In the weeks leading up to Detroit Lions training camp, we’re going to do a position-by-position breakdown of where the roster stands. Our series continues with the Lions wide receivers.
Starters: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay
Backups: Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis and TJ Jones
On the bubble: Keshawn Martin, Michael Rector,
Camp bodies: Ryan Spadola, Noel Thomas and Dontez Ford
As it stands today, we have pretty good understanding of how the Lions depth chart is going to look at receiver. Marvin Jones and Golden Tate will return to their spots as the Lions 1A and 1B. Kenny Golladay is expected to immediately fill Anquan Boldin’s spot. Whether he brings anywhere near the production Boldin brought in 2016, is a question we won’t soon know the answer to.
Speaking of questions, after those three receivers, the Lions receiving core is full of questions. Can Jace Billingsley continue to grow into a major contributor? Or will he be nabbed with the old “camp darling” title. Can Jared Abbrederis possibly live up to the odd hype he always seems to receive and make the 53-man roster?
What about deeper than that? Michael Rector missed out on the draft this past April, but was one of the Lions first undrafted free agents they signed. Rector likely has an uphill battle to make the roster at this point, but I like what I’ve seen from the kid, and I’m pegging him as this year’s camp darling right here and now. We’ll see if I’m wrong soon enough.
As far as Spadola, Thomas, Ford and Martin go, Keshawn Martin had the best chance to make the team as a return man before I saw what Jamal Agnew can do in that spot. Now I’m not so sure that Lions special teams coach Joe Marciano will even get the chance to try to bring Martin back to what he was when they worked together in Houston. And if uphill battles are truly a thing, Spadola, Thomas and Ford are at the bottom of the Murderhorn.
As for the final question: What does the future hold for TJ Jones? I placed him as a backup above, but I feel that I did that mostly out of habit. Truth is, I’m not sure TJ Jones has done enough to warrant making the 53-man roster yet again. And the questions just keep piling up. What is he? Is he a return man? Is he a slot guy? Is he a red zone guy? I don’t know, but I’m not sure he’s excelled enough in any of those places to guarantee a roster spot in 2017. Here’s hoping he explodes off the block in preseason.
Need going forward?
Despite picking up Kenny Golladay and having some interesting backups in Billingsley and Abbrederis, I still feel like the Lions are missing something at receiver. At this point it looks as though the Lions will be again looking for another guy in the draft or free agency next summer. For Matthew Stafford’s sake, I sure hope I’m wrong.
The Lions will no doubt use their running backs and tight ends in the pass game in 2017, but they can ill afford to use them as a mask for lack of depth again. The Lions must get this right at some point.