LIONS INSIDER

2017 training camp preview: Wide receiver

Posted Jul 12, 2017

Tim Twentyman previews the wide receiver position heading into training camp.

On the roster: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley, Jared Abbrederis, Ryan Spadola, Keshawn Martin, Noel Thomas, Dontez Ford, Michael Rector

Key losses: Anquan Boldin, Andre Roberts

Making the cut: Tate, Jones Jr., Golladay

On the bubble: Jones, Billingsley, Abbrederis, Spadola, Martin, Thomas, Ford, Rector

Best competition: Who wins final roster spot(s)?

The Lions kept four receivers on the initial 53-man roster out of camp last year, and Tate, Jones Jr. and Golladay seem to have a pretty firm grasp on the top three spots.

That leaves eight players competing for what could end up being just one roster spot. There’s also the chance, depending on how the numbers play out at other positions, the Lions decide to keep five receivers on the initial roster.

Special teams could play a big factor in this competition. The Lions lost last year’s return man, Andre Roberts, in free agency, which means the job for the 2017 season is wide open. Both Billingsley and Jones got extensive work there in OTAs and minicamp. If one of them steps up and wins that job, they’ll win the fourth receiver spot.

Of the eight players on the roster bubble, Jones, Billingsley and Abbrederis made the biggest impact in the offseason’s open practice sessions. Jones got a lot of run with the first team in the slot. Billingsley was right behind him.

Abbrederis turned a few heads with his playmaking ability. Abbrederis’ route running and his ability to create space between the defenders set him apart.

2016 stats
PlayerGamesRecYdsAvgLongTD
Golden Tate 16 91 1,077 11.8 67 4
Marvin Jones Jr. 15 55 930 16.9 73 4
Kenny Golladay* 12 87 1,156 13.3 49 8
TJ Jones 3 5 93 18.6 36 0
Jace Billingsley^ 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jared Abbrederis+ 5 1 8 8.0 8 0
Ryan Spadola# 0 0 0 0 0 0
Keshawn Martin% 1 0 0 0 0 0
Noel Thomas* 12 100 1,179 11.8 62 3
Dontez Ford* 8 17 288 16.9 19 2
Michael Rector* 13 32 367 11.5 44 3
* college stats     ^ 2016 PS     + with GB     # IR     % with SF

Twentyman’s take: After a slow start to last season, Tate emerged as Detroit’s most reliable receiver and proved he could be a No. 1-caliber pass catcher in his first season playing without the retired Calvin Johnson. Tate racked up his third straight 90-catch season with the Lions.

Jones Jr. enters his second season with the Lions after signing in free agency last season. He caught 36 passes for 651 yards and four touchdowns, including his first career 200-yard receiving performance, during the first half of last season. But he was limited to just 19 catches for 274 yards without any touchdowns the rest of the way.

Jones Jr. is looking for more consistency through the course of an entire 16-game schedule in 2017. He worked out with Randy Moss this offseason, and says he learned a few things he thinks can help him be more explosive this season.

Golladay has a big frame (6-4, 213), and is a long strider. He’s looked good through the offseason training program, and could bring both a deep and red zone threat to this offense.

It’s not surprising that TJ Jones got a lot of run with the first team this spring and summer. He’s entering his fourth season out of Notre Dame, and is well versed in Jim Bob Cooter’s offense. In year four, Jones must prove he can be a consistent playmaker for quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Billingsley is my wild card in this competition. He’s shifty in the slot, but he’s also tough as nails. He led the Lions in receiving in the preseason last year, but was still learning the position. He played more running back than receiver in college. He says he feels much more comfortable playing receiver this offseason. If he has another good preseason, he might just win a roster spot.

By the numbers:

153: Tate ranked seventh in the NFL last season with 153 receiving yards gained after contact.

6.7: Percentage of catchable passes dropped by Lions pass catchers in 2016. Only three teams (Jets, 49ers and Raiders) had a higher percentage.

2,228: Total number of yards after the catch racked up by the Lions last season. Only the Saints (2,439), Falcons (2,382) and Patriots (2,334) had more.

Quotable: “We have a great group that can do a lot of things on the field that provide a lot for this offense,” Marvin Jones Jr. said during last month’s minicamp.

“It definitely compliments what we want to do as an offense (having players with different skill sets). We have guys that can do pretty much everything. When you have that versatility, it’s always a good thing.”