Over the next several days, leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each unit. Today: Wide receivers.
► Current roster: Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Quintez Cephus, Geronimo Allison, Damion Ratley, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy, Victor Boldin
► Short-term need: Five out of 10
► Long-term need: 10 out of 10
► Top prospects: Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, Rashod Bateman, Terrace Marshall Jr.
► Mid-round options: Rondale Moore, Kadarius Toney, Nico Collins, Tylan Wallace
► Late-round considerations: Dazz Newsome, Josh Imatorbhebhe, Cornell Powell
► Analysis: No position group on the roster has been more significantly revamped in recent months than Detroit’s receivers. Almost all the production from the past few seasons is gone with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola departing this offseason.
Among the contributors, only Cephus returns. But even with some real flashes during his rookie season, it’s difficult to suggest he’s much more than a No. 3 receiver going forward.
To plug their immediate needs, the Lions signed Williams and Perriman in the early stages of free agency. There’s some intriguing potential there, given both offer good size and elite speed on the outside. That said, neither should be viewed as a long-term solution, considering each is operating on a one-year contract.
As for who would man the slot if the season started today, Williams, Perriman and Cephus have seen snaps there during their careers, but tight end T.J. Hockenson might be the current solution.
The draft, of course, presents all kinds of ways for Detroit to address its problems. That starts at the very top, where three receivers are expected to come off the board in the first 15 or so picks.
If the Lions don’t move out of the No. 7 spot, and Chase makes it to them, he checks all the boxes. Size, athleticism, production, versatility — he’s the total package.
Chase is one of many prospects who opted out of the 2020 season, but what more do you need to see? As a true sophomore, he was college football’s best receiver in 2019, averaging more than 21 yards on his 84 receptions, which included 20 touchdowns.
He might not be in football shape at the moment, but there’s no question Chase has been putting in the work during his time away from the field. That was evident by the eye-popping numbers he posted at his pro day, including a 41-inch vertical and 4.34-second 40-yard dash.
A tick below Chase is the pair of ultra talented, yet undersized Alabama receivers. Smith, fresh off his Heisman campaign, is an elite route runner whose competitive toughness far exceeds his wiry, 6-foot-1, 170-pound frame.
Waddle, meanwhile, draws comparisons to Kansas City’s Tyreke Hill for his freakish speed and open-field acceleration. That helped Waddle average more than 10 yards after the catch.
He did miss extensive time due to a severe ankle injury in 2020, but his drive to return for the national championship is demonstrative of his passion for the game.
Those who argue against drafting a receiver early are quick to point out this draft’s depth at the position, something that was recently noted by general manager Brad Holmes. Even if six or seven receivers come off the board in the opening round, the Lions should still have some fine options in the second and third round, particularly if they want to address their need for a slot.
That could be the sweet spot for Toney, Rondale Moore, or Mississippi’s Elijah Moore, a trio of receivers who measured under 6 feet tall, but posted big production during their college careers.
The alternative is looking for another big body to add to the mix. Collins, the former Michigan standout, has only raised his stock with a strong showing at his pro day. The 6-foot-4, 215-pounder maxed out at 38 catches in a season for the Wolverines, but did average nearly 20 yards per grab in 2019, scoring seven times.
Whether the Lions address receiver early or not, it wouldn’t hurt to take another look at the position in the latter stages of the draft. Someone like Newsome could both fill the team’s need for a slot receiver while competing to return kicks following Jamal Agnew’s departure.
And with a guy like Imatorbhebhe, you bank on developable measurables. In 2019, he averaged 19.2 yards per catch and scored nine times on 33 receptions. At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds and a class-best 46.5-inch vertical, it’s certainly worth a flier.