Tuesday, August 18, 2015, 9:04am
Some notes from Lions camp:
Theo Riddick got some receiver work: I’m not sure if this has been going on for the majority of camp because I’ve often been focused on line and running back play, but Riddick ran receiver-versus-cornerback drills with the wideouts Monday night. He didn’t receive too many reps there, but he did beat Nevin Lawson on a nice route.
Riddick's primary role during his first two seasons has been as a pass-catcher out of the backfield and he has experience as a slot receiver in college. This could be an instance of the Lions getting Riddick some extra receiving work, especially since he had a bunch of carries during team period. But it is something to watch.
Offense dominated the goal-line session: The Lions ran a period of goal-line offense with the three top quarterbacks Monday and the offense was dominant throughout. Matthew Stafford’s group scored on at least four of five tries. He was credited for scoring on all five tries, but his pass to Calvin Johnson appeared to hit the ground. The referee called it a touchdown, but from my view it looked like it would have been overturned.
The most important thing to take away is the offensive line was particularly dominant during this period, a good sign for the team’s run game. George Winn, Zach Zenner and Theo Riddick all had rushing touchdowns with the first group. One of the only stops for the defense during the drill was a Desmond Martin carry that was blown dead before he reached the end zone. To add more insult there, Martin kept running and was hit pretty squarely by Isa Abdul-Quddus. The safety has been one of the fiercest hitters in camp, although keep in mind the goal during practice is not to take players to the ground.
Perhaps the team is trying to find ways to get Riddick involved in the offense as more than just a RB3. The team has struggled to find a third receiving option behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate so this is something to keep an eye on. It's also probably safe to assume Joique Bell would get a lot of touches in goal-line running situations.
He kept himself off the ground -- a Jim Caldwell mandate -- and blew by both Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis during one-on-one receiver-cornerback drills for easy tosses from Matthew Stafford.
Johnson caught everything thrown to him and looks completely healthy as he enters his ninth NFL season. He is still the Lions' top playmaker and Matthew Stafford's favorite target. He even caught a touchdown pass from Kellen Moore during red zone drills as the Lions had a little bit of everybody working with everybody.
The Lions are trying hard to keep Johnson as healthy as possible and so far, so good, the story said. Johnson ranks fifth on our WR list which is loaded with talent at the top. It's a big "if," but if Johnson can stay healthy, he's a steal having a mid-second round ADP.
Monday, August 3, 2015, 7:19pm
Here are some notes from Monday's Lions camp:
- Tight end Eric Ebron, always a focal point, made a pair of nice grabs across the middle of the field. A couple snaps later, Ebron made a difficult back-shoulder grab over linebacker Stephen Tulloch, leaping and twisting to haul in the Matthew Stafford throw.
- Stafford picked up right where he left off from minicamp, with good accuracy at all levels. He completed eight of his first 10 passes in team drills, with the two incompletions both being knocked away from Corey Fuller by a defender. Late in the session, Stafford connected on a bomb down the middle to Calvin Johnson, over Darius Slay and Glover Quin.
- Johnson, perhaps energized by the crowd and the first day of the camp, was more aggressive than usual. The star wide receiver ended up on the ground multiple times during the non-contact session, including a diving grab on an out route against Slay in one-on-one drills. Coach Jim Caldwell said he'll need to remind Johnson not to willingly leave his feet during practice.
- We can still only tell so much without pads, but running back Ameer Abdullah's ability to change direction and burst through the running lane is evident. He also successfully ran a nice delayed screen, weaving his way through the second level of defenders. The second-round draft pick has shown steady improvement from the day he stepped on the field with this organization and looks like he's going to be a significant contributor from the start.
- Joseph Fauria looks healthy after missing much of the early portion of the offseason program. The big tight end caught a pass down the middle, double-clutching it as safety Don Carey dove in front trying to knock it down. Fauria then sprinted all the way to the end zone and revved up the crowd with a little, let's call it gyration.
- Joique Bell worked out on the side with a trainer, with the running back aggressively running suicide sprints. It doesn't appear he'll be out of action long.
