INDIANAPOLIS – The evaluation of the Detroit Lions' offense was already taking place before head coach Dan Campbell promoted tight ends coach Ben Johnson to offensive coordinator.
With Johnson now running the show offensively under the vision of Campbell, Johnson's self-scout of the offense identified one key need. Detroit's on the lookout for an X receiver that can make plays outside the numbers and in the deep part of the field.
"We feel like we attack the middle of the field really well," Johnson told local media members Tuesday at the NFL Scouting Combine. "The more we can expand both vertically and horizontally, outside the numbers and deep down the field, that's going to make those guys on the inside that much more dangerous."
The Lions have some weapons offensively they really like. Johnson thinks they can be dominant upfront along their offensive line, and he likes what slot receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, tight end T.J. Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift bring to the passing game. But the one missing link, the piece to bring the offense full circle, is an outside receiver who can win one-on-ones and force a defense to roll coverage his way.
View photos of the wide receiver prospects who were invited to the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine.
The good thing is the Lions will have plenty of opportunities to find that guy this offseason. Maybe a couple of them.
It's a loaded class of free-agent receivers, led by Davante Adams (Green Bay), Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay), Allen Robinson (Chicago) and Mike Williams (Los Angeles Chargers), just to name a few.
Holmes told reporters at the Combine Tuesday that receiver was one of the deepest position groups in this draft. More than a half dozen receivers could come off the board in the first round, led by Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Jameson Williams (Alabama), Treylon Burks (Arkansas), Drake London (USC), Chris Olave (Ohio State) and Jahan Dotson (Penn State).
"I think it comes in a number of shapes and forms, but I think the definition of it really is a guy ... who can win consistently one-on-one, whether that's a big guy with a lot of strength and size or whether that's a guy with elite quickness or speed," Johnson said.
"I think it comes in a number of different ways, but that's what we're looking for, someone outside the numbers predominantly, who can win a one on one, and if he's good at his job, dictates coverage. They recognize where he's at all times and start rolling his way, which will open us up for the run game and everything else inside. That's really what we want."
The Lions were efficient in the passing game the second half of the season after Campbell took over play calling and Johnson took over pass-game coordinator duties Week 9, but Detroit's passing attack still wasn't as explosive as it could be. Johnson said he'd like to see the yards per attempt increase significantly next year. The easiest way to accomplish that is to get a player or two out wide who can win consistently. It could also help on third down and in the red zone.
"Think about it, when we get down there (in the red zone) the size matchups make a huge difference," Johnson said. "That was another thing we brought up. How many times did we really throw it outside the numbers when we got down there tight and probably was below league average. That's something we need to look at and to explore."
It's clear the Lions are on the lookout for help outside the numbers at receiver and will work hard in free agency and with their draft prep to find the players they believe can take this offense to the next level.