Niyo: Ask, and you will receive: Lions’ Antwaan Randle El happy with his haul

Detroit News

Allen Park — Antwaan Randle El, the Detroit Lions’ receivers coach, doesn’t regret sharing his offseason wish list with his players this past winter.

He says his only mistake, in hindsight, was sharing it with the media, telling reporters at the Senior Bowl in early February exactly what he’d told those in his own meeting room. Everyone knew the Lions were looking to upgrade the receiver position entering 2022, but Randle El went ahead and spelled it out.

“I said, ‘I’m trying to draft two and bring in one,’ because it’s going to be some competition,” Randle El explained at the time. “So they’re expecting that.”

But shortly after he’d put that out there, Randle El figured he should probably let general manager Brad Holmes know about it.

“I kind of brought it up to him, like, ‘Look, man, I probably said something I shouldn’t have,’” Randle El recalled with a laugh Monday, as the Lions began their final week of offseason training in Allen Park. “So lemme say this: I’m gonna stop opening my mouth and giving you guys stuff to write about.”

I’ll say this: That’s neither likely nor encouraged. And I’ll add that Randle El actually was surprised to learn Monday we’d already gotten another candid look at his feelings last week when the Lions’ own website released a new behind-the-scenes video of the team’s NFL draft experience.

In it, we see some of the machinations as Holmes engineered a trade with the Minnesota Vikings to move up in the first round to select Alabama receiver Jameson Williams at No. 12 overall. And shortly after the drama ends — New Orleans traded up to No. 11, but opted to draft Ohio State’s Chris Olave instead — we hear yelling in the hallway. Then the door to the Lions’ draft war room opens and in comes Randle El, offering handshakes and hugs all around. On his way back out, he shouts, “I ain’t gonna bother y’all the rest of the day!”

“Oh, they showed it?” Randle said Monday, his voice dropping almost to a whisper. “Well, you saw I was excited, so there you go.”

And, well, that’s sort of the message now. Randle El made his list, Holmes checked it twice, and now, if all goes according to plan, we’re going to find out what Jared Goff and this offense really are capable of this fall. Because the offseason upgrades at the receiver position have been substantial.

The veteran addition in free agency was Jacksonville’s DJ Chark, the big-bodied ‘X’ who ideally will provide everything that Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman couldn’t last season. (The Lions also re-signed their own free agents in Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond.)

And while Holmes didn’t take two receivers in the draft, he did use two picks to acquire Williams, an elite playmaker who was the top pass-catcher on the Lions’ board even though he’s coming off a torn ACL suffered in January’s national title game.

Both players fit the missing-person profile that Randle El sketched back in February when they talked about the need to find “that guy.” Ditto new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson, who said at the NFL scouting combine in early March he was looking for an outside receiver “who can win consistently one-on-one, whether that’s a big guy with a lot of strength and size or a guy with elite quickness or speed.”

Or both, preferably. Chark, who made the Pro Bowl a few years ago with a 1,000-yard season for the Jaguars, is 6-foot-4 with a 40-inch vertical and ran a 4.34-second 40-yard dash coming out of college in 2018. Meanwhile, the 6-1, 180-pound Williams isn’t shy about his own blazing ability, telling reporters after the draft, “I would have run the fastest 40.” And not just at this year’s combine, either.

Ever,” he added.

The timing of his injury means Lions fans won’t be able to see for themselves until October, perhaps. But “he’s a weapon for sure when he’s ready to go,” said Goff, whose reluctance to throw deep last season — he ranked 33rd among NFL quarterbacks in intended air yards per attempt — certainly had something to do with the limited downfield options.

“Speed is always a big deal, especially in this league,” Randle El said. “How fast can you get from Point A to Point B, before that defensive line gets to your quarterback. I tell my guys all the time, ‘That’s what you’re up against.’ You’re not up against the DBs. I mean, they’re there, but at the same time, that defensive line is coming off and trying to get to the quarterback. … So that speed matters a lot. It goes a long way.”

Same goes for the competitive fire that these new additions should stoke, as a position group that lacked depth as well as top-end talent last summer now promises to be one of the more intriguing training camp battles in six weeks or so.

Williams probably won’t be ready yet, but there’s a reliable trio of likely starters in Chark and Reynolds — the former Rams target whose midseason arrival helped spark Goff’s strong finish — and last year’s rookie star, Amon-Ra St. Brown, a player Randle El expects to be even better this fall than he was in a 90-catch debut.

“We brought DJ in, we brought Jameson, but Saint’s the guy,” the Lions’ assistant said. “That’s the dude.”

The other dudes have impressed in OTAs, though. Quintez Cephus seems to have picked up where he left off before suffering a broken collarbone last fall, Raymond’s work ethic and versatility are on display daily, and Trinity Benson — acquired from Denver at the end of preseason last August — no longer looks lost in the shuffle this spring. Throw in Tom Kennedy and a few undrafted rookies in Kalil Pimpleton (CMU), Corey Sutton and Josh Johnson, and there’s “no question the room is more competitive,” Randle El says.

“And that’s what you want,” he added, smiling again. “That’s one of the things I spoke about in the offseason that I probably shouldn’t have. But competitiveness is definitely what you want.”

It’s also what you get, apparently, so long as you ask.

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