Receiver, tight end both need Lions’ attention in draft
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 and tight ends
■Current roster: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Bradley Marquez, Jace Billingsley, Andy Jones, Dontez Ford, Luke Willson, Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo, Hakeem Valles, Brandon Barnes
■Top prospects: Hayden Hurst, Dallas Goedert
■Day 2 options: Goedert, Mike Gesicki, Mark Andrews, Ian Thomas, Michael Gallup, Anthony Miller
■Late-round fits: Tyler Conklin, Jordan Akins, Richie James
■Short-term tight end need: Seven out of 10
■Long-term tight end need: 10 out of 10
■Short-term wide receiver need: One out of 10
■Long-term wide receiver need: Seven out of 10
■Analysis: When it comes to being set at a position, at least for the 2018 season, the Lions might not be in better shape at a spot more than wide receiver. The team returns its top-four options from a year ago — a highly successful group led by the tandem of Marvin Jones and Golden Tate and supplemented by the rapidly developing Kenny Golladay and steadily improving TJ Jones.
The opposite could be said about Detroit’s tight ends, a group that was overhauled this offseason. The team parted ways with former first-round pick Eric Ebron after four seasons, and Darren Fells, who played more than 500 offensive snaps in 2017, signed with the Cleveland Browns in free agency.
The retooled room will feature free-agent additions Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo, paired with Michael Roberts, a fourth-round draft pick last year. How the trio will produce is left to projection, since none of have caught more than 17 passes in a season the past three.
A longer-term outlook shows there are significant needs at both positions. At tight end, both Willson and Toilolo are working on one-year deals. If they meet or exceed expectations, they, like Fells, could be primed for a pay raise the Lions might not want to pay.
At wide receiver, a decision on Golden Tate looms. He’s entering the final season of a five-year pact he signed in 2014. In his first four campaigns, he’s been the model of consistency, catching at least 90 passes each year. But he’ll be 31 at the start of his next contract and is in line for a significant raise.
Are the Lions prepared to commit $12 million or so per season to Tate for the next three or four years? If the Lions draft a receiver anywhere in the first three rounds, it would be safe to suggest we have the answer to that question.
It wouldn’t be a popular pick, at least not initially, but drafting someone like Colorado’s Michael Gallup in the second round — a versatile option who can line up in the slot — would allow the Lions’ receiver corps to remain dynamic, even if they move on from Tate.
A more traditional slot option on Day 2 would be Memphis’ Anthony Miller. Shifty and productive (191 receptions and 22 touchdowns the past two years), he could offer the Lions some of the missed tackles and yards after the catch that have made Tate some effective.
But while addressing wide receiver can’t be ruled out, the need at tight end is more pressing. It’s not likely to be a position the Lions seriously consider in the opening round, but is in play as early as the second, especially if Dallas Goedert is still on the board.
And if the Lions are looking for more of an F-type tight end, a matchup piece who is more of a receiver than a blocker (essentially replacing Ebron in the offensive scheme), Mike Gesicki carries all the appeal in the world.
The sure-handed target averaged more than 50 catches at Penn State the past two seasons and posted one of the most athletic combine performance at his position in the history of the event.
With glaring needs in the trenches and the understandable attention given to improving the ground game with any number of options in this deep class of running backs, the idea of adding a pass-catchers has been pushed to the background. But general manager Bob Quinn has shown a willingness to think long-term with his early-round picks, exhibited most recently with last year’s selection of cornerback Teez Tabor in the second round. For that reason alone, we can’t rule out the same approach with wide receivers or tight ends this year.