With that deal in place, the Detroit Lions' hunt for a new return man resumes.
Detroit's special teams got little production out of current free agent Stefan Logan and are looking for new options. The Lions averaged only 20 yards per kickoff return, the second-worst in the league. The punt return game wasn't spectacular, either, with only a 8.6-yard average ranking No. 22.
Plenty of players on the roster will compete for the open position, but not all are best suited as a returner or should focus more on their prime area. Here is a list of the best and worst options as the Lions' return man.
BEST: WR Mike Thomas
The Lions dealt their 2014 fifth-round pick for young veteran Mike Thomas to boost their receiver depth. Dealing with Nate Burleson's leg injury and the drama with Titus Young, Thomas was acquired to provide a secondary option for superstar Calvin Johnson.
The trade was made in the middle of the season, where the Lions went on an eight-game losing streak. Thomas provided very little impact, and there hasn't been much justification behind the trade.
Now with a full offseason with his new team, plus an opening for a return man as well as the No. 4 receiver, Thomas has a shot to capitalize.
The 5'9" receiver has a good bit of experience returning kicks in Jacksonville, but he wasn't given much chance behind Logan. Now the Lions can draw up creative packages at receiver and running back for Thomas; however, he could be most effective on special teams.
BEST: WR Patrick Edwards
Young receiver Patrick Edwards didn't see beyond the practice team last season. However, the speedster from Houston has a chance to redeem himself in 2013.
Players like Green Bay Packer Randall Cobb, Chicago Bear Devin Hester, and Seattle Seahawk Percy Harvin began their waves as dangerous return men, then transitioned into weapons on offense. Edwards isn't in their class, but he could create his name following their path.
Edwards' best chance at earning a roster spot could be on special teams. Remember his name through OTAs and preseason.
BEST: RB/WR Theo Riddick
The Lions' roster is loaded with versatile weapons, and sixth-round draft pick TheoRiddick is one of the many names. The Detroit rookie saw plenty of action at wide receiver, running back, as well as a return man during his four years at Notre Dame.
Riddick shattered his school record as a freshman for most return yards in a season with 849. His special teams workload decreased when head coach Brian Kelly wanted him to focus more on offense as a receiver.
Riddick displays more quick moves than straight-line speed. However, if the rookie and the return team can create some holes to run, there should be a pickup in production.Riddick should be involved in the competition for returning kicks.
WORST: RB Reggie Bush
Bush has been brought to Detroit to make everybody's life easier. He provides depth next to young back Mikel Leshoure, another target for quarterback Matthew Stafford, and is another eraser for receiver Calvin Johnson.
With running back Jahvid Best's health andNFL future in concern, the Lions need Bush to fill that void. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan can get creative and set up special packages and plays exploiting Bush's explosiveness.
Since his beginning years with the New Orleans Saints, Bush has added weight and improved his ability to run between the tackles. The electrifying side still comes in doses, but the Lions need that on offense. Detroit can't afford to risk Bush's health returning kicks.
WORST: CB Darius Slay
On draft day, second-round cornerback Darius Slay offered his abilities as a return man. Given his speedy 40-yard dash at the NFL combine (4.36 seconds) and his kick return history, it seemed like a good idea until more facts came out.
Slay first claimed his knee was in good shape after a torn meniscus, but he had to undergo surgery in early May. The procedure forced Slay to miss rookie training camp, but it shouldn't hinder his progression on the field.
Slay was graded as a first-rounder on the Lions' draft board, but the injury kept him around until the second round. He has a chance of being the No. 2 cornerback across from veteran Chris Houston.
There's plenty of depth and competition at cornerback, but second-year corners Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood remain unhealthy. Slay needs to stay grounded at cornerback, for now at least. Maybe when Greenwood and Bentley get healthy, Slay can be utilized in other options.
WORST: WR Ryan Broyles
Depending on his health, wide receiver Ryan Broyles is primed for a breakout campaign in his second season. His rehab is going smoothly and should be ready to go by the regular season.
Since being drafted in 2012, the opportunity of Broyles returning kicks has been mentioned. However, that speculation should pass and keep their budding receiver focused on offense.
