The Detroit Lions aren’t bothering with smokescreens when it comes to one of their biggest needs this offseason. The Lions need an outside receiver, and they don’t care who knows it.
It started last month at the Senior Bowl when wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle El basically said it outright.
“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 (Amon-Ra) St. Brown on the front side,” Randle El said.
And while Randle El said he liked some of the promise that Quintez Cephus has shown, the fact remains that the Lions don’t have a guy—the guy—they can trust to start on the outside. St. Brown is better working the middle of the field. Trinity Benson has yet to prove he was worth the trade. Meanwhile, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and KhaDarel Hodge are all set to be free agents.
This week at the NFL Combine, the Lions reiterated that need for a reliable outside player. First, it was head coach Dan Campbell expressing the importance of getting an outside weapon for Jared Goff.
“Any time you can add a piece or a weapon, on the perimeter particularly, that’s going to help. It’s going to help him and it will help us,” Campbell said. “So that’s one of the things that we’d like to do, whether it’s free agency or it’s the draft.”
Okay, not very subtle. But let’s really drive it home. You’re up, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.
“We feel like we attack the middle of the field really well,” Johnson said at the NFL Combine on Tuesday, per DetroitLions.com. “The more we can expand both vertically and horizontally, outside the numbers and deep down the field, that’s going to make those guys on the inside that much more dangerous.”
One area where Johnson said the Lions could improve statistically is the yards per attempt metric. For 2021, the Lions averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt (27th), while the top nine teams in the NFL all averaged a yard more than that. Jared Goff bumped that number to 7.0 in his last four starts of the season, but that is still below the league average (7.1).
Detroit also had a lack of explosive plays through the air in 2021. The Lions produced just five passing plays of 40+ yards, tied with three other teams for the fewest in the NFL.
Thankfully for Detroit, this offseason provides the Lions with bountiful options to help them improve outside the numbers. If the Lions are willing to spend money in free agency and can lure some of the better players, the likes of Chris Godwin, Allen Robinson, and Davante Adams could be free agents if they don’t come to an agreement with their current teams in the next two weeks.
The NFL Draft has even more options. While this class may be lacking a lot of prototypical big and fast pure outside receivers, there are no shortage of separators and play-makers. Ohio State has a pair of tempting options in Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave. Alabama has a duo of their own in Jameson Williams and John Metchie. There’s also Arkansas’s Treylon Burks, USC’s Drake London, and Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, who all have a shot at working their way into the first round of April’s draft.
For Johnson, the kind of receiver doesn’t matter as much as what they can accomplish.
“I think it comes in a number of shapes and forms, but I think the definition of it really is a guy ... who can win consistently one-on-one, whether that’s a big guy with a lot of strength and size or whether that’s a guy with elite quickness or speed.”
With free agency just two weeks away and the NFL Draft just under two months in the future, it won’t be long until we see what the Lions are planning.