Orchard Park, N.Y. — Ryan Broyles’ eight catches and 113 yards led the Lions in the first three exhibition games. Seven of those receptions resulted in first downs.
Coming off his third season-ending leg injury in as many years, Broyles has looked healthy and appears ready to finally show some return on the Lions’ second-round investment in 2012.
That’s why it was so strange to see Broyles still playing late in the fourth quarter of Thursday’s fourth and final exhibition, a game in which 11 starters were inactive and many others didn’t play past the first quarter.
“Just like anybody else, we wanted to get a good look at him, give him a chance to get some work, and I thought he did well,” coach Jim Caldwell said. “He came out of it healthy. There’s no problems, so I don’t think there were any issues.”
The competition for the final two or three wide receiver spots on the 53-man roster is as tight as any other position. Calvin Johnson, Golden Tate and Jeremy Ross are locks, and the rest of the group hopes the Lions keep six receivers instead of five.
The age-old question of experience versus upside will play a key role in determining which other receivers make the team.
Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree have the experience, but they’ve both had opportunities in the NFL and didn’t excel consistently.
Corey Fuller, a sixth-round pick last year, and Broyles have the upside, but whether either will reach his ceiling is unknown.
Patrick Edwards and Andrew Peacock have flashed potential this offseason, but if either sticks, it will likely be on the practice squad.
In Thursday’s game, Durham and Ogletree were the starters, but neither contributed much in their quarter-plus of play. Ogletree had a 3-yard reception on his two targets, and Durham didn’t catch any of his three targets.
Broyles had three catches for 31 yards, two of which went for first downs. Fuller had three catches for 48 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown on a well-run route and a good pass by Kellen Moore.
For the four-game slate of exhibitions, Durham finished with four catches for seven yards and a touchdown, and Ogletree had two for 19. Broyles had 11 catches for 144 yards, and Fuller had six for 90.
Of course, Broyles and Fuller faced less competition when they were in the games, which will be considered in the evaluation process.
“I think I did pretty good,” Fuller said of Thursday’s performance. “There were a lot of plays I think I definitely could’ve been a lot better one, just being hard on myself. I’m never going to be satisfied, though.”
Fuller said he thinks his best trait is his ability to stretch the field, which is the key reason he has a shot. In the Saints’ offense, where Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi spent the past seven years, they always had one or two players whose primary task was to run deep routes. Besides Johnson, Fuller has the fastest straight-line speed among receivers.
The Lions must make their roster decisions by 4 p.m. Saturday, and Fuller, among others, hopes to receive good news after showing drastic improvement from last season.
“I sure hope so,” he said. “I definitely want to stick around here. If I can’t, I definitely hope I put enough film out there that someone will grab me.”