Last season saw great strides for Robert Prince and Detroit’s wide receiving corps. With the addition of Golden Tate in 2014, depth as well as another weapon on offense was developed in the wake of a nagging injury to Calvin Johnson. Stability was created in the pass happy offense Joe Lombardi took over.
However, the Lions are still in search for a number three wide receiver to backup Megatron and Tate, specifically a deep threat. Track star Corey Fuller took a big leap in terms of skill level throughout training camp and preseason, yet failed to make the impact the Lions had hoped for. Fuller still remains a solid rotational option heading into the 2015 season, but will likely be bypassed for the number three option in the passing game if the Lions do select a wide receiver with the 23rd overall pick.
And assuming that Detroit will remain at pick 23, with no trades at hand, there are obvious wide receivers out of play. But with the likes of Jaelen Strong and Devin Smith very possibly still on the board, who should the Lions select?
Smith, likely the most talented deep threat in the draft class, averaging over 28 yards per reception while playing for Ohio State in his senior season, may not be worth a look in the first round. Many teams have identified flaws in his performance while not running deep routes, particularly from his pro day. However, if he is available in the second round, there should be no question to whether or not the Lions take him.
Nevertheless, Jaelen Strong should remain firmly in the conversation of being drafted in the first round. But considering the needs for teams with a better first round option than the Lions, and the depth at the wide receiver position this year, Strong will likely find himself available late on opening day. Yet do the Lions have a strong enough need for a wide receiver to draft one in the first round? Let’s take a look at the assets and liabilities Strong obtains to find out.
Positives: Opposite to what most believe, Jaelen Strong does possess speed. Although his top end speed needs work, he does have the ability to beat the cornerback and safety if he runs the route to perfection. After posting a 4.44-second 40-yard dash at the combine in February, the Arizona State alum not only showed teams that he has size, but speed as well. However, the most attractive asset Strong obtains is his physicality. Hardly any other wide receivers in this year’s draft class have the physical attributes as well as the aggressiveness to come down with competitive throws. Stafford has already experienced this kind of talent with Calvin Johnson, but adding Strong to the mix when Johnson is double-covered may be just what the offense needs.
Negatives: On the flip side, Strong heavily struggles with his ability to run routes as well as detract defenders. If he can run a route well, for example a post route, he has the ability to get enough separation to use his body to secure the ball. However, if the defender is on him and in position to make a break on the ball, Strong is caught in the wrong position and gives up the completion. This combined with his lack of top end speed, hurts his stock in terms of becoming a complete wide receiver, or what we call a Megatron. Defenses can neutralize him by dropping a safety deep and covering him one-on-one on the outside with a cornerback.
Overall Analysis: Jaelen Strong has the ability to become a great wide receiver in the NFL, but probably never elite. This, matched with his lack of speed will affect the way the Lions view him. And as of right now, there are higher positional priorities for Detroit to address early in the draft. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi mentioned a transition to a more complete run game for 2015, and if that’s the case, running back may be a bigger position of need.