This is the fifth in a series of position previews in advance of Lions training camp. Today: Wide receivers and tight ends. See the roster breakdown in the gallery above or by clicking here .
The Lions made it a priority to find pass-catching threats to help quarterback Matthew Stafford, but the addition of free-agent receiver Golden Tate and first-round tight end Eric Ebron will have an impact on more than just the quarterback.
With Tate finding openings anywhere on the field and Ebron working across the middle, defenses won’t be able to focus all their attention on All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson.
The addition of those Tate and Ebron will also help the other receivers and tight ends fit into roles more suited to them and makes this year’s group of receivers and tight ends look much stronger from top to bottom.
Whoever earns the No. 3 receiver job, whether it’s Jeremy Ross, Ryan Broyles or Kris Durham, should have more opportunities to get open against single coverage because of Johnson and Tate. And because Tate can play inside and outside, the Lions won’t be pigeonholed as they determine which receivers to keep at the back of the roster.
At tight end, Ebron’s selection pushes Brandon Pettigrew into a primary blocking role, which will help mask his inability to separate and catch balls down the field. Joseph Fauria should still have a role in the red zone, but the Lions drafted Ebron because he’s better at route running and gaining yards after the catch than Fauria.
Another thing helping the receivers is new coordinator Joe Lombardi, who should do a better job at exploiting players’ strengths. When Lombardi was in New Orleans, the Saints had very specific roles for their receivers, so a raw player like Corey Fuller could make the team because of his ability to run past cornerbacks.
Fauria’s production last season — seven touchdowns on 18 receptions — led to many questions about why he didn’t play more. Fauria excels at boxing out defenders and spotting the ball, and he uses his massive hands well to pluck the ball out of the air.
But ultimately, the undrafted rookie’s deficiencies in other areas show why former coordinator Scott Linehan didn’t give Fauria more playing time.
The old offensive staff required regular blocking from the tight end spot, and Fauria too often used his arms and upper body instead of his legs to block, which was ineffective against defensive linemen and linebackers. This was why the Lions often had Fauria line up out wide or in the slot.
Fauria’s lack of speed — 4.72-second 40-yard dash — also made it difficult to create separation, and his simple routes required precise passes from Stafford. And while Fauria had a lot of success in the red zone, his 50 yards after catch accounted for less than one-fourth of his 204 yards, well below the rate of most pass-catching tight ends.
In 2014, the Lions have the pieces to utilize Fauria’s strengths in the red zone, but unless he became faster and more technically sound as a blocker this offseason, it’s hard to see him having an expanded role.
Lions training camp position previews
Monday: Defensive backs
Wednesday: Defensive line
Thursday: Offensive line
Today: Wide receivers and tight ends