Even if Calvin Johnson doesn’t retire, the Lions will be in the market for a wide receiver in April’s draft. And if Johnson does retire, the need will increase significantly.
According to NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock, the top of the 2016 class of receivers isn’t as good as it’s been the past few years. But he said there could be mid-round options that could contribute immediately in the NFL.
If the Lions choose a receiver with their first pick at No. 16, Mayock said the only two guys in the conversation right now would be Laquon Treadwell from Ole Miss and Corey Coleman from Baylor.
Treadwell won’t run the 40-yard dash at the combine this week, but Coleman should be one of the faster guys in the event.
“They’re completely different conversations,” Mayock said. “Treadwell is 6-2, 210 pounds, kind of a body-type receiver. I don’t think he’s a 4.4 guy at all. He’s got great hands, snatches the football, is aggressive in the air, will block. I don’t think he’s as explosive as some of the first-round picks at wideout that we’ve seen in the last few years. I would compare him more to (Alshon Jeffery).
“Whereas Corey Coleman is 5-11, 190, explosive. He’s probably going to run 4.45. He’s probably going to jump 43 inches, but he’s one of those guys that’s got a completely different gear down the field.”
Coleman was incredible for Baylor last season with 1,363 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns. Treadwell had 1,153 yards and 11 touchdowns, but looks like an NFL-ready player physically.
Behind them, there are some fringe first-round receivers — TCU’s Josh Doctson, Notre Dame’s Will Fuller and Ohio State’s Michael Thomas.
But, Mayock said there are some Day 2 or Day 3 prospects that could be intriguing for the Lions. Mayock said the strength of the wide receiver class is that it’s “solid” in the middle rounds. Considering the Lions need help at defensive tackle, offensive tackle, linebacker and safety, they might wait to target a receiver.
Mayock mentioned former Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller as a wide receiver who could go in the second round. Miller impressed with his quickness last month at the Senior Bowl.
In the third round, Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins could be an option. The 6-foot-2 Higgins had 1,750 yards and 17 touchdowns in 2014.
Beyond those receivers, Mayock listed Georgia’ Malcolm Mitchell, Illinois’ Geronimo Allison and Clemson’s Charone Peake as solid options in the later rounds this year.
Several wide receivers have impressed as rookies in recent years, and with Golden Tate the only proven receiver on the roster if Johnson retires, the Lions will hope to get some production if they draft one.
“I think it’s a solid class,” Mayock said. “I just don’t think it’s as explosive up top as it has been.”
Looking to the future
Mayock said he thinks most teams should draft a quarterback every two years. The Lions, meanwhile, haven’t taken one since selecting Matthew Stafford first overall in 2009.
With Dan Orlovsky a free agent, the Lions could change that draft record this year and add a developmental backup behind Stafford, and Mayock said teams in the quarterback market are looking for “the next Kirk Cousins.”
“Who’s that middle-round guy who can get you to the playoffs if he needed to start down the road?” Mayock said.
Some quarterbacks that could be late-round options, according to Mayock, are Stanford’s Kevin Hogan, Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, Mississippi State’s Dak Prescott, North Carolina State’s Jacoby Brissett, Ohio State’s Cardale Jones and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg.
With the Lions releasing Joique Bell this month, the team could also be looking for a running back. Because the Lions have a young backfield with Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner, they could look for a veteran in free agency.
If the Lions look for a power back in the draft, Mayock said Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise, who’s 6-foot and 220 pounds, could make sense. Mayock projects him as a fourth-round pick with good size, speed and upside.
“What I like about him is he was a wide receiver until this year and jumped in at tailback and looked completely natural at the position,” he said.