2020 Detroit Lions State of the Roster: Skill Positions (Pre-Draft)

And now, continuing my look at the Lions, we will finish the offense by moving to the less important, but glamorous skill players.

*projected starters italicized

TE

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson (88) runs after a catch in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Buffalo Bills in Detroit, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Rick Osentoski)

TJ Hockenson

Jesse James

Isaac Nauta

Roster Outlook: Above Average

The Lions spent a considerable amount of resources on this group last offseason, by overpaying James and overdrafting Hockenson. Neither performed at the level of expectations last year but both are still good pieces. The Lions are moving forward with their two TE approach which I think makes sense with the type of scheme OC Darrell Bevel is running. I thought they should have made more of an effort to retain Logan Thomas who showed some flashes last year, and in a 2 TE offense, your 3rd TE is important depth. Currently, that player is Isaac Nauta, who has shown little as a receiver or blocker thus far. After using so many resources on this position last offseason (2 picks and a big free agency signing) I could understand them not addressing this spot in the draft and maybe adding a veteran to complete their roster.

Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 0% (I’m not sure there is a TE worth a #1 this year and if so the Lions should not be picking him)

Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 5%

Likelihood of Day 3 Pick: 45%

Possible Targets: This draft is not great at the top or at the bottom at the TE position. Most of the value is in Rounds 3 through 4 where athletic TE’s with potential like Albert Okwuegbunam (MIZZ) and Devin Asiasi (UCLA) should come off the board. Thaddeus Moss (LSU) is an intriguing target in the 5th or 6th round. While not elite athletically, he has great hands and body control like his NFL royalty father Randy Moss. And he’s a good run blocker capable of playing tight to the line, or in the backfield as an H-Back. Another possibility in the 7th round would be Sean McKeon (UMICH) – (I promise I don’t have a Michigan bias, we just have so many players who could get drafted – second most after LSU). McKeon is a pretty good blocker although he had some bouts with inconsistency on tape. He also has the athletic traits to develop into a decent pass catching option, but will need to work on his hands and his route technique a bit more.

RB

Oct 20, 2019; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions running back Kerryon Johnson (33) runs the ball against Minnesota Vikings defensive back Anthony Harris (41) during the first quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Kerryon Johnson

Ty Johnson

Bo Scarborough

Roster Outlook: Mediocre

Kerryon has lived up to all of my expectations for him after the Lions selected him, and then some. However, while he has displayed RB1 ability, his injuries have frustratingly curtailed his Lions career so far. He’s only played in 18 games in two years, or little more than a full season. At this point I think he would be better suited as a platoon partner than the featured back. However, the roster as currently situated does not provide that possibility, even to the wildest of optimists.

Ty Johnson was a head scratching pick last season, and he proved to be exactly the player he was at Maryland. While Johnson offers elite speed and some return ability, he lacks most of the fundamental skills necessary to be a rotational running back. His vision, agility, and balance are all lacking. He has shown some surprising receiving skills (he showed almost none of that at Maryland) and the Lions chose to keep him for the 3rd down back role over JD McKissic, who was extremely productive for us last year. Not the move I would have made, but I understand why. I would prefer they give these 3rd down snaps to Kerryon and let Jamal Agnew be the primary returner on kick returns in addition to punt returns. But that’s just me.

Finally there is Bo Scarborough. He showed flashes last year of being a competent back, but also flashes of why he was such a disappointment at Alabama. He would be great to be the 4th back, active only if Kerryon or the new RB1 sustains an injury, as he is capable of handling rotation snaps for a few weeks.

Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 10% (If they trade up into the bottom of Round 1)

Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 60%

Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 30%

Possible Targets:

Here is the Top 7 of my RB Board:

  1. Jonathan Taylor (WISC)
  2. DeAndre Swift (UGA)
  3. Clyde Edwards-Helaire (LSU)
  4. JK Dobbins (OSU)
  5. Cam Akers (FSU)
  6. AJ Dillon (BC)
  7. Zach Moss (UTAH)

I am an unabashed Taylor fan. I think he was not only the best RB in college last year, I think he was the best overall player. He has a rare combination of vision, acceleration, balance, power, and speed. I would mark him as elite in all of those categories. He also is a good pass catcher out of the backfield. The only questions are his pass blocking acumen as Wisconsin rarely put him in the position to block, as well as his lack of wiggle in the open field, compared to others in the class.

Swift is also an excellent running back and in most years would be my #1. In fact you can make a case he is the #1 back because he has no real weakness. He has many of the elite characteristics of Taylor, albeit not at his same level, and he adds elite elusiveness as well, and has good tape of him in pass protection. Swift and Taylor should both go at the top of Round 2 and the Lions may have to trade up into the bottom of Round 1 to secure one.

