They thought they found solutions in free agency, and supplemented that in the draft, but with one game left in the preseason — and five days left until rosters must be cut to 53 players — the Detroit Lions are still hammering out who fits where in their receiving corps.
The Lions appear to have three roster locks at a position where teams normally keep five or six players, and one of the top veterans they signed this offseason — Breshad Perriman — is very much on the roster bubble.
Perriman missed time with a hip injury early in camp and has been just so-so since his return.
“He was out for a little while and missed some valuable time,” offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said. “He’s back now and we have another game and couple more practices, so yeah, I would like to see some more (from him).”
Lynn quickly added he thinks Perriman is “a heck of a receiver,” but what that means come cut day remains to be seen.
Lynn said special teams ability will be a crucial component of the Lions’ backup receivers’ jobs, and coach Dan Campbell called his team’s pending decision at the position “really interesting” and said the backup spots are “very much in play.”
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“We’re looking for guys that, one, can separate, and two, make the plays that are there,” Campbell said. “That’s the job description. And then certainly, we need guys that can block on the perimeter. Because if you want explosive runs, those guys have to block on the perimeter. But I know this, it’s a lot easier for the quarterback to make precise throws when there’s separation. That’s ultimately what we’re looking for and we have some guys that have enough in their body to do that.”
With 11 receivers on their roster, here is a look at where the Lions stand at the position heading into Friday’s preseason finale against the Indianapolis Colts.
Tyrell Williams: The Lions signed Williams to be their No. 1 receiver this offseason and he has played as such this summer — when he’s been healthy. He has been most impactful on short and intermediate routes in camp, but has the size and speed, at least, to challenge defenses deep. Williams is out with a groin injury, though it is not expected to cost him time in the regular season.
Kalif Raymond: Raymond had 19 receptions in his first five NFL seasons, so little was expected from him as a receiver when he signed with the Lions this spring. In camp, though, Raymond has impressed while playing regularly with the first-team offense; he was among the healthy starters held out of the Lions’ preseason Week 2 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He also will serve as the Lions’ primary return man this fall.
Amon-Ra St. Brown: A fourth-round pick out of USC, St. Brown would be a lock for the roster even without his draft status. He has joined Williams and Raymond on the first-team offense in most three-receiver sets and has impressed with his hands and ability to get open. St. Brown likely will serve as the Lions’ primary slot receiver this fall.
Next man up
Quintez Cephus: I can’t put Cephus in the lock category, but his roster spot feels pretty secure heading into final cuts. Cephus was not drafted by the current regime and has just two catches for 15 yards in two preseason games, but the Lions need another receiver with size to play outside and Cephus has been better than Perriman and all of his peers not mentioned above. Coaches also have noted multiple times how he has improved steadily since the start of spring.
On the bubble
Breshad Perriman: Perriman was supposed to be this team’s No. 2 receiver, but was ordinary throughout the spring and hasn’t done much of note this summer. The Lions gave him $2 million guaranteed as part of his contract, which may factor into their decision. But I think it would tell us a lot about new Campbell and new GM Brad Holmes if they were willing to cut their losses on a free agent mistake. Perriman’s experience and modest ability to be a field-stretching outside threat might be worth hanging onto, as the Lions don’t have a ton of roster-worthy options to be their No. 5 receiver.
Tom Kennedy: Kennedy leads the Lions in catches (eight) and yards (107) this preseason, and Campbell has admitted his affinity for the third-year slot receiver. The problem, however, is that Kennedy is largely limited to playing in the slot. He’s not big enough or fast enough to be a real threat outside and he provides limited value on special teams, where the Lions intend to give him more work on their coverage units this week.
Javon McKinley: An undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame, McKinley is the sleeper in the battle for the No. 5 receiver job. He has three catches for 50 yards and a touchdown this preseason, has more special teams value than Perriman and Kennedy and his size (6 feet 2) would be welcome on an otherwise smallish unit. McKinley likely will make it through to practice squad, but he would win a job with a strong performance Friday.
Damion Ratley: When the Lions signed Ratley, a former John Dorsey draft pick, he was penciled in as the team’s No. 5 receiver. Then they drafted St. Brown, then Ratley missed time this summer with injury, and now he’s drifted out of public consciousness Ratley has not caught a pass this preseason, but does have special teams value. Still, he appears to be down the pecking order at receiver.
Sage Surratt: One of two undrafted rookie receivers left on the roster, Surratt has made less of an impact than McKinely. He remains an intriguing prospect because of his frame (6-3, 212 pounds), but his best bet is probably the practice squad.
Victor Bolden: Bolden had some momentum coming out of minicamp and OTAs, but has not carried that over in recent weeks. He couldn’t hold onto two tough but catchable passes in the preseason opener and appears to be fighting for a practice squad spot.
Geronimo Allison: A forgotten man of sorts on the Lions’ receiving corps, Allison has the size (6-3) and veteran experience to help an otherwise thin unit, but has not popped in training camp.