Monday, August 3, 2015, 9:22am
They flew down to Atlanta on their own last month, one last break from vacation to get some work in before training camp started for the Detroit Lions.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson -- two of the longest-standing Lions -- organized the trip for the team's wide receivers and tight ends to all work together. The goal was to get some familiarity with each other before camp began so the offense could be as crisp as possible as fast as possible.
"It's always good when you're away for a while to get the group back together and just go through some things," receiver Lance Moore said. "Whether the physical or mental part of it, I'm not really sure which one was more important.
"I think hearing the plays and being around the quarterback and getting that communication back together is just as important as what we're doing physically on the field. We had a good group there. Everybody worked hard and hopefully it'll pay dividends for us."
The three-day workout took place at Georgia Tech, where Johnson played collegiately. The group would meet in the mornings, get a light lift in and then run routes at the Yellow Jackets' practice facility in Atlanta.
Not every team in the NFL does this, for example Lance Moore said in the story he did not do this with Drew Brees when he was in New Orleans, but a lot of teams do something similar, whether it is publicized or not. A full ledger of who attended was not available, but tight ends Eric Ebron and Joseph Fauria were in attendance along with Moore, Johnson, Jeremy Ross and Corey Fuller.
Sunday, July 26, 2015, 11:13am
The Lions return all five of their receivers from the end of last season — Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller and Ryan Broyles — plus add TJ Jones (back from IR) and Lance Moore (free agent) to the mix. This competition will be fierce, and someone notable is guaranteed not to have a job at the end of camp.
The numbers are there, and so is the production from the two-headed monster of Johnson and Tate. But Detroit got little out of its third receivers last season (primarily Ross) and is looking for someone to step up as a complement this season.
Moore would seem to be the favorite, as the most experienced of all the candidates for the job, both in years in the league and years in this offense. He grabbed 346 passes for 4,281 yards in eights seasons with the Saints, seven of which occurred with current Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi on staff.
The Lions third WR could have some fantasy value in their passing offense. Detroit touted that experience when signing Moore, and quarterback Matthew Stafford has gone on and on about how Moore sees things in this offense that other receivers don't. Competency in the offense, and reliable route-running, were issues last year, the story said. The piece also added the staff still likes Fuller a lot, because his size and top-end speed allow him to stretch a defense the way Detroit's other No. 3 possibilities cannot. Broyles and Jones are both smaller receivers who do their best work underneath, and it's hard to see a situation where both make the team.
Detroit has thrown the ball more than it has rushed it every season since 2001 according to ESPN Stats & Information. The closest the Detroit Lions have come to "balance" was in 2004, when Detroit ran the ball 407 times and attempted 505 passes.
In Detroit's more successful seasons, the Lions have trended much heavier toward the pass. In 2011, one of the two seasons Detroit made the playoffs this century, the Lions rushed the ball 356 times and had 666 passing attempts, completing 423 of them.
Last season, Detroit ran the ball 396 times and threw it 604 times, completing 365 passes. So while the Lions appeared to focus their draft on improving a run game that had its worst yards per carry since 2003, don't expect to see a massive play-call shift.
"It's all quarterbacking," former NFL QB Elvis Grbac said. "I got in a league where Drew Bledsoe was starting to come in and just in the last 10 years, retired since 2001, so it's been some time. But just the league in general, it's quarterback-driven. If you don't have a quarterback, you're screwed."
The story went on to say: A 50-50 split hasn't been typical for Jim Caldwell historically. In his three seasons as head coach in Indianapolis, the Colts never rushed more than 393 times in a season. They never threw less than 534 times in a year, and that was in 2011 when Peyton Manning was injured. The only sample size in which a team coordinated or led by Caldwell has had more runs than passes came during the Baltimore Ravens' Super Bowl run in 2012, when Caldwell took over leading into Week 15. Through the final three weeks of the regular season and the playoffs, the Ravens ran the ball 249 times and passed it 235 times. The following season was more in line with what happened in Indianapolis, where Baltimore had 423 rushes to 619 passes.
