The name Kenny Golladay took many Detroit Lions fans by surprise when general manager Bob Quinn selected the Northern Illinois receiver with their 96th overall pick in the third round (acquired from the New England Patriots in a trade down) of the 2017 NFL Draft. Admittedly, Golladay did not make my top 150 prospects this year, and he was not one of the 180-plus players that I took the time to evaluate prior to the draft, so I was unexpectedly forced to scramble and watch the tape immediately after his selection to see what the Lions were getting with him.
The decision to select a wide receiver was not all that surprising, however. Some—I’m looking at you, fearless leader—even considered WR to be a top-five need heading into the NFL Draft, and our own Ryan Mathews boldly predicted that the Lions would select a receiver before the end of Round 4.
With Marvin Jones doing his best disappearing act after the first four weeks of last season and a general lack of deep-threat receivers on the roster, it’s possible that the Lions weren’t satisfied with their vertical passing game and were looking to add another tall receiver that can stretch the field.
Here’s a quote from Quinn himself on what Golladay brings to the table:
Big receiver, 6-4, 215, 220, transferred from North Dakota, lightly-recruited kid. I think he grew. I think, what, he told us he grew three or four inches after he went to college. Don’t quote me on that, but I think that’s how I remember the story going. He had a growth spurt. He’s a big receiver, vertical threat, good route runner. Lower level of competition, but he excelled.
Many expected Golladay to have a dominating senior year, but inconsistencies at the quarterback position prevented that from happening. Still, his 87 receptions ended up second-best in the conference in 2016.
Golladay is an extremely raw prospect, so when watching the tape, you simply have to take the good with the bad and realize his potential, along with determining what is coachable and what isn’t.
A Positive and a Negative
Golladay has large mitts for his size and uses them well. He dropped just five passes on 165 catchable throws in two years at NIU. In the play above, he exhibits late hands (almost too late this time) and snatches the ball out of the air on a crossing route over the middle.
Catching the football is obviously one of the most important traits to consider when evaluating a wide receiver and catching technique is one of the hardest fixes to make when transitioning to the NFL. It remains to be seen whether Golladay can handle a fastball from Matthew Stafford, however.
Negative: Ball Security
After the catch, Golladay takes poor care of the ball and slots his elbow too far away from his body while running through contact. This was a prevalent issue with him when running with the football. In three seasons with North Dakota and NIU, Golladay lost the football five times.
Positive: Vertical Separation
You know the old saying: “If you’re even, you’re leavin’?” Well, that’s often the case with Golladay. He has deceptive speed and gets down the field in a hurry, but he does struggle against some of the more physical DBs and I worry about whether he can consistently get over the top of corners in press-coverage.
In this particular instance, the Western Michigan corner decides to simply run with Golladay and avoids jamming him at the line of scrimmage, which was clearly a major mistake on his part.
Negative: Sideline Awareness and Route Strength
Although the defensive back fails to jam and re-route Golladay initially, he does manage to get his hand on him about five yards down the field and forces Golladay closer to the sideline. Golladay’s play strength is lacking on film and repeatedly lets his opponents dictate his positioning. As a result, there were several instances where Golladay was forced to catch the ball out of bounds, or in this case, step out of bounds immediately after making the catch.
This example that resulted in a catch out of bounds is 100 percent on the quarterback. Golladay actually does a commendable job of tracking the deep ball and getting behind one of the top corners in the country in Gareon Conley and nearly hauls it in after laying out for the ball. Golladay has top-tier ball tracking ability and hand-eye coordination.
Not only does Golladay track the ball well, but his catch radius is arguably larger than any other offensive weapon that the Lions currently have on their roster.
Red Zone Threat
Golladay hasn’t maxed out his frame yet, but his height, hands and body control grants him the ability to make circus catches in the red zone. Take this one for example:
This isn’t a touchdown in the NFL, but it’s impressive nonetheless. According to Jesse Severson of the Daily Chronicle, Golladay routinely made one-handed grabs for the Huskies.
I hope the first thing wide receivers coach Robert Prince focuses on during rookie camp is to teach Kenny Golladay how to get two feet in bounds. From this angle, it looks like he may have gotten both feet in, but replay showed otherwise. Still, that’s a touchdown in college and a heck of a contested catch in the red zone for the second year in a row against Toledo.
Examining further, Golladay goes for the double-up move and slaps away the arm of the defender to create enough separation off the release. Once the ball arrives, he gives the defender an ever-so-subtle nudge and snatches it out of the air with the 180 and some style points. Golladay may not know the full route tree right now, but he has proven that he understands the fundamentals of being a receiver with release technique, winning at the catch point and using strong hands to secure the ball.
Other areas to improve
As previously mentioned, Golladay’s route running is extremely unpolished. He only ran a few different routes in college (mostly drags, hitches and go-routes) and he could use some work sinking his hips in his breaks, as well as stemming at the top of his routes to catch defenders leaning the wrong way.
Golladay is also a below-average blocker, looking disinterested at times. His awareness on the field is lacking (loses track of where the sticks are) and his run after the catch ability is nearly nonexistent.
Outlook for 2017
When we look back at this draft class, most of the success will hinge on the careers of Quinn’s Day 2 picks because of the initial negative reception that ensued after so many wanted to label each pick as a risk and/or a reach.
Although the Golladay pick was deemed a “reach” by most draft pundits and fans, there is a clear role for him moving forward based on his skillset. With Marvin Jones starting as the “X” receiver and Golden Tate receiving a good majority of his snaps in the slot, Golladay has the opportunity to see the field opposite of Jones as the “Z” receiver in three-receiver sets. In that scenario, all he really needs to do is be ahead of Jarred Abbredaris, TJ Jones, Michael Rector and some other camp bodies on the depth chart.
In a perfect world for the Lions’ offense, this will allow Marvin Jones to run more in-breaking routes where he looked comfortable and effective, rather than just running ceaseless go-routes that were predictable and well-guarded by opposing DBs. Quinn has also briefly mentioned that the plan is to eventually have Golladay work both inside and out, but they will likely start him off on the outside for now and enhance his role as he hones his craft.