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Lions roundtable: Should the Lions’ 53-man roster carry 4 tight ends, or 5 wide receivers?

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It seems like one position’s depth count is going to come at the expense of the other, so how will Detroit stock each position?

NFL: Detroit Lions-Training Camp Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The very first week of training camp is in the books and after getting a chance to scope out some practice and attend the annual Family Day mock game at Ford Field, we’re full of impressions.

If you’re unfamiliar with our roundtable or how it works, check out some of our recent discussions:

Our roundtable here at Pride of Detroit has reconvened. The topic this week is all about a couple of skill positions and how Detroit is going to construct and ready their roster for the 2017 season.

Should the Lions’ 53-man roster carry 4 tight ends, or 5 wide receivers?

Jeremy: I know nobody on the Pride of Detroit staff reads my stuff, but I made pretty compelling arguments for and against keeping five wide receivers earlier this week. Here’s a taste to save you five minutes:

More tight ends means fewer three-wide formations, meaning virtually no chance of a fifth wide receiver to make a gameday impact.

With all of the talent at tight end, and their likely transition to more 2 tight end sets, it would make a lot of sense for Detroit to use that extra roster spot on a fourth tight end, not a fifth wide receiver.

With Darren Fells likely assuming a big role in 2017, it means the Lions will need more depth at tight end in case of injury. The Lions barely used a fourth wide receiver in 2016, why add a fifth?

Kent Lee: Some of us read your stuff, Jeremy. Then again, some of us are watching Animaniacs right now. While you’re right that there is a likelihood of less 3WR alignments once you bring in more dual tight end situations, you failed to account for what Jim Bob Cooter and Jim Caldwell’s offense is on a fundamental level. This was mentioned briefly by Andy Benoit, talking about how the static fronts Cooter uses allows iso for the receivers, leading to teams playing more man coverage against them.

Jeremy: For the record, I would rather watch “Animaniacs” than read my own stuff.

Kent Lee: That’s fair, Chicken Boo.

Anyway, if Cooter thinks there is a sufficient talent difference at receiver, he can accomplish much of the same goals running three or four wide and simply having competent blockers and strong enough route runners as he can running with two tight ends. It can also allow the offense to be more creative with their fronts and take better advantage of their receiving backs.

All that being said, it really comes down to talent at that last spot since you can do much of the same thing depending on who you have.

Ryan: The Lions fourth receiver last season was Andre Roberts, and even though he made a couple of very key receptions last season—including this game-changer—he made the roster because he was the team’s primary kick and punt returner.

Without a single wideout doing much to stake their claim to that role through albeit just over a week of practices, I’m not sure why the team would choose to carry five wide receivers, especially when you consider Eric Ebron is likely to line up quite a bit as a quasi-wideout.

One legitimate case someone can make for the Lions to roster five wideouts though is this: The team has at least five wide receivers worth keeping on an NFL roster.

Jace Billingsley would be a perfect candidate to add depth to the slot position Golden Tate should be assuming much more often this season. Jared Abbrederis is a talented receiver with great body control and a reliable set of hands that would likely end up on another team’s roster should the Lions decide to cut him. TJ Jones is someone who clearly put in the work this offseason after getting cut prior to the start of the 2016 season and ending up on Detroit’s practice squad. And Keshawn Martin, his rather polished route-running has impressed me during camp, and the team has given him plenty of reps returning both kicks and punts.

Kyle: I think your mention of Ebron, Ryan, deserves a little more attention. A lot of talk this offseason here at Pride of Detroit and other outlets has centered around the idea of Ebron serving more as a wide receiver this year, which seems increasingly likely. While the selection of Kenny Golladay gives the Lions a true No. 3, it would be difficult for him—or any other receiver outside of Tate or Marvin Jones—to replicate Anquan Boldin’s production from last season. In style and size, Ebron could step into this void.

However, he is unlikely to be deployed full time as a receiver, and nor should he. Still, he will see enough routes and targets to significantly infringe on the opportunities for some of the receivers lower on the depth chart. A fifth wide receiver would certainly be below Ebron on the pecking order, making his inclusion both obsolete and wasteful.

On the other hand, using Ebron in more wide receiver situations opens up a need for more traditional tight ends. Having an extra backup on hand could be useful with Ebron being utilized elsewhere. Four tight ends when including Ebron is really only three and a half at the position.

Kent Lee: One thing we’re overlooking in this either/or scenario is that while it’s true the Lions kept four receivers and three tight ends last season, they also kept four running backs and a fullback.

With no fullback on the roster, it opens up the possibility that the team keeps both a fifth receiver and a fourth tight end, balancing better between offense and defense than they did in 2016 when they went heavy on defense.

Ryan: This is true, but the Lions also kept just ten defensive backs last season, and this year I see them keeping 11 considering the emergence of Jamal Agnew as a serious candidate to assume a role on special teams.

There is plenty of roster juggling to play itself out between now and the beginning of September, and even Jim Caldwell acknowledged how they may keep more players at a certain position depending on the number of guys kept at another position:

“Yeah, it just all depends. It really does. It just depends on how many guys are kept at other positions. What we think, you know, we may have some guys that take us above maybe what our normal limit would be in terms of how many we would keep. It changes. There’s a lot of positions involved in that.”

But for me, it seems like the Lions are going to have four tight ends on their 53-man roster. Contrary to what some might think, Michael Roberts isn’t making to the practice squad; he’d get snatched up the second he made it to waivers.

We saw the Lions mess around with a jumbo package in goal line situations during open practice, bringing tight end Cole Wick into the backfield and lining him up as a fullback. There were also other times where they lined up in 13 personnel—a three tight end package designed to run the football.

With the team adding Tim Wright on Wednesday, a player with the capability to maybe do some of the things they may want to accomplish in those aforementioned sets, it seems like the team is planning on keeping four tight ends.

Kent Lee: Worth mentioning with Tim Wright that the formerly diminutive tight end —220 lbs entering the NFL, around 235 when he played for the Lions—has now bulked up to a much more workable 255 lbs according to his Instagram. If his willingness has improved along with that increase in size, and he can carry that weight without sacrificing explosion and speed, he could be improved from his 9 catch season in 2015.

Jeremy: One way to solve the Lions’ surplus of receivers problem is to simply orchestrate a trade, rather than keep an extra one on roster. Proposing a trade is always the fan’s first inclination when a team has a lot of talent at one position, but in this case we have precedent.

Last year, the Lions shipped Jeremy Kerley to San Francisco for offensive lineman Brandon Thomas. Granted, the return isn’t going to be good—teams are wise that these players would likely get cut anyways. I propose that Jared Abbrederis should—and will—be traded before cutdown day.

Ryan: How dare you say something like that about the best Twitter handle on the team!

Alex: Unless Jay Lee Calvin Johnson comes walking through that door sometime soon, the Lions should only keep four receivers on the roster. They have Eric Ebron, Theo Riddick and Ameer Abdullah—all of whom can line up as receivers and create mismatches. The Lions will keep two “Y” tight ends in Darren Fells and Michael Roberts, and I think the offense will be better off keeping an extra “F” TE as well—either Cole Wick or Tim Wright.

Poll

How should the Lions manage their roster?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    5 wide recievers
    (71 votes)
  • 49%
    4 tight ends
    (190 votes)
  • 32%
    5 wide receivers and 4 tight ends
    (125 votes)
386 votes total Vote Now