It's no secret that Matt Millen has a fetish for wide receivers. Ever since he drafted Charles Rogers with the second overall pick of the 2003 draft, Millen has become the butt of many jokes for his love for the pass-catchers. That became more evident in 2004 when he drafted Roy Williams, and then in 2005 when he selected Mike Williams. Finally, his love affair added another WR to the Lions in last year's draft when Calvin Johnson was picked second overall.
The repetitive picks made by Millen have resulted in 2 complete busts as Mike Williams and Charles Rogers aren't even on an NFL team right now and Rogers probably won't be ever again. Roy Williams has turned out to be a very good receiver, but his time in Detroit may be coming to an end as well. How C.J. turns out as an NFL player is left to be seen, but hopefully Millen goes 2 for 4 in his WR draft picks.
For the 2008 edition of the Lions, wide receiver is probably the strongest position on this team. At the top of the depth chart there are two big-time pass-catchers in Roy and C.J., but even at the bottom there are two dependable guys in Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald. Both are receivers that will make a catch and then pick up yardage on the run once they get the ball. They really are the perfect slot receivers, and Jon Kitna loved to throw the ball in their direction this past season.
As of right now, zero changes are needed with the current group of receivers. However, in the future that won't be the case. Roy Williams is scheduled to be a free agent after the 2008 season and may want to find a new team, specifically one in his home state of Texas. As noted before on this blog, he has publicly said he wants to be a Lion beyond next season, but to me that is just Roy being politically correct. What else can he say? The whole contract situation the Lions are facing with Williams will have to be worked out down the road, but losing him would be tough to swallow. I'm not going to write off his return completely just yet, but I would be surprised to see him in a Lions uniform in 2009.
Regardless of what happens with Roy Williams in the future, he will be the starter next season and will likely be an even better player than before considering he is in a contract year. Moving down the depth chart after Roy, we now find Calvin Johnson. Megatron, as his teammates call him, is entering his second season in the NFL and will look to improve upon a solid rookie season. There are some people out there that will say he didn't live up to the hype, but a back injury against the Eagles early on last season really slowed down his development.
The one thing I like about C.J. the most is his ability to make a big catch at crucial times. We got to see quite a few spectacular catches from Johnson last season, and one of them is actually what gave him that nagging back injury. Once he returned to full strength later in the year, he made a play against the Giants that still sticks out in my mind. With time running out in the fourth quarter and the Lions trailing, Jon Kitna threw up a pass to the endzone to Johnson. With two defenders on him, C.J. made the spectacular catch for the score, putting Detroit back in the game and giving them a chance to win. If he can stay healthy all season, I'm going to bet he has a breakout year.
The two overlooked receivers on this team, Mike Furrey and Shaun McDonald, really do contribute quite a bit to the success of the Lions passing game. As mentioned already, both are able to rack up yards after the catch (YAC), which is a stat every coach likes to have his team excel in. Furrey is a possession type of receiver that will make the tough catches in traffic, and McDonald is the speedster that will just run you up and down the field. His specialty is making the catch on a curl route and then basically running a circle around the defender to create space to run upfield. The move is very effective and as I already said, really racks up the YAC.
Moving to the very bottom of the depth chart, you will find many names depending on what time of the year it is. During training camp there are usually 5 or more guys fighting it out to get one of those final spots on on the WR depth chart and most of the time each of them joins the roster throughout the course of a season. Devale Ellis was the winner of that training camp battle last year and played well when he was on the field. Towards the end of the year, though, Brandon Middleton got some playing time and also looked good.
As far as the need for more receivers goes, I would rate it a 1 on a scale of 1-10 (1 being not at all; 10 being need someone immediately). Detroit has its top 4 guys set in stone for next season and after that you can just insert someone in as the 5th WR. Sure, if Roy Williams makes his exit from the Lions after next season a new #1 will have to be found, but hopefully by that time Megatron will be ready to step up to the plate as the Lions' premier pass-catcher should Roy leave. Other than that situation, the wide receiver position for the Lions as of right now is perfect.