Mobile, Ala. — Detroit Lions wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El is greedy and he’s not afraid to admit it. Heading into the offseason, he’s hopeful general manager Brad Holmes will provide a fresh batch of talent for the corps.
How much talent? Randle El would like to see the team draft two players and sign a third in free agency, significantly bolstering the competition at the position.
“I’m always trying to push. I’m pushing. I was pushing last year and it was like, (screeching noise),” Randle El said, laughing. “Ok, all right, we got one and he was good.”
That one, Amon-Ra St. Brown, quickly developed into Detroit’s go-to option, breaking the franchise’s rookie records for receptions and receiving yards. He’s a foundational piece, but it’s easy to see the Lions need more after whiffing on Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman in free agency last year.
That conversation potentially starts with bringing back a couple of players on expiring deals, particularly midseason waiver claim Josh Reynolds. In seven games with Detroit, he caught 19 passes for 306 yards and two scores.
But clearly St. Brown, Reynolds and the returning Quintez Cephus isn’t going to be enough. And even with St. Brown’s second-half emergence, Randle El will tell you what he’s told his players, he still doesn’t feel like he has the clear go-to option.
“You always want to have a guy, so to speak, that guy, we’re throwing to him, we don’t care who is covering what, we know he can go up and get that,” Randle El said. “My guys know we haven’t had that guy yet. So it’s nothing new to them. It’s not a slap to them or a jab at them in any way. That’s what we need to complement not just Amon-Ra, because I felt like ‘Q’ was really taking some strides before he got hurt.”
Specially, Randle El said the team needs a backside X receiver, the guy who is out wide, opposite the tight end, who can take advantage of man-coverage situations created by the defensive attention St. Brown and T.J. Hockenson are expected to get going forward.
“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 just say throw it up, … but we know we can get man (coverage) one-on-one on the backside, let’s get that ball over there, knowing he’s going to win. That’s the idea behind it,” he said.
The Lions are getting an early look at some of the college prospects at the Senior Bowl, and Randle El likes the group he’s been coaching, but he said he has yet to see enough from the guys down to hear to definitively say they could be the solution to his problem.
The free-agency market figures to be flush with premier options, but none will come cheap. Davante Adams, Chris Godwin, Mike Williams and Odell Beckham Jr. all figure to command huge deals if they’re not franchised by their current clubs. And in the midst of a rebuild, the Lions are probably better off signing a second-level option and focusing on building through the draft.
Early in the draft, the Lions will be picking twice between picks Nos. 31 and 36. None of the top options projected to be drafted early in this class are at the Senior Bowl. That group includes Ohio State standouts Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, USC’s Drake London, Alabama’s Jameson Williams and Arkansas’ Treylon Burks.
More than any physical tool, Holmes is looking to add more of the characteristics that made St. Brown a cultural fit for the organization.
“Well, look, I think it’s very evident what kind of team we have,” Holmes said. “It’s a tough, gritty group that’s about perseverance, whether it’s wide receiver, whether it’s defensive perimeter or skill in the back, whatever it is.
“When we drafted a receiver, it was him. It was him because he fit what we’re all about. He’s a gritty, tough, physical player. He is explosive, he does reach those core traits we’re looking for. He’s smart, he’s physical, he’s instinctive, he’s relentless and he is explosive. So he’s a good fit.”