Edwards-Helaire and Dobbins are on my next tier. Helaire they can get in the early 2nd and Dobbins will probably be a late 2nd or early 3rd rounder. Edwards-Helaire is the best back in this draft at making people miss and is truly elite in the passing game as a receiver out of the backfield. He also has great vision and elite jump-cutting ability. You could make a strong case that Edwards-Helaire belongs on the same level as Swift and Taylor but I think he’s just a bit under those guys. *Side note if the Bucs get this guy and pair him with Brady, then just give them the Lombardi trophy now*

Dobbins is undersized but is explosive and runs with great balance and power. He would be a steal for a zone running team as he will thrive in a one cut system where he can flow behind his offensive line and find a hole to explode through. Keep him away from the 49ers at all costs !

Akers and Dillon should be available on the latter part of Day 2. Akers is another explosive back in the running and passing game. His tape is a bit difficult to examine because Florida State’s offensive line was atrocious on a level that is hard to fathom. But you see him consistently make defenders miss, get yards after contact, and turn broken plays into touchdowns. Dillon is an impressive athlete, as he is a monstrous power back with sneaky speed and acceleration for his size. He can bludgeon a defense, but he also has the speed to run away from linebackers. He has tree trunks for legs, and always falls forward.

Finally there is Moss, cousin to Santana and Sinorice. He is a more fluid than explosive back who does a lot of things fine, but nothing at a high level. He would be a good 4th or 5th round pick, but honestly I see him as more of a backup at this level, and would be disappointed if we eschewed all of these other choices in favor of taking him later.

WR

DETROIT, MI – SEPTEMBER 29: Kenny Golladay #19 of the Detroit Lions celebrates a late fourth quarter touchdown during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Ford Field on September 29, 2019 in Detroit, Michigan (Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)

Kenny Golladay

Marvin Jones

Danny Amendola

Marvin Hall

Geronimo Allison

Chris Lacy

Travis Fulgham

Roster Outlook: Average

This is another sneaky spot where you may see the Lions draft earlier than many are expecting. They have Golladay, who is a legit #1 receiver and the highlight of Quinn’s tenure in Detroit. However, Marvin Jones has only played 4 more games than Kerryon over the last 2 years, is entering the last year of his contract, and just turned 30. I think there is a better than 50% chance this is his last year with the Lions. Ditto Amendola who I actually did not expect to be here for longer than last year. Also, based on Jones recent injury history, and Amendola’s injury track record, the Lions had better have a #4 receiver they are confident in. That player will likely get some solid snaps this year, as well as be groomed to be Golladay’s running mate for 2021 and beyond (assuming the Lions smartly re-sign Golladay – an assumption I can’t say I have the utmost confidence in).

Current candidates for that role:

Marvin Hall – A really talented speedster who made plays when he got the chance (23.7 yards per target). The Lions might have something with him. I like him as the 5th receiver that they can groom to be a slot later on as he has size limitations.

Travis Fulgham – Another puzzling pick last year as there were several better receiver prospects available. Quinn fell in love with the Old Dominio duo of Fulgham and Jonathan Duhart, signing Duhart as an UDFA (he has since been released). I actually liked Duhart’s film better than Fulgham when I took a look last season but Fulgham has size traits that project better as an NFL outside receiver. Fulgham spent most of the season on the practice squad and showed little in the 3 games he played with the Lions at the end of the year. I think he’ll have a similar fate in 2020.

Chris Lacy – Basically Fulgham but a year further. He was a practice squad guy and he actually got a few targets his way at the end of last season. He only caught 30% of them and had a poor 6.0 yards per target, but the Lions QB situation was a disaster by the time he was out there, so those numbers are not entirely his doing. Should make training camp but shouldn’t make the roster. May get to accrue his final season of practice squad eligibility though but with such a deep receiver class, I’m certain there will be better UDFA candidates for that practice squad spot.

Geronimo Allison – The Packers castoff was the first odd-man out of the cast of non-descript, journeyman receivers they have given Aaron Rodgers to pair with Devante Adams. If they draft a receiver, Allison should not make the final roster.

