Detroit Lions Preseason: Week 3 Stock Report
For many Lions, it will represent the end of their tenure in the den. Others will taste the sweetness of unexpectedly making the final cut.
This week's preseason stock report focuses on those players, the ones who are perched on the roster bubble. It's based primarily upon how they fared in Friday night's home game with Jacksonville, as well as practice reports obtained firsthand and from other sources.
Here are four players riding the bull up and four others bearing down.
Stock Up: George Johnson
This man pictured above has a very good reason to smile: Defensive end George Johnson continues to storm his way from pre-camp afterthought to earning not only a roster spot, but also significant reps in the regular season as well.
As Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com reports, coach Jim Caldwell is a big fan. The new head coach said of his summer surprise, "George has quickness, he has explosion, he's long, he's linear."
Plays like this one in the Jacksonville game are why line coach Jim Washburn believes Johnson can be "pretty special":
George Johnson beat 2 guys to get to Henne there. He's continuing to make a strong case tonight #Lions— Denny Kapp (@DennyKapp) August 23, 2014
The Lions are very deep along the defensive front, but Johnson has proven he belongs. No player on the roster has raised his stock more this summer, and the former undrafted free agent from Rutgers continues to tick upward the more he plays.
Stock Down: Don Carey
Veteran safety Don Carey has not had a very good summer since signing a new three-year, $3.15 million contract, per Spotrac.
He's been outplayed throughout camp and in the first two preseason games by newcomer Isa Abdul Quddus and undrafted rookie Jerome Couplin (more on The Osprey later).
Now firmly on the chopping block, Carey needed a strong showing against the Jaguars to prove he merits staying in Detroit. Instead, he got hurt while covering a punt in the second quarter.
Don Carey has a hamstring injury and is doubtful to return. #JAXvsDET— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 23, 2014
He never saw a defensive snap in the game on a night where starter James Ihedigbo and reserve DeJon Gomes were both inactive.
Carey has fallen behind Abdul Quddus and Couplin, who have spent a great deal of practice time as the second-team safeties ahead of him. It's hard to imagine him being able to demonstrate he offers more if he's walking wounded.
Cutting Carey would be an expensive admission of a Gob Bluth-like huge mistake, but the Lions would appear better for it.
Stock Up: Jerome Couplin
Carey's loss has been Jerome Couplin's gain. The undrafted rookie from William & Mary has steadily progressed from looking timid with the third unit to announcing his presence with authority against the Jaguars' first-team offense.
A strong showing against Jacksonville, including a vicious and perfectly legal hit, which drew a penalty from an official nowhere near the play, further inflated "The Osprey" up the depth chart.
Updated #Lions "unofficial depth chart from media relations"... DE George Johnson moved from 3rd to 2nd, SS Jerome Couplin from 3rd to 2nd— Denny Kapp (@DennyKapp) August 25, 2014
It's easy to see his burgeoning confidence when watching him before the snap. As noted at Detroit Lions Draft:
Out in Allen Park in those first few practices, he was often frozen pizza at the snap. He didn’t see what the play might be or how the routes would develop. In this game, he was quite active in making small adjustments to better position himself before the snap.
Another reason to be bullish on Couplin: Gomes, one of his primary competitors, was placed on injured reserve Monday. His path to a roster spot is that much clearer.
Stock Down: LaAdrian Waddle
One of the more puzzling preseason developments has been the inexplicably poor performance by right tackle LaAdrian Waddle.
As an undrafted rookie in 2013, Waddle took the league by storm after ascending to the starting role halfway through the season. His run blocking was outstanding, and he appeared to be an integral piece of a strong offensive line.
That 2013 Waddle is missing in action.
He has not responded well at all to the open competition with Corey Hilliard. While the veteran has not been real impressive in his own right, Hilliard has been the much better player throughout the preseason.
It was never more evident than at Ford Field last Friday. Hilliard got the start in the dress rehearsal game and played quite well. He threw a key block on Reggie Bush's 86-yard touchdown run and didn't allow any rushers to sniff Matthew Stafford in the pocket.
Waddle played with the second unit, and he struggled despite mostly facing Jacksonville's reserves. Here's how Pro Football Focus graded them out:
|Run Block||Pass Block||Overall|
Waddle was also flagged for a penalty, which was declined.