The Lions are dealing with limited experience and depth at wide receiver. With top secondary options Broyles and Nate Burleson recovering from injury, they need to preserve the health of their best weapons. Detroit can't afford another season of force-feeding Calvin Johnson the football.
Broyles is a crisp route-runner with great hands and a feel for creating separation from defenders. The Lions can't risk another injury for Broyles, especially when collisions and injuries are so common on special teams.
The self-inflicted troubles continue for Titus Young.
According to police reports, the former Lion was arrested twice in a short span of fifteen hours this past Sunday in southern California by the Moreno Valley Police Department.
First Young was stopped for suspicion of driving under the influence. After being held at the Robert Presley Detention Center, he was issued a citation and was set free.
Hours after his release, Young was arrested for burglary as he was attempting to retrieve his black Ford Mustang. The police arrested him at a tow yard, and he was brought back to the same detention center.
After being released by the Lions in early February, then facing the same fate by the St. Louis Rams a week later, Young is walking a dangerous path for his own future. He's spoiled his talent and possibly any chance with the NFL with immature actions.
The NFL Draft, free agency and likely the rest of the Detroit Lions' overhaul is finished. With the major acquisitions out the way, it's safe to finally project and predict what happens next season.
The Lions fell far behind the eight ball last year. After a playoff cameo in 2011, Detroit followed up with a 4-12 record. The season was plagued with injuries, lack of depth, the inability to close games as well as just win.
Plenty players underachieved last year also resulting in the team's struggles, including quarterback Matthew Stafford. Whether it was the lack of healthy weapons, or just a mental step backwards, Stafford clearly wasn't the player fans expected to see. Broke down mechanics along with side-arm and rushed throws filled the majority of Stafford's season.
Being the franchise quarterback in a pass-heavy offense, it's imperative Stafford rebounds after struggling. But outside of Stafford, where else do the Lions need to look for answers next season?
Here are the other important pieces to the Lions making it back into the postseason equation.
1. RB Reggie Bush
The Lions have made it apparent to load up their offense with as many weapons as possible. Stafford got a record-setting season of contribution from wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but the offense needs more balance and it could start next year with their new running back.
With the continued absence of scat-back Jahvid Best, new acquisition Reggie Bush has been inserted to fill that void. The Lions signed Bush to a four-year deal in March creating a diverse tandem with back Mikel Leshoure.
Detroit was lucky to have a change-of-pace back like Best at their disposal, but his concussion and injury history has kept him on the sideline since midseason 2011. The Lions have big-play ability, and his contribution to the screen game. Best's presence was a big piece of Detroit's 5-0 start in 2011.
With Bush in the lineup, the Lions' offense should pick up right where they left off with Best. Bush has his own injury history, but splitting reps with Leshoure should keep his health preserved. Head coach Jim Schwartz hinted at Bush playing special teams, but the Lions need to look at other options to keep Bush healthy on offense.
Bush has done a great job improving at running between the tackles as he posted career high rushing totals in Miami. He's still explosive in open space and the screen game. Look for offensive coordinator Scott Linehan to heavily involve Bush in Detroit's pass attack.
2. DE Ziggy Ansah
Hope the rookie can handle high expectations because they should certainly be placed his way.
Mlive.com's Anwar Richardson made a reasonable case why first-round pick Ziggy Ansah should have modest expectations placed on his rookie season. Numerous first-round defensive ends since 2007 like Chris Long, Robert Quinn, J.J. Watt and Jason Pierre-Paul had slow rookie years but came back strong the next season.
The problem however is Ansah doesn't have what Pierre-Paul and Watt had their rookie season, help.
In Watt's rookie season, he racked up 5.5 sacks but had veterans ahead of him helping him. Watt was fourth on the Texans in sacks, while veterans like Connor Barwin (11.5), Antonio Smith (6.5), and Brooks Reed (6) ranked ahead of him. Houston also had Mario Williams until he tore his pectoral muscle against Oakland putting him on the shelf for the season.
Pierre-Paul had the same amount of help in front of him. Veterans Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora each had 11.5 sacks in 2010 while Pierre-Paul came along slowly with 4.5.
