Lions might not pass on receiver with first-round pick
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’ll take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster situation and evaluate how the team might address these positions during the event. Today: Wide receivers.
Current roster: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin, Andrew Turzilli and Ryan Spadola
Top prospects: Mike Williams, Corey Davis, John Ross
Mid-round fits: Isaiah Ford, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Taywan Taylor
Late-round options: Quincy Adeboyejo, Kenny Golladay, Carlos Henderson, Amara Darboh
Short-term need: 6 on a 1-to-10 scale
Long-term need: 8 on a 1-to-10 scale
Analysis: For the first time since Titus Young was a rookie in 2011, the Detroit Lions had three reliable wide receivers last season. Tate, Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin each caught at least 55 balls, combining for 2,591 yards and 16 scores. That’s quality production from the Calvin Johnson-less corps.
Tate and Jones are back in the fold, while Boldin is a free agent and both sides are exploring their options heading into the veteran’s 15th season. The Lions have been thoroughly scouting this draft class and if they snag a receiver in the first two days, Boldin’s days in Detroit are likely numbered.
After spending big to land Jones in free agency last year, general manager Bob Quinn still has some work to do at the position.
Tate and Jones are both probably high-end No. 2 options, but paired together, it’s workable. Stylistically, their differences complement each other. Jones can stretch the field and exhibits outstanding fluidity and body control to haul in deep throws. Tate remains at his best close to the line of scrimmage, where he can take a quick, short pass and quickly turn it into a sizable gain with elite elusiveness.
But the Lions need a third option, and it wouldn’t be all together shocking to see the team address that vacancy as early as the first round if one of the top receivers fell to pick 21.
Depending on who you ask, the best prospect in the class is either Clemson’s Mike Williams or Western Michigan’s Corey Davis. Williams brings the height and length on the outside the Lions lost when Johnson called it a career. And at 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, Davis also offers plenty of size to go with absurd college production. He finished as the NCAA’s all-time leader in receiving yardage.
And John Ross can’t be ignored. A consistent big-play threat for Washington, the speedster broke the combine record with a 4.22-second 40-yard dash. Imagine the underneath space Ross and Jones could create for Tate, Theo Riddick and Eric Ebron just by running vertical routes.
In the second and third rounds, there will be plenty of options; it’s simply a matter of what kind of type of receiver you’d like to add.
Ford gives you a proven vertical threat, Godwin has a tantalizing size/speed combo and Smith-Schuster can use his wide frame to his advantage both outside and in the slot, similar to the way Boldin has operated in recent years.
In the later rounds, the Lions have looked closely at multiple options, including the speedy Adeboyejo and physical Golladay, who racked up 18 touchdowns over the past two seasons for Northern Illinois.
While the Lions are making every effort to improve their ground game this offseason, the fact remains, as long as Matthew Stafford is under center, this will be a pass-first offense. Giving the franchise quarterback weapons always will be a priority and with only Jones locked up beyond 2018, it’s time to restock the cupboard.