What has gone wrong for Waddle? I offered my technical assessment at Detroit Lions Draft, noting Waddle "isn’t getting the arm extension he needs, and he’s not sinking his hips to generate power as well as he did a year ago."
He's in no real danger of being cut, but it's still disturbing when an up-and-coming, healthy youngster plays his way out of a starting role.
Stock Up: Tahir Whitehead
Perhaps no Lions player has had a more impressive preseason performance than the one linebacker Tahir Whitehead dialed up against Jacksonville.
A surprise starter over Ashlee Palmer and an injured Kyle Van Noy, Whitehead made forceful tackles on the first two plays of the game. He ranged outside and chased down fleet rookie wideout Marqise Lee with authority.
Whitehead was just getting started. He flew all over the field, making several plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Wow. RT @LethalSax Tahir Whitehead: 11 tackles, 10 solo. 3 sacks, 4 TFLs.— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) August 23, 2014
Thus far the 2012 fifth-round pick has played almost exclusively on special teams, but he appears ready to handle an increased role. With Van Noy's iffy condition, Whitehead emphatically stated his case that he's the better replacement than Palmer.
PFF agrees. Whitehead has the third-highest grade of any Lions defender, while Palmer sits close to the bottom.
|Run Defense||Coverage||Pass Rush||Overall|
That's a stock that Jim Cramer of Mad Money would get excited about.
Stock Down: Giorgio Tavecchio
Nate Freese and Giorgio Tavecchio have locked horns all summer in the battle for the Lions place-kicking job.
Thus far it's been pretty much a dead heat. Both started camp with shaky performances but have steadily improved throughout camp and the preseason.
In such a tight battle, one big play can completely shift the momentum. That happened against Jacksonville, and unfortunately for Tavecchio, it was a negative on his part.
The young Italian wildly missed a 51-yard attempt in the fourth quarter, missing both short and to the left. This comes a week after Freese, the team's seventh-round draft pick this year, drilled a 55-yarder in the more difficult field conditions outdoors in Oakland.
If you're trying to sell Tavecchio as a penny stock, you waited too long. The Lions cut him Monday along with several others, per Tim Twentyman of the team's official website:
The #Lions have released FB Chad Abram, P Drew Butler, QB James Franklin, CB Jonte Green, CB Aaron Hester and K Giorgio Tavecchio.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 25, 2014
All of those cut do have practice squad eligibility, but at this point they're ex-Lions.
Stock Up: Ryan Broyles
Third-year wideout Ryan Broyles continues his impressive return from a series of serious leg injuries. He leads all Lions receivers with eight preseason catches, including three for 44 yards in Friday's victory over Jacksonville.
More importantly, those catches have proven productive.
WR @RyanBroyles has been very good in the preseason. 7 of his 8 catches have resulted in a first down. QBs will like that.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 23, 2014
Earning Matthew Stafford's trust is imperative for Detroit wideouts. Broyles continues to show he can get open against both man and zone coverage, and he reliably plucks the passes with strong hands. He's also shown some elusiveness after the catch, making tacklers miss and grinding out extra yards.
The 2012 second-round pick hasn't quite guaranteed himself a spot in the final 53-man roster, but his consistent preseason performance continues to impress.
Stock Down: Mikel Leshoure
There is fierce competition for the final one or two (likely one) spots in the offensive backfield behind Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick.
Mikel Leshoure held that fourth position a year ago, but his time in the den could be running out. The 2011 second-round pick has failed to prove he deserves the spot more than George Winn or Montell Owens.
Even in a game where he ran the ball well, Leshoure's night against Jacksonville probably didn't do much to help him.
He had eight carries for 44 yards, including an impressive 30-yard jaunt that showed decisiveness and vision. Unfortunately, he quickly followed that up with a red-zone fumble. Those other seven carries netted an underwhelming two yards per attempt, too.
It's one more total yard that Winn managed on his seven carries, but the second-year back from Cincinnati did score a touchdown for the second consecutive game. Winn, who also lost a fumble, has been superlative on special teams, an area where Leshoure has never stood out.
Right now it's too close to call, but just the fact that there is no clarity is a sign that Leshoure's star has fallen mightily from being the feature back in Detroit in 2012.
All advanced statistics are courtesy of Pro Football Focus (PFF), which requires a subscription for premium content.