Position Battles: Wide Receivers

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Continuing with our discussion of training camp battles we move on to the wide receiver group. With Calvin Johnson entrenched at #1 and Bryant Johnson almost certainly slotted to start on the other side, that likely leaves three more spots for receivers, at least one of whom will double as one of the kick returners. After the Johnsons there are several players who could either win the third receiver position or get cut in training camp. This will probably be one of the more interesting position groups to watch as preseason progresses.

The Contenders

Derrick Williams. The Lions' 3rd round pick out of Penn State, Williams should be something of a favorite to make the roster. Prior to the draft Williams got broad interest from teams such as the Patriots, Cowboys, and Colts. With five return touchdowns his senior year the primary interest has been in his return skills. He's a fast player with reasonable size. His career could easily follow the Derrick Mason/Steve Breaston path, primarily returning kicks early before maturing into a key receiver. It wouldn't be too surprising if he gets pressed into duty earlier than either Mason or Breaston were.

Ronald Curry. His offseason signing generated a bit of enthusiasm but the recent trade for Dennis Northcutt raised questions if Curry really has anything left, as the two players are likely competing for the same role and position. Up through 2007 Curry was reasonably productive as the #2/#3 in Oakland but went over the cliff last year, with little production despite reasonable health and little competition. Curry can probably win a spot regardless of Northcutt's performance if he can again become the reliable target that got him so many looks during the tumultuous period when he shared the field with Randy Moss, and Jerry Porter.

Dennis Northcutt. This trade feels more like a free look-see than a real commitment. Both the Jaguars and Lions traded surplus players who were unlikely to make their respective roster. Northcutt may have to impress to find a roster spot with a fairly pricey $3M contract for 2008. He's a reliable 3rd/4th receiver and there is no reason to think he can't continue in that role. At 32, his days as a regular punt returner appear to be over. Like Curry he will have to win a job as a receiver.

The Pretenders.

D.J. Boldin. Younger brother of Anquan. Signed as an undrafted free agent out of Wake Forest. Boldin led the ACC with receptions in '08 with 81, primarily in a possession role. A somewhat slower player ~ 4.55 40. NFL DraftScout has him listed at #220. He may be bulking up to emulate his brother's career. It is very possible that he is still rising as he only had 26 total receptions before taking over Lion draft pick Kenny Moore's role in '08. Has some experience under center, in punt returns and rushing. Probably bound for the practice squad.

Keary Colbert. Lions picked him up as a roster filler last year and didn't produce much, with only five receptions in five games (three starts). He represents a cheap insurance policy against need, either due to training camp injury or later in the season.

Adam Jennings. A pure punt returner who the Lions signed in '08, only to fumble his only return. He is a good cover guy on special teams but that probably won't be enough to win him a spot.

Eric Fowler. Spent most of '08 on the Lions practice squad. Killer reported that he has improved as a receiver this offseason which may win him an extended look, but like most of these guys he will probably only win a job on the back of his coverage skills on special teams.

John Standeford. A Den favorite from last year, he got extended time on the regular roster and impressed a bit averaging 16 y/r with 240 yards over 9 games and 4 starts. He is probably the most likely player among this lower list to fight for regular playing time, although Schwartz' unfamiliarity with him may weigh against him.

Kenneth Harris. Perhaps the longest shot of the group. A big receiver who spent much of his college career injured. He was slotted to start for Georgia in '08 but lost his job to A.J. Greene when he got hurt yet again. Finished his 5 year college career with 41 receptions and 2 TD. It would be an enormous upset for him to do any better than win a practice squad spot.


It is difficult to handicap these players. In preparation for the article I noted one source that claimed that both Williams and Northcutt are assured spots. Otherwise there is notably little discussion of who has impressed in the OTAs or who is on the outside looking in.

Discuss it Here in The Den