2) DETROIT LIONS: The Lions front office had no time to wait for Calvin Johnson to finalize his imminent retirement in the days and weeks following initial reports of his desire to walk away from football at the age of 30.
They aggressively pursued and acquired the services of former Cincinnati Bengal Marvin Jones on a five-year, $40 million deal with $20 million guaranteed.
Jones is neither overly fast nor elusive, but he’s a physical six-foot-two athlete who can immediately reach his top speed along with possessing the size to box out opponents. The fifth-year pro is also quite adept of tracking the ball on long throws and will generate his share of pass-interference calls.
He’ll never be Megatron on 50/50 balls, but he’s physical enough to hold his own in that department. During the 2013 season, Jones scored 10 touchdowns and proved to be a red-zone monster by securing 12 receptions on 14 red-zone targets.
Serving as Jones’ tag-team partner is slot man Golden Tate, who can be dangerous as both an underneath weapon, as well as an outside threat despite his modest physical dimensions at 5-10, 198 pounds.
The converted running back was a 1,000-yard receiver in 2015 and stands a solid chance of putting up even better numbers without a target-magnet like Johnson getting a ton of balls hoisted in his general direction.
Tate plays with a ferocity and cockiness reminiscent of Steve Smith. In fact, the Tennessee native led all receivers in broken tackles last season and gained the most YAC (yards after catch) the year prior.
Behind the big two, the Lions have big plans for third-year man T.J. Jones, who was a non-factor during the first 12 weeks of 2015 before taking advantage of his opportunity to play in place of the since departed Lance Moore, who went down with ankle injury.
In that last month, Jones put his fluid running skills and body control on display by recording nine receptions for 121 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown versus the Packers in the unforgettable Thursday night “Hail Mary” game.
Jones won’t have anything handed to him, though, as he’ll need to outperform free-agent addition Jeremy Kerley, who much like Jones provides added value as a return specialist. The one difference between the two is that Kerley is a pure slot target while Jones has the characteristics to play outside as well.
The once highly regarded Corey Fuller seems like the early odds-on favorite to be released before opening week. While the one-time sixth-round pick has the requisite length and speed to be a viable NFL receiver, he still hasn’t mastered the art of properly running routes and gaining separation.
Long-time veteran Andre “Bubba” Caldwell will most likely be Fuller’s biggest threat in his goal of winning fifth-receiver duties. The 31-year-old Caldwell may not possess the blazing 4.3 speed he had coming out of the SEC eight years ago, but he offers solid hands and runs precise routes in addition to being a capable special-teams performer.
Undrafted rookie free agent Jay Lee is also a part of this solid wideout mix, who profiles as a physical height/weight/speed option with 33-inch arms. Look for him to land on the practice squad where he’ll be expected to refine his game by sharpening his routes.
Next: Monsters of the Midway