Why Kenny Golladay is in an elite tier among NFL and Detroit Lions receivers

Detroit Free Press

Ryan Ford
| Detroit Free Press

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Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn raised some eyebrows during the third round of the 2017 NFL draft when he selected a little-known wide receiver out of Northern Illinois over more familiar names such as Michigan’s Amara Darboh, Oklahoma’s Dede Westbrook and North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer.

But Kenny Golladay has made Quinn look smart ever since, with 177 catches for 2,954 yards and 21 touchdowns in 45 games with the Lions, including a NFL-high 11 TDs last season. His value was underscored in the Lions’ first two games of 2020, in which the offense struggled to air it out. No wonder Golladay, in an Instagram post Sunday, took a shot at his contract stalemate with the Lions, saying, “This shit gone cost you! Don’t let that go over y’all head…”

[ Lions’ running back rotation is here to stay: Sorry fantasy football GMs ]

Golladay appears in line for a contract in the range of $18 million to $20 million per year, on pace with the league’s top receivers. Is he worth it? While that’s more of a question for Quinn and Golladay’s agent to hash out, let’s take a look at how the 26-year-old — he turns 27 on Nov. 3 — compares to some other receivers.

The Class of 2017

There were 32 wide receivers taken in 2017 — from Western Michigan’s Corey Davis in the first round to LSU’s Malachi Dupre late in the seventh — with 11 taken ahead of Golladay. But Golladay has outperformed his draft position in nearly every category. He’s third in targets (304). fourth in receptions (177), third in yards (2,954) and second in touchdowns (21 — behind only the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, a fellow third-rounder out of Eastern Washington). There’s only one major category in which Golladay doesn’t rank among the top four in his class: Catch percentage — the percent of targets caught. There, Golladay drops to 14th, at 58.2%, though he ranks seventh among classmates with at least 100 targets. (Interestingly, a Lions teammate of Golladay’s, Jamal Agnew, is making the most of his move from cornerback to wide receiver with nine catches on 12 targets. That’s a 75% catch percentage, good for No. 2 in the class.)

2017 was a banner year for wideouts, if not for the front offices drafting them. The same four wideouts comprise the top four in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns, and all four were selected in a span of 28 picks: the Steelers’ JuJu Smith-Schuster (No. 62), Kupp (No. 69), the Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin (No. 84) and Golladay (No. 96). It’s a foursome that has combined for 833 catches, 11,904 yards and 82 touchdowns. Compare that to the top four receivers taken (including three in five picks early in the first round): Davis (No. 5), the Chargers’ Mike Williams (No. 7), the Bengals’ John Ross (No. 9) and the Bills’ Zay Jones (No. 37). That foursome has combined for 442 catches, 6,040 yards and 41 TDs.

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The rest of his peers

Of course, there are more receivers than just the Class of 2017, and Golladay’s numbers suffer a bit in comparison to the general population of wideouts since the start of the 2017 season. He’s outside the top 20 in targets (27th) and receptions (37th) and barely sneaks into the top 20 (18th) in receiving yards. Still, he ranks 14th in touchdown catches and is one of just three receivers with at least 20 touchdowns in fewer than 200 catches. (In what is likely not a surprise to Lions fans, teammate Marvin Jones is another, and this week’s opponent, the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley, is the third.)

That efficiency speaks to a couple of standout stats for Golladay; while his catch percentage is low (73rd), when he does catch it, it’s for a big gain. His 16.7 yards per reception is good for seventh. Likewise, his 9.7 yards per target ranks eighth, ahead of star deep threats such as Julio Jones (9.6), Mike Evans (9.2) and DeAndre Hopkins (8.6).

The all-time greats

Similarly, Golladay’s numbers don’t necessarily stand out compared to other receivers (since 1970) in their first 45 games. He ranks 71st in receptions (128 behind No. 1 Michael Thomas), 35th in yards (1,283 behind Odell Beckham Jr.) and 31st in touchdowns (19 behind Randy Moss and Jerry Rice). Still, Golladay is in the top 10 in yards per reception and targets, at ninth and seventh, respectively (though targets have only been tracked since 1992).

On the bright side, Golladay is nowhere near the record held by another Lions receiver in his first 45 games: Golladay is 28th in losses, with 27, well behind the leader — Calvin Johnson, with 37 losses in his first 45 games played.

The Honolulu Blue crew

Speaking of “Megatron,” he and Golladay — who was nicknamed “Baby Megatron” when he entered the league — have remarkably similar numbers through their first 45 games. Over that span, Johnson is tops in franchise history with 193 receptions (16 more than Golladay) and 3,071 yards (117 more than Golladay). And Johnson and Golladay are tied in touchdowns (21) behind only Roy Williams (25) who ranks second in receptions (192) and third in receiving yards (2,945). With Golladay at No. 2 in receiving yards through 45 games, there’s a pretty clear top three in franchise history, ahead of Germane Crowell and Herman Moore.

Then again, Golladay has had some advantages Johnson did not, as Megatron’s receiving TDs in his first 45 games came from <deep breath> Dan Orlovsky (7), Jon Kitna (5), Daunte Culpepper (4), Matthew Stafford (4) and J.T. O’Sullivan (1). Golladay, meanwhile, has TDs from Stafford (17), David Blough (3) and Jeff Driskel (1).

Assuming Golladay does get a big-money extension, perhaps he should spring for a minivan for Stafford, or at least an extra car seat.

Contact Ryan Ford at rford@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @theford.

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