Three years after Calvin Johnson’s retirement, the rebuilt Detroit Lions receiving corps is capable of accomplishing a rare triple feat in 2018.
However, the 2018 Detroit Lions are in a great position to have three separate players go over 1,000 yards receiving for the season. The Cardinals last did this, in 2008 (Larry Fitzgerald–Anquan Boldin–Steve Breaston, quarterbacked by Kurt Warner).
Why do I think they’re a strong bet to pull off this feat, and what other pieces would need to fall into place for it to happen?
Golden Tate and Marvin Jones Jr.
These two are the easy part of the equation. In his four seasons in Detroit, Tate has topped 1,000 yards three times, including the past two years. He’s never had fewer than 90 catches during this time, taking 92 grabs for 1,003 yards in 2017. He may be nearing the tail end of his prime years, but Golden remains one of the NFL’s best catch-and-run screen pass threats. He can expect 100+ targets once again in 2018, giving ample opportunities to rack up his signature yards after catch.
Jones is coming off of the best season in his six-year career, with a career-high 1,101 yards and a league-leading 18.0 yards per catch. Most would probably agree that Jones has come closer than expected towards matching Calvin Johnson‘s production since becoming a Lion in 2016. Jones’s speed makes him a constant deep ball threat, and he came up with numerous big catches through contact (even through pass interference) in 2017.
Both Jones and Tate should return healthy and remain close enough to their primes to repeat their output again this year.
As a rookie, Golladay put together the most impressive highlight reel of the three receivers. Though his final numbers were unspectacular (28 catches, 477 yards), the unheralded 3rd round pick showed flashes of enormous potential and clutch game-turning catches against Arizona and Cleveland.
A season of experience and a better understanding of NFL coverage schemes should make Golladay a much more effective possession receiver across the middle in year two.
Furthermore, Eric Ebron‘s departure leaves an additional 80 or 90 targets open for someone to inherit. Someone will need to fill up his better-than-you-probably-thought-it-was 53 catch, 574 yard, four touchdown stat line from a year ago.
Though much thinner, Golladay is the same height and has similar athletic gifts as Ebron. With no tight end on the roster with much of a pass catching track record, Golladay seems a logical choice to take a heavy portion of plays previously designed for Ebron.
The ‘Babytron’ nickname comparing him to Calvin Johnson might be a little too much to ask at this point. However, if his true NFL comparison is “a more humble Ebron, with a clutch gene added”, that’s definitely good for over 1,000 yards receiving.
Of the top Lions receivers, Golladay has shown potential to end up being the best out of the three, maybe even as early as this season.
Simply having talented and experienced receivers doesn’t tell the entire story.
The thousand yard seasons of Jones and Tate last year were achieved despite…
- The worst run game in the entire league
- Next to no protection for quarterback Matthew Stafford
Detroit’s leading rusher had less than 600 yards for the third year in a row, and Stafford took the most sacks of his career so far.
The front office once again took steps to improve these areas over the offseason. LeGarrette Blount signed as a free agent. He may or may not be a feature back capable of commanding attention from opposing defenses. As a general rule, the better the running game gets, the easier it gets for the passing game.
Frank Ragnow was drafted in the first round. He may or may not be bodyguard capable of opening holes and keeping the quarterback’s jersey clean. As a general rule, give Stafford a little time, and he’ll put up huge numbers. Still, until they prove otherwise, the running backs and offensive line remain the weakest links on the team.
If either one of these areas improves, 1,000 yards for Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay seem not only plausible but very likely to happen. If both areas improve, even by a modest amount, we’re looking at 2011-level passing numbers from Matthew Stafford, and a legit three-headed monster at wide receiver for the Detroit Lions.