Things have changed for the Detroit Lions in the last week. I’ve long been a passenger on the train that’s all about the Lions prioritizing drafting a wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft. Actually, I think I’m the conductor at this point.
After the Jameson Williams suspension that sets the Lions receiving corps back for six games and the fact that the Lions don’t have any long-term receivers outside of Williams and Amon-Ra St. Brown, the brakes on this train are now gone and it’s ready to crash right into the first round of the NFL Draft. Right into TCU receiver Quentin Johnston, who should be the team’s 18th overall pick.
Disclaimer: No Quentin Johnstons were harmed during this because Mike Payton is a trained Hollywood stuntman. He did all the stunts in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.” Yes, the one where they go back in time.
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Right off the bat, Johnston fills a need in the receiving room that nobody on the roster can fill. He’s a big, imposing X receiver. At 6-foot-3 and 218 pounds, Johnston becomes the biggest guy in the room on day one. That’s not the big selling point though. Johnston is an elite athlete. Johnston’s 8.68 RAS is the highest among receivers expected to go in first round. He’s not just a big guy, he’s a big guy that can move.
One of Johnston’s biggest strengths is he is almost constantly separated from his man. He is always open. He can separate running downfield, he can get behind guys downfield, and he find the open space in a crowd.
Look how he crosses the field here and loses his man in the dust before taking the ball to the house for six.
He doesn't have Jameson Williams speed, but he can do the things you expect Williams to do with a much larger frame.
Johnston also has the ability to make ridiculous plays with the ball in his hands. Take a look at this play against Kansas. He takes what should have been a short gain for TCU and turns it into a big gain by getting away from two would-be tacklers. He nearly makes another house call here before the Kansas defender just barely grabs his leg.
Johnston averaged 17.8 yards per reception in 2022. Among receivers with at least 40 catches last year, that ranks ninth in the country. On top of that, he finished the season 11th in the nation in forced missed tackles.
So to wrap up the pros, the Lions get a big receiver who can get open a lot and do things with the ball after he catches it. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal. What more do you need?
Oh yeah, he makes crazy contested catches too.
Another week, another absolutely wild Quentin Johnston contested catch deep down the field pic.twitter.com/0u0YOS3jIa— Trevor Sikkema (@TampaBayTre) October 15, 2022
Draft experts have soured on Johnston and I can’t really understand why. One thing I’ve heard is that there are worries about his drops. Johnston dropped eight passes in 2022.
That’s certainly a problem.The rap is that Johnston seems to catch the ball to the body more than trusting his hands. This isn’t an end-all, be-all thing. It’s something that coaching can help. It’s the kind of thing that maybe a certain player who has an obsession with the JUGS machine can help out with. It’s not a hand size thing. It seems like more of mental thing. These things can be coached up.
He can make those contested catches like we showed earlier, but he didn’t do it a ton. In 2022, he had a 34.8% contested catch rate (89th). I think that might have something to do with his quarterback, Max Duggan. If you watch some of the spectacular contested catches that Johnston made, you can see that he had to come back and make an incredible effort to make them happen. You can see it on the one I posted above and you can see it here.
This is probably the best play I've seen TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston do.— Luca Sartirana (@SartiranaLuca) May 10, 2022
At 6-4, 212 lbs, he's so much more than a contested catch receiver. He's a weapon with the ball in his hands and he's big time athletic. pic.twitter.com/FQazElCw2K
Johnston had to make up for Duggan’s arm a lot. Maybe the reason his contested catch rate is low is because some of the balls he got thrown were pretty uncatchable. I know there will be concerns that Jared Goff has a similar issue throwing deep, but his issue is nowhere near as bad as Max Duggan’s is.
At the end of the day, there are receivers who are higher on the board than Johnston, but they’ll either all be gone by the Lions 18th overall pick, or they’re mostly slot receivers. Johnston is the best fit for the Lions. There are concerns, but I believe they are fixable issues. The good thing is that the Lions have good coaches who have demonstrated that they’re capable of coaching up players.