5 players to watch during Lions' 3rd preseason game Friday

Lions battle Jaguars in Ford Field Friday


DETROIT – The Detroit Lions will welcome the Jacksonville Jaguars to Ford Field Friday night for the all-important third preseason game.

While the outcomes of these exhibitions games mean little, individual performances can offer a glimpse into how a player will perform when the regular season begins.

Here are five players to watch during the preseason matchup Friday.

1. Matt Stafford

Fans will get their first real glimpse of Detroit's franchise quarterback in 2014 Friday, as the 26-year-old enters his sixth NFL season. Stafford threw just 14 passes in the first two preseason games, but looked great in the team's loss to the Oakland Raiders last Friday.

Luckily for fans, Stafford will likely play for at least the entire first half during this week's game, as the team prepares for a more realistic representation of the grind players will endure in a couple of weeks.

Stafford should be at the helm of an absolutely explosive offense this season after management signed wide receiver Golden Tate and drafted tight end Eric Ebron. Weapons like Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush will compliment the new pieces and give the veteran quarterback his best arsenal since being drafted No. 1 overall in 2009.

The season is just two weeks away and the starters will sit out much of the final preseason game, so Friday will offer the best look at the loaded offense until the opening game against the New York Giants.

2. Ryan Broyles

Broyles has been one of the top targets for Lions quarterbacks this preseason, catching five passes for 69 yards (both team bests among receivers). The third-year receiver out of Oklahoma has spent the majority of his first two seasons on the sidelines with various major injuries.

If Broyles can stay healthy in 2014 it will add yet another dimension to the Lions' offense. Detroit used a second-round draft pick on the wideout in 2012, but hasn't gotten much in return.

In college Broyles was one of the most explosive players in the country, posting gaudy numbers against a formidable Big 12 conference. Flashes of that playmaking ability have surfaced during the preseason, and Friday could be Broyles' best shot to earn a significant role in the receiving corps.

3. Eric Ebron

Whether fans love or hate that Detroit selected a tight end in the first round instead of addressing defensive needs, the expectations for Ebron remain the same: He needs to produce now.

History does not work in Ebron's favor. Even some of the greatest tight ends of all time, like Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham, failed to play a significant role during their rookie seasons.

So fans will have to show patience, but the Lions haven't put Ebron in a position to deserve patience.

When they passed on elite defensive players to draft Ebron at No. 10 overall, they stamped him with certain expectations that Lions fans will want to observe this season. But through two exhibitions Ebron has caught just three passes for 38 yards.

Friday could be the rookie's first breakout game, as he should line up for plenty of snaps with Stafford at the helm. Fans would love a reason to have faith in the draft pick before the regular season is upon them.

4. Nick Fairley

The general reaction around Detroit to Fairley's benching was to panic. Without the former first-round pick lining up next to Ndamukong Suh, the defensive line will surely take a step back, right?

Jim Caldwell is hoping for the opposite effect.

Though Fairley has been productive at times during his young career, he hasn't come close to living up to the hype that surrounded him coming out of Auburn. Fairley has been overweight, slow and lazy for much of the last three years, and Caldwell is taking a stand against that.

Since being demoted, Fairley has come out and admitted to being out of shape and committed to regaining his starting position.

Friday will be the first game action for the 300-pound lineman since the demotion and might be the first time Lions fans see him truly give 100 percent. Fairley only has two weeks to win his job back before the season starts and Friday will be his first major test.

5. Darius Slay

Over the past few years the Lions have been laden with talent, but a weak secondary has played a huge role in hindering them from reaching their maximum potential.

Detroit reportedly passed on talented cornerbacks for the first three rounds of the draft because new offensive coordinator Teryl Austin believed in the talent on the current roster. When fans learned of Austin's belief, they immediately turned to Slay.

Slay was Detroit's second-round draft pick in 2013 and played a huge role in the secondary as a rookie. Now Slay is a popular choice as a potential breakout candidate for the Lions, who could really use the emergence of a No. 1 corner.

Austin will lean heavily on Slay to lock down opposing receivers this season and Friday will be a great chance to ease him into the upcoming schedule. Jacksonville has struggled on offense for much of the past two seasons, so Slay should be able to put on a show.

If the 23-year-old falters, it could be another long season for the Lions' secondary.

Honorable mention: Denard Robinson

College football fans in Ford Field will also have the opportunity to see former electric Michigan quarterback Robinson on the field. "Shoelace" has been converted to running back in the NFL and has been getting more carries this preseason.

Though he has flown largely under the radar since being drafted, Robinson will have thousands of eyes on him Friday when he returns to the state where he spent his college career.