Why the Detroit Lions Should Wait to Draft a Receiver Until Round 2

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Why the Detroit Lions Should Wait to Draft a Receiver Until Round 2
USA TODAY Sports

One of the great debates amongst Detroit Lions fans this draft season concerns when to address the wide receiver position. Filling the gaping hole on the roster after starters Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate is certainly a top priority for the Lions.

While many fans dream of Sammy Watkins or Mike Evans in the first round, as evidenced by this poll from MLive, the smarter move is to exploit the outstanding depth of this wide receiver class and take a wideout in the second round.

Watkins, the consensus top-rated receiver, would be a fantastic addition. Unfortunately, acquiring him would mean trading way up from the No. 10 spot. The Clemson product is almost universally projected as a top-five pick.

Evans is a little more realistic, though the Texas A&M giant is also generally expected to be off the board before Detroit picks. Many current mock drafts, including B/R's latest from Alessandro Miglio, have Evans slated to go to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at No. 7. 

Even if he does slide to the 10th spot, as he does in the latest mock from Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, the wise move is for the Lions to look at a different position.

Why?

 

Bang for the Buck

While there is no denying the need to add another receiver, the Lions already quenched that desperate thirst from the end of the 2013 season. Signing Golden Tate immediately gave Detroit a perfect complement to Johnson, who remains the preeminent receiving weapon in the NFL

Tate's versatility and big-game experience in Seattle give the Lions two legitimate threats on the outside or in the slot, where Johnson can also do a load of damage to defenses. They figure to receive the predominance of quarterback Matthew Stafford's throws.

This is where a look at the offensive scheme is in order. 

New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi comes from New Orleans, where the Saints have run a fairly consistent passing attack for the past few years. 

A quick check of the passing targets indicates that the third receiver won't see a great deal of action in Lombardi's offense:

New Orleans Saints Wide Receiver Passing Targets
2013 2012 2011
Marques Colston 107 126 105
Lance Moore 52 100 72
Third Wideout 46 44 60

Pro Football Focus

It's important to note that tight end Jimmy Graham had the most targets of any Saints player in all three of those years, with moderately less action than Johnson got in Detroit:

Calvin Johnson vs. Jimmy Graham: Targets
2013 2012 2011
Johnson 148 199 151
Graham 136 131 146

Pro Football Focus

To average out the number of targets for the third-most targeted receiver in Lombardi's New Orleans offense, it's basically 75 chances. At a 60 percent catch rate, that's 45 receptions. 

Forty-five catches. That's not exactly a high return on investment for a top 10 pick. 

With both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell providing strong receiving options out of the backfield, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria sure to get their fair share of targets as well, the third wideout is more of a complementary piece than a top priority.  

 

Depth of the Draft

The incredible depth of wide receiver talent is one of the most prevalent themes in this draft. Christopher Hansen of Bleacher Report recently wrote an informative piece on what makes it so special. 

In economics, paying a premium when the law of supply and demand favors the buyer is not a smart concept. The market forces clearly favor the Lions in their pursuit of their third wideout.

There are other positions where the talent pool is shallower, but the thirst just as apparent. 

If the Lions are truly interested in upgrading the offensive tackle spot, they will have to use the 10th pick. The decline in talent from the top tier to the group that figures to be available with the 45th pick, where the Lions pick in the second round, is profound. 

While this might not be a popular opinion, Charles Davis of the NFL Network suggests it's a real possibility:

The same is true of tight end. If the Lions want to draft an impact talent at the position, it's basically Eric Ebron at 10th or bust. While there are several talented tight ends later in the draft—players like C.J. Fiedorowicz, Crockett Gillmore and A.C. Leonard—none offer Ebron's immediate return.

Safety and outside linebacker are similar stories. The decline in top-end ability from first-round candidates to the second round and later is more dramatic than it is at wide receiver.

 

Potential Targets

Finding a wideout in the second round offers several appealing options. Watkins, Evans, Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr. will all be off the board, but that still presents Detroit with many wideouts able to slide right into the lineup and catch 45 passes on 75 targets. 

Fresno State's Davante Adams (pictured above) comes off an amazingly prolific college career, albeit a brief one. He led the nation in receptions as a redshirt sophomore in 2013. 

He would quench the thirst for a strong downfield threat. Because of his precociousness, his upside is quite high. Yet he does have some warts, as noted in his B/R scouting profile:

  • Needs to learn how to position himself to box out defensive backs for jump balls in order to become a more efficient possession receiver.
  • Faster than he is quick.
  • Lacks the quick footwork and sudden burst to consistently lose defensive backs with his cuts.
  • He can pick up chucks of yardage after the catch when given space, but he struggles to shake defensive backs if he doesn't haul in the pass with immediate room to run.

Taking Adams would be more of a long-term investment. 

A bigger option, one more akin to Mike Evans, would be Donte Moncrief from Ole Miss. 

He compares pretty well to Evans against several common opponents:

Opponent Alabama Arkansas LSU Mississippi State Missouri LSU '12 Mississippi State '12
 Evans  7-279-1*  6-116-2  4-51-0  5-116-0  4-8-0  6-76-0  9-97-0
 Moncrief  6-60-0  7-149-1  5-107-0  3-24-0  6-115-0  6-161-2  7-173-3

Moncrief's stock appears on the rise. One month ago, his draft projection was generally in the third round, but now he's projected to go in the second round.

Another riser who could immediately step into the third spot is Penn State talent Allen Robinson. B/R's Matt Miller pegged him as a riser recently, noting: 

He definitely helped his case with a strong pro day this week. Robinson timed a "sub 4.5" according to Gil Brandt in the 40-yard dash after running a pedestrian 4.60 at the combine. That, plus his overall explosive numbers (vertical, short shuttle, 10-yard split), helps his case this week.

Miller has him rated 46th overall, right in the range where the Lions pick. At CBS, Robinson ranks 30th, while Gil Brandt of NFL.com has him at 48th. 

Still another option could be Florida State's giant Kelvin Benjamin. At 6'5" and 240 pounds, he's bigger than some tight ends...and also runs like one. His 4.61 40-yard dash is pedestrian, and game tape validates his lack of explosiveness. 

Yet he's a huge target who has proven he can make tough catches in critical situations. Even with his rough edges, many are projecting the 23-year-old to go in the first round. If he is available for Detroit, he merits consideration. 

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