Ansah doesn't have that luxury of help and depth in front of him. The Lions want the defensive line as their focal point of the defense, and Ansah will have to be the man off the edge. Between nine and eleven sacks should be his bar for next season.
General manager Martin Mayhew expects big things immediately out of Ansah, and rightfully so. Given his athletic prowess, and playing next to stud tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, Ansah must deliver.
3. TE Brandon Pettigrew
The Lions are still yet to see the full potential of tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Even through his best performances, the 2009 first-rounder is still capable of producing more and being better.
Pettigrew had a rough season last year with a number of costly mistakes. He took a big step backwards catching only 59 balls for 567 yards and only three touchdowns. Pettigrew made most of his noise last year coughing up four fumbles last season, including two momentum shifting plays against the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts. Pettigrew has also had a continuous issues with dropped passes as the Lions ranked No. 1 last year in that department.
Detroit will need Pettigrew more than ever in 2013. The Lions get their top secondary receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles back from injury. With Burleson getting older and Broyles dealing with another knee injury, there's no telling how effective they'll be to start the season. Pettigrew needs to pick up their slack and provide more consistent help next to Calvin Johnson.
Megatron had a historic 2012 with 1964 receiving yards. Repeating those numbers won't propel the Lions to the postseason. Detroit could use more balance from their healthy viable weapons like Pettigrew.
No. 2 tight end Tony Scheffler belongs in this discussion as well, after only catching one touchdown last season. Both tight ends combining for only four touchdowns is not acceptable, and need to be more reliable red zone targets for Stafford.
4. S Louis Delmas
The health concerns of safety Louis Delmas has been an everlasting saga that almost equaled his departure from Detroit.
The Lions' safety visited the San Francisco 49ers and the St. LouisRams during the free agency period. No deal struck and the Lions remained in play to retain Delmas. Luckily after restructuring tackle Ndamukong Suh's contract, both sides agreed to a two-year deal.
Delmas carries elite level talent with his quick burst and hard-hitting style. Unfortunately since his rookie season, Delmas hasn't had much help to work with. A good number of his plays have come from him cleaning up blown coverages or missed tackles from his past teammates. Luckily for Delmas, he'll have a new and improved partner in crime next season.
Before re-signing Delmas, the Lions were able to strike a five-year deal with former Houston Texan Glover Quin. Quin is a durable cover safety with experience at cornerback as well. This tandem works perfect for Detroit because Delmas is at his best when he's blitzing and gambling with no worries of covering for his partner.
If Quin can protect the back-seven, he'll be able to help the inexperienced cornerbacks like Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood, Jonte Green and rookie Darius Slay. With a healthy Delmas flying from sideline to sideline, the Lions could create havoc all over the field.
5. OL Riley Reiff
Head coach Jim Schwartz couldn't make up his mind on what to do with his 2012 first-round pick. After fielding plenty of questions on his offensive line, and the aftermath of the NFL Draft, lineman Riley Reiff will anchor the Lions at left tackle.
Detroit was unable to land one of the top tackle prospects in this year's draft. Central Michigan's Eric Fisher went first overall to the Chiefs, Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel went right after to the Jaguars and thePhiladelphia Eagles landed Oklahoma's Lane Johnson at No. 4. With those three immediately off the board, the Lions decided to keep Reiff at left tackle.
Reiff didn't see a lot of experience with Detroit at either tackle. He was mainly used in special packages as an extra blocker to help the run game. Reiff did see one game of starting action against the Houston Texans with long-time Lion Jeff Backus injured. With the former ironman retired and gone, Reiff will take over where Backus left off.
The Lions will debut new starters at right guard, and each tackle. Left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola are returning starters who will have new cohorts next to them. Rookie Larry Warford, former Cowboy Bill Nagy and undrafted rookie Rodney Austin will compete for the right guard position. The right tackle competition will be fought between Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard.
There is uncertainty all over the offensive line, but Reiff has the most responsibility of them all. The Lions' pass-heavy offense can't succeed with Stafford repeatedly sacked on his back. If Stafford is set to rebound next season, Reiff has to keep his blindside strong.
