Detroit Lions training camp preview: When will prized rookie WR Jameson Williams hit the field? – MLive.com

Detroit Lions wide receiver Jameson Williams, right, hands quarterback Jared Goff a football after an NFL football practice in Allen Park, Mich., Thursday, June 9, 2022. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)AP
The Detroit Lions are coming off four straight last-place finishes, a franchise worst even for them. But expectations are surging heading into their second season under Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell. They’re a fashionable pick to be among the league’s most-improved teams heading into training camp. Veterans report to Allen Park on July 26, and practice begins a day later. MLive will break it all down by position in the coming days. Today: Wide receivers/tight ends | Previously: Quarterbacks
Roster locks: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR DJ Chark, WR Jameson Williams, WR Josh Reynolds, WR Kalif Raymond, TE T.J. Hockenson, TE James Mitchell
Competing: WR Quintez Cephus, WR Trinity Benson, WR Josh Johnson, WR Tom Kennedy, WR Kalil Pimpleton, WR Corey Sutton, TE Brock Wright, TE Devin Funchess, TE Derrick Deese Jr., TE Shane Zylstra, TE Nolan Givan, TE Garrett Griffin
Notable departures: WR KhaDarel Hodge (Falcons), WR Geronimo Allison (Falcons), TE Jared Pinkney (Rams), TE Matt Sokol (Patriots), TE Hunter Bryant (free agent), TE Charlie Taumoepeau (free agent)
Breakdown: Brad Holmes deserves serious praise for his work addressing the wide receiver situation around these parts. Last year, Quintez Cephus was in the mix for one of the team’s primary receiver jobs. Now, he’s fighting for a roster spot in the team’s new-and-improved receiver room.
The general manager added DJ Chark in free agency, then got aggressive with his move in the draft to take injured Alabama receiver Jameson Williams. It was an uncharacteristic move, with Peter King detailing that Holmes has previously lived by the “Don’t pick hurt guys in the first round” mantra.
“You want to be as sure as possible with first-round players, of course, and I was absolutely convicted on Jameson … the speed, how fluid he was, how confident he played,” Holmes told King. “I consulted with our medical team, and they felt it was a clean ACL tear.
“So now I had to get comfortable with picking an injured player. I thought, ‘I can’t preach to our organization to be open-minded with their decisions if I’m not going to be open-minded myself.”
Holmes slammed his desk so hard that a binder went flying when receiver Chris Olave went at Pick 11, allowing the Lions to move up to No. 12 and take Williams, so it’s hard to argue with that conviction. Williams went down with the injury in the national championship game. He’s not expected to be ready for training camp, which casts doubt on his availability out of the gates. Still, he’s got some rare speed and ability — Williams was clocked at 23 mph on a touchdown last season. Jonathan Taylor had the NFL’s fastest-recorded speed of the season at 22.13 mph. The rookie receiver even earned a 98-speed rating on Madden NFL 23 from EA Sports.
Williams has remained cautiously optimistic about his status for camp. If he doesn’t practice during training camp, the physically unable to perform list could be an option. That would force him to miss at least four games, pushing his debut to at least Week 5. The Lions have their bye in Week 6, so Oct. 23 in Dallas could be the game to watch for his debut if it comes to that.
“I’m very hopeful, but I don’t see it. We’re going to do this thing the right way, and when he’s ready, he’s ready,” Lions head coach Dan Campbell said last month. “But no, I don’t feel like we’re going to see him Day 1.”
And while Williams can take things to another level. It’s not all about the rookie in 2022. Chark had 1,000 receiving yards the last time he was healthy. After signing a one-year deal, the 25-year-old is again healthy, staring down an opportunity to make some money with a strong showing.
Oh, and don’t think we forgot about Amon-Ra. St. Brown. He’s back after delivering the best rookie season by a receiver in franchise history. St. Brown, with tight end T.J. Hockenson, might have to share more targets in 2022. But life could be easier with more weapons on the field, distracting defenders and creating space.
Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond are also back for another run. After seeing primary duties around these parts last year, the pair should see more rotational roles this time. Campbell previously pointed to Raymond as the team’s starting punt returner, who they can use all over the field as a rotational gadget.
Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson are likely battling for the final one or two spots. Both had impressive moments in the offseason program and will need to keep that going once the pads go on. Tom Kennedy has spent the last three seasons between the roster and practice squad. Undrafted rookie Kalil Pimpleton also turned some heads during the offseason program with his wheels and unique shiftiness.
Related: Lions OC Ben Johnson drawing rave reviews for early work with new-look offense | Lions head into another year looking for TE depth to rise
Let’s change gears to the tight ends. Hockenson is healthy again and remains the unquestioned top option in that room. He should remain one of the offensive focal points, especially considering defenses will have to pay attention to other pass-catchers this season.
Hockenson’s targets fluctuated while Detroit’s offense struggled to show a pulse in the first half of 2021. He then went down with a season-ending thumb injury. Hockenson is someone to watch in terms of contract talks ahead of Year 4. The one-time Pro Bowler has 160 catches for 1,673 yards and 12 touchdowns through his first 40 games.
Outside of him, though? It’s still a little murky. The Lions spent a fifth-round pick on Virginia Tech tight end James Mitchell. He’s working his way back from an ACL injury. But, Mitchell suffered his knee injury earlier in the college season and has said he expects to be fully cleared by training camp. It’ll be interesting to see how quickly Mitchell is unleashed, with the Lions looking to work more tempo into their offense. The rookie averaged 16.1 yards per reception across 52 career catches at Virginia Tech, so he could bring a different flavor to the attack.
Brock Wright had some bright moments last year. He knows the offense and coaching staff, winning his fair share of supporters after making it as a little-known undrafted rookie. He’s been praised for his underrated speed and willingness as a blocker. Wright will have to ward off the likes of Devin Funchess, Derrick Deese Jr., Shane Zylstra, Nolan Givan and Garrett Griffin.
Funchess was signed in the days before the team broke for summer. The former second-round receiver pick and Michigan standout looks to make his return to the league. Funchess last played for the Colts in 2019. His best season came in 2017 when he had 63 receptions on 111 targets for 840 yards and eight touchdowns with the Carolina Panthers. It’s hard to bet on him after so much time has passed. But his big frame and pass-catching ability could pop in one-on-one opportunities through camp and the preseason.
Roster projection: WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR DJ Chark, WR Jameson Williams, WR Josh Reynolds, WR Kalif Raymond, WR Quintez Cephus, WR Trinity Benson, TE T.J. Hockenson, TE James Mitchell, TE Brock Wright
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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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