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Detroit Lions film breakdown: Kenny Golladay’s excellent start to the season

The receiver has been on a tear in his second NFL season.

NFL: Detroit Lions at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

While the Detroit Lions, as a team, has been less than great so far in 2018, there are some individual standouts that are worthy of praise. One of those standouts is second-year wide receiver Kenny Golladay. The big-bodied receiver has proven to be more than just the deep threat he was primarily used to be last season.

Golladay has caught 23 passes for 330 yards through four games of the 2018 season. For comparison, he only caught 28 for 477 yards in the 11 games he played in 2017. His role in the offense has drastically increased, and with the way he’s playing it’s easy to see why.

The receiver measures in at 6-foot-4, 213 pounds. He has a large wingspan and great, strong hands. He can snag anything within arms reach and that skill combined with his size allow him to box out defenders to make tough catches.

This catch against the 49ers came on an RPO play, something the Lions are apparently doing this season. Matthew Stafford elects to pass over handing the ball and finds Golladay on a quick slant route. The pass was thrown a little too far in front of the receiver, though. It didn’t matter as Golladay was able to use his body to shield off the defensive back and reach out and snag the pass for a decent gain.

Golladay also showed off how much space he can chew up coming off the snap on this play. He covered around 12 yards of space in only seconds to get himself in position to make the catch. While he isn’t particularly fast, his long strides allow him to close in on defensive backs fast and put them in bad spots when trying to cover him.

His ability to box out defenders like a tight end is valuable, but his body control may be his best trait. Golladay is exceptionally nimble for a man of his size. He’s also a very smart receiver who can track the ball in the air, and he knows how to leverage his body—along with the defenders—to free himself up to make a catch.

His most impressive catch of the season came on a back-shoulder pass against the Dallas Cowboys.

The receiver is running a go route down the sideline and the defensive back plays it perfectly. Golladay loses real estate as he works his way downfield, and the corner has him pinned to the sideline the entire way. Stafford tries to find his receiver with a back-shoulder throw. The pass was well placed but this is still a ball that you would expect to sail out of bounds. Golladay can track the ball in air, stop on a dime and flip his hips around to make a play on the ball. He snatches it out of the air and somehow gets both feet in bounds before falling.

His ability to stop on a dime and change direction allowed him to make a great tip-toe catch look easy late against the San Francisco 49ers.

The receiver is running another go route down the sideline here. He stops on a dime once the ball is in the air and gets the defender turned around. Golladay breaks back towards the sideline and makes a simple tip-toe catch to cap off an athletic move.

Being able to spot the ball in the air and then put yourself in the perfect position to make a play on it is an underrated skill among NFL receivers. We love watching highlight catches from players like Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins, and it would be impossible for them to make any spectacular grabs if they were not such great ball trackers. Golladay’s ball tracking skills are amazing and we should only expect more incredible grabs from the young receiver.

Golladay is not only physically gifted. The Lions have used him in a “zone-buster” role this season. Having Marvin Jones Jr. and Golden Tate also on the field means that it’s rare that Golladay has the focus of the defense before the snap. The receiver is great at finding spaces between zones to get open. While a lot of it can be attributed to play design, the receiver still has to get himself in the right spot and the right time for Stafford to get him the ball.

The rise of Golladay this season has been amazing for the Lions. Detroit hasn’t had a player like this in their arsenal since Eric Ebron Calvin Johnson. While he may not be Johnson just yet…

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