Football / Sports

Lions' search is on for wide receiver in what's shaping up to be a deep NFL draft

INDIANAPOLIS -- They came into the interview room one by one Friday and said they had formal interviews scheduled with the Lions this weekend.

Brandin Cooks of Oregon State. Odell Beckham of LSU. Donte Moncrief of Mississippi.

By the time they were done, this much was clear: The Lions are exploring every possibility in their search for pass-catching help this off-season, and there's a good chance they spend a high pick on a receiver in what's shaping up to be a deep draft.

Cooks, Beckham and Moncrief all project as first- or second-round picks in May, and the Lions plan to spend time in the coming months with three more of the draft's top receivers, Clemson's Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M's Mike Evans and USC's Marqise Lee, none of whom met with reporters on Friday.

"It's crazy to be in a class like this and have all these receivers out there," Beckham said. "Sammy Watkins, the Marqise Lees, Brandin Cooks, Evans, all these guys. It's a fun thing to be able to compete with all of them."

Watkins is widely considered the best receiver in the draft for his combination of size, explosiveness and production. He caught 101 passes last season as a junior and finished seventh in the country with 1,464 yards.

While most early mock drafts project Watkins to go before the Lions are on the clock with the No. 10 pick, several rival scouts gushed about Evans to the Free Press this week and said they believe the Lions will have hard time passing him up in the first round both because of his considerable talents and their needs at the position.

Aside from Calvin Johnson, the Lions don't currently have a receiver under contract who reached double digits in catches last year.

Kris Durham (38 catches) is an exclusive rights free agent and almost certainly will be back, but free-agent Kevin Ogletree (13 catches) has an uncertain future in Detroit and the Lions released Nate Burleson (39 catches) in a cost-cutting move last week.

Lions general manager Martin Mayhew, who's taken a receiver in all five of his drafts, acknowledged his team's need at the position Friday but said "there are a lot of different ways to go about" addressing it.

"One way to go about it is say, 'We've got a big receiver in Calvin, let's get a smaller guy that can run routes and get open, line up in the slot on third down, make plays,' " Mayhew said. "And the other way to look at it is, 'Look at what Chicago did with two big guys.' So it's really kind of, it could go either way. It's kind of what you can get and who you feel good about."

The Bears had one of the most productive receiving tandems in the NFL this year with big-bodied pass catchers Brandon Marshall (100 catches, 1,295 yards) and Alshon Jeffery (89-1,421) paired outside.

Evans, the ninth-leading receiver in the NCAA last year with 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns, measured a shade under 6-foot-5 and 231 pounds on Friday with offensive lineman-length arms, and some think he could run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4s when skill players test on Sunday.

Johnson was a similar size and ran a 4.35-second 40-yard dash when the Lions drafted him No. 2 overall in 2007.

"Wide receivers can be a lot like tight ends," Mayhew said. "They have different ways of getting open and different ways of doing things, so it's not necessarily a speed (thing).

"We'll evaluate all these guys appropriately and we'll make decisions about guys that can help us win. I don't have any height, weight, speed (requirements) to give you on receivers. They come in different packages. Slot guys are different sometimes then guys who play outside."

Lee, a projected top-20 pick who's battled injuries at times throughout his USC career, can play both the slot and outside receiver positions and help in the return game.

Cooks, who led the NCAA with 1,730 yards on 128 catches last year, also projects as multi-dimensional weapon whose biggest contributions might come in the slot because of his size (5-foot-10, 189 pounds).

Asked about the talent at the receiver position Friday, Cooks, who predicted he'd run "anywhere from a low 4.3 to a mid 4.3," said a number of rookies should be able to make an immediate impact in the NFL.

"There's a lot of great wide receivers in this class, definitely," he said. "I feel like I'm the best one and that's what I'm going to go out there tomorrow and prove."

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