Why the Lions 2021 plan at WR could be their biggest downfall

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The Athletic recently polled its individual team writers to list their worst offseason move for the team they cover. Detroit Lions rep Chris Burke chose the lack of emphasis on upgrading the safety position, which is certainly a valid choice. The secondary as a whole remains suspect and the projected top safety trio of Tracy Walker, Dean Marlowe and Will Harris might be the NFL’s worst based on how each played last year.

But I would offer a different answer than Burke, even though he’s spot-on with his negative assessment of the safety position. My choice would be the meager work done to address the hole at wide receiver after seeing the top four wideouts from 2020 all leave.

There are only so many holes that can get capably filled in one offseason, and the Bob Quinn regime and its terrifying misapplication of positional values left the roster with a lot of deep holes. But not doing more to try and rebuild the receiving corps hurts on multiple levels.

First, it places too many players higher on the depth chart than they’ve ever proven they belong or could be reasonably expected to succeed. Tyrell Williams was a good No. 3 for the Chargers, yet he’s the obvious top receiver in Detroit. Quintez Cephus is the likely No. 2, but as a rookie in 2020 he was often the No. 5. He could conceivably rise to the occasion, but it’s asking a lot more than should be for a young player of his limited experience and athletic profile.

The other side of the coin is how it impacts Jared Goff at quarterback. It’s clear the new regime helmed by GM Brad Holmes believes that Goff can establish himself as the team’s long-term solution. But the mismatched receiving corps isn’t apt to help Goff elevate his game back to his Pro Bowl day of 2017-2018. They’re also not a good stylistic fit for what Goff does best, other than fourth-round rookie (and projected starting slot WR) Amon-Ra St. Brown.

Williams is primarily a vertical deep threat on the outside. That’s all that reclamation project Breshad Perriman has ever been in his disappointing NFL career. Speedy Kalif Raymond is faster-than-quick in the slot. Geronimo Allison has been a one-note outside receiver in his career and hasn’t played in almost two years. They’re not playing to Goff’s apparent strengths — timing routes, underneath options, reading layers of the defense — with this receiving corps, and that holds longer-term implications for the Lions than the remaining chasm of relative talent at the safety spot.

How can Goff be properly evaluated with an expansion team-like receiving corps? Does the regime, which is clearly invested in the former No. 1 overall pick, give him more time with the justification that his receivers weren’t up to the task? Or do they rush to dump Goff for the exact same reason?

The ripple effects of the dilapidated receiving corps could negatively impact the team for several seasons.

Don’t discount the potential for at least one of the modest moves to hit. Tyrell Williams has proven to be a very effective player when healthy, and he knows coordinator Anthony Lynn’s offense from their time with the Chargers together. St. Brown is a high-floor talent with impeccable work ethic who fits a role Goff did work well with in Los Angeles. The two UDFAs, Javon McKinley and Sage Surratt, carry very real promise. This on-the-fly plan does have a legit chance to work, at least to some degree. It could get salvaged with a legit No. 1 and No. 2 wideout in the next offseason too, and the Lions will have both the draft capital and cap room to make that happen.

But if it doesn’t, the relative inaction at shoring up the devastated wide receiving corps could haunt the Lions beyond 2021.