The Detroit Lions had a wide receiver issue in 2021. After letting their three starters walk in free agency, Lions general manager Brad Holmes’ efforts to replace them were not successful. Free agent additions Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams fizzled out due to training camp struggles and a concussion, respectively. And while the Lions eventually got some promising play from guys like Quintez Cephus, Kalif Raymond, and especially rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown, they will undoubtedly enter the offseason looking to upgrade the position.
Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El is hoping the Lions go super aggressive in addressing the position, as he told reporters on Thursday.
“I’m trying to draft two and bring in one,” Randle El said with a smile on his face.
Specifically, Randle El is looking for someone who can be “the guy”— a receiver who can dominate no matter who is covering him.
“We throwing to him, we don’t care who is covering what, we know he can go up and get that,” Randle El said. “My guys know we haven’t had that guy yet. So it’s nothing new to them. It’s not a slap to them or a jab at them in any way.”
Of course, that person could already be on the roster. Before suffering a season-ending collarbone injury in Week 5, Cephus—in just his second NFL season—was starting to come into his own. Additionally, Josh Reynolds, who is set to become a free agent, flashed when added midseason via the waiver wire.
Randle El is optimistic about both players, but they haven’t yet had the opportunities to prove they can be That Guy.
“You see flashes in ‘Q,’ for sure. ‘Q’ just has this unbelievable—he can get off the ground and jump, be able to put it up and make a play,” Randle El said. “You see him go up one-handed, coming down with it. Now, he was out of bounds a couple times that it happened, so we have guys. Josh hasn’t had the opportunity to do that yet. And I’m talking more of the X receiver on the backside. He hasn’t had that opportunity, for us, to do that yet.”
The Lions struggled to push the ball downfield more than any other team in 2021. Though quarterback Jared Goff improved in the second half of the season, he still finished the year dead last among starting quarterbacks in average depth of target (6.6). Amon-Ra St. Brown’s emergence will help, but Randle El wants someone capable of going over the top to complement St. Brown’s short-yardage impact.
“We’re going to be searching for a guy that can go in and help our offense put this ball down the field and really be a guy that we can — I shouldn’t just say throw it up, but we know backside X, they’re going to roll the coverage to St. Brown on the frontside,” Randle El explained. “We know we can get man one-on-one on the backside, let’s get that ball over there, knowing he’s going to win. That’s the idea behind it.”
Obviously this week at the Senior Bowl is an opportunity to find one of those guys. South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert may be the best on Randle El’s American Team, but Detroit will also have plenty of solid options from players not at the all-star game in Mobile. Alabama’s Jameson Williams, USC’s Drake London and the duo of Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave from Ohio State are sure to be among the first to hear their name called in this year’s wide receiver draft class.