For the Detroit Lions, the upgrade of no position could be as important as wide receiver this offseason. Coming off another year which saw Calvin Johnson used exclusively to mixed results, the team badly needs to find some additional help and upgrade the maligned group.
Fortunately, the free agent wide receiver crop should provide Detroit with plenty of diverse options to find a few quality running mates for Johnson. The Lions might also like to upgrade the position during this year's NFL Draft, so they probably won't be in contention for the top handful of names available. Regardless, here's 13 players Detroit should consider when free agency opens.
The Top 5
1. Riley Cooper, Philadelphia. A big play threat as well as a solid route runner, Cooper found controversy last offseason, but afterward, he found nothing but solid play on the field, catching eight touchdowns and putting up 835 yards receiving for Nick Foles. Cooper always finds a way to get open, and given this creativity, he could flourish in Detroit with attention directed toward Johnson and Reggie Bush.
2. Julian Edelman, New England. While coaching the Colts, Jim Caldwell had a few players like Edelman on the roster in Austin Collie and Brandon Stokely. Each were capable of moving the chains with gritty pass catching and were the kind of teammates that set a solid tone for the entire group. With plenty of injuries in New England, Edleman carved out a nice reputation this fall, and could be a nice, hard working addition for the Lions.
3. Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia. If Maclin proves to be healthy, he could become one of the bigger steals of the free agent crop. A speed demon with size and hands, Maclin could stretch the field opposite Johnson and provide Matthew Stafford with a major target down field. That's contingent on the health of his knee, however. Many teams might get scared away, meaning the Lions could pounce and get a discount. Maclin has been as consistent as a receiver in the NFL throughout his time.
4. Hakeem Nicks, New York Giants. Last fall, there were rumors that t he Lions were interested in Nicks after Nate Burleson went down with his arm injury. A move never materialized, but that doesn't change the fact that Nicks is a big time down field target which could stretch the field opposite Johnson. Will he command too much money? Would he even want to enter a situation in which he's not the top dog?
5. Golden Tate, Seattle. With a game comparable to Nate Burleson, Tate figures to get a decent payday this offseason after helping take the Seahawks to the Super Bowl. In Detroit, he could become a bona fide number two option. Despite the fact, he will cost a decent amount of money, as he's reportedly not giving the Seahawks a hometown discount.
The Next Five
6. Jacoby Ford, Oakland. Quietly, Ford is the type of underrated talent who could break out in a big way in Detroit. He's never had a quarterback in Oakland, so if he were to come to the Lions, Stafford would represent an automatic upgrade. With 99 yards and no scores, Ford saw career lows in 2013, so he might be an excellent buy low option for Detroit.
7. Anquan Boldin, San Francisco. A player Caldwell will remember from his days with the Baltimore Ravens, Boldin might not have much left in the tank, but he'd be an excellent veteran leader if he could be lured away from the market. He's played in situations with big time receivers before, so he'd likely know and appreciate his role in the offense without much consternation. Still, will he cost too much?
8. Robert Meachem, New Orleans. Speaking of familiarity, considering the addition of Joe Lombardi, Meachem could be in play given he would know the ins and outs of the Saints' offense, which Lombardi says he's prepared to run in Detroit. With 27 career touchdowns, Meachem has solid hands and a new start with the Lions could give him a chance to break out and make his own name.
9. Jerricho Cotchery, Pittsburgh. Another wily veteran, Cotchery had a big 10 touchdown season with Pittsburgh last year, and may have earned himself a decent payday as a result. If Detroit wants a responsible veteran, signing Cotchery might be a solid idea, considering he has a decent amount of game left, as well.
10. Ted Ginn, Carolina. A few offseasons ago, the Lions had some interest in Ginn, who chose to sign in San Francisco instead. Now, a few years later, might they be posed to take another flier on the free agent? Ginn can take the pressure off the return game, and has the speed and ball skills to be a decent threat. Better yet, he might not command such a major financial commitment.
Don't Sleep On…
Austin Collie, New England. When Caldwell was in Indianapolis, he made a living with Collie, who became a dependable short yardage threat for the offense and made plenty of big plays. Could Caldwell bring Collie back, or will his checkered injury history prove too much? As a quiet, low price add, he might become one to watch later in the process.
Brandon Stokley, Baltimore. Another one of Caldwell's ex-receivers, Stokely has been a solid pass catcher in the league for years and could provide Detroit with a calming voice at the position as well as excellent veteran leadership.
Brandon LaFell, Carolina. Flying under the radar a bit, LaFell had an excellent season with 627 yards and five scores and is the kind of big target that could flourish in Detroit with more attention on plenty of other weapons.
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