- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Next up in the positional preview series for the Detroit Lions are the wide receivers. This is a group that looks a lot different than it did a year ago, and that’s a very good thing.
The Lions have added quite a bit of talent after seeing one of last year’s rookies emerge as a top-flight weapon. Detroit has placed an emphasis on speed, length and playmaking ability that was notably in absentia in 2021.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
(AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
St. Brown finished the 2021 season as one of the most prolific receivers in the league. He had at least eight catches, 10 targets and 73 receiving yards in each of Detroit’s final six games. St. Brown scored all five of his touchdowns in that timeframe, roo.
The key for the Lions is to keep St. Brown humming at that extremely high level. He’s great at working the middle of the field and hitting on short and intermediate routes, making the first would-be tackler miss and grinding out tough yards after the catch. St. Brown can line up outside or in the slot, a valuable versatility that new Lions OC Ben Johnson put to great use during the late-season trial run a year ago. Expect a higher percentage of his snaps to be from the slot than the 77 percent rate a year ago now that the Lions have better outside weaponry.
The total targets St. Brown saw down the stretch might not be there in 2022, but that’s more a function of the improvement around him on offense. St. Brown is a dangerous and versatile weapon who is poised for a very strong sophomore season in the NFL.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Chark comes to the Lions after four seasons in Jacksonville. At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Chark is an outside vertical threat with great length and above-average speed.
It’s that combination that makes him a big weapon for the Lions’ new-look offense. During his Jaguars days, Chark was also effective on comeback routes and crossing patterns that take advantage of his long stride and speed. He should be the primary outside target for QB Jared Goff and can only help Detroit in the red zone with his larger catch radius.
Chark is coming off an injury-plagued season where he played just four games. The 25-year-old has missed at least three games in three of his four seasons, so durability is a question. Chark looked ready to roll in minicamp, however.
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit traded up in the first round of the 2022 NFL draft to land Williams and with every intention of the Alabama speedster to emerge quickly as the No. 1 receiver and alpha dog of the receiving corps.
It might take a little time for Williams to make an impact. He’s still recovering from a torn ACL in late January and is a good candidate for the PUP list to start the year. His work in minicamp will likely be little more than catching the ball on the side and working with trainers, though Williams could surprise with his healing.
Once he’s on the field, the world-class speed and outstanding ball-tracking ability are game changers for Detroit’s offense. Williams has the potential to be the kind of weapon who fundamentally alters how defenses play against the Lions. It’s just a question of when we get to see it and how quickly he can adapt the to more physical NFL style of play.
(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Reynolds joined the Lions late in the season and quickly made a big impact. His chemistry with Goff, developed in their four seasons together with the Los Angeles Rams, was readily apparent.
So was Reynolds’ ability to make catches away from his body. Reynolds is a bigger target at 6-foot-3 and has soft hands. He’s primarily an outside threat but can operate in motion or outside tandem sets nicely. Detroit did use him some in the slot late in the year, too.
Detroit prioritized bringing Reynolds back in free agency, and he should see quite a bit of action in 3-WR sets and in the red zone–especially while Williams is nursed into the lineup.
Raymond returns for a second season in Detroit after blowing away all his previous career marks in 2021. The 27-year-old started 14 games and was the Lions’ primary deep threat.
It was Raymond’s first extended time as a wideout after being a gadget player and return man for the Titans, Broncos and Jets. His lack of size (5-8/180) limits his usage as an every-down receiver, but Raymond does not lack toughness or tenacity as a blocker or runner.
Now that the Lions have other speed options at receiver, Raymond’s offensive role is likely to go back to being a deep reserve. He’s not laterally quick or refined with his footwork as a route runner to play much in the slot. But the Lions have every intention of making him the primary punt return specialist, a role he also held for most of last season. Raymond has years of special teams experience on both return and coverage units and that’s his ticket to the 53-man roster in 2022.
(Jeff Haynes/AP Images for Panini)
It says a lot about the Lions offensive firepower that a player who started in Week 1 last year like Cephus is in a battle this year just to make the team. But that’s the case for the third-year wideout as he attempts to come back from an injury-ravaged season.
Cephus offers a big frame at 6-1 and a muscular 208 pounds, and he plays with the kind of power and physicality that you would expect from a guy that size. He appeared to overcome the drop issues that plagued his rookie year in a solid start to 2021, catching 15 passes without a drop in five games before losing the rest of the year to a shoulder injury.
The lack of speed stands out in the offense around him, but Cephus can still effectively contribute. He’ll need to catch everything in sight and block well in the run game to ensure he makes the final 53-man roster. Special teams figures to be critically important in his position battle with the next few players on the list here.
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
Benson is hoping to override a poor first impression in Detroit. The Lions traded two late-round picks to Denver to acquire Benson last preseason, but thus far the return on investment has not been good.
There are signs that Benson’s status could change from OTAs and minicamp. Benson looked great in June, showing a mastery of the playbook and the blend of speed and quickness that appealed to GM Brad Holmes a summer ago. Benson has strong hands and excellent catching range for his 6-0, 188-pound size.
Benson and Cephus enter training camp battling for the No. 6 spot, presumably. But there are some variables and other competitors, too.
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
The former lacrosse star made his biggest NFL dent throwing a TD pass to Raymond last season. Sure, he also caught six passes, but his downfield strike was a highlight to savor and cherish.
Alas, it might be the last regular season action for Kennedy in Detroit. After three seasons bouncing between the practice squad and active roster, it’s now-or-never time for the 25-year-old Kennedy. But don’t write him off just yet.
Kennedy has natural movement skills and toughness that make him a tailor-made slot option. The Lions don’t really have anyone else beyond St. Brown who offers that, not with any experience anyway. Kennedy is well-liked in the locker room and has proven himself on special teams. It’s an uphill battle for Kennedy but one he can climb with a strong summer.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Detroit currently has three undrafted rookie wideouts on the roster.
Kalil Pimpleton is the most intriguing and has the clearest path to sticking in Detroit because of his sky-high potential as a return specialist. Pimpleton is small at 5-foot-9 and a listed 172 pounds that might be generous, but he’s got exceptional agility and acceleration. He made that work effectively and dangerously as a weapon at Central Michigan on offense as well. It would be stunning if he made the 53-man roster initially, but Pimpleton is worth stashing as a unique weapon.
Corey Sutton is the polar opposite of Pimpleton. He’s big (6-3/208) and more power-based as a receiver. Sutton flashed nice hands in OTAs. The Appalachian State product conjures some physical memories of one-time Lions WR Travis Fulgham.
Josh Johnson, not to be confused with the journeyman QB, will quickly need to show more than he did in OTAs and minicamp. The lightweight (180 pounds at 5-11) from Tulsa struggled catching the ball and didn’t display much wiggle as a potential slot option. He was a fun playmaker in college, however.