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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Lions NFL draft preview: Wide receivers

By Michael Rothstein

The NFL draft is less than two weeks away, which means soon enough the Detroit Lions will have to reveal whether all of their Sammy Watkins attention and visits from Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack had substance or were designed to throw everyone off.

But the draft will be more than just one round for the Lions, who will need to use the three days in May to build depth on a roster that is big on stars but small on those players beyond the big names that can turn the Lions into a playoff team.

Every day up until the first day of the draft, we’ll look at a different position grouping and see what Detroit has and what the team could end up looking for during the 2014 draft.

Today continues with wide receivers.

Previous position groups: Quarterbacks; Running backs

Players Lost: Nate Burleson (signed with Cleveland); Micheal Spurlock (unsigned)

Players Signed: Golden Tate (from Seattle); Naaman Roosevelt (played with Buffalo in 2010 and 2011)

Players on the roster: Calvin Johnson; Tate; Ryan Broyles; Kris Durham; Kevin Ogletree; Jeremy Ross; Roosevelt; Patrick Edwards; Cody Wilson; Corey Fuller; Carlin Isles.

Draft priority: High

Potential Rounds: Any round

Players who have visited or the Lions have met with: Sammy Watkins, Clemson; Martavis Bryant, Clemson; Allen Robinson, Penn State (local workout); Bennie Fowler, Michigan State (local workout); Erik Lora, Eastern Illinois; Marqise Lee, USC; Mike Evans, Texas A&M (went to pro day); Cody Latimer, Indiana (per Detroit Free Press); John Brown, Pittsburg State (per Detroit Free Press).

Analysis: Despite their top free-agent signing, Tate, being a wide receiver and having the top pass-catcher in the game in Johnson, bringing in more wide receivers to overhaul a group that led the NFL in drop rate last season has been a priority.

A lot of this has to do with Detroit’s overall philosophy this offseason – find as much help as possible for quarterback Matthew Stafford to lift him from a very good quarterback to one of the top players in the position in the NFL. The Lions have focused their coaching staff hires on this goal and appear to be doing the same with both free agency, and now, the draft.

The draft is a little bit different for Detroit because even if the front office won’t admit it, the franchise understands it might be time to at least contemplate searching for a replacement for Johnson if there is someone with that type of talent there.

The Lions have expended considerable time over the past three months investigating Watkins, believed to be the best receiver in the draft, to see if he could be the player eventually relied upon to be that replacement.

They brought Watkins in for a visit, went to his pro day and met with him privately; a lot of work for a player who has little-to-no chance of being around at Detroit’s current No. 10 selection. The team even met with his receiver teammate, Bryant, and his brother, Florida safety Jaylen Watkins, in the process.

Of course, one could make the argument that the Lions would be better waiting until the second or third round to take a receiver and grabbing Bryant anyway.

While a lot of the focus has been on Sammy Watkins, this is a very deep, very talented receiver class. If the Lions don’t trade up for Watkins, there’s a chance Evans could be around at No. 10 and he would be an intriguing pick for the Lions. So would potentially trading down to grab a receiver a little bit later and stockpiling picks.

When it comes to this position, Detroit could end up doing pretty much anything.

Of all reasonable options, I’d take: My feelings on trading up for Watkins have been known for a little while – don’t do it. The only prospects, in my opinion, worth moving up for are Clowney and Mack, players who can make an immediate difference on defense. So when it comes to reasonable, there’s this.

If Evans is there at No. 10, the Lions would have to consider him heavily. Whether they should make the pick or not is something different, but they’d have to look hard at it. Personally, I’d wait until the second or third round and grab one of these prospects if available (and one likely will be): Latimer, Bryant, Robinson, Kelvin Benjamin from Florida State, Paul Richardson from Colorado or even a guy like Donte Moncrief from Mississippi. At least one of those players, if not more, should be available when the Lions pick on the second day – perhaps even in the third round. Don’t be surprised, either, if Detroit ends up taking another receiver a bit later as well because this is a high value position in the 2014 draft.

Possible targets: Watkins; Evans; Odell Beckham Jr., LSU; Lee; Latimer; Benjamin; Davante Adams, Fresno State; Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt; Richardson; Bryant; Robinson; Brandon Coleman, Rutgers; Moncrief; Kevin Norwood, Alabama; Mike Davis, Texas; Shaq Evans, UCLA; Jeff Janis, Saginaw Valley.