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2021 NFL free agency preview: 5 wide receivers with ties to the Detroit Lions

The Lions need a lot of receivers this offseason. So here are five options that come with some familiarity.

Seattle Seahawks v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

For the first time in a dozen years, there’s a new starting quarterback in Detroit. Jared Goff will kick off a new era of Detroit Lions football, but, unfortunately, he’s not exactly coming into the best of scenarios.

All three of the Lions’ starting wide receivers from 2020 are currently heading towards free agency, and the best receiver signed on for 2021 is fifth-round pick Quintez Cephus.

Thankfully, free agency presents plenty of options to surround Goff with not only talented players, but a few that he has already developed some chemistry with. Not only are there options from the Los Angeles Rams’ history, which will undoubtedly lure new general manager Brad Holmes to take a close look, but there are other solid options out there with other ties to Detroit’s new staff.

Here are five of the best wide receiver options available in free agency that have connections to Detroit.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs

Josh Reynolds

Connection: 4 years with Rams (Jared Goff, Brad Holmes)

Reynolds was drafted in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, meaning Brad Holmes had a lot to do with his acquisition.

Since being drafted, Reynolds has improved in just about every season. In 2020, he had his best year to date, starting 13 games and catching 42 passes for 618 yards and two touchdowns.

Capable of playing in the slot or out wide, Reynolds brings versatility and athleticism.

If Detroit is looking for a deep threat to replace Marvin Jones Jr. who is capable of creating more separation than his predecessor, Reynolds makes a ton of sense.

Sammy Watkins

Connection: 1 year with Rams in 2017 (Goff, Holmes), 3 year with Bills in 2014-16 (Anthony Lynn)

In the Rams’ breakout 11-5 season, Watkins had a big part in Sean McVay’s explosive offense. Though he was fourth on the team with 593 receiving yards, he led the team with eight receiving touchdowns on the year.

Watkins has athleticism in spades, but injuries throughout his career have limited his success since being taken fourth overall by the Buffalo Bills in the 2014 draft. He hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year, but he’s played at least 10 games in each of his last four seasons.

Watkins hasn’t been a WR1 in quite some time, and he probably wouldn’t be in Detroit, but he’s a nice piece with some built-in chemistry with Goff. And while Watkins’ connection with Lynn is tangential (Lynn was his offensive coordinator one year and assistant head coach for another), even that one year of familiarity comes with knowledge on how to coach him up.

Demarcus Robinson

Connection: Drafted by John Dorsey in 2016

(Look at the move he puts on the defender in catch No. 3)

Sticking with the Chiefs free agents here, Robinson was selected by Kansas City in the fourth round back when Dorsey was their general manager. Robinson’s stock fell due to some off-the-field issues, including four suspensions in college, two of which were due to marijuana use.

To his credit, Robinson has been nothing but professional in his five seasons with the Chiefs. And while he has rarely been a premier feature in Kansas City’s offense, he’s been a reliable set of hands when depth is needed. He, too, is coming off his best statistical season, puling in 45 catches for 466 yards and three touchdowns.

Also, if you’re looking for a guy who can separate, Robinson ranked third in the NFL last year in average separation per NextGenStats.

Chris Godwin

Connection: WR coach Antwaan Randle-El (2 years)

If the Lions decide to move on from Kenny Golladay but are still open to spending big on the position in free agency, Chris Godwin would make for an interesting move. He’s a couple of years younger than Golladay and comes with similar statistics through four years, which only makes sense considering the two were chosen 12 picks apart in the 2017 draft.

Godwin: 58 games, 244 receptions, 3,540 yards, 24 TDs
Golladay: 47 games, 183 receptions, 3,068 yards, 21 TDs

It would be a bit curious for the Lions to move on from Golladay—someone who has expressed interest in coming back—only to get into a bidding war for Godwin, who has plenty of motive to return to Tampa for a shot at back-to-back titles. Still, Godwin would be a marquee signing that would immediately erase Detroit’s huge need for a No. 1 receiver.

Taywan Taylor

Connection: John Dorsey traded for him in 2019 with Cleveland

If the Lions want to go the opposite route and find a cheap option in free agency, Taylor is an interesting option.

After starting his NFL career with two somewhat successful season with the Titans (231 yards, 466 yards), Taylor went to the Browns and crash landed. He didn’t register a single catch in two seasons with Cleveland and saw most of his 2020 season either on the practice squad or on IR with a neck injury.

But if Dorsey believes Taylor can recreate some of his wild success at Western Kentucky (over 1,400 yards and 17 TDs in back-to-back seasons), Detroit could use his athleticism among their ranks.

Taylor would come dirt cheap, and he would likely jump at the opportunity to have a real chance at contributing in Detroit. He’ll only be 26 this season, so there’s plenty of room for him to grow if the Lions coaching staff can harness those raw skills.