Injuries are a part of the game of football and every team deals with them, but the Detroit Lions have been especially affected by them so far this season.
Detroit currently has 13 players on injured reserve, and a lot of those players are key contributors. But when injuries happen there has to be a next-man-up mentality, and it's an opportunity for reserves to step in and make an impact.
That's certainly the case for the Lions at wide receiver.
Tyrell Williams was expected to be Detroit's top wide receiver after signing as a free agent this offseason. He was a consistent weapon for quarterback Jared Goff all through training camp, but Williams hasn't played since Week 1 due to a concussion.
Second-year wide receiver Quintez Cephus stepped up in Williams' place and was having a nice start to his 2021 season, but he broke his collar bone last week in Minnesota and is out for the foreseeable future.
Heading into Sunday's game against Cincinnati at Ford Field, running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson lead the team in both targets and receptions, respectively. Rookie fourth-round pick Amon-Ra St. Brown has come on the last couple weeks with 13 receptions for 135 yards, and he'll need to keep that up, but the Lions need more from their receiving corps as a collective unit if they want to avoid being too predictable on offense.
Goff is currently last in the NFL with just 3.7 air yards per completion, per NextGen Stats. Of the Lions' 1,303 passing yards through Week 5, 813 have been after the catch, which is 62.4 percent, the highest percentage in the NFL. Of the five teams that have the highest yards-after-catch percentage in the NFL – Detroit, Philadelphia (59.2), Pittsburgh (55.5), Cleveland (55.2) and San Francisco (54.0) – only Philadelphia ranks in the top half on the league in passing (12th).
"We'll take the shots when they're there," Goff said. "I know we're trying to scheme them up and I know that we're trying to find ways to get the ball down the field, but if it doesn't fit in the weekly plan or it doesn't fit in what the defense does, or it doesn't fit in what we do this week, we're not going to do them.
"But if it does fit, we'd love to do them and if they get open, I'm going to throw them. But, it's kind of just waiting for that to come together and I know we're working on it. I'm conscious of it, I want to do it, and I know we all do."
The other side of it is having the pass catchers who can stretch the field and get open so Goff can take those shots and hit on some. With the injuries to Williams and Cephus – two guys who've proven they can make big plays down the field – players like KhaDarel Hodge, Trinity Benson, Kalif Raymond and Tom Kennedy have an opportunity to step up and fill the void.
Hodge stepped in for Cephus last week in Minnesota and caught a crucial two-point conversion that temporarily gave the Lions a late lead. He was the fourth or fifth receiver in Los Angeles and Cleveland the last three years, but now he has an opportunity to play a bigger role in Detroit moving forward because of the injuries ahead of him.
"I'm very excited," Hodge said this week. "That's why I came here. I wanted to prove I'm not just a special teams player and I can make plays. So, now it's on me to step up and show what I can do."
Hodge, St. Brown, Raymond, Benson and Kennedy get the opportunity to show what they can do, and the Lions need them to step up and make some plays from the receiver position.