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4 reasons the Detroit Lions should only keep 4 receivers on the 53-man roster

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With lots of eyes on the battle for fifth wide receiver in Detroit Lions training camp, it may make sense for the Lions to only keep four.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday, Pride of Detroit’s own Kent Lee Platte put out his depth chart prediction based on how Detroit Lions training camp has unfolded so far. When it came to wide receivers, he noted that “the Lions were not as high on their depth receivers as the fans were and that the team may roll with only four receivers.”

While that doesn’t sound very logical on the surface, it may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Here are four reasons why:

1. The Lions live in 11 personnel

The Lions utilized 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers) on 75 percent of their offensive snaps last season, according to Football Outsiders. That’s good for third-most in the league. That leaves a quarter of their snaps to be split between zero, one, two and four wide receiver sets, which means very rarely will all four receivers be on the field.

With new head coach Matt Patricia choosing to retain offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter this offseason, we can expect to see much of the same when it comes to personnel usage, and there shouldn’t be a strong need to have five wide receivers on the 53-man roster.

2. Talent drop off

As mentioned in the depth chart prediction, Marvin Jones Jr., Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones have receiver spots one through four locked up in that order. Beyond that, however, the depth chart gets murky. The next tier is composed of third-year wideout Jace Billingsley and undrafted free agent Teo Redding, and neither have consistently performed well enough to warrant the Lions keeping a fifth receiver.

Billingsley enters his third season in the league having spent most the previous two on the Lions practice squad. So far in training camp, it doesn’t seem like there has been any eye-opening improvement since years prior. Given his familiarity with the Lions and the way the roster has played out the last two seasons, it seems likely that Billingsley will be using his last year of practice squad eligibility with the Lions this season.

Undrafted free agent Teo Redding possesses unmatched athleticism and has a very high ceiling. Right now, however, reports have him listed at anywhere from 175-180 pounds. That’s very lean for a guy with the same frame as the 200-pound Marvin Jones Jr., and thus Redding needs to add some muscle in order to consistently handle the physicality of being an outside receiver.

3. No receivers? No problem

Keeping only four receivers on the roster is risky in the event of in-game receiver injuries. That’s not ideal for a team like the Lions, who have recently found themselves in passing situations late in games more often than they would like.

Fortunately for the Lions, that’s not a problem. One of the side effects of being such a pass-heavy offense is having a full stable of running backs with receiving abilities.

Theo Riddick leads that group, having played a combination of receiver and running back during his time at Notre Dame. In addition, running backs Kerryon Johnson and Ameer Abdullah have been putting their pass-catching abilities on full display during this week’s training camp scrimmages.

With at least two of the three expected to make the roster, if not all of them, the Lions should not be losing any sleep over the possibility of losing one of four receivers.

4. Putting roster spots to better use

While Lions brass may not be riding high on the depth at receiver, as Kent pointed out, there are many other positions where the competition is going to get heated in the coming month.

The two units facing the most competition will likely be the running backs and defensive backs. Both positions feature lots of talent, with everything from free agent signees to veterans getting their last chance to prove their worth (looking at you, Ameer Abdullah and Miles Killebrew).

With so many position groups other than wide receiver stacked with talent, opting to keep only four receivers could open up a roster spot for a player who could be put to much better use.