There is little question that the Detroit Lions’ top four spots at wide receiver are relatively set in stone for the 53-man roster. DJ Chark, Josh Reynolds, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Kalif Raymond are all considered players who will not only make the roster, but will significantly contribute this year. Add in first-round pick Jameson Williams, who is expected to miss at least the first four games of the season on the Non-Football Injury list, and this receiving corps has the looks of a deep, strong unit.
Going into camp, reserves Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson looked like the prime candidates for the remaining one or two reserve jobs, and both looked great in early practices. But two preseason games in, fourth-year wideout Tom Kennedy is making a heck of a case to be one of those players.
Kennedy opened the preseason with an eight-catch, 104-yard performance and followed it up this week by hauling in both of the Lions’ passing touchdowns against the Colts. Last week, coach Dan Campbell called him “dependable.” This week, he had to come up with another word for him.
“He’s very reliable,” Campbell said with a smirk. “He’s just reliable. That’s all he is.”
One major concern with rostering Kennedy is that he doesn’t provide as much on special teams as someone like Benson would. Last week, Kennedy played exactly zero snap on special teams. However, with how much he had been popping on offense, the Lions had no choice but to give him a shot there this week against the Colts.
“That’s why we put him out there at the gunner and jammer—to get some looks at him,” Campbell said. “I saw a couple of them and, you know, he got doubled (on) a couple and that means the other guy has got to win. I would say he didn’t disappoint, but I need to go back and watch the film. We’re trying to give him every opportunity to make this team. That’s what this means, because he just won’t go away, and that’s a good thing.”
But Kennedy wasn’t the only reserve receiver who made a convincing case against the Colts. Maurice Alexander, who was signed just a few weeks ago, splashed in the return game, taking kickoffs for gains of 61 and 45 yards. He also added three catches for 18 yards to boot.
“It’s hard to ignore. I would say that,” Campbell said of Alexander’s performance. “It’s certainly hard to ignore, but it’s why we wanted to get a look at him. (Special teams coordinator Dave) Fipp and I have been intrigued with him.”
Alexander’s main competition for the kick return job wouldn’t be a receiver, but running back Godwin Igwebuike, who contributes on multiple special teams groups. Igwebuike also shined in preseason Game 2, rushing for 32 yards and the game-winning touchdown on just seven carries.
It’s hard to forget about the original favorites for the job, too. Benson had a nice day with four catches for 44 yards and contributes regularly on special teams. Even Quintez Cephus, who hasn’t had a chance to play this preseason due to an injury, stands out because of his unique skillset. He’s the only receiver among the reserves taller than 6-foot, and his physical style of play is tough to match.
The Lions are going to have to face some tough decisions when the roster cuts come. Detroit must move from 85 players to 80 by 4:00 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and then all the way down to 53 on August 30.