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Trying to predict how the Detroit Lions will use its wide receivers

Will these guys be good?

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Much has been made of the Detroit Lions receiving corps as of late. It seems easy to identify this area as the Lions biggest trouble spot. After all, the Lions lost certified talent in the offseason. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola were all guys that had put in time in in the NFL and were proven commodities. The group of guys the Lions will be fielding this Sunday is definitely not that. At least that’s what we think right now.

The biggest issue with the Lions receiving corps is you can’t make any predictions for it. The reason you can’t make any predictions is because there’s nothing to base that prediction on. Outside of Tyrell Williams, we’ve never really seen any of these guys play in the NFL.

Kalif Raymond, who is the Lions number two receiver on their recently released depth chart, has played in the NFL since 2016, but the ball has only been thrown to him 30 times. Half of those targets were in 2020. KhaDarel Hodge has also only been targeted 30 times in his short career. Quintez Cephus has been targeted 35 times. Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown have never been targeted in a regular season game.

Sunday’s game against the 49ers represents a chance for all of these guys to get substantial playing time for the first time. Some of these guys have started games here and there, but they never been asked to do more than just be a guy that can fill in due to injury. Now they’re the guys.

With all that in mind, it’s hard to definitively say that we know what to expect from these guys. So today let’s try to predict as best we can with the very little information that we have.

First off, we don’t really know what the Lions will be doing offensively. During the preseason they were more vanilla than a vanilla ice cream cone that fell into vat of vanilla extract. We saw absolutely nothing out of them. So we’re going to have to base it off a few different things: Jared Goff’s strengths and Anthony Lynn’s history.

The first thing we see when looking at both of those things is the long ball. Jared Goff can sling it. We’ve seen him do just that in the past. Looking back on Goff’s best year, he averaged 8.4 yards per attempt. That was good fourth in the NFL. He was also eighth in the league in deep ball accuracy that year, too. On top of that, Anthony Lynn had Justin Herbert throwing deep plenty of times in 2020. 61 According to Next Gen Stats. Herbert threw the deep ball 61 times last year—more than Derek Carr, Kyler Murray, Deshaun Watson, Baker Mayfield, Kirk Cousins and many more.

Of course there are some issues here. Goff barely threw the deep ball in 2019 and 2020. Is that a McVay thing? Maybe. Is it a confidence thing? His refusal to throw the deep ball in training camp this year points to that potential.

Still, Goff has spoken about his love for the deep ball this summer.

“I love to take shots,” Goff said. “I know we’re going to call a bunch of them, and I hope to throw a lot of them.”

What’s something quarterbacks need to throw the ball deep? Quick receivers. That’s what the Lions are getting in guys like Raymond and Hodge. Raymond, who’s spent time as a return man in Tennessee, ran a 4.34 at the combine. Hodge was right behind him with a 4.39 at his Pro Day. These guys are very fast. So it’s not hard to believe that these guys will be running deep outs in 2021.

Then there’s Tyrell Williams. What you need out of guy like him is what the Lions needed out of Kenny Golladay. A guy that can just out-muscle smaller corners and go up and get the ball. It may sound crazy, but I wouldn't’ expect Williams to do much of the heavy lifting on this offense in terms of forwarding the ball down the field. He’ll get targets for sure, but if the Lions receiving game is going to run off speed, he fits better in the red zone as a guy that can high point the ball. With 4.42 40 time, he’s still plenty fast, but he’s not as fast the other guys.

The very little of what we saw out of Amon-Ra St. Brown might show that he’s a guy who will factor into the intermediate passing game. We’re talking 8-to-10-yard passes here. Stuff that you catch and work the sideline on. Don’t expect St. Brown to be Golden Tate anytime soon. He’s not the fastest guy, and he’s not the shiftiest guy, but he will catch the ball every time. As for Benson and Cephus, time will tell where they fall in.

At the end of the day this all might be wrong, but judging by the past, this team is going to try for chunk plays in the passing game. They just don’t have the talent to be the dink and dunk team that methodically works it’s way up the field and wastes time. They’re only hope appears to be in the big play. The kind you live or die on.

We’ll see soon enough if the Lions receiving corps will live and be the biggest surprise of the year, or die and be the biggest thing that needs fixing in 2022.