Lions 2019 draft preview: Team has room to upgrade wide receiver corps
Allen Park — Over the next several days, leading up to the NFL draft, we’re taking a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions’ roster and evaluating how the team might address each position. Today: wide receivers.
► Current roster: Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola, Tommylee Lewis, Brandon Powell, Andy Jones, Chris Lacy, Brandon Reilly, Deontez Alexander.
► Short-term need: Three out of 10
► Long-term need: Seven out of 10
► Top prospects: D.K.Metcalf, Marquise Brown, A.J.Brown
► Mid-round options: Deebo Samuel, N’Keal Harry, Hakeem Butler
► Late-round fits: Andy Isabella, Darius Slayton, Keelan Doss
You could have made a strong argument the Lions entered the 2018 campaign with the NFL’s best trio of receivers. But by year’s end, the position group was one of the roster’s biggest weaknesses.
At midseason, the Lions made the decision to trade Golden Tate. It was a difficult choice, one that weakened the team’s postseason aspirations in the moment, but it was still probably the right call from the long-term outlook.
In exchange for Tate, the Lions got back the Philadelphia Eagles’ third-round choice (No. 88 overall), replacing the third-rounder the team had shipped to the Patriots last year to move up and select defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand. That’s top-tier compensation for a 30-year-old slot receiver on an expiring deal.
To make matters worse, after dealing Tate, Marvin Jones suffered a season-ending injury two weeks later.
The silver lining from last season's tribulations was the development of Kenny Golladay. The former third-round pick built on his promising rookie campaign, showcasing more versatility by routinely working out of the slot, and even proving capable of handling the pressure of being the No. 1 option in the passing game after Tate’s departure and Jones’ injury.
Golladay and Jones return this season and will be partnered with veteran free-agent addition Danny Amendola. He’s averaged close to 50 receptions the past six seasons and brings an understanding of coach Matt Patricia’s expectations given the pair’s five-year overlap in New England.
The Lions also added Tommylee Lewis to the mix, but he’s more of a projection, having never caught more than 10 passes in a season.
At 33, and on a one-year deal, it’s fair to say Amendola is a stopgap solution. There’s still room upgrade the roster immediately with a prospect who could be developed to have a bigger role in 2020. That’s not likely to be a first-round priority for the Lions, even though D.K. Metcalf’s freakish combine showing have him being mentioned as a potential top-10 selection by some analysts.
But on Day 2, a receiver would make sense. And there are plenty of different types of pass catchers who could be available to Detroit in the second and third rounds, depending on what new coordinator Darrell Bevell envisions for the offense.
South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel is a well-built, tough slot receiver who has the ability to do some serious damage after the catch. That would help the Lions replace what had been lost after trading Tate. And if Detroit is interested in adding more size to the mix, Iowa State’s Hakeem Butler is a fascinating prospect, a 6-foot-6 target who is just as comfortable lining up inside as he is outside.
In the later rounds, quick slot receivers like Andy Isabella and Penny Hart figure to be available, while a field-stretching deep threat like Auburn’s Darius Slayton could be enticing to help draw safety attention away from Detroit's desire to run the ball.
While more focus this offseason has been on how the Lions would revamp the tight end position, the team has had work to do at receiver as well. Adding Amendola partially solved the problem, but general manager Bob Quinn has the opportunity to give Matthew Stafford even more support through the draft as the quarterback looks to rebound from one of the worst years of his career.