With all of the changes in the wide receivers group this season, rookie receiver Brandon Powell has the chance to step up on both offense and special teams. A receiving corps that once was led by receivers Golden Tate and Marvin Jones is now composed of Powell, as well as receivers Kenny Golladay, T.J. Jones, Bruce Ellington, and Andy Jones.
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Powell stands out in this group due to his unique skill set. The 5-foot-8 undrafted rookie is a pure slot receiver, something missing on this team after trading away Tate. The Lions could benefit from this by finding a way to use Powell in Tate’s old role. Sure, his play is nowhere near the level of the former Pro Bowler’s, but the rookie has not had a chance to make a play yet.
Powell has appeared in only 25 offensive snaps this season and 11 more on special teams. The receiver provides some versatility and can be serviceable as a return specialist if the team needs him to be. The rookie has appeared in just three games this season, catching one pass for six yards on three targets. In a depleted receiving corps, this young rookie would have the most to gain from an increased role on offense.
One last rookie who has begun to see an increased role, and excelled in that spot, is undrafted cornerback Mike Ford. Brought in during 2018 training camp, Ford impressed enough to find a spot on the practice squad, where he spent most of the season. The rookie was called up to the active roster before the match-up against the Carolina Panthers.
In his first NFL action, Ford was named a starter alongside cornerback Darius Slay. He showed some flashes of potential there, but also made some rookie mistakes. Ford missed two big tackles, one of them resulting in an 82-yard catch and run by Panthers receiver D.J. Moore that was ultimately stopped by Slay before reaching the end zone.
Ford now has two starts in as many games and has shown even more improvement the more he plays. The rookie only has eight tackles and one pass defensed, but has already shown to be a better option as a starter than fellow cornerbacks Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor, and Deshawn Shead. Ford has a lot of upside and could remain in his starting role for the rest of the season.
The Detroit Lions rookies have impressed for most of the 2018 season. Though the year has not gone the way they hoped it would go, there is now more opportunity for the team to showcase these young players and evaluate them for the next season.