Likelihood of Day 1 Pick: 5% (A trade up into Round 1 if there is a can’t miss guy sliding)

Likelihood of Day 2 Pick: 40%

Likelihood of Day 3 pick: 40%

Possible Targets: This draft is absolutely loaded at receiver. LOADED. I’m only going to list my Top 15 but I think there is a legitimate chance that 35 receivers come off the board this weekend. It’s insane. Here is my draft board (subject to change by tomorrow as I’m still watching film):

  1. Ceedee Lamb (OU)
  2. Jerry Jeudy (BAMA)
  3. Henry Ruggs (BAMA)
  4. Tee Higgins (CLEM)
  5. Jalen Reagor (TCU)
  6. Denzel Mims (BAY)
  7. Brandon Aiyuk (ASU)
  8. Justin Jefferson (LSU)
  9. Chase Claypool (ND)
  10. Tyler Johnson (MIN)
  11. Van Jefferson (UF)
  12. Donovan Peoples-Jones (UMICH)
  13. Laviska Shenault (CU)
  14. KJ Hamler (PSU)
  15. Michael Pittman (USC – Trojans)

The Top 3 guys should not be on the Lions radar. They are a luxury that is too expensive at pick #3 or even after a trade down to lower in the Top 10. However, if one starts to fall into the 20s, I would not be mad at the Lions firmly taking care of this need by trading up as all 3 of those guys are big time talents at receiver. 4 through 9 should all go in the late first to mid-2nd range, and the Lions could use a pick there, but again I feel like we have more needs to address. If they did though, I think Reagor, Mims or Aiyuk would make the most sense as they are all explosive and dynamic playmakers with the ball in their hands. Higgins is more of a possession receiver, albeit a really good one that I think is being underrated. Go watch Clemson-Ohio State from the CFP last year and see how much better Clemson’s offense looked with Higgins returned in the second half from an injury that knocked him out early. It was night and day. However, he does duplicate a lot of Golladays’ strengths so would not be as good a fit as the other 3. Justin Jefferson had a hyper productive senior year for the champion LSU Tigers , but he does not win from the outside receiver position enough for me. He is very good as a big slot though, but for me you can get that type of value in the 3rd and beyond. Claypool is a height-weight-speed guy that some have pegged as a TE. He is huge, fast, and has elite leaping ability and body control. He’ll be snatched up somewhere in Round 2.

Around where the Lions should be targeting a receiver is the 3rd round. Receivers 10-15 should be there, although they may not as I think they all carry 2nd round grades. Van Jefferson and Tyler Johnson are just natural route runners, with good hands. They don’t always create elite separation, and are mostly average athletically, but they can win on contested catches and are crafty in and out of their breaks. Pittman is also in that same vein. Peoples-Jones, Shenault and Hamler are more explosive options in the 3rd or 4th the Lions can consider but each comes with some flaws. DPJ is the best athlete of any receiver in this draft. But he does not get the consistent separation on his routes , that you would expect from a receiver with his natural gifts. But with a 6’2 frame, 44 inch vertical, 33 inch arms, and 4.4 speed, he’s exactly how you would design an outside receiver in a lab. He would be a perfect candidate for the Lions to take and develop to be Golladay’s running mate (OK my bias is showing here). Plus he’s a Detroit native.

Another Southeast Michigan native draft prospect is Yak Town’s own KJ Hamler, who is just a BLUR. After Henry Ruggs, I don’t think there is a receiver in this draft who will frighten defensive coordinators more with his speed. He’s quick twitch too, and a nightmare if he gets the ball in space. That being said he has severe size limitations (5’9″ 180) and his route running is not smooth or polished, but he would be another pick that I would be in favor of, and not just because he’s a hometown kid. Finally there is Shenault who many had as a first round pick before the pre-draft process began. However, he had a disastrous combine. He both opened up some concerns that evaluators had not had (his speed and agility did not seem to be issues on tape but he tested poorly) and confirmed issues that they did have (he was working out with a core injury, after missing time in both of the last two seasons). He had surgery right after the combine so evaluators have not been able to see him move (virtually) since then. However, if you turn on the tape, few receivers have been as productive as Shenault and his athletic gifts are readily visible. I believe that he would have tested well had he been healthy but that his injury history is a strong concern. He’s probably a first or second round talent, but he could fall to the 3rd or 4th because of injury concerns, and at that point he would be a good gamble for the Lions to take.

There are many others the Lions could consider as well like Bryan Edwards USC -Gamecocks), Lynn Bowden (UK), James Proche (SMU), Antonio Gandy-Golden (LIB), KJ Hill (OSU – Suckeyes) etc. They almost have to grab a receiver with a class this loaded.

Overview

The Lions need a talent infusion at receiver and running back,a nd luckily this draft aligns well for the Lions to do so. They need to address running back early on Day 2 either with their own second round pick, or the 2nd they get if they trade down (more on that later). Receiver will likely need to wait until the 3rd or 4th round so they can fix their deficiencies on the offensive and defensive line, but the depth of this receiver class will push some really talented guys to late Day 2 and early Day 3 where the Lions can take advantage. This draft is ripe for the taking here.

One thought on “2020 Detroit Lions State of the Roster: Skill Positions (Pre-Draft)

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