On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions acquired wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones from the Cleveland Browns for a 2025 sixth-round pick. He was added to the roster after the Lions opened up a spot by placing long snapper Scott Daly on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Peoples-Jones is a Detroit native and attended Cass Tech High School before joining the Michigan Wolverines. After his junior season, he jumped to the NFL and was selected by the Browns in the sixth round, pick 187, of the 2020 Draft.
Over his three and a half seasons in Cleveland, Peoples-Jones played in 50 games, starting 30, registering 117 receptions for 1837 yards and eight touchdowns. His most successful season was in 2022 when he caught 61 passes for 839 yards and three scores. This season, despite starting and seeing the majority of offensive snaps (439), his production has been dramatically scaled back (eight receptions, 97 yards) as the Browns quarterbacks reduced their deep shots.
“We’re excited about the kid,” Lions general manager Brad Holmes said of Peoples-Jones. “He’s had good production in the past, he’ll be a good fit here. He’s been a high-character kid. Obviously, he’s from Michigan, he’s from Detroit, he’s a local kid. So I think he’ll be very, very happy. I just talked to the kid, he’s fired up about getting this process going.”
Character and schematic fits are important to the Lions and they have shown they’re willing to make moves in order to add players with those traits to the roster.
That being said, Peoples-Jones is in the final year of his rookie contract (with roughly $1.5 million remaining on his deal), meaning after the next eight regular season games and playoffs, he will become an unrestricted free agent. Now, the Lions will have a chance to re-sign him ahead of free agency if things go well, but this trade may only end up resulting in an insurance rental for this season.
So, with five wide receivers already on the active roster, why did the Lions make this move?
“You always feel like you’re one injury away,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “That was a position we felt like, ‘Man, (if) we can find a steady, reliable guy that fits us, that can play outside, that was something that we wanted to look and see if we could acquire.”
Peoples-Jones is indeed an outside vertical WR-Z receiver who gives the Lions a deep threat with loads of athleticism (9.63 RAS). He has build-up straight-line speed, and at 6-foot-2, 204 pounds, he is capable of making the contested catch. Consistency can waver at times but his upside is worth the risk for the Lions.
The #Lions pick up a productive vertical threat in WR Donovan Peoples-Jones.— Brett Whitefield (@BGWhitefield) October 31, 2023
In 2022, his 525 yards on throws 15+ yards downfield ranked 14th among WRs. Via @FantasyPtsData
Lions get size, speed, and physicality at the catch point. Peep some of his top plays. pic.twitter.com/Icb54gxndI
The Lions were in need of a big-bodied vertical threat after Marvin Jones Jr. stepped away from football to tend to his family, and the price/upside combination was too good to pass up.
“Marvin (Jones Jr.) had to step away, so we were down a receiver period,” Holmes continued. “So, we had to look to add another one regardless. There’s a lot of different avenues that you can take, so this is the one that we chose.”
Additionally, with the inconsistent play of Jameson Williams, People-Jones offers the Lions an alternate field stretcher on the outside. That’s not to say that the new receiver will cut into Williams’ snap counts, but like Jones, there will be a handful of snaps dedicated to Peoples-Jones every week. For reference, Jones saw between 20 and 40 snaps a game and averaged just under 30 snaps a week during his six games with Detroit.
So who will lose snaps to Peoples-Jones? Likely rookie Antoine Green, who saw his role increase following Jones’ exiting, but only has one reception for two yards on the season.
In the end, the Lions replaced Jones with a younger and more athletic player in Peoples-Jones, who figures to act as a vertical option on game days and could be someone who gets a contract extension if his play warrants it.