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Detroit Lions mailbag: Which wide receiver will have the biggest impact?

Part 1 of this week’s mailbag focuses on wide receivers, offensive tackle depth, and dead money on the salary cap.

NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

It was a busy week of roster moves for the Detroit Lions, but with things looking settled for the moment, we decided to take a break from the news stories and open the POD Mailbag back up. As always, myself (Erik Schlitt) and Jeremy Reisman picked out our favorite questions from Twitter and the POD comments section and collaborated on the answers.

Let’s jump right in.

Jeremy: Well, first I want to point out that I don’t think a wide receiver leads the team in receptions or yards this year. That man will be tight end T.J. Hockenson, who just dominated training camp and was in Jared Goff’s ear for all of August.

But I suppose Jason already knew that and was wondering who the hell in this wide receiving corps is going to actually produce? His curiosity—and, perhaps, concern—is appropriate. Is the answer also the simplest one: projected No. 1 receiver Tyrell Williams?

Erik: I actually think we will have two separate answers here with Williams leading the team in WR yards, but Amon-Ra St. Brown leading the team in WR receptions. I have a feeling Goff is going to pepper his slot options and that means Hockenson and St. Brown could be the benefactors in volume work. But when he has to hit the turkey hole downfield, Williams will be his best option.

Is picking two receivers cheating on my part?

Jeremy: Not at all, and that was something I was considering, as well. The big question here is whether Williams can handle the best corners in the league and will Goff will be confident enough in him to throw it his way downfield. I don’t feel great about either of those things, so St. Brown may be the safe bet for both answers, to be honest.

Between the 2 WRs added just recently, which one likely makes a bigger impact sooner, or are both just be considered depth pieces right now? — Faleroz World

Erik: I do think both are considered depth pieces at this moment, but the fact that they traded for Trinity Benson indicates they have a plan for him and he will likely be in the mix early. Will he start? I don’t think so, at least not right now. The second outside spot is very much up for grabs, but I’d think coaches would trust the guys they’ve been coaching all camp (Kalif Raymond and Quintez Cephus) ahead of a newbie, no matter how talented they believe he is.

Jeremy: I’m with you all the way. Both Benson and KhaDarel Hodge are going to start coming off the bench, as they try to fast-track the playbook and work in some chemistry with Jared Goff.

In my opinion, Benson has the higher upside after developing two years on the Broncos’ practice squad. He’s got better speed than Hodge, and he’s a couple years younger. That being said, Hodge may be more NFL ready right now. He’s played in 39 NFL games, can contribute immediately on special teams, and even has some experience with Goff back from their days with the Rams.

In short, I think Hodge may have the opportunity to see the field first, but Benson could make the bigger impact.

Which Lion’s player goes from unheard of to household name? — Sea Bee Russ

Erik: I’m always really bad at these types of questions because I’ve been staring at these names every day for the last six months, so I’m overly familiar with the roster. That being said, I would say the one guy most casual Lions fans aren’t familiar with, but is poised for a big role is AJ Parker, who is the front runner for the starting nickel job.

Jeremy: Well, the challenge here is that for a Lions player to become a household name, they essentially have to be an All-Pro five years in a row. I’m tempted to say Romeo Okwara here. Even though the man had 10 sacks last year, he’s still very much under the radar nationally. I think he could take that next step this year.

If you’re looking for someone with fewer NFL accomplishments thus far, I think Parker is a good answer, as is Jonah Jackson, who could benefit from a year of growth. Plus playing between Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker helps.

Are you concerned that we currently have only one backup OT currently on the roster and one on the PS and are you surprised they didn’t sign anyone off waivers to bolster that lack of depth? — Kdog060

Jeremy: Yes and no. I’m with you. The lack of depth at offensive tackle is concerning, and despite looking capable last year, Matt Nelson did not have a good camp. I think it’s important to remember that this team does have a capable emergency option in Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Sure, that would displace an interior position, but I feel a little better with Logan Stenberg (RG) - Halapoulivaati Vaitai (RT) on the right side over Vaitai (RG) - Nelson (RT).

Erik: I’m on record as being a big advocate of rostering a capable third offensive tackle and also saying I’m not confident Nelson can be that guy... so yeah, I’m worried. Jeremy makes an important point on Vaitai being a capable option, so that eases some of the stress on the line, but is Stenberg even the best interior option? Would the coaches prefer Nelson or Evan Brown at guard first? I think the fact that there isn’t a clear answer to those questions is why I remained concerned if a starter goes down.

Jeremy: I didn’t particularly like the cutting of Tyrell Crosby, but that almost felt like a decision they made before camp even started. I definitely think the Lions are looking, but solid reserve offensive linemen are hard to find, and I don’t expect the Lions to bend over backwards for one.

Jeremy: That dead cap only affects the Lions’ 2021 salary cap situation. So when the NFL calendar year turns over to 2022 (March 16), that dead cap is off the books. As of now, there is just over $830,000 in dead cap for the Lions in 2022, most coming from the termination of Jahlani Tavai’s contract.

Did I get that right, spreadsheets?

Erik Spreadsheets: You’re 100 percent correct. Now, it’s worth keeping in mind that the salary cap is a fluid document, and the Lions are likely to add more dead cap onto next season. But at this stage, they have 32 players signed beyond this season, another 11 with a restricted or exclusive rights designation, and will be in the top half of the league with available cap space in 2022.

Jeremy: *stares at Jamie Collins’ contract for 2022*

Spreadsheets: ...and Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s contract, as well as Trey Flowers. Collectively, the three of them will account for almost $45 million in cap space in 2022 and the Lions could free up over $21 million by moving on from them. That’s a big chunk of change to acquire, but they’ll also need to replace three starters if they do so.

Jeremy: ... while incurring nearly $24 million in dead cap.

Really tried to come up with a Detroit Lions question, but I feel too knowledgeable about this team to think of a question. Mainly thanks to PoD. In other words, PoD is doing an excellent job covering the Lions. — CC5

Erik: Looks like our work is done here.

Jeremy: I will plan to be less informative next week to keep the mailbag alive. (Also, thanks, CC5)

Also, unlike Erik says, we’re not done here. Part 2 is coming Sunday.

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