Life isn't fair. As Detroit Lions fans, we are all just tortured souls. I say "we," although I'm not supposed to. My job is to be professional, but this is different. Calvin Johnson, who is already one of the all-time greats in Lions history and a first-ballot Hall of Famer, is likely retiring from the National Football League. Even if you aren't a Lions fan, you might be a fan of the sport in general, which means at the very least you can appreciate what Calvin Johnson has accomplished during his professional career. He currently owns just about every Lions franchise record in the book for a wide receiver and holds some NFL records that may never be broken. Calvin Johnson is the epitome of what it means to be a professional athlete. He is a symbol of Detroit.
Calvin Johnson never complained. He said all of the right things and was never a distraction off the field. But what truly set Megatron apart from his peers is how serious he was about his craft. I was lucky enough to witness this in person several times at Ford Field, though it was when I made my first trip to Allen Park for Lions training camp that I was truly astounded. About 10 minutes into my very first live view of 7-on-7 drills, I saw a 30-year-old Megatron lay out for a diving grab, which led to audible "ooo"s and "ah"s from the fans.
No one was going to work harder than Calvin Johnson. He set the precedent for everyone on that field. So when I see people talking about how he "quit" or how his career was "wasted," I can't help but get angry at them for such an asinine remark. This poor man put his body on the line each and every day for this organization and was such a treat to watch. Sure, maybe he could have preserved his energy to play for another year or two, but that's not who he was. And that's what made Calvin Johnson so special.
So what will the Lions do now? First, let's get one thing straight.
The best thing you can do is try to add a couple of receivers through free agency or the NFL Draft to try and mitigate the pain, but there is no replacing Calvin Johnson, just like there was no replacing Barry Sanders.
I posed the question on Twitter to come up with your favorite list of free agent receivers, and I received mostly the same answers. In no particular order, here are some plausible WR options for the Lions in free agency.
Alshon Jeffery (age 26)
Career stats: 51 games, 252 receptions, 3728 yards, 24 touchdowns
*All estimated deals are via Spotrac
Analysis: Jeffery is going to be the most talked about free agent target for the Lions, whether you like it or not. He's also going to come at a fairly large price. I really like Jeffery, and it would be nice to steal a division rival's best receiver away, but I'm not so confident that this is the best move out there, considering the steep price.
The Lions' best move would be to land another bargain deal like they did with Golden Tate years ago. Hmm... maybe that deal could come from another Seattle receiver...
Jermaine Kearse (age 26)
Career stats: 53 games, 112 receptions, 1599 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: Like Tate, Jermaine Kearse is another Seahawk receiver that can be had at a fairly decent price. Kearse and Tate are also good friends outside of football and can compliment each other well on the field. Kearse offers some size (6-foot-1, 209 pounds) for the Lions on the outside and improved each year during his stint with the Seahawks.
Travis Benjamin (age 26)
Career stats: 54 games, 109 receptions, 1683 yards, 10 touchdowns
Analysis: What the Lions need more than anything right now is a deep threat. They have their short-yardage guys that can turn a small gain into a big one, but nobody that can truly stretch the field. Travis Benjamin might be the best deep threat FA out there, and he will come at a reasonable price. Prior to Josh Gordon's most recent suspension, Benjamin hadn't really had much of a role with the Browns. But once given the opportunity, Benjamin proved that he can serve as a viable No. 2 on any team.
As of now, it doesn't appear that the Browns will let Benjamin go easily, as they have been close to working out a deal for a few months now, but if the opportunity comes, I'd expect the Lions to make a run for him.
Marvin Jones (age 26)
Career stats: 43 games, 134 receptions, 1729 yards, 15 touchdowns
Analysis: Jones will likely come at a higher price than the previous two options, but he's still a much better bargain than going after Jeffery. Jones missed all of 2014 due to injury, but had very productive 2013 and 2015 seasons. Aside from Alshon, Marvin Jones is the tallest (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and maybe the most athletic player on this list. He has plenty of potential and can offer a lot to the Lions.
Laquon Treadwell (Ole Miss)
6-foot-3, 216 pounds (Junior)
You're going to see about 90 percent of mocks linking Laquon Treadwell to the Lions. It's unavoidable. I'm not sure if the Lions will actually address the receiver position as early as the first round, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out.
Treadwell is considered to be the consensus No. 1 receiver in this year's draft. Many have compared his style to Brandon Marshall.
- Quintessential build for the wide receiver position; plays even bigger than his size.
- Sloppy, but willing blocker that is out for blood. Going to get himself into some training camp fights.
- Does a great job of tracking the ball and adjusting mid-air; phenomenal body control and has a knack for catching the ball at its highest point.
- Catches the ball naturally with soft hands. Didn't witness many drops on tape.
- Very good after the catch despite lack of explosiveness/top-end speed. Impressive vision on screens for a tall receiver.
- Route-running was good, but needs refinement in some areas; wasn't asked to run the full route tree in Ole Miss' offense.
- Lacks desired top-end speed and explosiveness; not much of a burner.
