jwoude23 Bear Down 

My kid did that once. He was pretending to be a battering ram. Started puking shortly after, so I call that Concussion 1.


The WR from Illinois State isn't particularly big or fast, but he was very productive. Good to see ISU getting some love.

G & G
G & G moderator

Those seats are almost new


@Buhlitz Ovechkin has taken a giant step back. He had a great mid March/April but he's all shot now.


I'm not arguing that a running game doesn't make them better. I said as much above. I just don't think the running game puts them over the top. I think that if they want to get to another level, they need to improve on defense.

I think their running game will be better this year.


@Hoppalong Cassady @Buhlitz Crosby and Ovechkin are without a doubt better scorers, but other than that, I don't think they have much on Datsyuk.

Btw I see the caps are down by 4... that sucks (for you)

tmonson78 moderator


If you accidentally hit the control button (ctrl +u), it underlines your text.