Allen Park — If there’s one position where the Detroit Lions are stacked heading into the 2020 season, it’s at wide receiver. But the team is also light on long-term solutions.
Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall and Jamal Agnew are all entering the final year of their contracts. And while there’s an expectation Golladay will be back next season — whether on a long-term extension or the franchise tag — there’s a strong possibility the room looks much different next season.
That’s why Quintez Cephus is so important. The fifth-round draft pick is literally the only receiver on the roster currently under contract beyond 2020. And while expectations are typically low for Day-3 selections, the Lions look like they might have unearthed a gem with the fifth-round choice out of Wisconsin.
Cephus was productive in his final season with the Badgers, catching 59 passes for 901 yards and seven scores. Lions’ first-round pick Jeff Okudah, prior to both landing in Detroit, called the 6-foot-1, 207-pound receiver the toughest player he had to cover in college.
But a slow 40-yard dash time anchored Cephus’ draft stock, sending him tumbling to the Lions with the No. 166 selection. And while no one is dismissing the value of straight-line speed, particularly at the receiver position, Cephus has spent his first training camp making a case the drill is overrated.
“To me, I was never really a runner,” Cephus said. “I was a football player, always just a great athlete. I kind of prided myself on just being an athlete and knowing what to do on a football field. It was tough. People put a lot of hype on the 40, but really I just went back in my head and just said, ‘That didn’t get me where I am. Being a football player and playing on the football field got me to where I am.'”
Maybe it’s a case of confirmation bias, but Cephus does appear a tick slower when watching him run routes alongside Detroit’s other receivers. But that hasn’t stopped him from routinely getting open, day after day during camp practices.
“I think that he has some extremely natural skillsets at the wide receiver position, ” Lions coach Matt Patricia said. “I think some of the movement that he has — he’s a big guy, he’s got a lot of suddenness and quickness at the top of routes. Maybe you think he’s not going to have that type of quickness because of his size, but he does. I think the guys on defense are studying him a little bit harder right now and trying to get a good grip on what exactly he is, so they can go out and compete.”
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For Cephus, the key to getting open happens as soon as the ball is snapped.
“It starts at the line of scrimmage for me, just trying to get a good release and really just giving the quarterback a window to throw the ball,” Cephus said during a video conference on Saturday. “If I can get where I need to get at the line of scrimmage, I know I can get kinda navigate getting open from the top of the route. That’s where my focus is when it comes to getting open.”
An avid basketball player growing up, he’s also been able to translate some skills from the hardwood to the gridiron, particularly with how he uses his frame to generate space.
“Cephus comes in and just, like, big body, a lot quicker than you may think for a big body, and does such a good job with body control,” quarterback Chase Daniel said. “Doesn’t drop a lot of passes, to be honest with you. The separation is super impressive.”
And on top of the physical gifts, it’s his willingness to learn that is pushing the pace of his development. Cephus has impressed the veterans with his questions in team meetings and he’s eagerly absorbing technique tips from position coach Robert Prince.
Cephus also went above and beyond after being drafted by the Lions, linking up with Marvin Jones and Matthew Stafford for offseason workouts.
“I was able to spend time with Marvin Jones out in California,” Cephus said. “That was amazing, seeing the way those guys work, seeing the time, effort and energy they spend on crafting making themselves better, the things that they do.
“Spent some time with Matthew as well down in Georgia,” Cephus continued. “Just being around him was amazing for me. (He’s) a guy that I’ve always looked up to from before I even got into this league or went into college. I really looked up to Matthew and when I was around him, just seeing the way he knows the game, how smart he is and soaking up everything that I can. It kind of helped me when I got here, just hearing things from them and then kind of seeing it all kind of play out right now. That’s helped a lot.”