- Needs to work on his blocking technique.
- Suffered a scary broken leg injury in 2014 and will need to pass medical exams
Treadwell's vision is truly something and his ability to set up blocks and pick up yards after the catch isn't something that's particularly common with receivers of his stature.
Leonte Carroo (Rutgers)
5-foot-11, 217 pounds (Senior)
If you follow me at all on Twitter, then you've probably caught me gushing about Leonte Carroo. He's one of my favorite WR prospects in this class, and if you take the time to watch him, you'll see why.
- Velcro hands. I don't think he's ever dropped anything in his entire life.
- Plays much bigger than his size. Good leaping ability and wins on contested throws; uses strong hands to pluck the ball out of the air consistently.
- Very strong receiver. Does a nice job of boxing out defenders, as well as freeing himself from press at the line of scrimmage.
- Runs crisp routes for the most part and knows the full route tree; has a knack for finding holes in zone-coverage.
- Good YAC ability.
- Lacks desired height and length for an outside receiver.
- Good, but not great athlete. Probably not going to top any workout lists at the combine.
- Can refine his route-running, especially when selling shorter routes.
- Arrested and charged for simple assault in domestic violence incident back in September of 2015. Was suspended indefinitely, but had suspension lifted after victim dropped charges. My sources tell me that Carroo was innocent, but if things don't check out for him, he may not be on the Lions' radar with Bob Quinn cracking down on domestic violence.
Carroo may have the best hands in this year's class.
De'Runnya Wilson (Mississippi State)
6-foot-4, 215 pounds (Junior)
I'm admittedly not a fan of this new "tall, big and slow" trend of wide receivers that's coming out of the woodworks (i.e. Kelvin Benjamin, Devin Funchess). De'Runnya Wilson is different to me. First, unlike KB and Funchess, he has hands attached to his wrist. Second, my gut tells me Wilson will test even better than those two. You can count me as a fan of his.
- He looks the part of today's new breed of larger WRs. Large catch radius with good body control and legitimate redzone threat.
- Deceptively quick and change of direction for his size that allows him to create a small window for himself.
- Uses giant frame and strength to box off defenders on short routes; reliable chain-mover.
- Tough to bring down and picks up plenty of yards after contact.
- Tenacious and willing run blocker
- Large frame and size comes with athletic limitations; obviously not going to run a 4.40 at the combine.
- Not much of a YAC guy; lacks elusiveness after the catch.
- Let a lot of passes into his body rather than catching with his hands.
- Arrested in March of 2015 for marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia and admitted to not being able to pass a drug test to the officer.
Wilson is no Megatron, but he does have the ability to make catches away from his body and help out Stafford when his throws are off-the-mark.
Other options in the draft
Tyler Boyd (Pittsburgh): Another one of my favorites and currently my top receiver in this class. He is a proverbial Swiss-Army knife that can line up anywhere on the field including slot, outside, RB and even threw a TD pass at one point.
Josh Doctson (TCU): Tall, but lanky. Needs to bulk up for the NFL, though that might be his only big negative. This kid has hops and is a brilliant redzone threat.
Will Fuller (Notre Dame): He's fast as hell with bricks for hands. Expect him to run in the 4.3 range at the combine.
Braxton Miller (Ohio State): Raw, but an elite athlete. Has loads of potential and might see his stock rise all the way into the first round. Put the ball in his hands and he's electric. Teams are going to fall in love with him.
Mike Thomas (Southern Miss): I highlighted him here a few weeks back. He may be the best receiver that no one is talking about and could be a steal in the mid-later rounds, should he be available. If he's invited to the combine, I expect his stock to soar.
Roger Lewis (Bowling Green): STUD. Lewis is going to be a gem in the NFL and was dominant in Bowling Green's offense. No one is talking about him right now because he declared as a Redshirt Sophomore, though it was the right move for him due to his age (22).
Aaron Burbridge (Michigan State): Burbridge is not an elite athlete and offers good, but not great size at the WR position. I like him as a move-the-chains type receiver and he also does a remarkable job of high-pointing the ball and bailed out Connor Cook plenty of times for Michigan State.
Malcolm Mitchell (Georgia): Only 5-foot-11, but possesses great straight-line speed and reportedly impressed during Senior Bowl practices. Can be a legitimate deep threat in the NFL.
Daniel Braverman (Western Michigan): Hey, we have Bob Quinn. All we need now are some white receivers. I kid... sort of. Braverman is actually really good and put up ridiculous numbers for Western Michigan's offense. He would look very good in the slot for the Lions.
Geronimo Allison (Illinois): Allison is tall, raw and didn't have the greatest of collegiate careers, mostly due to the fact that his QBs were awful, but he did earn some money during East/West Shrine Game week. He could be a nice project for the Lions.
Devon Cajuste (Stanford): Another big receiver that also impressed during East/West Shrine Game practices. Played a bit of tight end and receiver and may somewhat of a tweener right now. I could see him be a reliable chain-mover/redzone threat.