Antwaan Randle El wanted “a guy” this offseason. Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes went out and got him two.
Randle El, the Lions’ second-year wide receivers coach, lobbied for a major makeover to his receiver room this offseason and Holmes obliged, signing DJ Chark to a one-year deal in free agency and trading up to get Jameson Williams in the draft.
“Let me say this: I’m (done) opening my mouth and giving you guys stuff to write about,” Randle El joked before the Lions’ final open practice of organized team activities on Monday. “No, but we did a good job in terms of the picks that we made and going out and getting Chark, so we’re well on our way and enjoying it and made our room much more competitive, for sure.”
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Chark should open the fall as the Lions’ No. 1 outside threat after his 2021 season with the Jacksonville Jaguars was shortened by a foot injury.
He made the Pro Bowl with a career-high 73 catches in 2019, but has played just 16 games the past two years.
Williams could miss the start of the season as he recovers from the torn ACL he suffered in Alabama’s national championship game loss to Georgia, but was widely regarded as one of the top receivers in the draft.
Both players add speed to the position, something the Lions lacked last year.
“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. Like they’re there, but at the same time, that defensive line is coming off and trying to get to the quarterback, so the focus is how fast you can get from Point A to Point B and be in the proper space where you need to be, and that speed matters a lot.”
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The Lions had one of the NFL’s most anemic passing games for most of last season, though the offense played better after a change in play callers the second half of the year.
Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged as a bona fide receiving threat — he had 51 catches for 560 yards and five touchdowns in the Lions’ final six games — but Randle El said at the Senior Bowl in February the group need more.
“You always want to have ‘a guy,’ so to speak,” Randle El said at the time. “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 any way, but that’s what we need to be able to complement (the guys we have).”
On Monday, Randle El said he “said something I probably shouldn’t have” at the Senior Bowl, though he acknowledged the Lions added the type of game-changer he wanted at the position in Williams.
The No. 12 pick of the draft, Williams averaged nearly 20 yards a catch in his lone season at Alabama and likely would have gone higher if not for the injury.
Randle El said he considered Williams the premier receiver in the draft, and echoed the organization’s stance that they plan to take things slow with Williams in his rehab.
“Smart kid in the classroom, knows ball and gets excited about ball every day,” Randle El said. “You can just talk about how the clouds look and the trees and all that, he’s just kind of looking at you like you’re crazy but the minute you get to talking about football he kind of sits up in his seat and wants to know, like wants more. Give me more, give me more. And that’s the kind of excitement you get from veterans who’ve been in the league for a while. You’re getting it from a rookie and it’s good to see.”
Randle El said he did not think the Lions had a realistic chance of landing Williams going into the draft but “I was really excited when I got him cause the kid can play for sure.”
Once Williams gets back on the field, the Lions should have a deep and diverse receiving corps.
Along with St. Brown, they return Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond, and Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson and Tom Kennedy are among others competing for roster spots.
Randle El said his expectation has not changed for his receivers this season, but “the room is much more competitive.”
“And that’s what you want,” he said. “You want your room to be competitive. That’s one of the things I spoke about in the offseason I probably shouldn’t have, but competitiveness is what you want cause it’s a bone. Let’s go get it. Who’s going to come out on top? And not just about going up and catching the ball, but who’s getting the right blocks and running the right routes to free another guy open, so all that stuff ties in together.”
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.
Key Lions dates this offseason:
June 14-16: Organized team activities.
July 26: Training camp opens.
Aug. 12: Exhibition opener vs. Falcons.
Sept. 11: Regular-season opener vs. Eagles.