One of the last remaining free-agency decisions for the Lions to make involves veteran receiver, Anquan Boldin. It’s safe to assume that the Lions would’ve failed to make the playoffs had it not been for Boldin’s contributions last year. He was money on third down, and essentially the team’s sole reliable red-zone target. With his 2017 status on the Lions up in the air, Lions fans are left to speculate who may step in and take on his role this next season.
Many Lions fans seem to want Boldin back but tend not to be concerned with the possibility that he may be somewhere else. They think Eric Ebron will just fill his role. They are wrong.
I’m sorry, but if you think Eric Ebron can step up and fill the role Anquan Boldin had last year, you’re delusional. Boldin’s role involved years and years of training, game knowledge, and feel for the slot, none of which Ebron possesses. These aren’t necessarily Ebron’s fault, he just hasn’t been around long enough to get to have the experience.
Boldin’s role also requires great hands, nuanced route running, and ability to use his big frame to his advantage, none of which Ebron possesses. This time, it is his fault, because after three years in the NFL he has failed to learn any of these skills.
After years of dropped passes, it will take a lot for Matthew Stafford to trust Ebron as his man on third downs. This is even completely disregarding that Ebron is incapable of having Boldin’s role because he’s a scrub.
Since Ebron isn’t the answer, the Lions need to find one.
In the draft, there are three prospects that intrigue me in the later rounds that could grow into Boldin’s role. If Corey Davis fell to #21 (which is unlikely) the Lions would have to think long and hard about drafting him, but I really see Quinn addressing the defense in the first two rounds.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, USC
He’s the perfect Anquan Boldin replacement. Has experience in the slot, good size at 6’1” 215, and isn’t afraid to go over the middle. He also possesses some deep ball ability, which would be an upgrade over Boldin. Obviously, he won’t have the experience and there would be growing pains, but Smith-Schuster would be a good pick at #53
Noah Brown, Ohio State
Brown came out as a redshirt sophomore and lacks experience. He is a boom or bust prospect, as the early returns are promising but it’s unknown whether he can be a reliable NFL talent. He’s big at 6’2” 222 and has a strong red-zone presence. His speed is lacking, and won’t be a deep threat in the NFL. Brown is a day three prospect.
Ardarius Stewart, Alabama
Stewart may be a bit too small at 5’11 200 to take the role of Anquan Boldin, but he possesses the toughness needed to be a slot receiver in the NFL. He has more to offer after the catch than Smith-Schuster or Brown, is used consistently on screens, and has the Alabama mentality. He’s a day two guy, but I don’t know if he’s a perfect fit for the Lions as he does a lot of the same things Golden Tate does.
Ultimately, I think the best option for filling Boldin’s role is to simply re-sign Boldin. Last year he waited until before camp to sign with a team, so the Lions may have a chance to assess where they are after the draft and see if they want to bring him back. Even though he’s one year older, I don’t anticipate Boldin’s production falling off.