Thursday night is the last chance for several Detroit Lions players to convince general manager Bob Quinn and the rest of the Lions staff that they’re worth keeping around for the regular season. There are several camp battles on offense still to be determined, but there is more on the line than just roster spots. Some soon-to-be free agents are hoping to put out good tape out there for other interested teams, while others that are destined to be cut may be playing for a spot on a Lions’ practice squad.
So here are five offensive players to watch during Thursday night’s game against the Buffalo Bills.
The second-year wide receiver finds himself in an extremely familiar situation. Last year, Billingsley was five or six players deep on the Lions’ depth chart, and responded by having an outstanding fourth preseason game. Billingsley caught seven catches for 80 yards and a touchdown against the Bills, and was the team’s sole returner in that game. Ultimately, he was still passed over for kick and punt returner Andre Roberts, but did find his way onto the team’s practice squad.
This year, the competition is even tighter, but the Lions may have room to keep an extra fifth receiver. With Keshawn Martin already released, Billingsley has a clearer path to the roster, but he’ll still have to beat out at least Jared Abbrederis and maybe TJ Jones, too.
While we’re on the topic, let’s talk about Abbrederis. While he doesn’t appear to be part of the equation for the returner job, Abbrederis still brings a lot of value to this team and could squeeze his way onto the roster.
His talent is clearly valued in this league, as several teams tried to sign him in the middle of the 2016 season, but Abbrederis decided to focus completely on his health before returning.
Of the bubble receivers, Abbrederis may be the one with the most polished route-running and overall receiver skills. He’s been reliable this preseason, catching seven total passes for 68 yards and a touchdown.
This game is setting up for a finale much like we witnessed between Billingsley and Jay Lee last year, when the two combined for 13 catches, 158 yards and two touchdowns. Though neither ended up making the team, Billingsley’s performance was good enough for him to land a spot on the practice squad.
Norton may be safe after the Lions released Cyrus Kouandjio earlier in the week, but I still believe the Lions would prefer to have him on the practice squad given his performance thus far.
In other words, even if Norton make the initial 53-man roster, I think there’s a good chance Detroit brings in a different tackle released by another team to bump Norton off the roster.
That is, unless Norton impresses in the preseason finale. The Lions currently have just three backup tackles on the roster, so they’ll get a very long look at Norton, along with Cornelius Lucas and Nick Becton. If Norton shows he can settle into the position nicely, Detroit may feel more comfortable rolling with him as one of the team’s backups.
Detroit only carried three tight ends on their roster last season, but with the addition of Darren Fells to the roster, many believe the Lions are going to go with more two tight end sets. That means Detroit should consider keeping a fourth tight end, and with no fullback left on the roster, the Lions have the space to do it.
Wick is definitely the leading candidate to win that job, but he hasn’t exactly been playing like a top 53 player on the roster thus far. Wick isn’t likely fighting off the players underneath him, as only Khari Lee has a real chance to make the roster. Instead, he must convince the Lions coaches that he’s worth keeping the additional tight end spot on the roster. A good performance against the Bills may do it.
The Lions haven’t shown any interest in trading Rudock, but according to Ian Rapoport, other teams have expressed interest in him.
It’s unclear how long Rudock will play on Thursday night, but if Detroit trots him out there for an extended period of time—say, a full half or more—it may be a sign they are putting him on display for interested teams. If that’s the case, Rudock’s performance could be huge for his future. He could potentially land a starting job as soon as this year, given the desperate nature of some teams (see: Jets).
It all still seems unlikely to me, but it’s definitely something to keep an eye on.