Sun, 22 May 2022

2021 position breakdown: Wide receivers

Detroit Lions
22 Jan 2022, 00:25 GMT+10

Tim Twentyman

The good: There is no better place to start than Amon-Ra St. Brown, who broke the Lions rookie franchise records for receptions (90) and receiving yards (912).

He also set a team record with six straight games with at least eight-plus receptions to end the season. The NFL Rookie of the Month in December is already one of the best blocking receivers in the NFL, and he's earned early comparisons to former Pittsburgh great Hines Ward.

Josh Reynolds was a midseason acquisition off the waiver wire, and he gave the Lions a nice deep threat that expanded their pass-game capabilities.

Kalif Raymond was mostly a special teams contributor before coming to Detroit as a free agent this offseason. He set career highs with 48 receptions, 576 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He was also one of the better punt returners in the league with an 11.2-yard average per return.

Head coach Dan Campbell took over play calling after the Week 9 bye and elevated tight ends coach Ben Johnson to be his passing game coordinator. Those two moves had a huge impact on the passing game, and we saw an uptick in receiver production the second half of the season.

The bad: The receiver corps ultimately looked much different than what it was expected to in the offseason. The Lions signed Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, but Perriman didn't make the roster after a poor training camp, and Williams played just half a game because of a concussion suffered Week 1. He was eventually released with an injury settlement.

The trade that brought Trinity Benson to the Lions from Denver for a fifth-round pick right before the season started didn't work in Detroit's favor in Benson's first season in Detroit. He played in just eight games with 22 targets and 10 catches for 103 yards and no touchdowns.

It was too bad to see Quintez Cephus suffer a collarbone injury Week 5. He was playing well and hopefully that won't hinder his development at all heading into a crucial third season for him.

Key stat: The Lions were credited with dropping only 14 passes all season, per STATS INC. Their drop percentage of just 3.4 percent ranked sixth best in the NFL. St. Brown was credited with dropping just one pass all season on 119 targets.

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Free agents: Josh Reynolds (unrestricted), Kalif Raymond (unrestricted), KhaDarel Hodge (unrestricted) and Tom Kennedy (exclusive rights).

Reynolds and Raymond are the big two here. Both players fit into Detroit's scheme well. Reynolds as an overall threat, especially down the field, and Raymond as a reliable and versatile receiver and excellent punt returner.

The Lions are expected to add to the position this offseason, but if they are going into next season with Reynolds or Raymond or Cephus as their potential No. 3, 4 or 5 options, that receiver room is in a much better spot.

Draft: With the way the college game has evolved to more of a passing game like the NFL, we continue to see strong draft classes at the receiver position. This 2022 class is another good one.

The Lions will likely add to the receiver corps in free agency and the draft. Maybe that second first-round pick via the Rams will be a good jumping off spot?

Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Jameson Williams (Alabama), Chris Olave (Ohio State), Drake London (USC), Jahan Dotson (Penn State) and Treylon Burks (Arkansas) could all be first-round picks. There's also plenty of talent on Day 2 & 3 of the draft that can come in and help a team right away.

MVP: St. Brown is the slam dunk nominee here. There were 16 receivers taken before him in the draft, and he ended up among the top four in terms of production. The other three - Ja'Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith - were all top 10 selections.

St. Brown is strong and tough, and has a deep drive to learn the intricacies of the position and opponent coverages to become an even better player. He has the ability and work ethic to be one of the league's better slot receivers for a long time.

Most improved: Maybe it was just needing the opportunity here in Detroit, but before this season, Raymond had never caught more than nine passes in any of his previous four seasons in the NFL.

He proved this year he's much more than just a really good special teams player. He had two 100-yard receiving performances this season and his 48 receptions were the second most on the team behind St. Brown.

Quotable: "Yeah, it gives me a lot of confidence," St. Brown said of his record-breaking six-game finish to the season. "But I think just as a team, as a whole, getting that win (vs. Green Bay), the way we finished it. I mean, like you said, it's going to be a springboard for us in the offseason, coming into OTAs, whatever we're coming into. We got a lot of draft picks, a lot of young guys that are going to have to step up.

"We got a lot of experience this year. A lot of young guys played, which I think is going to help us a lot next year and the years moving forward. I can't wait to see what we do in these upcoming years and I'm excited."

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