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O'HARA: Lions WR corps one sure-handed group

A lot has been written, said, reported and speculated about the Detroit Lions' wide receivers this year, and for good reasons.

It has been a high-profile position on the roster for more than a decade, often stocked by high draft picks ranging from first-round mega-flops Charles Rogers and Mike Williams to Megatron – Calvin Johnson, the NFL's dominant player at his position for nine years until his retirement in March.

But it is a new group in 2016, and it has a starkly distinct profile and resume from any assembled by the Lions in recent seasons. The position has been built with veteran free agents, with a notable absence of high draft picks.

The bottom line: Matthew Stafford's targets among the wide receivers projected to play primary roles have a documented history of reliability and production, with a low drop ratio. Based on past performances, it shapes up as the most sure-handed group in Stafford's eight seasons as a Lion.

For Golden Tate, catching the ball is a fundamental requirement of playing wide receiver. The three drops he had last season were the most for him in one season.

"That's the name of the game," Tate said at the start of training camp. "If you're a receiver, you've got to catch it.

"We've got a quarterback who can sling it. Anything in our area code, we want to catch."

Tate was a priority signing in 2014. He responded with a career-high 99 catches and a Pro Bowl berth that year and came back with 90 catches last season.

This year, Marvin Jones was signed at the start of free agency immediately after Johnson announced his retirement. Boldin was signed just before the start of training camp to complete the trio of veteran free agents.

There is room for others on the receiver depth chart. That includes TJ Jones, a promising prospect who was drafted in the sixth round out of Notre Dame in 2014, and veterans such as Andre Caldwell (ninth year) and Jeremy Kerley (sixth year), who are competing for roster spots to add depth and playing time.

"I think we have a decent mix," Stafford said of the wide receiver group. "We have some young guys that are trying to find their way, coming into their own in the NFL. We've got some guys right in the heart of their career, poised to make some big strides. We have some veterans who have played a lot of football."

Added to the mix is what running back Theo Riddick brings to the passing game. He caught 80 passes last season without a single drop.

The common denominator for Tate, Jones, Boldin and Riddick is that they catch the ball, as demonstrated by the following stats for the 2015 season as compiled by Fox Sports:

Golden Tate: 90 catches, 128 targets, 3 drops.

Theo Riddick: 80 catches, 99 targets, 0 drops.

Anquan Boldin: 69 catches, 111 targets, 2 drops.

Marvin Jones: 65 catches, 103 targets, 2 drops.

Total: 304 catches, 441 targets, 7 drops.

Kerley (16 catches with Jets), Jones (10) and Caldwell (10 with Broncos) were used sparingly last year.

Also, the tight end position is still developing behind third-year starter Eric Ebron. He improved from 25 catches and one TD as a rookie to 47 catches and five TDs last year. He has playmaking ability. However, he still has to be more consistent catching the ball. He was credited with five drops out of 70 targets last year.

The bottom line for the overall group is that when Stafford throws it, they'll catch it.

"It's awesome," Stafford said. "It really puts a quarterback at ease. When you're pulling the trigger to a guy who has really good hands, you don't feel like you have to make the absolute perfect throw.

"There's a lot of stuff going on around you as a quarterback. When you're thinking of catching it for him, as they sometimes say, that's not good. If you can let it rip and trust your guy to make the play, that's when offenses are really at their best."

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