Why Detroit Lions’ Kenny Golladay might start getting the attention he deserves

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

Kenny Golladay’s name rarely comes up when pundits talk about the best wide receivers in the NFL, but it should — and maybe soon it will.

Golladay made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate last season, when he led the NFL in touchdown catches, and has proven his worth beyond a shadow of a doubt this fall. The Lions are 3-1 with Golladay in the lineup, and 0-2 without him.

Soon, either through the franchise tag or a long-term extension, he will become one of the highest-paid receivers in the league. 

And on Wednesday, the 26-year-old’s profile will get another boost when Pepsi debuts a clever holiday advertising campaign built around his likeness.

Golladay, who appeared in commercials for a few local businesses in his first three NFL seasons, spent a day in Detroit earlier this month shooting a “Happy Golladays” spot that includes a guest appearance by legendary Lions running back Barry Sanders.

The digital campaign, at madeforlionswatching.com, features Golladay in a personalized ugly sweater and offers fans a chance to win signed Lions merchandise, gift cards and their own “Happy Golladays” swag, among other things.

The sweater, with a script “Happy Golladays” in blue across the chest, is somewhat reminiscent of the airbrushed T-shirt of his own likeness that Matthew Stafford wore in an ESPN spot when he first came to national prominence eight years ago.

And while Golladay insists he’s not worried about his profile, on or off the field, it’s clearly on the rise both places.

“To be honest, I don’t really get into all that,” Golladay said. “I just want to go out there, just making plays. That’s my honest opinion, really. I don’t really get into I should be ranked here, I should be above so and so. I just go out there and do what I do.”

In four games this season — he missed Weeks 1 and 2 with a hamstring injury — Golladay leads the Lions with 338 yards receiving on 20 catches and has picked up where he left off last year as one of the most formidable deep threats in the league.

In last week’s 23-22 come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Falcons, Golladay caught six passes for 114 yards and had two monster grabs in the second half to set up Lions scores.

On a third-and-11 play early in the third quarter, Golladay made a leaping 29-yard catch along the sideline and held on despite a bone-rattling hit from Falcons safety Keanu Neal.

On the game’s final drive, Golladay caught another 29-yard strike from Stafford, this one with Neal draped on his back, to set up T.J. Hockenson’s winning touchdown.

“The guy, he’s a playmaker,” said Sanders, who had spent little time with Golladay before their commercial shoot. “He just goes about his business and he’s always showing up at big moments. So you love seeing that. Obviously, we love having him here. We definitely know about him around here and I think more and more people every week will learn. So this is fun to watch.”

Sanders, arguably the greatest running back of all-time, dropped two notable comparisons on Golladay, one to former Lions receiver Herman Moore and another to himself.

“He reminds me a lot of myself as a young player,” Sanders said. “I mean, I wasn’t about talking about the game and talking about what I was going to do; just about what are you doing every day to try to get to that next level and maybe you’ll end up being one of the great players. So I like it.”

While Golladay still has work to do to get in the “great” category, he is looking more and more like the next dominant Lions receiver.

Moore finished his 11-year Lions career as the franchise’s all-time leader in receiving yards (9,174) and receptions (670), only to watch Calvin Johnson surpass both numbers — he has 731 career catches for 11,619 yards — in nine Hall-of-Fame seasons

Sanders said Golladay reminds him of Moore in that “whenever you go to him it’s pretty much always a mismatch.”

“The odds are in your favor, so you love that. You love saying that,” Sanders said.

And Golladay loves hearing that.

“Oh, man, it means a lot,” he said. “Getting drafted and just trying to make a name for myself, that’s not what I’m even thinking about around that time — and I’m still not thinking about it, to be honest. I’m not trying to come into it like, ‘Pass me the torch.’ I’m still trying to make a name for myself and make the people proud, mostly talking about my family.”

A third-round pick out of Northern Illinois in 2017, about the only question with Golladay that remains is if he’ll play long enough for the Lions to challenge Moore and Johnson’s numbers.

Golladay and the Lions have had ongoing talks about a contract extension since the summer, with no recent movement on striking a deal.

Asked Tuesday what the hold-up is— the new collective bargaining agreement and this year’s COVID-19-related financial losses have spiked the franchise tag for receivers down from about $18 million this year to a projected $15.5 million in 2021 — Golladay said, “Your guess is as good as mine.”

Golladay did indicate he wants to sign a long-term deal to stay in Detroit, something he first said last winter.

“I like it here,” he said. “I got No. 9 (Matthew Stafford) with me, that’s a plus.”

And ultimately, no matter where his national profile sits, he’s too good a player for the Lions to let go.

“The guys in the game, they know him, obviously, and it’s only going to get better,” Sanders said. “But I think the way he’s doing it is the right way, just be yourself, go out and make plays. Keep working on your craft and I love the fact that this team is starting to close the deal now. So as a fan, that’s pretty fun.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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