You know the deal. This column gives you a little bit of info on some guys on the other team that you may not have heard of, but are being counted on by the opponents to have a good game against our favorite team.
UBIC - Offense
Eric Ebron (TE, #85) - I can hear a few of you fantasy owners from 2014 cursing this name as you scrolled down the article. (I was not one of them.) Going into last year's draft, he was thought to be perhaps the missing piece of the elusive playoff puzzle for Lions. If you only had a rudimentary understanding of causality, you may claim that he was. After all, he was taken 10th overall in the 2014 draft and the Lions did make the playoffs last year with an 11-5 record.
Ebron's contributions to that effort were extremely disappointing for the top rated TE going into the draft. In his rookie year, he caught a mere 25 passes (on 47 targets) for 248 yards and 1 TD. This hardly constituted a viable 3rd option in the intermediate middle and red zone threat that elite TE's in the league actually should be. (Of course, as a Charger fan, I have been spoiled with Antonio Gates and years before him, Hall of Famer Kellon Winslow.)
His college production and combine measurements justified his lofty draft position. In his last two seasons at North Carolina (without the benefit of a pass heavy offense or elite QB), Ebron caught 102 passes for 1,598 yards and 7 TD's. It was the average yards per reception that caught the eye of NFL scouts (nearly 16 yards). He looked the part of the modern "move" TE, too. Measuring a touch over 6'4", 260+ pounds and running a 4.6 second 40 sealed his designation as the #1 TE prospect in the draft.
For the Lions and their fans, the concern is not with a sophomore slump, it is the young man living up to his promise and justifying the Lions use of the 10th overall pick on him. There were some observations that he was asked to do way too much as a rookie. There was also criticism that he played soft, often failing to break tackles and giving up momentum downfield by turning his shoulders completely parallel to the line of scrimmage on receptions. If his second season follows that of many NFL TE's, Ebron's reception and yardage production should double in 2015. The Lions are hoping for at least this and a lot more TD catches. We'll see how he does against Te'o and Weddle on Sunday.
Riley Reiff (LT, #71) - As you fans of this feature should know by now, offensive linemen get a lot of love here. After all, who is more important, but unknown at the same time? If there are any O-Linemen that rise to the level of being kind of known, it is the left tackles on any given team.
For the Lions, the man tasked with keeping Matt Stafford's blindside clean is their 2012 1st round pick out of Iowa. He became a starter halfway through his rookie season and the Lions like him enough to have already picked up his 5th year option. The 6'6", 310 pound Reiff has a reputation as more of a mauler on run blocking and is somewhat vulnerable to speed rushers. The Bolts OLB rotation will need to beat Reiff quickly on Sunday and not allow Stafford time to find Johnson, Tate, Ebron, or Reddick.
Last season, Stafford was sacked 45 times and hit another 91. Not all of this (or even most of it) was on Reiff. The Lions O-line had a sort of transition year last season, but rode an elite defense and big plays to an 11-5 record. Ingram, Attaochu, and Emmanuel will be matched up against the best O-lineman the Lions have on Sunday. The winner of those battles could be the difference between winning and losing.
UBIC - Defense
Tyrunn Walker (DT, #93) - The Lions had an excellent defense last year, finishing 3rd in scoring defense and 2nd in yards allowed. That unit was anchored by two of the league's best interior linemen, Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley (although Fairley had problems staying healthy). Neither of those men are a concern for the Bolts' O-line this Sunday. What will be a concern for the Bolts interior line will be their replacements; Haloti Ngata (who is very much known to Bolts fans) and Tyrunn Walker who is unknown to pretty much everyone outside of Michigan and Louisiana.
Walker was undrafted in 2012, made in onto the Saints practice squad and put that year to good use. He played in 7 games in 2013 and continued to develop. Last season, he played in all 16 games, starting in one and got 19 tackles in his appearances. He also got 2.5 sacks in 2014. The Lions took a chance that the 6'3" 305 pound Walker is now good enough to replace Fairley on their 4 man front line. He beat out Gabe Wright (a rookie selected in the 4th round) in preseason to get named as the starter.
With Ngata commanding double teams, Walker will be expected to provide an interior pass rush by beating the guard he is matched up on. He will also be asked to anchor the interior and keep Stephen Tulloch and the other Lions LB's clean to make tackles on runs and short passes. Expect to see him rotate out a lot more than Ngata (the team does like Gabe Wright, too), but the Lions do need a credible threat on the interior next to Ngata to be as disruptive up front as they were last season.
Josh Bynes (RLB, #57) - Originally appearing in this spot was the Lions starting ROLB, DeAndre Levy. Levy's position (Right outside LB in a 4-3) and production (2014 team leader in tackles with 151, 117 solo, 4 passes defended, 2.5 sacks, and 1 INT) will be familiar to fans of UBICs. Every NFL defense has at least one or two guys like Levy; no name guys that are superb athletes at linebacker who are versatile and do every job that their coaches ask them to and do those jobs well. With the NFL and this game being what it is though, Levy is not going to play Sunday while he tries to heal from a hip injury that has kept him from practicing the last two weeks.
Injuries are never something commented upon positively, even if they might benefit a team you root for. Make no mistake though, not having Levy on the field significantly degrades the Lions' defense and potentially makes the Bolts executing their offense an easier task. Which brings us to Bynes.
Bynes played college ball at Auburn. In the NFL, he has been a career back-up, spending his first 3 seasons in Baltimore and signing with Detroit last year. He has a ring and in fact, made the tackle on the final play of the 2013 Super Bowl. The 6'1", 235 pound Bynes is about a perfect physical specimen for 4-3 OLB. He is nowhere near as versatile as Levy and could be vulnerable to short passes directed to the left side of the Bolts offense. The Lions really need this "next man up" to perform well on Sunday while he fills the All-Pro sized shoes of Levy.
(Note: Earlier this week, reports suggested that Levy's hip injury could be serious enough to warrant surgery and put his long term future in doubt. This was contradicted by the team yesterday, which said that Levy was improving, would not require surgery, and that he should be able to play in another few weeks. We at BFTB are hoping Levy returns to the field at 100% very soon.)