Kenny Golladay's quiet rise has been what the Lions have needed

Elsa/Getty Images

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kenny Golladay isn’t the loud one. Not in the locker room, where he’ll often speak softly while sitting at his locker during media sessions. Not in the meeting room, either, where fellow Detroit Lions receivers Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola will be more vocal.

Golladay prefers to be the quiet devastator. In meetings, he prefers to sit and ingest all of the notes receivers coach Robert Prince will give him, sitting in the front row asking questions when he needs to.

On the field, he’ll talk by ripping a ball out of a defensive back’s hands for either a reception or a broken-up interception, happening so often it’s almost expected. He’ll talk by the way he plays, the aggressiveness he shows.

Last week, before he played his hometown Chicago Bears, he was asked what he thought about not being drafted by the Bears in 2017. “A lot of teams passed on me.” But Chicago is home. “It’s all right,” Golladay said, with a pause. “I’m with [Lions QB] Matthew Stafford.” When he was asked if that was a shot at Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, he laughed: “Hey, I ain’t saying nothing.” Then he went out with backup quarterback Jeff Driskel and scored Detroit’s only touchdown.

His eight receiving touchdowns lead the NFL and equal his touchdown total in his first two seasons combined. His four 100-yard receiving games are tied for third in the league. He’s No. 10 in receiving yards this season with 697. Of the players in the top 20 in yards per reception, where he’s ranked 20th at 18.34 yards per catch, only he, Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs and the Chargers’ Mike Williams have more than 30 catches.

He’ll make plays in the red zone, where he has four of his eight touchdowns. He’ll make plays deep -- his other four scores are all of 30 yards or more. Wherever the Lions need him, he'll deliver -- 84.2 percent of his catches end up being first downs.

“I don’t think he’s gotten more physical,” receiver Jones said. “He’s always had that from the start. ... You know, once you get into a lot of games, he’s a vet now. You start to know how people play you."

Part of that is routine. Golladay isn’t superstitious, but he believes in his preparation. Each week, he and former South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson, now the Lions’ character coach, will go through a pregame workout they started together last year.

Thompson will throw balls at Golladay in every type of direction -- between 8 and 10 reps in each spot -- to warm up his hands. Almost every angle is covered -- just his way of making sure everything is taken care of.

Golladay's ability to time his contested catches at the highest point and expand his radius seems to come naturally. It's what attracted the Lions to him in the first place.

“No matter who is around or where the ball is thrown at,” practice squad receiver Chris Lacy said, “he makes a play.”

It’s been like that from the first game of Golladay’s career. He scored two touchdowns -- including a 45-yard diving catch that caught the attention of almost everyone. It was his 'Hey, I’m here!' moment, even though he might not have recognized it yet.

His teammates had seen those plays throughout training camp. It was his public introduction, considering he played at Northern Illinois.

“You make a big shock or a wave or anything like that, people will come to expect it from you,” said Jones, who experienced it himself with a four-touchdown game his second NFL season. “As a receiver, you want that. As a player you want that. You want people to expect highly of you so you can deliver.

“You definitely feed off that because you know what you can do and everyone knows what you can do and just keep being consistent with it, because obviously people are going to pay more attention to you. And if you can keep that success when everybody expects it to happen, then it’s like, 'Yeah.'"

Golladay is reaching that 'Yeah' point. Not that he says it. He doesn't say much. Ask about his personal goals? “Those are personal.” Ask if he's on pace to achieve them? “That’s kind of revealing a little bit.”

He’s appreciated the internal competition with Jones, who has 35 catches for 508 yards and five touchdowns this year, and said that has pushed him. They both know the other receiver can make plays, whether it's going deep or making the contested catch. It is what makes the two of them devastating for opposing secondaries. It’s tough to plan for them because they can do similar things.

For Jones, that’s been known for a half-decade now. For Golladay, every game it’s learned a bit more. He won’t change, though. He’ll stay in the front of the room not saying much, not revealing much, just continuing to go out there to make play after play, day after day.