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2023 NFL Combine preview: 10 wide receivers the Lions should be watching

Identifying who and what to watch at wide receiver during the 2023 NFL Combine.

NCAA Football: Ohio State at Michigan State Dale Young-USA TODAY Sports

The 2023 NFL Combine begins on Monday, February 27, with prospects arriving in their positional groups. Over the first few days, players will get medical checks, meet with NFL teams, and take the podium to answer questions from the media. Then on Thursday, March 2, the league will start four days of televised coverage of on-field drills.

This is the latest in a series of articles that will explore the participants at this year’s combine that the Detroit Lions should be keeping a close eye on during positional activities. If you missed any of our previous installments, check them out here: Quarterbacks, running backs

Up next: Wide receivers

Team need

After overhauling their wide receiver room last season, the need to add another player at this position is not pressing. Still, DJ Chark is a free agent and the Lions could in the market to find his replacement, or simply add overall depth and matchup pieces for an already explosive offense.

What to watch for

Things to key on when watching the wide receiver group include:

  • How natural are their hands? Do they fight the ball or let it into their body?
  • Do they maintain body control during routes or do they lose balance trying to run beyond their capabilities?
  • Do they maintain speed in and out of breaks or do they need to throttle down?
  • How are their ball-tracking skills?
  • Can they locate the ball while maintaining speed?
  • Can they maximize their speed by not reaching early?

Now, on to the prospects.

Quentin Johnson, TCU, 6-foot-4, 215

Projected role: Starting WR-X

A prototype WR-X, Johnson has the size, speed, and athleticism to be a team's traditional WR1 option. If the Lions don’t re-sign DJ Chark, plugging Jameson Williams in at WR-X is an easy solution, but if they want to upgrade the entire unit, a player like Johnson would fit in the role as well, allowing Williams to flex all over the offense. The biggest barrier will be cost, as Johnson's skill set is expected to draw a first round price tag.

Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee, 6-foot-0, 185

Projected role: Starting WR-Z, Vertical threat

Hyatt entered the season as the second-best receiver on Tennessee’s roster, and now that the season is over, he may end up being the second-best receiver in this draft class. His game against Alabama put him on the national radar—six receptions, 207 yards, and five touchdowns—but he was making noise from the start of the year. A dynamic vertical threat, he could make a DeSean Jackson-like impact for teams willing to let him fly.

Zay Flowers, Boston College, 5-foot-9, 182

Projected role: Multipurpose weapon (slot, gadget, vertical threat)

Flowers is undersized but electric with or without the ball in his hands. His frame will be a concern for some teams, but he is almost exactly the same size as Lions All-Pro punt returner Kalif Raymond. While Flowers isn’t the punt returner Raymond is, the Boston College product has arguably more range to his game on offense and is a route running technician.

Tyler Scott, Cincinnati, 5-foot-10, 185

Projected role: WR-Z or slot (YAC king)

If you’re just looking at size and versatility, you might think Scott and Flowers are similar players. And while you’d be right in a lot of areas, Scott’s ability to play outside as a vertical threat will separate him for some teams. Scott’s game is similar to Tyler Lockett (Seahawks) in that he can be an over-the-middle, yards-after-catch guy, as well as a deep threat due to his speed.

Rashee Rice, SMU, 6-foot-1, 203

Projected role: Big slot (with reserve WR-X range)

One of the best things Quintez Cephus has going for him is that no other receiver on the roster has his skill set. Rice is a more polished—and less injured—version of Cephus, meaning he is physical, is at his best working primarily out of the slot, and is a tenacious blocker—something the Lions coaches will love about him. Rice has more flexibility than Cephus does and has proven capable of making defenders miss tackles in space.

Jayden Reed, Michigan State, 6-foot-0, 190

Projected role: Multipurpose weapon (gadget, vertical threat, punt returner)

Reed’s performance at the Senior Bowl has skyrocketed his stock, and he firmly looks like a Day 2 receiving option. Speed and separation are at the forefront of his game, and he can be used in a variety of roles as a playmaker, both on offense and special teams. The ability to consistently separate will make him a coveted player, regardless of offensive scheme.

Cedric Tillman, Tennessee, 6-foot-3, 215

Projected role: WR-X

Tennessee’s WR1 before Hyatt exploded, Tillman has a WR-X frame but more WR-Z traits—like body control and deep speed—due to the Volunteers’ scheme. While he won’t step on the field as a starter in training camp, he has the capability to eventually grow into and earn a starting role.

Kayshon Boutte, LSU, 6-foot-0, 205

Projected role: WR-Z, with slot range

Boutte has been in the NFL draft conversation for three years now, but injuries as a sophomore and quarterback inconsistencies over the last two seasons have caused his production to suffer and his stock has dropped with it. Once considered in contention to be the top receiver in this draft class, Boutte is currently being projected anywhere from pick No. 50 to 150. He has potential steal written all over him.

Trey Palmer, Nebraska, 6-foot-0, 190

Projected role: Vertical threat from slot, possible outside WR-Z range

Another speed option, Palmer’s burst and separation skills will keep him employed in the NFL. His ball-tracking skills show up both in the vertical game and as a returner. While he has a future on offense, it’s his return skills that will get him on the field as a rookie.

Ronnie Bell, Michigan, 6-foot-0, 190

Projected role: Slot and WR-Z contributor

If not for a knee injury in the 2021 opener that cost him his the season, Bell would already be in the NFL right now. He isn’t flashy or dominating, but he is consistent, reliable, a strong route runner, has terrific body control, is position flexible, and is intelligent. Even if Bell never starts, he could end up as a WR4 and play for a decade in the NFL.

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