The Detroit Lions are going into the 2016 NFL season without the services of All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who retired during the offseason.
It’s going to be a tough task to replace Megatron, but fans in the Motor City shouldn’t worry. The Lions are well equipped at receiver, and replacing Johnson won’t be as hard as many think.
Johnson’s playmaking ability without question made him one of the most dominant wide receivers in all of the NFL. He amassed 731 receptions and over 11,000 yards during his nine year NFL career.
However, after posting 5,137 yards through the 2011-13 seasons, Johnson’s numbers began to fall. During his final two years, he was only able to produce 2,291 receiving yards.
One of the main contributors to Johnson’s lower yardage output was the arrival of Golden Tate, who gave the Lions a true number two receiver. Tate produced 2,144 receiving yards and 189 receptions during his first two seasons with Detroit. And while his presence didn’t affect Johnson’s status as the number one wide receiver, he carved out a significant role in the Lions offense.
With Johnson now gone, it appears that Golden Tate is the number one option for Detroit. And while Tate is far from the Pro Bowl level Johnson is, he’s still able to produce when given the opportunity, and could sneak his way into the conversation as a top ten receiver in the NFL.
During weeks 14 and 15 of the 2015 season, Johnson played two of his most ineffective games of his career. The Pro Bowl receiver only caught two passes totaling 35 yards. During that same stretch of games, Tate caught 15 passes and produced four touchdowns.
Those performances came during a four week period where Tate caught 32 balls in four games. If you prorate those numbers through an entire season, his reception totals would come in at 128. With Johnson gone it’s possible Tate can replicate his production from this part of the season.
The only question regarding Tate is whether or not he can be an effective number one. Defenses are going to game plan for him, and top corners are going to matchup against him. It’s still unclear how Tate will react to the added defensive pressure, but the Lions succeeded in free agency by signing former Cincinnati Bengal receiver, Marvin Jones, who will provide the team with a quality number two receiver.
Jones was used sparingly during his time with Cincinnati. It wasn’t until his third season that he saw more than 100 targets, but he rewarded the team with 65 receptions and 816 yards. While Jones isn’t going to turn into a dominant option at the receiver position, he’s got the ability to record a 1,000 yard season. By doing so, Jones will take away some of the pressure on Tate.
It’s obvious losing a talent such as Johnson isn’t easy. But that doesn’t mean Tate and Jones can’t pick up the slack. If the Lions don’t feel their current situation is adequate they can look towards the draft, as their are numerous options for Detroit at the 16th pick. Those options include Laquon Treadwell, Corey Coleman, and Josh Doctson, all of whom could be franchise cornerstones. You can expect Detroit to add a wide receiver at some point in the draft, even if it’s not in the first round.
Detroit has some work to do to make itself a playoff contender. However, receiver should be the least of their concerns. While losing and All-Pro player such as Calvin Johnson will sting, Tate has proven he can step up when the team needs him, and Jones is coming off a career year. The Lions are going to need to rely on their wide receivers, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Follow Daniel James Gentile on Twitter @dgentleman9288