With a top-five NFL draft selection, a team should be looking for an instant impact player. A guy with Pro Bowl capability and franchise longevity.
Unfortunately, very few players fit that bill in the 2013 draft class.
So with a pool lacking stars, what can the Detroit Lions aim for with the No. 5 pick?
With the top three offensive tackles off the board, the Lions were forced in a different direction. General manager Martin Mayhew was forced to take a gamble on defense, resulting in the selection of BYU defensive end Ziggy Ansah.
Looking at the roster, drafting an edge rusher makes plenty of sense. Former starter Kyle Vanden Bosch was cut in February, and Cliff Avril found a new home with the Seattle Seahawks during free agency. The Lions also decided not to re-sign veteran Lawrence Jackson, who just recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings.
It makes sense to bring in another pass-rusher, but is Ziggy the Ansah?
There's plenty to like about a 6'5", 271-pound athlete like Ansah. After failing to make the BYU basketball team he took up football instead, utilizing his athletic prowess. He only racked up 62 tackles, 4.5 sacks and 13 tackles-for-loss in his senior season.
Ansah was born in Ghana, Africa and moved to the United States at a young age. He came to America, as well as the Detroit Lions, with very little football experience—three short years to be exact.
With that little experience and numbers that small, why would Ansah be the player to gamble on?
The Lions missed out on the top offensive tackles to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford, but there were plenty other pro-ready prospects available. They might not be immediate stars similar to Ansah, but they made much more sense with Detroit's first-round pick.
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner was the other popular choice for the Lions. With Detroit's shaky defensive backs, Milliner could've helped the long-plagued secondary. Milliner would be a starter across from veteran Chris Houston, along with safeties Louis Delmas and Glover Quin.
The Lions reloaded their secondary in last year's draft, selecting small-school corners like Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green. Given their injuries and inexperience, Milliner could have started while sliding Bentley to nickel, preserving his health.
If the Lions didn't want Milliner, the Lions could've traded down for either guard Chance Warmack or Jonathan Cooper. Neither are a sexy pick that sells tickets, but would have filled a big need at right guard.
Instead, the Lions took a huge gamble on an extremely raw defensive end who could turn out to be a bust or a star. Ansah has all the upside in the world, but is potential enough to sell on a top-five pick?
I understand it's a weak class and the Lions had a major need at defensive end. What's forgotten is the Lions already have three edge rushers who are projects themselves.
Defensive end Willie Young was a seventh-round pick in 2010 and is coming off of a disappointing season with zero sacks. Detroit also just acquired Jason Jones via free agency in March, but he has played defensive tackle the majority of his NFL career. Second-year end Ronnell Lewis is a former college outside linebacker converting to defensive end. Lewis also has legal matters to deal with after three misdemeanor charges in Oklahoma.
History also isn't in the favor of Ansah or the Lions. The last foreign-born project athlete selected in the first round was offensive tackle Gosder Cherilus, who greatly underachieved in Detroit.
Also in the past ten years, the last Pro Bowl defensive end selected in the top five was Buffalo Bill Mario Williams, who went No. 1 to the Houston Texans in 2006.
Lucky for Ansah, he gets to line up next to budding tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Both tackles draw major attention and constant double teams from opposing offensive linemen. The Lions need a playmaking edge rusher who can take advantage of one-on-one opportunities. With all of Ansah's upside, his transition should be easier next to Suh and Fairley.
Ansah has drawn many comparisons to New York Giant Jason Pierre-Paul, who also was drafted with raw potential. Pierre-Paul had a quiet rookie season with only 4.5 sacks, but made his presence felt in 2011, corralling 16.5 sacks. Pierre-Paul took a step backwards last year with only 6.5 sacks. The up-and-down numbers don't give much hope for Ansah, and they won't be accepted, either.
Mayhew's draft history has been in question, and taking a risk this high puts him on a much hotter seat. Ansah could turn into a Pro Bowl defensive end in a few years, but how much time do the Lions and Mayhew have? Perhaps Ansah will progress smoothly on Sundays, but only time will tell with his future.
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