“I’m trying to draft two and bring in one.”
That was Detroit Lions wide receivers coach Antwaan Randle-El back during Senior Bowl week when talking about adding pass catchers this offseason.
Well, they already brought in one via free agency when they signed DJ Chark to a one-year, $10 million deal. And while they re-signed the likes of Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond—both to two-year deals—the Lions’ wide receiver room very much remains a work in progress. So is it time to draft two more?
Many analysts still believe wide receiver is a big need on this roster, but lucky for the Lions, this happens to be a pretty decent class of wideouts. Let’s take a closer look at them in our latest installment of the 2022 NFL Draft preview.
Previously: Quarterbacks, Running backs
Under contract: Amon-Ra St. Brown (signed through 2024), DJ Chark (2022), Josh Reynolds (2023), Kalif Raymond (2023), Quintez Cephus (2023), Trinity Benson (2022), Tom Kennedy (2022), Javon McKinley (2022)
Short term need: 5/10
Long-term need: 8/10
The Lions could comfortably roll in with this set of receivers for the 2022 and be pretty happy with what they’ve got. Chark has No. 1 receiver upside, while Reynolds can be a solid No. 2. With St. Brown knocking on superstar potential, that’s an above average set of receivers. Combine that with Raymond and Cephus, who were both productive in limited opportunities last year, and the depth is not too bad, either.
That being said, the Lions could stand to upgrade just about every player in the receiver room outside of St. Brown. Chark has high potential, but he’s only had one 1,000-yard season in his four-year career. Reynold is good, but not great. Simply put, the Lions don’t have a matchup nightmare amongst this group, and that can make a big difference in today’s NFL. With only St. Brown signed beyond the next two seasons, this need is not going to go away.
Day 1/Day 2 options: Ohio State’s Garrett Wilson, Alabama’s Jameson Williams, Arkansas’s Treylon Burks, USC’s Drake London, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Georgia’s George Pickens, North Dakota State’s Christian Watson, South Alabama’s Jalen Tolbert
Unless the Lions spend the second overall pick on a receiver or trade into the 7-20 range, there’s a good chance they won’t have a shot at Wilson, Williams, Burks, London and Olave. Out of that bunch, London may be one of the most intriguing. Nearly 6-foot-4, London has the potential to be a star X-receiver, and pairing him with his former teammate in St. Brown would add some interesting synergy to the room.
Christian Watson seems to be the hot name for a potential Lions pick at 32 or 34. He’s been rising up boards all offseason after first dominating the Senior Bowl and then putting up eye-popping numbers at the NFL Combine a month later.
#1 WR #RAS 2022— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) April 13, 2022
Christian Watson is a WR prospect in the 2022 draft class. He scored a 9.96 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 12 out of 2768 WR from 1987 to 2022. https://t.co/WGDb5WN0lv #RAS pic.twitter.com/7RY1ftRPEk
Watson is still a little rough around the edges, and he’s had some serious issues with drops, but he could have superstar potential if paired with the right offensive coordinator and receivers coach.
Dotson and Olave aren’t prototype x-receivers, but given their shiftiness and ability to separate, they could be good fits with a Jared Goff-led offense. But are the Lions trying to build an offense around him?
As for Tolbert, here’s what Randle-El had to say about him down during Senior Bowl week:
“Jalen can play. Yeah. I have no questions about Jalen, in terms of him catching the ball, route running, things of that nature. He’s just gotta work on some small stuff, like he’s stance. He stands very tall in his stance. In this league, like I’ve already told him, ‘You’ve got no chance. You can’t be at the line of scrimmage just standing like this.’ You’ll see in his work today, and even yesterday, he started correcting it. You can watch the film and you can see that improvement.”
Mid/late-round options: Cincinnati’s Alec Pierce, Tennessee’s Velus Jones Jr., Notre Dame’s Kevin Austin, Rutgers’ Bo Melton
Pierce’s current projections have him with around a third-round grade on him, but with a 6-foot-3 size and 4.33 speed, there’s a good chance someone takes a shot on him earlier. If not, the Lions taking him at 97 would be incredible value. Though he only has one year of solid production in college, he showed incredible growth as a three-year starter at Cincinnati. There’s a feeling that he has only scratched the surface of his potential. A year behind DJ Chark could be perfect for him.
Jones ran an eye-popping 4.31 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but there’s more to his game than pure speed. Projected as a possible replacement for Kalif Raymond both as a receiver and returner, Jones is much bigger (5-foot-11, 204 pounds) and plays more physical than the Lions’ current returner. Jones worked with the Lions’ coaching staff down at the Senior Bowl as part of the American team.
Austin is a more big-bodied receiver destined for the outside and bring size (6-foot-2) and speed (4.43). He tracks the ball well and is a willing blocker. However, he does present a risk, having been suspended the entire 2019 season for repeated team violations. He also underwent two foot surgeries in 2020. Still, he came back in 2021 and produced an impressive 888 receiving yards and seven touchdowns.
Finally, there’s Rugters’ Bo Melton, who played in the Senior Bowl, albeit for the Jets-coached team. Melton had just modest production in college, but his acceleration and top-end speed make him an intriguing option. He was also team captain at Rutgers for two years, suggesting he’ll be a good culture fit in Detroit.