Daily Focus: Patriots return key playmaker in RB Dion Lewis
Editor’s note: Every day in “Daily Focus,” PFF analysts take the latest NFL news and translate what it really means for each team involved.
Key playmaker returns to the practice field for New England: On Monday, RB Dion Lewis practiced for the first time this offseason, just seven months after tearing his ACL in a November game against Washington. The Patriots have to be thrilled with his quick recovery, as he was a major playmaker for them in 2015 as a receiver out of the backfield.
In just seven games, Lewis amassed 36 catches for 388 yards and two touchdowns, forcing 24 missed tackles on those receptions. Average that production out over the course of a full 16-game season, and he’d have posted more than 80 catches for over 900 yards and a staggering 55 missed-tackles-forced (Detroit’s Theo Riddick set a PFF-era record for RBs last season by forcing 36 missed tackles on receptions).
What Lewis accomplished last season was all the more amazing considering he hadn’t played a down in the league since 2012 prior to last season (he posted just 39 combined carries and receptions in 2011 and 2012). While it’s unrealistic to expect him to duplicate his production from last season, especially over the course of a full year of play, it is clear that as long as he as healthy and on the field, he is going to be one of the Patriots’ most dangerous weapons.
Can Andre Roberts make Detroit’s final roster? With WR Corey Fuller shelved after foot surgery last week, the Lions signed former Washington WR Andre Roberts. Roberts, who saw action in only nine games last season due to ineffectiveness and his own injury problems (he missed the remainder of the season after a meniscus injury requiring surgery knocked him out of a Week 12 matchup against the Giants), knows all too well the next-man-up nature of the NFL.
While Detroit certainly has need of depth at the slot position behind T.J. Jones, Roberts’ is certainly not guaranteed to make the final 53-man roster. During his six-year career with the Cardinals and Redskins, he has never graded positively, owns a career drop rate of over 11 percent, and has never ranked among the top 100 receivers in the league in yards per pass route run.
Competing against the likes of Marvin Jones, Fuller, Jeremy Kerley and Andre Caldwell for one of the final WR spots will be an uphill battle for Roberts, but if he can prove his worth on special teams (he has positive career grades on both kickoff and punt teams) he may have a shot at extending his stay in Detroit.
Ravens were smart to employ a contingency plan for Matt Elam: Safety Matt Elam is back practicing with the Ravens, after a tumultuous 2015 that saw him miss the entire season with a biceps tear and serve a one-game suspension for substance abuse. Elam’s struggles in Baltimore go beyond injury and off-field concerns, as his play during his first two seasons in the league was not at the level expected of a first-round pick.
Known as a physical force against the run in college, he has thus far accumulated more missed tackles (29) than run stops (24) in Baltimore. His play in coverage has been abysmal, as he has yielded 61 receptions on 87 targets for 922 yards, five touchdowns (compared to just one interception and two passes defended), and a career QB rating against of 119.0.
Elam clearly understands he needs to turn his play around this season, but while free agent acquisition Eric Weddle will certainly have one starting safety spot locked down, there is room for competition at the other position with Kendrick Lewis and Terrence Brooks.