Detroit Lions' WR Depth Chart Training Camp Battle
It’s that exciting time of year again. Rookie camps and OTAs have come and gone, and now all that’s left before the new NFL season is one crucial step: training camp.
Offering us the first good look at new team acquisitions, young draft picks acclimating to the professional game, and 90-plus players competing for 53 crucial roster spots, training camp is instrumental to the development and success of NFL athletes, particularly for fringe-level players.
Sometimes it’s important not to get too caught up with how players perform in this setting—a QB having a bad practice doesn’t mean he’s going to have a poor season—but more often than not, strong performances at this time of year will mean even stronger performances once the season gets going.
An impressive training camp can also be the difference between a starting role and being cut, especially when it comes to teams with several players battling at certain positions.
One such team is the Detroit Lions, who after Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones headed elsewhere in free agency, now have a hole at wide receiver bigger than Quenton Nelson.
Sure they brought in journeyman free agents in Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams—two players who have been starters elsewhere despite plenty of injuries—but neither is a lock to start or even earn meaningful snaps.
So, what exactly should we expect from this mess of a pass-catching corps? Let’s dive in.
As mentioned above, Perriman should be this team’s No. 1 wideout to start the year (yikes), basically because no one else is available.
That’s not a dig at Perriman, he was a former first-round pick who can stretch the field and showed a strong rapport with Joe Flacco during his time with the New York Jets last season.
It’s just that he should ideally be a 3rd/4th wide receiver who flashes on vertical patterns with his speed, not the main pass-catcher for a team that is going to need to help quarterback Jared Goff as much as they can.
Still, expect Perriman—assuming his oft-injured self doesn’t get hurt—to begin the year as a starter and put up something like a 50-700-4 line.
That may be wishful thinking given his current career-high in yardage is 645 with Tampa Bay two years ago, but the opportunities should be there, assuming no one else usurps him on the depth chart (which is very possible).
The other veteran on this list, Williams was a perennial “sleeper” with the Los Angeles Chargers before signing a big-money contract with the Las Vegas Raiders a few years ago.
Having a disappointing first season with the Raiders and then tearing his shoulder and missing all of 2020, Williams was released this offseason but turned out to be the perfect buy-low candidate for a Lions team in need of talent at the wide receiver position.
As a 6-foot-4 wide receiver who primarily relies on his leaping ability and physical prowess, it remains to be seen if he can get back to pre-injury Charger form, but all signs point to Detroit giving him that chance.
Training camp will go a long way in proving if he can handle starter reps and produce a bounce-back season, but if he’s ever going to get back to where he was, it’ll probably be on a team with a depth chart as weak as the Lions’ (and with new Detroit offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, his head coach in Los Angeles).
The only actual returning wide receiver on the team, Cephus is still just a sophomore and far from a proven commodity. But after posting a fairly impressive 20-351-2 line as a fifth-round rookie, he seems to be a roster lock at this point. A slow, albeit extremely physical presence who is a very dependable hands-catcher, his presence will be much-needed in this room, and it seems he’ll start the year alongside Williams as the two “prototypical” wideouts on the team.
Amon-Ra St. Brown
I don’t mean to toot my own horn here, but over the past few years, I’ve developed certain “crushes” on mid-round wide receivers in the draft. Two years ago it was Terry McLaurin. Last year it was Darnell Mooney. “My guy” this year was St. Brown.
Coming from a blessed genetic family (his brother Equanimeous is also in the NFL) and putting forth exceptional production as a 5-star player at USC, St. Brown inexplicably fell to Round 4 but ended up in the perfect position in Detroit. No, he doesn’t have one “elite” quality—perhaps why teams somehow passed on him—but Brown is everything Dan Campbell wants out of his players: tough, hard-nosed, physical, and technically savvy. A quality blocker who loves to operate in the slot and find open spots on the field with his quality spatial awareness, St. Brown is also VERY similar to Los Angeles Rams wide receivers Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. Given Goff’s affinity to pepper both of those players with targets during his time in Los Angeles, I wouldn't put it past St. Brown developed a strong rapport with Goff early on.
I know fourth-round rookies playing immediate snaps isn’t exactly something that happens often, but if it’s going to happen anywhere, it’ll probably be in Detroit.
A speed demon who has primarily been a returner during his time in Denver and Tennessee, Raymond perhaps has a chance to earn a bigger pass-catching role in Detroit—but I still think he’s more likely to slide in behind Perriman on the depth chart and make his primary presence felt on special teams.
He could easily surprise in camp and earn a bigger role though, particularly in the slot, so who knows.
The other Lions' rookie wide receiver, Surratt was a big-name college player who unfortunately went undrafted in April. Like St. Brown, he has another brother in the NFL (Chazz), but he’s more of a size, possession wide receiver in Cephus’ mold.
Given these similarities, assuming Williams is healthy and Cephus has a good camp, Surratt’s redundant traits make him highly unlikely to make the initial roster.
Geronimo Allison, Chad Hansen, Victor Bolden
Rounding out Detroit’s 90-man wide receiver group is a bunch of journeymen.
Allison was hyped up coming out of Illinois and latched on to Green Bay for a few years, but struggles with drops and is only a mediocre athlete. Hansen was dominant at college at Cal but has bounced around on numerous organizations including the New York Jets, New England Patriots, and most recently the Houston Texans.
Bolden probably has the best chance to make the final roster out of this group—being the youngest and having the most room to improve—but even he has done very little in terms of NFL production. A quick-twitch slot option (that could also play on special teams), he can play a similar role to St. Brown, but I think a best-case scenario for him is latching on as the team’s sixth wide receiver (if they even keep that many).
Making any prediction for this jumbled mess is hard at this point, but if I had to guess I’d say that the Lions’ final wide receiver depth chart looks something like
- St. Brown
Although Perriman may be ranked No. 1 on this list, his fit with Goff is a lot murkier than his counterparts, which is why I’d expect Williams and Cephus to probably earn more targets throughout the entire season.
With those three seemingly penciled in as starters in 11-personnel, St. Brown is the wild-card who could virtually replace any of them—assuming he has a strong camp. Raymond could also steal some reps, especially from Perriman, given his flashy speed and gadget capabilities.
This isn’t the most talented or most intriguing camp battle to watch, but for fantasy purposes particularly, it’s a somewhat crucial one. With a blend of veterans, young players, and lifelong special teams players, it’s anyone’s guess who makes it out alive and earns the majority of Detroit’s pass-catching work.