Nate Burleson and How the Lions Replace Him

September 24th, 2013

Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor

Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson broke his arm in a car accident early Tuesday morning. The injury will require surgery. According to reports, alcohol was thankfully not involved in Burleson’s accident. 

He will be lost for the immediate future, leaving a huge hole in the Detroit receiving corps. Burleson is coming off a game where he caught six passes for 116 yards. I noted in the team report card (link) that his footwork looked better than it has in a long time.

With Patrick Edwards already hobbled with an ankle injury and Ryan Broyles having torn both ACLs in consecutive years, the depth chart is perilously thin. 

The Lions have few attractive options. Broyles can take over Burleson’s role in the slot, but the team is very sensitive to overworking the youngster and risking further knee complications.

If Edwards is able to return right away, he offers speed to handle Burleson’s outside role, though there will be a drop-off.

Sixth-round pick Corey Fuller could be promoted from the practice squad, though he is a very different style of player from Burleson. Fuller did not look ready for NFL action during his limited exposure in the preseason. 

Fellow sixth-round pick Theo Riddick is probably the best in-house option. Although Riddick is listed as a running back, he played some wide receiver at Notre Dame. Riddick also showed off the route running skills Sunday, getting behind the defense on a sideline route which Matt Stafford overthrew. 

Preseason standout Matt Willis remains a free agent. He was highly productive in the exhibition season, catching nine passes for 129 yards and a touchdown.

Immediately after the news broke, Twitter went abuzz with speculation that the Lions should trade for Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon.


Cleveland is reportedly shopping the talented-but-troubled second year wideout. 


On the surface Gordon appears a fantastic fit. He is coming off a monster game against Minnesota, catching 10 passes for 146 yards and a touchdown. Fill-in starting quarterback Brian Hoyer targeted him a stunning 19 times.

His field-stretching speed and athleticism to make the tough catch in traffic would certainly benefit Detroit. The Lions have desperately sought a player like Gordon to complement Calvin Johnson for years. 

Yet Gordon possesses significant baggage. He has already been suspended twice in less than two years for substance abuse issues. Gordon missed the first two games of the 2013 season for testing positive for a banned substance over the summer. 

His issues predate the NFL, as he missed an entire college season at Baylor as well. 

It’s important to remember why the Lions have a hole at the #2 wide receiver position. That role was supposed to be filled by Titus Young. Detroit used a second-round pick on the Boise State wideout in 2011. In doing so, they ignored some pre-existing character flags.

That gamble on Young infamously backfired. A series of misadventures followed, and Young is now embroiled in serious legal difficulties that quickly ended his football career. 

While comparing anyone to the mentally troubled Titus Young is dangerous, Gordon is essentially on the same plane as far as the NFL is concerned. With his next incident, Gordon will be suspended for at least one year.  That is a risk the Lions cannot afford, no matter how desperate Jim Schwartz is to win right now. The ghosts of Titus Young, Mike Williams and Charles Rogers loom large.

Again, I’m not saying Josh Gordon is any of those troubled souls; every situation and person is unique. But Gordon has not earned the right to the benefit of the doubt. Not yet. 

Other trade options are very limited, though Tim Twentyman reports the Lions are indeed looking.


Teams like San Francisco and Baltimore have had pressing needs for slot receivers for months now and have not made any moves. That demand drives up the asking price, if any teams are even legitimately shopping any wide receivers. It’s a seller’s market, and Detroit can ill afford to pay the premium.

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10 Responses to “Nate Burleson and How the Lions Replace Him”

  1. The Strategy Expert says:

    Another Mike Thomasesque trade? Oh great.

  2. Rob Meiks says:

    I’m for bringing back Matt Willis and utilising the draft pick a WR would cost to draft one next year (Sammy Watkins in the 1st if available or Coleman/Matthews in the 2nd). To bring in Willis I’d cut Spurlock who has shown he doesn’t offer a good enough return game to warrant a roster spot without contributing elsewhere. Slay and Edwards (when fit) could easily pick up the slack.

    The Josh Gordon plan is enticing if only for the fact that would give the Lions possibly the most physically imposing 1 – 2 at linebacker in pretty much ever! 6’5″ and 4.35 from CJ and 6’4″ 4.42 from JG I can think of only the Seahawks that have a secondary even capable of matching that kind of pass catching talent. Gordon’s weed issue seems chronic (pardon the pun) though so I couldn’t part with more than a second (which we have shown we are happy to gamble on a less proven character risk WR.) to net him, and I suspect Cleveland are hoping to get another 1st, or at least multiple picks to facilitate the re-build. It seems like a bold trade for Gordon is exactly the kind of move that would pay off for a team like the Pats so maybe we have to roll the dice again…

    If we get no one though WR is one of the key areas we need to address in the offseason. One of the two stud receivers in the draft would be nice!

    • Duane says:

      No way! Stay away from Josh Gordon.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      Willis deserves a shot but Stafford’s accuracy thus far has been pretty pathetic, he could be the type of WR that Stafford could frequently miss and possibly lead to INTs. That’s one of the advantages of throwing to Calvin so much is it’s very likely to miss so bad or have the play result in an INT, but a wild passer like Stafford throwing to a smaller Willis isn’t going to work unless Stafford can consistently make good throws. He’s already struggling with the mechanics of how to throw different types of passes let alone hitting the spots, so he’s a long way from perfecting his throwing game. Gordon does have some size at least so he could be a target for sure considering he’s on the Browns.

      But I think making a trade to give something up to bolster the WR spot is a poor decision anyhow. If we were going to make trades to improve the team, then we could have and should have done stuff like that in the past. I still don’t like the shape of this team, so I feel you either go all the way but don’t get caught in the middle, and one trade for a WR upgrade isn’t the kind of transformation we need from a personnel standpoint. It will just hinder long-term potential success in not finding a more efficient way to manage the roster with the right balance.

      • Rob Meiks says:

        Matt Stafford is on 64% accuracy this year, thats the same as Drew Brees (who has pass catchers who can actually catch) 3% better than ‘Capt Check Down’ Alex Smith and only 1% off ‘The next best thing’ Andrew Luck. Hell even Aaron Rogers is on 66% so to say his accuracy is ‘pathetic’ is a stretch. He’s improved on last year, and hopefully will keep on improving!

        • The Strategy Expert says:

          That’s a good stat. I’m just different then in how I evaluate QBs, because from my point of view he hasn’t been performing well. I don’t care what other players’ numbers look like, I see what I see and there’s no excuse for him to not have better statistics than what he has. I don’t think he has improved since last year, he’s precisely the same so far. That’s my chief complaint, is the pure lack and non-existence of improvement where improvement is attainable. I think the Lions very much need to get a new team of people in place to support the QB position because I don’t see the results or the improvement. I don’t think they are on top of things here at this position.

  3. Ben Kaldwurse says:

    Stay away from Gordon! And Spurlock really made some bad return decisions all 3 games – cut him

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      Yeah he’s one of our least valuable players and was a terrible choice to eat up a roster spot. We need to do better than this. At other positions too, but every tiny bit of advantage counts.

  4. Ben Kaldwurse says:

    NFL Should not care about weed, really. Steroids – yes. Real drugs – yes. Weed? No way the NFL should care if a player smokes weed. Get over it.

    • The Strategy Expert says:

      It’s a bad image and can lead to off the field drama, and that indirectly affects the financial cash flow. The NFL doesn’t give two craps about weed, they care about the bottom line of their business of which weed can interfere with.

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