American Football

2024 Detroit Lions training camp preview: 3 big questions at wide receiver

on

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Our Detroit Lions training camp preview continues with the wide receivers—and three big questions about the position group.

Our 2024 Detroit Lions training camp preview series continues with one of the most interesting positions on offense: wide receiver. While most of the Lions’ top-five offense returns from last year, there are a few pretty big changes coming at the receiver position, and it could have a big impact on how the offense functions in 2024 and beyond.

Previous training camp previews:

Setting the table

The Lions were surprisingly quiet when it came to offseason moves at receiver. Though they made their desire to re-sign Josh Reynolds loud and public, the veteran receiver opted to sign with the Broncos instead.

Detroit didn’t make a move to replace him. Their only offseason moves involving receiver were re-signing Donovan Peoples-Jones to a vet-minimum deal, re-signing three players to futures deals (Tom Kennedy, Maurice Alexander, Daurice Fountain), signing another to a futures deal (Tre’Quan Smith), and adding a trio of players post-draft (Jalon Calhoun, Kaden Davis, Isaiah Williams). And, of course, giving Amon-Ra St. Brown a massive contract extension.

That said, the Lions have repeatedly expressed confidence in their receiver room, particularly regarding former first-round pick Jameson Williams. Last year, Williams saw his production rise as the season went on, and he’s now expected to take on a more significant role in Year 3 as the team’s WR2.

“We’re two practices in (to OTAs) and if you said, ‘Give me one player that is the most improved from that start to finish in that time,’ and Jamo would be that guy right now,” coach Dan Campbell said in the spring. “He is a man on a mission, and I’m just going to leave it at that.”

But that still leaves a pretty significant role up for grabs at the Lions WR3 position, and several candidates vying to win that job.

Roster construction

Last year, with Jameson Williams on the suspended list, the Lions kept just five receivers on the 53-man roster. However, when he returned, the Lions carried six for the majority of the year.

In 2022, they mostly kept just five receivers on the roster, though that occasionally moved to six in the middle of the season due to a lot of injuries that year (Williams, DJ Chark, Quintez Cephus). Back in 2021, the Lions initially kept six receivers and mostly held at that number for the entire season.

So, overall, the Lions clearly prefer to keep six receivers during the season, but don’t be surprised if that number is initially five when the team creates its first 53-man roster.

The battleground

There are three stages to the Lions’ training camp receiver battles. Let’s go over each individually.

Jameson Williams vs. the WR2 role

There’s no question that Williams will have a huge role in 2024, but he still has a lot to prove in terms of his ability to take on a massive portion of offensive snaps. Without a doubt, he is trending in a very positive direction. Including the playoffs, Williams started 12 of the Lions’ final 14 games of the season, and after averaging just 17.8 receiving yards per game in his first five contests back from suspension, Williams averaged 34.4 receiving yards per game over the final 10.

Obviously, that number is still below what the Lions need out of him, but for reference, Josh Reynolds averaged 34.2 and 35.8 yards per game with the Lions for the last two seasons. He’s not that far off, and given some of the noticeable improvement in the spring, there’s reason for optimism.

Who will be WR3?

Going into camp, there seem to be three clear competitors for a starting role alongside St. Brown and Williams: Peoples-Jones, second-year receiver Antoine Green, and veteran Kalif Raymond.

Green appears to be the favorite heading into camp since he repped with the starters more than anyone during OTAs this spring. The 2023 seventh-round pick played just 106 snaps his rookie season and caught a single pass, but the Lions were impressed by his improvement throughout the season.

“We’re really excited about Antoine Green, about how he’s came along,” Lions GM Brad Holmes said in May. “He’s another guy that has size, he has speed. He’s a guy that kept getting better and better and better from what we’ve seen throughout the year. I know he didn’t get a ton of targets in games for the world to see, but us being internally with him every single day throughout the season, we really like where he’s going.”

Peoples-Jones made a handful of big catches for the Lions last year after Detroit traded for him midseason. They clearly value him enough because they not only traded for him but opted to re-sign him this offseason. His skill set overlaps with Green quite a bit, but because he had more experience with Goff last year, his chemistry could be farther along.

Raymond is the most proven of the three but doesn’t exactly fit the profile of the type of X receiver they may be looking for. Raymond has been no stranger to playing on the outside, though, and he has been a steady and trusted contributor as the team’s WR4 (or better) for the past three years. When Raymond was a starter for the Lions in 2021, he produced 576 yards and four touchdowns, which would be a solid output for this role.

Will the Lions keep 5 or 6 WRs, and who will win those final jobs?

St. Brown, Williams, Raymond, and whomever “wins” between Peoples-Jones and Green are essentially roster locks. It’s certainly possible that the Lions keep both Peoples-Jones and Green. That leaves just one or two spots left on the 53-man roster for the following players:

  • Tom Kennedy — Been with the team since 2019. Has had productive flashes, but he’s mostly been a practice squad and/or special teamer his entire career. Tough to see his fit considering Detroit already has a handful of slot receiver types.
  • Maurice Alexander — Is well regarded by teammates and coaches, and brings some serious skills as a returner. He made the USFL All-Special Teams team as a kick returner and returned six kickoffs for the Lions in 2022. With the new kickoff rule, this could be his way onto the roster.
  • Daurice Fountain — A six-year vet who stuck around on the Lions practice squad all last year. He only has three career catches, but Detroit liked him enough to keep him around last year and re-sign him this year. A dark-horse candidate to keep an eye on in camp.
  • Tre’Quan Smith — A former third-round pick, Smith fizzled out in New Orleans after five seasons. He did have at least 230 yards in each of those years, but never more than 450. He’s got the most experience and production of this group and he has a history with Campbell, but he finished last year on the Broncos practice squad for a reason.
  • Kaden Davis — Davis won a roster spot after impressing as a minicamp tryout in the spring. His professional career is still taking off after a year with the Michigan Panthers in 2023, but he made a lot of plays in OTAs and also brings some returner skills.
  • Jalon Calhoun (rookie) — The former Duke receiver may have the longest odds to win a roster spot, but with five years of productive college experience (349 yards or more in each season), the kid can ball. He was also a strong punt returner for the Blue Devils in each of the past two seasons.
  • Isaiah Williams (rookie) — Williams received the second-highest amount of guaranteed money from the Lions among their undrafted rookie class. He has a good toolkit of athletic skills, posted 1,055 yards last year at Illinois, and many believed he was a draftable prospect, but he’ll still have an uphill climb to make the 53-man roster.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login