Training camp is still far off, but the "dead" part of the offseason between OTAs and training camp is the perfect time to start identifying breakout candidates for this year’s Lions.
There’s no perfect science to the assessment. I’m not singling out rookies or second-year players. Here are five players that could breakout for the Lions this year.
5. TJ Jones
The Lions have a wide open competition this year for their third receiver behind Golden Tate and Marvin Jones. The Lions signed a few veterans during free agency (Jeremy Kerley and Andre Caldwell), but it may be Jones who has the best shot at breaking out. Despite not starting a single game in 2015, he has already had a strong start to the offseason OTAs and even got first-team reps with the offense.
4. Kyle Van Noy
Van Noy is another player who is taking advantage of the OTA sessions. Reports out of Allen Park have been high what the third-year linebacker has been able to show since returning to the team the offseason. According to Mlive.com, Van Noy worked with the first-team at strong side linebacker during portions of practice. This could fill a big void in the Lions’ front seven now that Tahir Whitehead is scheduled to line up in the middle of the defense. If Van Noy can recapture some of the rookie hype, the Lions could have a highly improved linebacker unit in 2016.
3. Devin Taylor
Taylor has only started two games in his career with the Lions, but with Jason Jones moving on and no other real threats being added at defensive end this offseason, it appears Taylor is going to have a shot to make his mark. Taylor started slowly last season, getting pushed down the depth chart behind players like Darryl Tapp and Phillip Hunt. But he finished the 2015 season strong, getting 4.5 sacks in the final six games. The Lions will need him to continue that strong push to add a consistent pass rush opposite of Ezekiel Ansah.
2. Ameer Abdullah
The second-year player started the season off with a bang. Who can forget that ankle breaking touchdown run against the Chargers in Week 1?
Those were the days... #Lions pic.twitter.com/9ScEaOyai0— Justin Simon (@justincsimon) November 22, 2015
But as the season started to crumble for the Lions, it also started to fall apart for Abdullah. He began fumbling the ball with unfortunate consistency and was relegated to a bench player because of it. But he didn’t let that slow him down. He continued to work hard and by the end of the season, he started to show flashes of what the Lions saw in him coming out of Nebraska. With Joique Bell gone, the window is open for Abdullah to take a larger role in 2016. The only hangup to a fast start is that Abdullah is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery and is losing important reps to other guys on the depth chart.
1. Eric Ebron
The highly polarizing tight end has a real shot to be a breakout star now that Calvin Johnson has retired. Ebron, the former top ten pick, has all the talent he needs to succeed and looks the part of today’s NFL tight end. He should be a great fit in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense where he’s going to be used on short routes and expected to gain yards after the catch. So what will a successful season be? Last year the league saw tights like Tyler Eifert, Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen, Gary Barnidge and Zach Ertz all break out. For Ebron to be on par with those players he going to need around 75 catches for 900 yards and eight touchdowns.