Nate Burleson's season-ending broken leg isn't going to devastate the Detroit Lions' offense. It wasn't operating far from the level of "devastated" to begin with. Although the 10-year veteran is behind only Calvin Johnson on the team in targets, he's not irreplaceable, from a tangible standpoint.
Detroit doesn't plan to substitute any one player for Burleson.
Burleson's break: blessing in disguise?
Second-year wideout Titus Young is the big winner. But his lack of maturity has helped to prevent him from being on his way to what was supposed to be his breakout season. Greater responsibility for the slight speedster isn't the way to fix the Lions' struggling O.
Ryan Broyles caught the first three balls (and first TD pass) of his career on Monday night and will surely be active going forward. But the 2012 rookie isn't completely recovered from a torn knee ligament he sustained at Oklahoma in his senior season. Jim Schwartz and crew weren't expecting much from the 5-foot-10, 188-pound receiver until 2013.
On the third hand, if the Lions increase Tony Scheffler's playing time significantly, they may trip over a solution to their woes. He'll see time in the slot, but they could consider using him inline and going with a two-tight end look more frequently.
Detroit already runs everything from a single-back formation. Scheffler is no deft blocker, but having him chip an end or feign a role in protection isn't going to hurt. He's still a very good pass-catcher who presents a matchup problem for defenses which have likely been going with a nickel package as their base against Motown each week.
Matthew Stafford loves to throw to Scheffler, who's been slowed by a calf injury this season. The seventh-year pro has been Stafford's target almost 16 percent of the time he's been on the field in 2012. That's a greater rate than Megatron (about 15 percent), and certainly better than that of any of the team's other options.
Burleson's targets (prior to Week 7, 9.6 per game) have to go to someone. If Scheffler tacked on exactly one-third of them, his average would rise to 7.6. That's not a bad day's worth of chances. There have been quite a few disappointments at tight end in a season, and some teams are using them in their flex spots. He could turn out to be an unexpected fantasy contributor.
The Lions sound as if they intend to spread the wealth now that Burleson is out, but they must also consider ways to give the offense a jolt. The success of it is predicated too much on the deep ball. They need to design stuff with more short and intermediate routes and take what's given. Keep Scheffler on your watch lists, because he represents part of a potential solution.
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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