For the past several years, the Detroit Lions have struggled to get a competent number two receiver to play next to star Calvin Johnson. Johnson has lit the league on fire recently posting ridiculous numbers, making ridiculous plays, and demanding constant double and triple team coverages. One would think that with those kind of looks, just about anyone would be able to play wide receiver opposite of Johnson and be successful. Unfortunately for the Lions, this has not been the case.
The Lions have attempted to fill that position with a flurry of receivers over the years. They signed Nate Burleson, who had potential to be a solid number two. He, however, struggled to stay healthy for a variety of reasons leaving a huge hole in the offense. They tried drafting receivers over the years in Derrick Johnson, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles. Derrick Johnson was a bust. Titus Young showed flashes of excellence but had mental issues which forced the team to release him. Ryan Broyles had the stats coming out of college, and he certainly has the measurables combined with excellent hands. Broyles though, while still with the team, has also struggled to remain healthy. This past season, the Lions actually were forced to line up quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s college roommate opposite of Johnson. While he did an admiral job, he is certainly no more than a number four receiver in the NFL. That certainly is not going to work moving forward if the Lions are going to have a successful offense.
The Lions have also attempted to fill that role with a combination of running backs and tight ends. They drafted Brandon Pettigrew, who has been wildly inconsistent. He posted terrific numbers in his first season, but recently struggled with fumbles and drops. He was re-signed to a long term deal and is expected to play a key role in the offense, be it as a receiver or as a blocker. They have also signed undrafted free agent tight end Joseph Fauria, who has shown to be a fantastic weapon in the red zone, but he was used sparingly outside of the red zone by the previous coaching staff and is in general a question mark for the team. They drafted running back bust Jahvid Best, who if it was not for concussions would have been a star. They also signed running backs Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in hopes that their hands and successful running game could open things up a bit for Johnson.
The reason for this article is that none of the above has worked. This season, the Lions decided enough was enough and they targeted and signed former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate to a long term contract. He played for the Superbowl champion Seahawks as their best wide receiver this past season. Even though his statistics are not off the charts, he is a very capable number two receiver who spent the past season as a number one receiver. He posted 898 yards and five touchdowns last season in an offense that focused on ball control and the running game. He is expected to thrive in the Lions pass happy offense, especially with Johnson playing on the opposite side of the field. Do not sleep on the Lions in the draft though. They are expected to take a receiver in the draft, and if they do that will be yet another option to give Golden Tate wide open looks. At five foot ten, he is not the tall target that most fans wanted opposite of Calvin, but he is definitely the weapon that they desperately need opposite of him. Tate, while still young, is bringing a level of leadership that comes with being a Superbowl champion. Fans and coaches hope that leadership boosts the offense and brings them back to the level they were at in 2011 when they last made the playoffs.