The Detroit Lions are in an interesting position when it comes to WR. Lets take a look at their history and upcoming options in this years NFL Draft.
Over the past few years, it has been agonizing watching electric wide receivers get drafted. It was easy to see these players would be excellent professional football players capable of generating incredible production for the teams that selected them.
In the draft, wide receivers are like the shiny toys everyone wants. Recently, it has felt like I’m watching my brother open the most fantastic stuff for his birthday while I tear into a pair of socks and some underwear. Even though I desperately needed socks and underwear, I wanted a receiver or two.
The Lions, like me in the above scenario, needed to set the proper foundation before adding the shiny pieces. The Lions were not in the right situation as a franchise to take a wide receiver early; in fact, it would have been detrimental in the long term to do so. It was in their best interests to build out from the trenches on offense and defense.
The last time the Detroit Lions selected a wide receiver earlier than Round 4 was in 2017 when they grabbed Northern Illinois’ Kenny Golladay in the third round. Since then, they have taken three receivers, all late-round players.
The Lions grabbed Travis Fulgham (Old Dominion) in Round 6 in 2019 and Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin) in Round 5 in 2020. Last year, first-year general manager Brad Holmes selected Amon-Ra St. Brown in Round 4.
St. Brown finished the 2021 season playing and producing at an incredibly high level, and at this early stage, it looks like Holmes crushed that pick. However, the Lions were missing other offensive pieces when St. Brown went on his late-season tear, and, likely, he will not see the heavy target volume going forward that made him produce the way he did late in the 2021 season.
Cephus is still a part of the organization, but Holmes did not draft him, and it is not all that clear where he fits with the Lions as they move into the 2022 season and beyond. Injuries have stunted his ability to produce on the field, but talent is there.
What are the Lions options?
It is unclear whether the Lions will select a receiver early in the 2022 draft. They still have enough holes elsewhere that ignoring the receiver position makes sense. One thing to consider is they are in significantly better shape at the position than they were a year ago when they waited until Round 4 to draft St. Brown.
They added free-agent-to-be Josh Reynolds during the season, and he seemed to be a catalyst for better play from quarterback Jared Goff. Reynolds could return to the Lions in free agency, and there is some expectation they add more during the free-agency period.
In early February, receivers coach Antwaan Randle El commented that while he wanted Reynolds (and Khalif Raymond) back, he was eager to see the Lions add several players through the draft and another in free agency. He made it clear he wants the group to be more competitive, which will help all of them.
Whether Randle El gets his wish is another story. Another part of this conversation is nuanced and probably best saved for another time, whether they are drafting receivers for Jared Goff, or another quarterback. Goff requires specific things from receivers (see above as to Josh Reynolds unlocking some stuff for him). For now, we are going to ignore that element.
2022 NFL WR Draft Prospects
Let’s look at the grouping of players available to them at certain points in the draft. There’s an assumption that they will not be trading up from pick 32 for a receiver, so a large group is likely gone before they pick. That group includes Treylon Burks (Arkansas), Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), and Drake London (USC), not necessarily in that order.
Jameson Williams (Alabama) might fall due to the ACL tear he suffered late in the season. Chris Olave (Ohio State) may be available, and he is a very detailed route runner capable of winning to all areas of the field. Jahan Dotson (Penn State) is the definition of twitchy, showcasing the ability to separate quickly and showing how difficult he is to cover.
The opportunity to select a high-level receiver will present itself. The Detroit Lions might get themselves a steal at pick 32 or 34. Again, they may not take a receiver here for the reasons detailed above, but there are likely to be several excellent prospects available.
Interestingly, in this area of the draft, excellent college players fall due to size concerns or speed-related issues. Very productive players are always available in this part of the draft. Both Olave and Dotson are smaller, and these uber-productive types that do not check every box tend to be the ones that fall to the late-first round.
Last year, Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman and Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore fell to this area of the draft. In 2020, both Tee Higgins (Tennessee) and Michael Pittman (USC) fell into Round 2. In 2019, Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) and A.J. Brown (Ole Miss) were available to start the second round.
First Round WR Stock
I see those six players as the first-round options this year. I would add Purdue’s David Bell as he feels like the kind of player a team will get in this range. Players like Bell seem to fall for various reasons. I would pencil him in as the 2022 version of the player we all will question how we missed it with him when we look back in a few years.
I understand I may be higher on Bell than others. Bell is the kind of player that some overlook, a player who might not test all that well at the Combine. Not fast enough, not quick enough, etc., but a player who will show up in training camp and start to make plays only to produce at a high level in the NFL for a long time.
If I am the general manager of the Detroit Lions, I am likely tearing a hamstring running to the phone if Olave or Dotson is available when the Lions are on the clock with pick No. 32. Like, ripping the muscle off the bone! I think they can wait overnight on Bell, and I think he brings value at pick No. 34.
Detroit Lions Draft Day 2
There are multiple options for the Lions on the draft’s second day. The Lions hold their pick (No. 66 overall) and the pick they received from the Rams (No. 98 overall). There will be options for the Lions if they pass on the position with their first three picks.
Interestingly, a bunch of excellent prospects who would likely have been in the conversation to be late first-round picks are going to come off the board in Round 2 and Round 3. George Pickens (Georgia) was one of the more exciting prospects in the class looking at it two years ago, but an ACL tear took away his opportunity to show his abilities in 2021.
Justyn Ross (Clemson) has a lengthy injury history. An ugly neck condition forced him to miss the 2020 season, requiring fusion surgery. It would not surprise to see him fall because of his medicals. He is a very talented player and would have been one of the better players in this class if not for his neck condition.
John Metchie III (Alabama) tore his ACL in the SEC Championship game. It is a massive blow to a player already considered a touch limited. Metchie might finish as a strong No. 2 option down the road, but his injury is a blow to his draft stock.
Detroit Lions Round 3
Several more players are in range for the Lions in the Round 3 range. A few worth mentioning this far out are Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama) and Christian Watson (North Dakota State). Tolbert is fast enough. He will make his money in the NFL with his smooth footwork and quickness in and out of his breaks.
Watson is super intriguing and brings legit sub 4.50 40-yards dash speed while measuring 6’4” and 211 pounds. He had a fantastic week at the 2022 Senior Bowl and made money for himself with his performance during practices.
Interestingly, Tolbert and Watson were at the Senior Bowl. The Lions coached and got a jump-start on the draft process. Staying with the Senior Bowl, multiple players stood out and could fit the Lions as the draft rolls on.
Romeo Doubs (Nevada) brings good size to the position and can play outside at the NFL level. Doubs could be a Round 4 or Round 5 player. Calvin Austin (Memphis) has world-class speed, but he is tiny and will not help as a blocker. I would guess Austin to be a Round 4 or Round 5 option.
An Interesting Option for the Lions
If we are looking for speed, staying in the state and targeting Western Michigan’s Skyy Moore is intriguing. He should run in the low 4.3’s in the 40-yard dash, and he has serious lateral quickness too. However, he is small and might be limited to playing out of the slot, but that speed is impressive.
The Lions look for a type, as evidenced by what Holmes said about their process to get to St. Brown in the 2021 NFL draft. They will find players who will work, players who fit their culture, and physically talented players. It will be fascinating to see when they select a receiver, if they choose to do so.