If you’re like me, the simple thought of the Detroit Lions selecting a receiver in the first round induces the early stages of nausea. My forehead begins to sweat, my stomach gurgles and my face feels flush. The ghost of Matt Millen is a persistent spirit and cannot be properly exorcised until the Lombardi is resting in the Motor City. Picking a first-round receiver will just never feel right, no matter the scenario.
But the Lions’ need for a receiver these days is undeniable. Their void at the position is not created by the departure of Calvin Johnson last year, but rather the uncertainty surrounding free agent Anquan Boldin, who has let Jim Caldwell know he will be returning in 2017, but has not decided on a team.
That leaves Detroit in a tough position. The Lions currently have eight receivers on the roster, but only two of them have proven to be legitimate starters in the NFL. Outside of Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate, all the Lions have is theoretical potential. T.J. Jones, Jace Billingsley and Jared Abbrederis possess all of the excitement that comes with youth and hope but bring none of the comfort from actual results. In reality, the Lions’ depth at wide receiver is shockingly bare.
There were a couple prominent mock drafts last week that took notice of this talent deficiency and took the bold steps of fixing it early in the draft. Take a look.
The Ringer’s Danny Kelly selects WR Corey Davis from Western Michigan in the first round
This is a shocking pick on so many levels. First and foremost, Corey Davis is expected to be gone before the Lions pick at 21. There is disagreement whether Davis, Clemson’s Mike Williams or Washington’s John Ross is the top receiver prospect in the nation this year, but many believe Davis is the guy.
At 6-foot-3, 209 pounds, the former Broncos receiver put up unbelievable numbers in all four years in college:
2013: 67 catches, 941 yards, 6 TDs
2014: 78 catches, 1408 yards, 15 TDs
2015: 89 catches, 1429 yards, 12 TDs
2016: 97 catches, 1500 yards, 19 TDs
It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that his yardage total is an FBS record for a single career.
Davis has good size and great hands to bring that success to the next level. However, it is his aggressive, physical nature that would make him a great fit in Detroit. Davis attacks the ball, making him a supreme red zone talent. Boldin was Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy in the red zone, and with his future in doubt, adding a player with 52 career touchdowns in college is a pretty good replacement plan for the future.
The downside to Davis is two-fold. First, there are concerns about his ability to jump from talent level in the MAC to the NFL, as there are with any smaller-school team. However, injury issues are the bigger concern. Davis had surgery on his ankle earlier this year, which prevented him from participating at the NFL Combine. The injury has been described as “extremely minor” but obviously teams should do their own homework there.
NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein takes WR John Ross with Lions’ 21st overall pick
Zierlein, who actually also has Davis as the third receiver off the board, picks out Ross (his No. 2 receiver) for the Lions in the first round. Interestingly enough, he has one of the most popular picks for the Lions—linebacker Haason Reddick—going fifth overall to the Titans.
As for Ross, he’s a much different type of receiver. At 5-foot-11, 188, Ross turned heads by breaking the NFL Combine 40-yard dash record with a blazing 4.22 time. Whereas Davis wins with his aggressiveness and hands, Ross wins with his speed, agility and crisp route-running. He’s a guy that can stretch the field vertically, not by outjumping a safety, but by leaving him in the dust.
Ross, too, has a injury concerns, and much more serious ones than Davis. In early 2015, he had surgery on a couple meniscus tears, and just a few months later he suffered a torn ACL. Obviously, he has since recovered extremely well from both injuries (81 catches, 1150 yards, 17 TDs in 2016). However, two serious knee injuries this early in his career is a bit worrisome.
While both Davis and Ross are undoubtedly talented players, the Lions must face a serious question before even considering either player at 21: Is their defense really in good enough shape where they can afford to take the best player available at 21 overall? If Bob Quinn thinks the answer is yes, maybe it would be the right move to take a shot at one of the aforementioned receivers.
In terms of picking between Ross and Davis, the answer seems pretty clear. If the goal is to replace Boldin, Davis is easily the better fit. However, some believe tight end Eric Ebron is capable of overtaking the physical, red zone receiver role. If that is the case, the Lions could take a chance on a guy like Ross, but they already have some shifty options on their depth chart in Jones and Billingsley. Granted those two possess less physical talent than Ross, but Davis fills the bigger receiver need on the Lions roster. If the Lions decide they like Davis enough, he should easily be the pick over Ross.