When Detroit Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay got to the NFL, he hit the ground running. In his 2017 debut, the rookie out of Northern Illinois hauled in a pair of touchdown passes, offering an immediate glimpse into the player he’d develop into over the next three years.
A lot of factors go into making a quick impact right out of college, but it certainly didn’t hurt that Golladay came into a situation where he was embraced by veteran mentors like Marvin Jones and Golden Tate.
Three years later, the Lions have used another mid-round pick on a receiver, taking Wisconsin’s Quintez Cephus in the fifth round. And, once again, the team will lean on the veterans in the room to accelerate a rookie’s development.
“I think that’s what we do, when you’ve been in the league for this long, the type of people that we are, it’s always to help.” Jones said during a Thursday video conference with reporters. “If you help somebody, that’s just gonna make the team better, you know what I’m saying? Especially when you see potential in somebody. We’ve seen that with Kenny, and you obviously know how that turned out.”
Golladay’s rookie season ended up being slowed by injuries. In 11 games, he finished the year with 28 catches for 477 yards. But he’s managed to top 1,000 yards each of the past two seasons, while pacing the NFL with 11 touchdown receptions in 2019.
To Golladay’s credit, he’s established a reputation as a hard worker. As quarterback Matthew Stafford put it earlier this week, “He’s worked his tail off to be the player he is, and frankly, I’ve seen nothing but the same this offseason.”
The early signs from Cephus is the Lions are getting a player with a similar drive. The rookie out of Wisconsin — who has drawn comparisons to Anquan Boldin based on his skill, skill set and physicality — found a way to get offseason workouts in with both Stafford and Jones.
“We got acquainted this offseason,” Jones said. “He came over to (my) training facility and got some good work in. I know you guys probably seen it. He was out there training with me for a couple days, drove up from Arizona or whatever, and we got some good work in.
“He definitely has the tools, with his strength, his explosiveness, dude can jump out of the gym. It’ll be great to see him go once we start really picking everything up.”
Barring injury, the Lions shouldn’t need much out of Cephus this year. The team is returning its top three pass-catching options from a year ago in Golladay, Jones and Danny Amendola, a team captain who will also serve as another important mentor for the rookie.
Cephus will compete with Marvin Hall to be the team’s primary backup. And with Golladay, Jones and Amendola all on expiring contracts, Cephus has a path to a far bigger role in 2021 if he develops quickly.