Lions 2021 NFL draft: A wide receiver for every round

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Jeff Risdon
·6 min read
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The ongoing series of Detroit Lions prospects at a position for each round of the 2021 NFL draft moves to offense. After covering linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks, the shift to wide receiver spotlights the biggest positional need on offense.

Right now, the Lions depth chart is loaded with NFL journeymen on short-term deals. Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman and Kalif Raymond are the top three after signing in free agency, with holdover Quintez Cephus and 2020 opt-out Geronimo Allison rounding out the crew.

In short, wide receiver a position of dire long-term need for both high-end impact and depth for Detroit. Expect at least one Lions pick to get devoted to wide receiver, and it’s certainly possible multiple WRs come off the board to the Lions in this deep, diverse draft class.

The projected rounds here are based on a sampling of mock drafts and projections as of April 10. The Lions do not have picks in the sixth or seventh round as of now but we included prospects for those rounds just in case…

First round: Jaylen Waddle, Alabama

Gary Cosby Jr/The Tuscaloosa News via USA TODAY Sports

Ja'marr Chase would absolutely be acceptable at No. 7 overall too, but he's less likely to be on the board than Waddle. And the Alabama speedster is an easy sell in his own right. Waddle has rare speed, but what makes him special is that he understands how to use it in a football context. This isn't Ted Ginn Jr. running only fly patterns or deep crossers. Waddle has body control, wiggle and variance to his incredible speed. He fundamentally changes the way defenses must align against the offense, more than any other wide receiver in this class (counting Kyle Pitts at TE). The route running, the ability to create after the catch, the game-altering speed are all ready to roll on Day 1. He compares to a faster Torry Holt as a prospect.

Second round: Elijah Moore, Ole Miss

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Players who keep ascending throughout their college careers are always intriguing, and that's Moore. He stepped up his all-around game each season for the Rebels to the point where he was one of the most reliable, most productive receivers in college football in 2020. https://twitter.com/PFF_College/status/1380252972005912577?s=20 Moore is quicker-than-fast but also fast (4.35 40), and he routinely displayed that from the slot. He can "get freaking open" right away against all types of coverage, and Moore is a threat to break things open after the catch. His lack of size and simplistic experience at route running (he benefitted from Ole Miss' scheme and supporting cast) are downers, but Moore is an easy projection to instantly replace Danny Amendola in the slot in Detroit...but also work some outside and even out of the backfield.

Third round: Amari Rodgers, Clemson

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Rodgers has a fantastic attention to detail in every aspect of his game. His route-running consistency and footwork are outstanding no matter what route he's running or what coverage he's facing. It helped make Rogers an invaluable asset for presumptive No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence. At Clemson, Rodgers was really good at getting open quickly and staying there with great feet, quick reactions and a savvy to his game that is difficult to explain without watching him operate. He's very good at knowing exactly when to move where to throw the defender off. If he had a bigger body, faster top-end speed and stronger hands, Rodgers would go two rounds above this without question. But he's a relatively average athlete and that puts a lower ceiling on his potential than some others. Very good football player nonetheless.

Fourth round: Seth Williams, Auburn

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If the Lions want a carbon copy of Kenny Golladay to replace the longtime Lions wideout, Williams might be the best candidate. They are very similar players as prospects coming out. Like Golladay did at Northern Illinois, and then in the NFL, Williams won at Auburn by using his size, strong arms, stronger hands, and great body positioning. Also like Golladay, Williams is not a dynamic athlete with either speed or quickness, though he can change speeds and sells fakes well. He's not quite as big (6-3/211) as Golladay and isn't as physical after the catch. Williams proved himself very productive and played inspired football at Auburn despite uneven QB play. That translates well to the NFL.

Fifth round: Jaelon Darden, North Texas

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Darden offers tantalizing quickness, speed from the slot and run-after-catch potential. All of those were readily on display at North Texas, where he often caught laser-like throws in well-coordinated routes for the Mean Green. He's small at 5-foot-7 and 174 pounds, and Darden doesn't really have room to grow. His game is all about quickness, finesse and elusiveness; Darden won't win battles as a blocker and he loses too many contested catch chances. But he's electrifying with the ball in his hands and in space. Darden also offers potential as a punt returner.

Sixth round: Josh Palmer, Tennessee

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When Lions head coach Dan Campbell talked about receivers needing to catch the ball well, he unwittingly showed interest in Palmer. The 6-1, 210-pound Palmer might have the most reliable hands in the entire draft class. He catches everything thrown to him, and did so at Tennessee with some painfully awkward QB play. There is more to playing WR in the NFL than just catching the ball, and that's why Palmer falls later into Day 3. Everything Palmer does is at one speed, which makes him easier to cover than he should be for his size and speed profile. He lacks suddenness and doesn't make himself a big target, either. Palmer can be a strong reserve outside WR who could step up for a week or two if needed, a la Rashard Higgins of the Browns.

Seventh round: Mike Strachan, Charleston

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Strachan is an obscure one, coming from the D-II level. We don't even have a picture of Strachan in our vast database. Yet he's made a name for himself in scouting circles. The Bahamian native has world-class speed and was a candidate to run the 200m in the 2020 Olympics. The speed and size (he's 6-5/226) are outstanding, but he's not just a track star playing football. Strachan showed some ability to vary speeds and release out of breaks in the two game films I watched from 2019, a season where he scored 20 touchdowns. He's incredible at contested catches thanks to his size, long arms and attitude. The routes and attention to detail do need polish and he's mostly played against low-level D-II programs. Strachan is also an older prospect (he turns 24 in August) and appears limited to just playing outside, but he averaged over 100 yards per game and has physical attributes that cannot be taught or easily defended. That's worth a late-round lottery ticket if the Lions are so inclined.

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