A big strong point for the Detroit Lions over past three seasons has been a diverse and chiseled group of wide receivers and tight ends, each capable of hurting teams in their own unique way. From the imposing Calvin Johnson and Brandon Pettigrew to the shifty Nate Burleson and developing Titus Young, the Lions will be loaded here again heading into 2012. Throwing to each is the obvious way they'll sustain drives, put up points and win games once again.
Here's a closer look at all those on the receiving end of Detroit's fantastic aerial attack this year.
Who's The Guy: Clearly, at wide receiver it's the beastly Johnson. Last season, Johnson had a sterling campaign grabbing 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns, which put him on the cover of magazines and even the popular Madden 2013 video game. Can he improve upon those numbers even more in 2012? It would be downright scary if he did, but nothing is out of the realm of possibility with "Megatron." Count on Johnson to transform again and at least duplicate last season's video game statistics. Even though he's on the cover of a cursed video game, that won't stop a superhuman talent. Expect Pettigrew to remain a constant threat at tight end, and have a better year than last year.
Second In Command? Titus Young, Nate Burleson and Tony Scheffler. The evolution of Young will be exciting to watch, as the rookie improved through the end of last season. Expect him to come back even stronger in 2012 and develop into a scary threat next to Johnson. Burleson had a smaller year statistically, but it's his role as a slot and possession receiver which is of biggest value to the Lions now. He'll find the end zone more than three times in 2012. Scheffler remains a perfect complement to Pettigrew, and can keep defenses over the middle with his size and sticky hands.
Others Worth Noting: Ryan Broyles, Stefan Logan, Kassim Osgood and Will Heller. Broyles is a fascinating case. After sustaining a knee injury at Oklahoma, the rookie slipped into the Lions' laps in the draft despite being a first round talent and fantastic receiver. What can he provide when healthy? Logan will be one to watch with flair passes out of the backfield given his quick legs, and Osgood might see a tiny bit of time in a slot role. Heller is a nice third option at tight end who's been able to produce meaningful touchdowns the last two years.
Biggest Key To Positional Success? Sharing. With plenty of elite pass catchers, the Lions' biggest issue will be the value everyone learned about in kindergarten. In 2012, sharing the football will need to be caring once again in Detroit. It will be critical for each receiver and tight end to know their role and perform when called upon. The Lions did a great job with this in 2011, so don't expect there to be any problems with pouting over touches going forward.
Best/Worst Case Scenarios: Best? Johnson exceeds his numbers from last season, while Young sees no sophomore slump and Burleson remains a threatening contributor. Broyles emerges mid-season and is an excellent target. Pettigrew puts up better numbers, while Scheffler helps him stay consistent. Worst? The "Madden curse" is real and Johnson has a horrible season. That effects the entire group, who falls apart at the seams
Outlook: Johnson's too good to slump. A bad day for him is 100 yards receiving with one touchdown. Young will start slow but play well, while Broyles will be eased into action gingerly and tutored by the affable Burleson, who's numbers will improve. The tight ends will produce better than they did last season, and the Lions will remain one of the top passing teams in the NFL.
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