From the first practice, Detroit Lions rookie Kenny Golladay has received attention. Receivers, particularly big ones with interesting storylines, usually do. That Golladay backed up the initial questions about him with good play after good play during workouts and the early part of training camp added intrigue.
Then the first preseason game arrived, and Golladay was dominant. He had three catches for 53 yards -- all of them contested, all of them difficult, two of them for touchdowns. One in particular, a jumping catch where he was hit in the head in the end zone and still held on to the ball, was impressive.
“He functioned well, made a couple nice catches, a couple difficult catches,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said after the preseason opener. “So that’s one game and more to go. We’ll see how he does in practice in terms of preparation leading up to the next game and also the next ball game as well.
“But he caught the ball well.”
Before you anoint Golladay the next-best-thing at receiver in the NFL, understand what the preseason really means: It’s a good start and a flash of potential. There’s no guarantee Golladay will lead the NFL in receiving touchdowns in the preseason, but that’s a barometer to go on considering his likely role as a red-zone threat and his work against the Colts.
To understand the hype, take a look at the past 10 seasons -- minus 2009 -- of preseason receiving touchdown leaders. The actual career results of those players range from Paris Warren (four touchdowns, 2007) and Brandon Rideau (three touchdowns, 2008), who had a combined 0 career NFL catches for injury and talent reasons, to future stars T.Y. Hilton (three touchdowns, 2013), Antonio Brown (three touchdowns each in 2011 and 2012) and Rob Gronkowski (four touchdowns, 2010).
Of the touchdown leaders in their respective seasons, only Brown, Hilton, Gronkowski and Nate Burleson (three touchdowns, 2011) went on to have standout years. Brown broke out in 2011 with 68 catches, 1,108 yards and two touchdowns and followed it up the next year with 66 catches, 787 yards and five scores. Hilton had 82 receptions for 1,083 yards and five touchdowns in 2013. Gronkowski had 42 catches for 546 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie in 2010, and Burleson had 73 catches for 757 yards and three touchdowns in 2011.
Of those players, only Burleson was a true veteran. The rest were rookies or still-emerging second- and third-year players. So there is some precedent for what Golladay has done in his short sample size of work to translate to regular-season success.
But there’s also many examples from those touchdown leaders to have minimal impact in the regular season. Warren suffered a broken leg on his last preseason touchdown catch in 2007, missed the season and never caught a regular-season touchdown. Although this won’t happen to Golladay, Rideau was cut at the end of the 2008 preseason.
Dwayne Harris, a co-leader with Brown in 2012, had 17 catches for 222 yards and a touchdown for Dallas. He had more value as a returner in 2012 and is now with the Giants, having never had more than 396 yards or four touchdowns in a season. Lestar Jean, who tied Hilton with three touchdowns in 2013, had four catches for 35 yards that season and was out of the league the next year.
Brice Butler, who had four touchdowns to tie with Corey Washington for the preseason lead in 2014, had 21 grabs for 280 yards and two touchdowns for Oakland that season. That’s the best yardage total of his career and second-best touchdown mark. Washington played one season -- 2014 -- with the Giants, catching five passes for 52 yards and a score. He hasn’t been in the league since. Rashad Ross, who had four touchdowns in the 2015 preseason, had eight catches for 184 yards and a touchdown that season and barely got on the field last season with one catch for 8 yards.
The Lions would likely take a season similar to that of one of last year’s preseason touchdown leaders, then-Jets rookie Robby Anderson. He had 42 catches for 587 yards and two touchdowns for the Jets last year after scoring three times in the preseason. He’s being looked at as a possible No. 1 receiver in New York this year and has shown a lot of potential. He tied with Tavarres King, who had two catches for 50 yards last season.
Considering how Golladay is likely to be used this year, an Anderson-like season as a No. 3 receiver would be a realistic one. That would show some of his considerable talent and also quell some of the hype surrounding him now.
So when you’re looking at Golladay this year and trying to figure out what he might be for Detroit, use those examples as a guide. He could become Antonio Brown. But there’s also a chance he could end up like Paris Warren.
The better bet is he ends up somewhere in between. If it is closer to Brown, Hilton or Burleson, the Lions will have found a good player.