LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase would be ‘home run pick’ for Detroit Lions to fill Kenny Golladay void

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Detroit Lions are in the market for a No. 1 wide receiver now that Kenny Golladay is headed to free agency, and NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said they cannot go wrong taking one early in the first round.

The Lions have the seventh pick in April’s draft, and three receivers — LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase and the Alabama duo of Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith — have emerged as potential top-10 picks.

NFL Network reported the Lions do not plan to use the franchise tag on Golladay before Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.

“All three of those guys would be good options for Detroit,” Jeremiah said in a video conference Tuesday. “I don’t think they can make a wrong pick there.”

Jeremiah ranks Chase as the No. 2  prospect in the draft and top receiver available.

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Chase opted out of the 2020 season, but led LSU with 1,780 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2019. Justin Jefferson, the runner-up for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, was LSU’s No. 2 receiver in 2019.

“I think a lot of times when you’re watching receivers, you seek guys that can win with separation and quickness, and you see guys that can win with physicality and kind of contested catches,” Jeremiah said. “And when you watch him at LSU in 2019, you see examples of both, where he can separate from people off the line of scrimmage, he can separate at the top of his route. He plays big to go up and get the football, and then after the catch he gives you that strength and physicality to break tackles. He’s to me the best receiver in the draft. I can’t imagine he would be there, but man, that would be a home run pick for the Lions if he was.”

Waddle and Smith are similar prospects, Jeremiah said, with teams favoring one over the other based on preference.

Waddle missed part of last season with a broken ankle, but is one of the fastest players in this year’s draft. Smith, the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, needs to add weight to his 175-pound frame, but is as polished as any receiver coming out in recent years. 

“Waddle gives you a little bit more juice, but DeVonta Smith plays plenty fast as well,” Jeremiah said. “DeVonta Smith is a pristine route runner. He’s obviously, everybody knows, is real thin, but man he’s really long-armed, he can go up and get it as well. I just thought what you get after the catch with some of the shiftiness and then just the home run speed from Waddle is why I ended up with Waddle over Smith.”

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Jeremiah said he expects teams to rely more heavily on GPS data than traditional 40 times to evaluate prospects this season because of the lack of a formal NFL combine. Waddle, he said, “had the fastest GPS of any receiver in the country, so your eyes aren’t deceiving you when you watch him. He’s freaky fast.”

Lions GM Brad Holmes said last week he relies on GPS timing to evaluate the play speed of prospects, but that 40 times remain a part of the process.

“The analytics can really be a piece to hold you accountable, so if the data is telling you something that your eyes aren’t seeing, you shouldn’t be stubborn and say, ‘Well, let’s ignore that because my eyes are correct,’ ” he said. “Let’s actually look and see why the data’s actually saying that versus what your eyes are seeing. And so I think the more that you dive into that, I think you’ll actually come up with the answer in terms of exactly what you’re asking for about speed, whether it be 40-yard dashes or GPS timing. But at the end of the day, we’re looking at play speed in (relation) to how fast a guy’s playing football.”

Golladay’s pending foray into free agency leaves the Lions thin at the receiver position.

The Lions officially signed Tyrell Williams to a one-year contract Tuesday, but could lose five of their top six receivers from last season. Along with Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jamal Agnew and Mohamed Sanu also will be free agents next week.

Jeremiah said the depth of receiver in this year’s draft might have played a factor in the Lions’ decision not to franchise Golladay at a below-market one-year deal worth about $16 million.

“There’s some good free agents out there as well,” he said. “I’m curious, sometimes it’s not just in a vacuum. We’ll see what they do with that money they could have allocated there and if they’re aggressive in other areas where they can get better. They’ll have, all the way into the fourth and fifth round there’s going to be good wide receivers again.”

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

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