Randle El, the Lions wide receivers coach, said he told his room after the season that he hopes to add two receivers in this year’s draft and a third in free agency, including someone who can be a difference-maker on the outside.
“You always want to have a guy, so to speak,” Randle El said Thursday at the Senior Bowl. “Like that guy, we’re throwing to him and we don’t care who’s covering what. We know he can go up and get it. And my guys know we haven’t had that guy yet, so it’s nothing new from them. It’s not a slap to them or a jab to them in anyway, but that’s what we need to be able to complement (the guys we have).”
The Lions have four receivers under contract for 2022, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson and Javon McKinley, and two prominent contributors at the position — Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond — scheduled for unrestricted free agency.
St. Brown led the Lions with 90 catches for 912 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie, but much of that production came in the final six weeks after the Lions struggled to generate a downfield passing attack early in the season.
Cephus missed most of the year with a broken collar bone, Benson played sparingly after being acquired in a summer trade and McKinley played primarily on the practice squad.
Raymond set career highs with 48 catches and 576 yards and Reynolds was effective after joining the team as a waiver claim, and Randel El indicated he hopes both return in 2022.
“I’m excited about our competition going into next year, especially if we’re able to bring Josh back and bring Kalif back,” Randle El said. “It’ll be some real competition, which we need. And I told them all … I said I’m trying to draft two and bring in one, ’cause it’s going to be some competition. I want it to be competition. That’s the only thing that makes them better. So they’re expecting that. And they know it and that’s part of the game.”
This year’s free agent class of receivers looks especially strong, though some of the biggest names are candidates for the franchise tag. Green Bay Packers receiver Davante Adams might be the top player, regardless of position, and Chris Godwin of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Mike Williams of the Los Angeles Chargers, Allen Robinson of the Chicago Bears and Odell Beckham Jr. of the Los Angeles Rams also will be on the market.
In the draft, Ohio State teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, USC’s Drake London and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks are among the potential first-round picks.
The Lions will have three of the first 34 picks in the draft, including the No. 2 overall selection, the Rams’ first-round pick at either 31 or 32, and the second pick of the second round.
Randel El said he still believes Benson can develop into a regular contributor and that Cephus has flashed the ability to be a dominant outside receiver, but that won’t preclude the Lions from aggressively trying to upgrade at the position.
“It’ll be interesting,” Randel El said. “And like I said, they already know, we’re going to be searching for a guy that can go in and help our offense put this ball down the field and really be a guy that we can — I shouldn’t say just throw it up, but we know, backside X, they’re going to roll the coverage to St. Brown on the front side, we know we can get man one-on-one on the back side, let’s get that ball over there knowing he’s going to win. So that’s the idea behind it.”