The Ultimate Cinderella Story: Kenny Golladay

Amon Ra St. Brown is not the first Cinderella story within the Detroit Lions organization. Before St. Brown came an all-too-familiar tale: picked 96th overall, with minimal college offers and minimal expectations when entering the league. The only difference is that while one’s football career is seemingly skyrocketing, the other has abruptly ended. His name is Kenny Golladay. Golladay, nicknamed Babytron by some, seemingly paying homage to Detroit Lions Legend Calvin Johnson or Megatron, had less than linear development leading up to his NFL debut in 2017. 

Golladay, a true underdog, faced a lack of interest from colleges and NFL teams leading up to the 2017 draft. However, one team saw his potential and believed in his ability to shine with the right coaching and guidance. On April 29th, 2017, the seemingly unremarkable wide receiver from Northern Illinois found his new home in Detroit. Here are four key insights into the inspiring journey of former wide receiver, Kenny Golladay, a testament to resilience and determination.

The Ultimate Cinderella Story: Kenny Golladay

Kenny Golladay showed promise as early as high school

During Golladay’s senior season at Saint Rita of Cascia, he surpassed the national average of 125 yards receiving with a total of 640 yards. His average of 14.55 yards per catch, 44 receptions, and 10 touchdowns were a testament to his hard work. Golladay’s dedication helped lead the Mustangs to the class 7A State Semifinals, finishing the season 10-3. 

Despite Golladay’s decorated high school football career, the two-star recruit got almost no attention from college coaches. However, one team was adamant about adding the hardworking, driven wide receiver to their roster: North Dakota. 

Kenny Golladay continued to grow as a player following his first year as a collegiate athlete

From the very second that Golladay stepped on Alerus’s center, he made it his mission to play to the best of his ability. Golladay’s hard work paid off, as he was the only true freshman to see the field in 2012. During the ten games he played in his freshman season, Golladay caught 30 passes for 429 yards and completed one touchdown. During his sophomore season, Golladay caught an impressive 69 catches for 884 yards and completed eight touchdowns. 

Regarding Golladay’s junior season, he decided to take his talent elsewhere, in Northern Illinois. Unfortunately for Golladay, he saw minimal action on the field since he was redshirted. The following season, Golladay did not miss a single game, not to mention that he started thirteen out of the fourteen games that season. He finished the 2015 season with 1129 receiving yards, 73 catches, and ten touchdowns. During his final season with Northern Illinois, Golladay played in all 12 games, starting in 11, and ended the season with 1,156 yards and 87 catches.  

He was not a stand-out player during the 2017 NFL Draft

Despite Golladay’s apparent talent, he did not catch the eye of many NFL scouts during his collegiate career. Most franchises eyed talent like Corey Davis, Zay Jones, and Mike Williams. Golladay found himself anxiously waiting for 95 selections and on the 96th, Golladay received a call from the Detroit Lions. Golladay, along with Jarrad Davis, Teez Tabor, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Michael Roberts, Jamal Agnew, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Brad Kaaya, and Pat O’Connor arrived in Detroit to begin their rookie season in the NFL. 

Kenny Golladay appeared to be the next Megatron

Golladays rookie season in the NFL did not reflect the success he would find the following years. Golladay totaled 477 yards receiving, averaging 17 yards a carry, and completed three touchdowns. Yet no one would expect the season the Detroit Lions would have the following year. Golladay ended the 2018 season with 1,063 yards receiving, five touchdowns, and averaged 15.2 yards per catch over the course of the 15 games he played. During Golladay’s last healthy year with the Detroit Lions in 2019, he ended the season with 1,190 yards receiving, 11 touchdowns, and averaged 18.3 yards per. Unfortunately for Golladay, he suffered from a season-ending hip injury which would lead him to having a less-than-impressive last year with the Detroit Lions, ending with a mere 338 yards receiving and two touchdowns. 

Many thought that despite Golladay’s season-ending injury he showed promise and many believed that he reflected the talent of an incredibly well-known Detroit Lions wide receiver, Calvin Johnson, and the statistics seem to show a resemblance between the two as well. Many people projected that along with the Lions’ rebuild, a franchise tag would be placed on the wide receiver, securing him on the roster for the following season. But to many people’s surprise, including Kenny Golladay, Brad Holmes passed up on this opportunity. Holmes stated, “We have a process in place that we believe in, that we’ve been firm in

Golladay and the Detroit Lions parted ways on March 20th, 2021, after Golladay signed a blockbuster contract with the New York Giants worth 72 million dollars. Unfortunately for Golladay, his Cinderella story seemingly ended the second the pen hit the paper due to an ongoing knee injury that kept him off the field for most of the 2021 and 2022 seasons. In 2023, the Giants announced that they were releasing the wide receiver, freeing up $6.7 million in cap space. The rise and fall of Kenny Golladay begs the question of, what would Golladay have become if he never left the Lions franchise? Would he thrive in the NFL like Calvin Johnson or was his fall inevitable? 

Main Image: Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

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