Inside the Detroit Lions‘ Allen Park headquarters, Quintez Cephus was pegged as a potential breakout player for the 2021 season.
After an impressive rookie showing from the 2020 fifth-rounder (No. 166 overall) — 20 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns — the opportunity was there, thanks to the Lions’ limited wide receiver corps. Coaches believed he had the work ethic and skills to succeed.
And indeed, he had 12 catches for 166 yards and two TDs through four games in 2021, and three catches for and another 38 yards in Week 5.
But in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings, Cephus suffered a second-ending broken collarbone. Fast-forward to 2022, and he’s looking to find that connection with quarterback Jared Goff again.
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“It sucked, honestly,” he said during minicamp in early June. “Not being able to be out here and do what I love to do. Got off to a great start, just wanted to take advantage of my opportunities, but it ended shorter than I wanted it to.”
The big issue: The spot that was his a year ago is no longer waiting for him. Since his injury, the Lions have beefed up the wide receiver position more than any other.
Rookie wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown developed into a top-end slot receiver over the final half of 2021. Josh Reynolds was acquired in November as a multi-level threat.
Then, in the offseason, the Lions signed free agent DJ Chark, who caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns in 2019 en route to the Pro Bowl.
The Lions also traded up in the NFL draft for Jameson Williams. The Alabama wideout tore an ACL in January, but is healing and could be the Lions’ best receiver once he’s healthy and up to speed.
That leaves Cephus grinding for his place on the roster.
“We all watch the film, we all come out here wanting to compete and wanting to show up on the film when we go back in the meeting room,” he said. “We got a lot of guys that can do a lot of things on the perimeter. It is competitive, but you want to be in a room where there’s competition every day, that’s what we come out here to do every day.
“It’s great having a lot of great weapons in the room.”
Cephus made several impressive plays during organized team activities and minicamp — including a a one-handed snag behind the secondary.
The team was still in “pajamas,” as coach Dan Campbell calls it, but Campbell said Cephus was certainly turning heads.
“He’s doing what we asked him to do and, last year kind of like put him in a competitive environment,” Campbell said. “All of sudden, he shows up and, that’s when you really feel him, and yesterday we get one of those competitive environments and who showed up again.
“We don’t ignore those things. I don’t ignore them, you know, so it was good to see out of him. We thought he did well. He just — he shows up. He shows up in these competitive settings; that’s a good thing.”
Cephus said he thrives on one-on-one matchups with defenders.
“Those competitive situations, being able to make contested plays, is something I pride myself on,” Cephus said. “To build trust with the quarterbacks so they can trust me to go up and get a ball when it’s 50-50.”
Cephus’ fight for a roster spot will be tough, but he shouldn’t be counted out. Despite entering just his third season, he’s the second-longest tenured Lions wide receiver, behind only Tom Kennedy.
Cephus doesn’t have prototypical size or speed, but his hands and ability to high-point the ball makes up for those deficits. And perhaps most importantly, Cephus has fight in his game, something he will look to prove in training camp in July and August.
“When you lineup against somebody, he’s trying to make a name for himself, and I’m trying to make a name for mine,” he said. “That’s the greatest opportunity you get to prove yourself, when you line up and compete with somebody else.”
Contact Tony Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @realtonygarcia.