NFL prospects: Replacing Johnson tall order, not overwhelming

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Josh Doctson

Indianapolis — If Calvin Johnson retires, the Lions will need to try to fill his void in the draft, but three of the top receivers available said they wouldn’t feel extra pressure if they had to replace the superstar.

Of course, like many Lions fans, young wide receivers at the NFL combine hope they’d have the chance to play with Johnson if Detroit drafts them.

“You can’t replace Calvin Johnson, but playing with an elite receiver like that would be surreal,” said TCU’s Josh Doctson, who has a formal interview with the Lions Friday night. “I’d definitely learn a lot from that guy.”

The Lions will be looking to add wide receivers this offseason, both in free agency and the draft. Currently, TJ Jones is in line to be the No. 3 receiver, but he has just 10 career catches. And if Johnson retires, the need would increase tenfold.

Corey Coleman of Baylor and Laquon Treadwell of Ole Miss are considered the top receivers in the draft and could be available at No. 16. Doctson, Ohio State’s Michael Thomas and Notre Dame’s Will Fuller are receivers who have first-round potential, too.

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The Lions need help at defensive tackle, offensive line, safety and linebacker, but if Johnson retires, there will be a huge void at receiver with Golden Tate and Jones the only two on the team.

“Those are big shoes to fill, but I never turn down a challenge, and I’m going to be ready to compete and help the team win,” said Thomas, who has a formal meeting with the Lions Friday night.

The 6-foot-2 Doctson and 6-foot-3 Thomas are among the top big receivers if the Lions look for someone who resembles Johnson physically.

“I don’t think there’d be much added pressure,” Doctson said of replacing Johnson. “There’s pressure here to be at the combine. I’m not going to let it get to me. There’s pressure when I walk out the front door every day.”

If the Lions wait until the middle rounds, someone like 6-foot Malcolm Mitchell from Georgia could be a target, and he said there’d be no pressure in following Johnson.

“I don’t use the word pressure because it’s always an opportunity, so it would be a great opportunity to go in and try to fill those shoes,” he said. “That’s a big shoe to fill for anybody, but no pressure. You’ve just got to be prepared.”