2014 Combine Preview: Wide receivers

Posted Feb 13, 2014

Tim Twentyman spotlights his top positions to watch heading into next week's NFL Combine in Indianapolis

The NFL Scouting Combine kicks off next week in Indianapolis and it'll give teams like the Detroit Lions a chance to get real measurables and medical reports on the more than 300 prospects expected to take part.

It's an opportunity for teams to get a lot of information for their drafts boards and start to put names with needs.

In the days leading up to the Combine, we'll take a look at some of the Lions' biggest needs this offseason, what prospects could fill those spots and what questions need to be answered in Indianapolis next week.

Why do the Lions need another receiver?

We start with the wide receiver position, which has turned into a big need for this team. The Lions need another big-play threat on the outside who isn't named Calvin Johnson.

Megatron is the best big-play threat in the league at the position, but he can't continue to carry the load alone. Johnson caught 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns this past year. All other wide receivers on the roster combined for 108 catches for 1,390 yards and five touchdowns.

The Lions aren't just looking for a player to complement Johnson, either. They need a player who can stand-alone and be a weapon. A receiver teams have to game plan against so Johnson isn't in the cross hairs as much as he's been the past couple seasons.

New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi says he's bringing the New Orleans playbook to Detroit. The Saints' offense featured multiple personnel groupings and the ability to attack teams down the field from multiple positions. If Lombardi wants to run that kind of offense, quarterback Matthew Stafford needs more weapons to throw to.

Where does the roster stand?

Nate BurlesonPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

Nate Burleson proved he can still be a contributor at age 32 (39 catches, 461 yards and one touchdown in nine games), but the Lions can't support the $7.5 million cap number he'll carry into 2014, the final year of the five-year deal he signed in 2010. Burleson said he's willing to take less money to stay a Lion and that will have to become a reality for the Lions to move forward with some of their other plans.

Ryan Broyles is facing a third consecutive offseason of rehabbing from a major injury. He's torn the ACL in both knees and is now coming back from a ruptured Achilles tendon. There's no telling how much the Lions can expect from him in 2014, especially early on.

Kevin Ogletree, Micheal Spurlock, Kris Durham (exclusive rights) and Jeremy Ross (exclusive rights) are free agents.

Durham showed last year he could contribute as a possession receiver with 38 catches.

Ross will likely enter the year as the Lions primary return man. At 6-foot, he's got terrific size and strength to play the slot. He needs to become a more consistent pass catcher, however.

Who could fit in the draft?

This draft looks to be loaded at the receiver position. There's a chance as many as eight receivers could be drafted in the first 32 picks.

It's very possible -- depending on who's available -- the Lions elect to fill this need with the No. 10 overall pick.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins is the consensus top receiver available and has garnered some comparisons to Atlanta's Julio Jones, when he was coming out of Alabama a few years ago.

Watkins had 101 catches for 1,464 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and left a lasting impression on NFL talent evaluators with 16 catches for 227 yards and two scores against Ohio State in an Orange Bowl victory.

Other potential first-day options for the Lions could be Texas A&M's Mike Evans (69 catches, 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns) and USC's Marqise Lee (118 catches, 1,721 yards and 14 touchdowns as a sophomore in 2012).

Teams like the Lions, who are looking for receiver help, will be very interested in how Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin measures out in Indianapolis. He's physically gifted at 6-foot-4, 233 pounds, but he hasn't played a lot of football. He caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns for the National Champions this past year.

If the Lions go a different route at No. 10, they could circle back with pick No. 45 and be interested in players like Allen Robinson (Penn State), Jordan Matthews (Vanderbilt), Davante Adams (Fresno State) or Odell Beckham Jr. (LSU).

What do the Lions want to learn from the position in Indianapolis?

  • Is Watkins the only real option at No. 10? Can they get an immediate impact player at No. 45?
  • It seems like a bit of a long shot at this point to think Watkins could be there for the Lions at No. 10. If Watkins ends up being at the top of the Lions' draft board, they might have to move up to get him.
  • General manager Martin Mayhew has shown in the past he's not afraid to move up. He attempted to go from No. 13 to the No. 5 in 2011 to try and get cornerback Patrick Peterson.
  • Does Evans have good enough speed to separate from NFL cornerbacks? Is Lee the receiver who caught 118 passes in 2012 or the one who caught 57 this past season or is he somewhere in-between?
  • Can players like Robinson, Mathews and the next tier of players have the same impact as say Alshon Jeffery has had in Chicago? Jeffery is a Pro Bowler in his second season, and coincidentally was the No. 45 overall pick in the 2012 draft.