The loss of Nate Burleson didn't sting too much during the
Lions' 28-24 win over the Seahawks on Sunday. But, make no mistake, Burleson's
absence is a big deal in Detroit.
Mike Thomas, the Jacksonville Jaguars' exiled wide receiver,
will now be charged with helping to fill the Lions' void at receiver -- a hefty
task, even on the NFL's second-best passing offense.
The Lions traded for Thomas on Tuesday afternoon
with the intention of helping solidify a suddenly thinning receiving corps. But
even with Thomas' talent, as well as the presence of Titus Young and Ryan
Broyles, Burleson is a difficult player to replace both on and off the field.
Burleson has been the Lions' second best wide receiver -- next
to Calvin Johnson of course -- over the past two-plus seasons. He's emerged as
one of Matthew Stafford's favorite targets and always seems to get open in big
His anticipated 60-plus catches and five or six touchdowns
are valuable but not irreplaceable production. More than anything, though,
Burleson's veteran leadership is something that Young, Broyles or Thomas just
won't be able to replace.
Burleson is widely known as the emotional leader and veteran
presence in the Lions' locker room, guiding young guys through the adjustment to
the NFL and keeping players in good spirits even in the midst of an
underachieving 3-4 season. While Johnson, Stafford and even tight end Brandon
Pettigrew may have to step up in a leadership role, at least Thomas can help
produce on the field.
Thomas, who signed a three-year, $18 million extension with
the Jaguars just last season, at 5-foot-8 and 200 pounds is a bit undersized as
a receiver. He does have the capability of being productive in the passing
game, though, and with a much better situation ahead of him in Detroit we should
see a vast improvement over a disappointing first half of 2012.
So far this season, Thomas has caught just 13 passes for 80
yards and has yet to reach the end zone. He's largely been fazed out of the
Jaguars' stagnant passing game, primarily due to his open frustration about the
offense late last season. When happy and motivated, Thomas can be a productive
threat in the slot. A feature the Lions should find useful over the final nine
games of the season.
If Thomas can return to the same type of player who caught
66 passes and averaged 12.4 yards per grab in 2010, or even the player on pace
to exceed those totals through six games in 2011, then the Lions will have
gotten away with highway robbery in this deal. But if the same malcontented
Thomas turns up for Detroit the rest of the way, then this already teetering
season could get real ugly.
At least Thomas will have a chance to show Jaguars fans what
he can do in a real offense before leaving town. He will take the grass at
EverBank Field in Jacksonville once more on Sunday newly minted in his powder
blue Lions jersey and with a legitimate quarterback behind center.
Even if he shows out with an impressive debut against his
former home crowd, Thomas still has a long and arduous road ahead in trying to
replace Burleson. Whether or not he pans out in Detroit, though, you've got to
at least give kudos to the Lions for trying.
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