Much of the same is expected this year, and the story mentioned how Grbac thinks QB Matthew Stafford has progressed nicely in the offense. The team lost pass-catching RB Reggie Bush, but seems to have a more than capable replacement in Ameer Abdullah, who looks like he's going to hurt the value of Theo Riddick. Both Joique Bell and Abdullah crack our top-31 backs, with Abdullah having top-25 potential in PPR leagues. Stafford is just 13th on our QB list, but if WR Calvin Johnson can stay healthy Stafford could crack the top-10 and be a nice value at QB with an ADP of the ninth round.
Saturday, July 4, 2015, 10:20am
Second-year tight end Eric Ebron has expressed interest in joining QB Matthew Stafford in Atlanta at some point over the next month, and it wouldn’t be surprising if other guys find their way down there too.
"This team is a hard-working team and when we go away, we come back in great shape," Stafford said. "But there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you're going to be catching the ball from during the season."
Stafford will hook up with WR Calvin Johnson but hopes others, like Ebron, make it a point to be there, too. The offense is expected to run much smoother in year two of Joe Lombardi’s system. Stafford has already talked about being much more comfortable with it. The story went on to say Ebron is expected to play a big role this season, and continuing to work with some of the other guys – like a Jeremy Ross or veteran Lance Moore – over the next month will only help Stafford and this offense be able to hit the ground running for the start of training camp.
Monday, June 29, 2015, 8:25am
While league rules have carved into the amount of offseason practice time — which some have called unnecessary — others are looking for more.
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford wants to bring receiver Calvin Johnson and the rest of his targets together for some pre-camp work of their own.
Such camps aren’t new, as Peyton Manning has been taking his receivers to Duke every spring, and others do the same. But Stafford said he thought it would help.
“I think it’s big,” Stafford said. “I’m obviously in Atlanta quite a bit, so Calvin’s right there, throw with him some. But try to find a way to get together with some of the other guys as well. . . ."
Stafford went on to say there's no substitute for running routes for a receiver and catching the ball from the guy you’re going to be catching the ball from during the season. The Lions got good numbers out of Johnson and Golden Tate last year, but the rest of the offense struggled at times. They were 22nd in the league in scoring offense, and no other non-Johnson or Tate receiver had more than 322 receiving yards, the story said.
Sunday, June 28, 2015, 4:39pm
Giants QB Eli Manning, 34, signed a six-year, $97 million deal with the Giants in 2009. It's been re-worked frequently to create salary-cap room but Manning's still on the same deal. It expires after the 2015 season.
Despite his age and despite his propensity for throwing picks (he's led the league three times, including 2013), Manning has two Super Bowl MVP awards and certainly qualifies as a top-end quarterback.
From a fantasy perspective, Manning had one of the best statistical seasons of his career in 2014, throwing for 4,410 yards with 30 touchdowns and just 14 interceptions. That he did it in a new offensive scheme is only more impressive. It was a rough start for the Giants but the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr at WR certainly helped turn around the offense. WR Victor Cruz should be back healthy and the team signed Shane Vereen as a pass-catching running back. The point of the story is more times than not, QBs tend to get deals done with their current team, so there's a good chance Manning stays in New York - and he has the potential for a nice 2015. He's ranked ninth on our QB list heading into camps. With an ADP of the 12th round, he's a potential sneaky pick because guys behind him in our rankings - Tony Romo, Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers and Matthew Stafford - all project to come off the board before Manning.
Inaccuracy has been Matthew Stafford's calling card his whole career, completing under 60 percent of his passes in four of his six seasons. Of the top 10 passing quarterbacks in 2014, Stafford had the lowest completion percentage (60.3) while attempting the fifth-most passes in the league (602).
However, news out of Lions minicamp is that Stafford has turned things around and is impressing coach Jim Caldwell. "He's improved," Caldwell told MLive.com on Tuesday. "He has a better feel for the system. You can see our timing's better, receivers have a better sense of the routes that they're running. All around I think we've made some improvement."
"I mean, it's obviously always a work in progress," Stafford offered. "But there's no question we've taken strides forward this spring." Caldwell went on to say that, concerning Stafford's completion percentage, he expects "an improvement from where he was last year."
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons, he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. He should improve his numbers in his second season in Joe Lombardi's offense, especially with a healthy Johnson back in the fold.
