The Detroit Lions offense was incredibly disappointing in 2018. They aspired to be one of the best in the league last season, but ended up finishing 22nd in DVOA last season. One of the many contributing factors to their failures was the lack of variety the team had at receiver.
Beyond Golden Tate—who was only around for half the season—none of the Lions receivers were exceptionally fast or good enough route runners to regularly get open. The team was in desperate need of a speedy receiver that could take the top off of defenses and get open underneath. They also could have used a more reliable receiver to regularly punish teams out of the slot on quicker, shorter, routes.
With so many needs elsewhere on the roster, it is unlikely the Lions invest an early draft pick into the position. That means they will be scouring the free agent market for another target for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Here are a few targets they should have their eye on this offseason:
Devin Funchess - Carolina Panthers
Michigan Wolverines fans should be familiar with the Panthers receivers. The 2015 second-round pick is a big-bodied receiver with all the raw talent you could ask for. He has great speed and route-running ability. Funchess can get open downfield and take the top off of defenses.
He does have some issues, though. Funchess drops more passes than one would like, and he occasionally makes mental errors at the point of the catch. Sometimes he will lose track of the ball while it’s in the air, and on occasion he will seem just lost on the field.
If Detroit can land Funchess on a cheap deal, he could be huge for the team, though. He has upside and his raw talent alone gives the defense something to worry about on every snap.
And if history is to tell us anything, a big bodied, fast receiver with overstated drop problems has a real chance to succeed when he joins a new team after the first four seasons of his rookie contract.
Golden Tate - Philadelphia Eagles
Lions fans should be familiar with this name.
Detroit dealt Tate over to the Eagles midway through the season when it looked like their playoff hopes were all but dead. They got a third-round pick in return. Now as the receiver hits free agency, they have a chance to double-dip and get Stafford’s favorite target right back on the roster.
Tate is due to get paid this offseason—which is why the the Lions traded him away in the first place. He may be to expensive for the Lions, but if the market for a 30-year-old receiver turns out to be smaller than expected, the team may have a realistic chance to reunite Tate with his old teammates.
Adam Humphries - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Humphries broke out in 2018 and the former UDFA may have earned him his first ever long-term contract. The Clemson product caught 76 passes for 816 yards and five touchdowns in 2018. He played a large role in a fun, but inconsistent, Buccaneers offense last season.
He is not the most athletic player out of the slot, but he has great hands and is a smart route runner that can quickly get open underneath. Humphries can fill a Patriots-esque slot receiver role (in more ways than one) and is a perfect—possibly affordable—option for Detroit this season
John Brown - Baltimore Ravens
Brown had a hot start to the 2018 season. The speedy receiver was Joe Flacco’s favorite target early in the year and was the crux of what actually looked like a great passing game in Baltimore. As Flacco regressed back to the mean, Brown’s role shrunk. He was marginalized when Lamar Jackson took over the offense late in the year.
He finished the year with 42 catches for 715 yards and five touchdowns. The receiver is a great deep threat that can stretch defenses and be a great target for Stafford’s big arm. He has struggled with consistency throughout his career, though, and can disappear for weeks at a time.
Brown should be cheap and may accept a short-term deal, and on a good day, he is exactly what the Lions need.
Cole Beasley - Dallas Cowboys
Beasley was signed as a UDFA by the Cowboys out of local Southern Methodist in 2012 and quickly became a fan favorite. The receiver played second fiddle to Dez Bryant during the back half of the Romo era and was a favorite target of Dak Prescott in recent years.
The receiver is another stereotypical Patriots slot receiver (in more ways then one) (this is a good joke). He is quick and shifty out of the slot. He has great hands and a high football IQ.
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Beasley may have a decent market for his services. He won't cost whatever team signs him too much, but with a lot of bidders for his services he may get slightly too pricey for the Lions.