Originally written on NESN.com  |  Last updated 10/31/12
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 situations. 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. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.
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