One area Lions QB Matthew Stafford significantly altered was his willingness to attack opposing defenses downfield. In 2014, he attempted just 63 passes that traveled 20 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. At just 10.5 percent of his total pass attempts, it was the lowest rate of deep shots in his six-year career.
A number of factors contributed to Stafford holstering his cannon more often than not last season. It starts with the conscientious effort to reduce turnovers. Then there was the decreased time in the pocket due to inferior pass protection. And you can't discount the injury issues which hampered top downfield weapon Calvin Johnson much of the season.
The Lions made a serious effort to improve the blocking up front this offseason, using the team's first-round draft pick on guard Laken Tomlinson. Detroit also parted ways with long-time center Dominic Raiola -- an average pass-blocker last season -- making way for last year's third-round pick, Travis Swanson, to take over at that spot.
In addition to the investment in the offensive line, Johnson should be back at 100 percent to start the season. In the first three games last year, before the star receiver first injured his ankle, Stafford attempted five deep passes per game. That dropped to 3.6 attempts the final 13 weeks.
Stafford finished as the #17 QB last season, but in the three previous seasons he didn’t finish outside the top 10. Stafford tends to struggle when Calvin Johnson isn’t fully healthy, as was the case last year. Stafford is a serious threat to finish with QB1 numbers, though we have more confidence in the passers ranked ahead of him.
“I think as a runner he has great balance,” Lions QB Matthew Stafford said of RB Ameer Abdullah after a recent OTA practice. “He’s obviously a low-to-the-ground guy. He seems to hide pretty well behind there and he’s got good vision.
“Out of the backfield, catching the ball, he’s great. He’s got great hands. He has a good feel for route running."
Most scouts seem to agree that Abdullah doesn’t project to be an every-down back, so most of Joique Bell’s between-the-tackles role should be safe, at least for this season. On the other hand, Theo Riddick’s role as the Lions’ third-down back is in serious jeopardy. If things break his way and he sees significant time on passing downs, Abdullah could ultimately post top 25 numbers in PPR formats.
In 2015, the Lions hope a veteran like Moore can help Stafford feast on opposing defenses as he brings plenty of familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's scheme.
"He seems like a great guy," Stafford said last week at Taste of the Lions. "He obviously has knowledge of the system. It's changed a little bit. We talked about that, but not too much to where it's going to be tough for him to learn it."
Moore is turning 32 this summer and it's not clear how much he has left in the tank. He was only targeted 26 times last season as the Steelers' WR4, but he does seemed to be a handpicked choice for Lombardi's offense. He could serve as the team's WR3 if he has a good summer.
"I think that's going to be a big key to our growth is to get more production from Eric, and I think he's ready to do that," Lombardi said Tuesday, per the Detroit Free Press. "I know he's been making some trips to Atlanta to work with Matt already this offseason, so he's -- the thing you like about Eric is he's a bright kid and he works hard and he wants to be good. So we expect very big things from him moving forward."
"There's a big learning curve, obviously, for any rookie, and the tight end position is one that requires a lot," Lombardi said. "As you look back, if you're self-critical, you might say maybe we asked a little bit too much of him, from that perspective. So I think there's just a volume that he struggled with early, but he was productive and, again, for anybody, the second year's always where you see the biggest jump."
Ebron turned 3.8 targets into 1.9 catches for 19 yards and 0.08 TD as a rookie. He played half the snaps, so his lack of production is somewhat alarming. Tight end is a tough position to learn as a rookie, so there is some reason for optimism given Ebron's skill set.
"Our biggest thing is, in order to win football games, you've got to first not lose them, and I thought that he played smart football, and sometimes to a fault," Lombardi said Tuesday, per Ashley Dunkak of CBS Detroit. "We'll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football. He's got the arm to do it. He's got the receivers to throw it to."
After three straight top 10 finishes, Stafford was the #17 QB in 2014, though he was only a couple of touchdowns out of the #13 spot. As the 10th QB off the board in early drafts, it's possible that Stafford is being overdrafted, though if he's being encouraged to take more chances, it could boost his fantasy numbers.
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