Lions TE Eric Ebron didn’t play much football the first two weeks of OTAs, sidelined with an injury. He returned this week and immediately slid into his position in Jim Bob Cooter's offense. It’s a role he believes will be “a lot more exciting” than it was his first two seasons under Joe Lombardi.
Ebron is going to have to take more responsibility, too. With Calvin Johnson's retirement, he becomes one of the team’s primary mismatches for opponents. When he was drafted, he was supposed to be another option for Matthew Stafford. Now, he’ll likely line up with Marvin Jones and Golden Tate as a primary one.
“I see him hopefully taking strides this year,” Cooter said. “And making those big strides.”
Ebron caught 47 passes for 537 yards and five touchdowns last season and finished as the #13 TE in PPR formats, though he was actually worse under then-interim and now-official offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. He averaged 13.0 FP (PPR) through the first seven weeks, and 7.3 FP once Cooter was promoted. With Calvin Johnson gone, there are a lot of moving parts in Detroit, so this doesn't mean that Ebron won't produce similar (or better) numbers in his third season.
With Calvin Johnson settling into retirement, the Lions will need more from their running game this fall. Ameer Abdullah is the No. 1 back, and if he conquers his fumble problems, he should be in for a big season.
Abdullah had a disappointing rookie season after an electrifying preseason. Joique Bell is gone, but Theo Riddick is still around to handle third-down duties and the team signed Stevan Ridley to compete with Zach Zenner for carries behind Abdullah. The rookie had five fumbles on 168 touches, which is not a good fumble rate. As the article highlights, if Abdullah can prove he can hold onto the ball, he could surpass 250 touches in his second season.
Johnson’s future -- and the possibility of him returning -- came up in an interview Wednesday evening on the Mitch Albom Show on WJR-760 at the annual Taste of the Lions event at Ford Field.
“In my mind, I don’t see that happening,” Stafford said. “He retired because he wanted to. That’s it.”
It's up to Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Eric Ebron to pick up the slack. Over the last two seasons, in 11 games in which Johnson was questionable, doubtful or out, Tate averaged 6.6 receptions for 77 yards and 0.73 TD. Fantasy-wise, that’s about what Allen Robinson scored as the #6 WR in PPR formats in 2015. It’s also solid WR1 production in standard formats. Jones has averaged 3.6 receptions for 48 yards and 0.44 TD in his last 32 games. The 6’2” receiver has been especially good at catching touchdowns (14 in his last 32 games), so he'll likely have a large role in the red zone.
The most prolific wide receiver in franchise history and one of the most talented at the position in NFL history is retiring after nine professional seasons in which he accumulated over 11,000 receiving yards, seven 1,000-yard seasons and six Pro Bowl invitations.
With Johnson’s retirement, Golden Tate steps into the WR1 role assuming the Lions don’t target a receiver in the 1st round of the draft (or acquire a bona fide WR1 via trade). Over the last two seasons, in 11 games in which Johnson was questionable, doubtful or out, Tate averaged 6.6 receptions for 77 yards and 0.73 TD. That’s about what Allen Robinson scored as the #6 WR in PPR formats in 2015. It’s also solid WR1 production in standard formats. Tate averaged 5.5 catches for 62 yards and 0.10 TD (high-end WR3 numbers in PPR) in the other 21 games. The defense will be more focused on Tate, so we’re expecting WR2 numbers in 2016. Eric Ebron also stands to benefit greatly from Johnson's departure.
Detroit Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson told his family and a close circle of friends before last season that 2015 would be his final year in the NFL, and he delivered the same message to coach Jim Caldwell the day after the regular season ended, sources told ESPN.
Caldwell told Johnson not to rush his decision -- to take his time, sources told ESPN. Out of respect to Caldwell, Johnson agreed to do just that, according to sources.
The Lions have not given up hope that Johnson could change his mind, but one person who knows Johnson well said, "He's pretty content with his decision."
Johnson's production has dropped a bit over the last couple of seasons as he has struggled to stay healthy. If Johnson stays retired, it's a big blow to Matthew Stafford's 2016 outlook.
His fingers are gnarled. He spends as much time in the training room as anyone on the team. And a lingering ankle injury forced him to miss large amounts of practice time this year, for the second straight season.
All that wear and tear has caused Johnson to contemplate his future. He has mentioned the subject of retirement to at least one former teammate.
And today, Johnson released a joint statement with the Lions, saying he is evaluating his future and should have an answer soon.
“Like many players at this stage of their career, I am currently evaluating options for my future," Johnson said in the statement. I would expect to have a decision regarding this matter in the not-too-distant future.”
The Lions said in the statement: "We obviously have profound respect for Calvin and certainly understand and appreciate his decision to give proper thought and consideration to his football future."
Johnson had four Top 3 finishes in the six years from 2008 to 2013. He finished 15th in 2014 and 9th last season, though he was 16th on a per game basis. If he retires, it's obviously a big blow to Matthew Stafford, whose splits with Johnson in the lineup are significantly higher than when Johnson is sidelined.
Friday, January 1, 2016, 6:26pm
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable) missed practice Friday after taking limited reps Thursday and is questionable for Week 17. Johnson said that he will play against the Bears on Sunday and has played through the ankle injury (and a questionable tag) in each of the last five weeks. In his last four games against Chicago, he has averaged 7.3 receptions for 125 yards and 1.3 TD.
Wednesday, December 30, 2015, 6:13pm
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. Johnson said that he will play against the Bears on Sunday. In his last four games against Chicago, he has averaged 7.3 receptions for 125 yards and 1.3 TD.
Lions WR Calvin Johnson is making $6 million more than any other receiver in the game this year. He'll draw a stunning cap hit of $24 million next year. Which means even if he's still a weapon, he's overpaid -- and given his production this year, severely so.
So with a new general manager stepping in, there's no telling what will happen. That's where the uncertainty lies over Johnson, even if he's still a talented guy.
The story went on to say that Johnson said he wants to play out his career in Detroit, even if that means toiling through another rebuild. The story also said the money is hard to get around, hence the uncertainty. But owner Martha Firestone Ford has no interest in a rebuild. She believes Detroit is talented enough to win now, and that will be the charge of the new GM, and the new coach if there is one.
Friday, December 25, 2015, 10:17pm
Lions WR Calvin Johnson (ankle, questionable) took limited practice reps all week and is questionable for Week 16. Johnson is a risky play given his recent production and decoy status. It’s difficult to bench such a great talent, but he’s clearly not 100% healthy and it’s showing on the field.
Thursday, December 24, 2015, 6:12pm
Wednesday, December 23, 2015, 6:11pm
Detroit Lions Status Report
WR Lance Moore (ankle)
Saturday, December 19, 2015, 2:10pm
The Detroit Lions' depth at tight end has taken another hit. Whether that affects Monday's game in New Orleans remains to be seen.
Detroit will issue its game designations later Saturday.
Receiver Calvin Johnson also missed practice Saturday, his second absence of the week, but is still expected to play against New Orleans. He's taken days off throughout the season while dealing with a sore ankle, but continues to play through it.
Friday, December 18, 2015, 6:32pm
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