Pros and Cons of the Lions Trading Up for Sammy Watkins

Zach Kruse@@zachkruse2Senior Analyst IApril 10, 2014

The Detroit Lions look to be getting more and more serious about the idea of trading up for Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins, who is widely considered the top pass-catcher in the 2014 NFL draft. 

According to Ian Rapoport of, Watkins was in Detroit on Tuesday for an official visit, where he met with Lions vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. and toured the team's facilities. He also spent time with receivers Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press

While mostly out of his control, Watkins remains on board with playing in such a talented offense like Detroit's. 

“It'd be definitely a blessing playing with Megatron and Golden Tate, having Reggie Bush and Matthew Stafford,” Watkins told Birkett. “They're doing a great job with the program with all the coaches. If I ever go there, sky's the limit.”

Watkins, who stands 6'1" and weighs 211 pounds, possesses 4.4 speed, a 34-inch vertical leap and undeniable big-play ability. He's been placed by most atop this year's receiver class, which looks like one of the deepest and most talented in recent history. 

Watkins left Clemson as the school's all-time leader in receptions (240) and receiving yards (3,391). During his final collegiate game—a win over Ohio State in the Orange Bowl—Watkins caught 16 passes for 227 yards. 

The Lions certainly haven't hid how highly they view the former All-American.

"He's an outstanding player," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said, via Kyle Meinke of "Obviously, he's got the speed, he's got the quickness, he's got the playmaking ability. Another guy you can just get the ball in his hands and he can make something happen."

Watkins' placement in the first five or so picks in the first round looks like a near lock. 

That reality presents a dilemma for the Lions, who are slotted in at No. 10 overall. It would take a drastic set of unforeseen events for Watkins to fall to Detroit, leaving a trade-up as the most plausible option if the Lions truly want to bring Watkins to the Motor City. 

Below, we'll break down the pros and cons of the Lions making the move up to grab Watkins in a month's time. 



1. Johnson, Tate and Watkins Could Be Special

Throwing to these three would be a dream scenario for Matthew Stafford, who desperately needs a bounce-back season in 2014. He'd finally be out of excuses, at least in terms of surrounding talent. If Watkins were added, he would have at his disposal the most gifted trio of receivers in the NFL.

Johnson is one of this generation's most dominant offensive players. The vastly underrated Tate has sticky hands and is among the more slippery players in the open field. Watkins is a rare blend of the two, with unlimited upside.

What secondary could consistently handle all three—especially with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell in the backfield and Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria roaming at tight end? Stafford, who has struggled in back-to-back years, could regain his 2011 form in a flash with all the weapons around him.

The Lions offense was already going to be good in 2014. With Watkins, it could be something special.


2. Watkins Could Eventually Replace Megatron

Moving up to get Watkins might eventually supply the Lions with a natural replacement for Johnson, who will be 29 in September and has dealt with various injuries in recent seasons.

Megatron could still rather easily play for another five to six years, as his contract ties him to Detroit through 2019. But nothing is written in stone in the NFL, and getting Watkins now would at least provide insurance at No. 1 receiver should Johnson see any decline in the coming years.

Keep in mind, Watkins might be the best pass-catcher to come out since A.J. Green in 2011. And top-10 receivers generally produce in a big way. Since 2006, only Ted Ginn, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Justin Blackmon stand out as major busts. Johnson, Green, Michael Crabtree and Julio Jones have been big hits. The Lions could feel confident in a talent like Watkins eventually giving them top numbers. 


3. The Lions Prepared Themselves For This

You could actually argue that the signing of Golden Tate for a decent chunk of change ($31 million, $13.25 million guaranteed) eliminated Detroit's most pressing need. And for the most part, it did. 

But there's more than one way to look at what Detroit has done this offseason. The Lions satisfied needs at receiver and safety in free agency, which should give the team flexibility to get a player they really covet in the draft. Detroit doesn't need to be completely locked in to any one position like it might have been before the team signed Tate and former Baltimore Ravens safety James Ihedigbo. 

Also, remember that the Lions have three picks in the top 76 of the draft, plus two compensatory picks in the fourth round. No general manager wants to give up a huge amount of draft capital, but the Lions have flexibility to move around.   



1. Cost, Cost, Cost

If Watkins is indeed their target, the Lions may have to move up as many as eight spots—from No. 10 to 2—to ensure his selection. The St. Louis Rams currently hold the second overall pick, and they just happen to be in the market for receiver help (although signing Kenny Britt has softened that need). The Jacksonville Jaguars (No. 3), Cleveland Browns (No. 4) and Oakland Raiders (No. 5) could all conceivably take Watkins inside the top five. 

Keep in mind, the Rams swung a deal with Washington for the No. 2 overall pick just two short years ago. The cost for Washington to move up from the sixth pick? Three first-round picks and an additional second-rounder. 

The prize was obviously more valuable back then (Robert Griffin III), but it stands to reason that St. Louis would again want an impressive collection of picks to move back, this time eight spots. At the very least, such a move would cost the Lions a first- and second-rounder this year, likely with additional 2015 picks involved.

Deals with other top-five teams would cost similar compensation. 

Without question, the biggest con to moving up and getting Watkins is the cost. At some negotiation point, the Lions will feel that the price to get him outweighs his added value—no matter how highly they view him. 


2. Why Trade Up in a WR-Loaded Draft?

The sheer depth of this receiver class will force every team considering Watkins to ask a simple question. Is Watkins so much better than the rest of the players at his position that a team would be better off taking him high than waiting and taking a receiver later on? 

The question is particularly important to the Lions. What is the gap between Watkins and Mike Evans, who is widely considered the No. 2 receiver? And would it be better off to hold on to all your picks and instead take Evans at No. 10?

This receiver class might provide impact pass-catchers into the third round. It's that deep. And while a rare talent like Watkins is a much surer bet than a third-rounder, the margins aren't as significant in this draft compared to others. 

Watkins is special, but it's probably not good business to move up in a draft so loaded at the receiver position. 


3. Other Needs 

Any move up in this draft would rob the Lions of the opportunity to fix other, potentially more pressing, needs. 

The likely ridiculous cost to get Watkins would not only take away Detroit's ability to draft a cornerback, safety or pass-rusher in the first round, but it would also take away other opportunities to patch up those holes later on in the draft. For a team already so well stocked on offense, the Lions might not be in a position on defense to pull off such a drastic move for the offensive side. 

The draft should never be held hostage by needs, which often fluctuate year to year. Distorting value by need can be a risky strategy for picking new players. However, strengthening a strength over helping a need position can occasionally backfire. Just ask the Atlanta Falcons, who moved up to get Julio Jones in 2011—giving up valuable picks and leaving the cupboard bare at other positions. 

And without being too reactionary, maybe February's Super Bowl will provide one final deterrent. The offensive-rich Denver Broncos got railroaded by the Seattle Seahawks, who built their team with smart picks on defense. Trading up to get Watkins would move the Lions a step closer to Denver on offense, but also a few steps away from Seattle's title defense.


Zach Kruse covers the NFC North for Bleacher Report.


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