KhaDarel Hodge eager to prove he’s more than a special teams player

Hodge is the ‘Next Man Up’ in the Lions’ wide receiver room.

One of the biggest plays from last week’s heartbreaking loss to the Minnesota Vikings came from the unlikeliest of sources. Detroit Lions wide receiver KhaDarel Hodge—only in the game due to a first-half injury to starter Quintez Cephus—caught a strike from Jared Goff in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion, giving the Lions their first lead of the game with just 37 seconds left. It was the first time Hodge has ever found the end zone in his professional career.

“Oh man, it was amazing,” Hodge said this week. “It was a good play for me and the team. But that was probably my — I mean, it wasn’t an official touchdown — but that was my first touchdown in the regular season. So it was pretty exciting for me.”

Now Hodge is hoping to build upon that performance and prove it wasn’t a one-hit wonder. An undrafted prospect out of Prairie View A&M, Hodge has been searching for an opportunity to prove himself on the field since entering the league in 2018. Though he’s had short stints with the Rams and Browns over the past three seasons, he’s contributed largely on special teams without the chance to prove himself on offense.

“That’s why I came here,” Hodge said. “I wanted to play, and prove I’m not just a special teams player. I can make plays. So now it’s on me to step up and show what I can do.”

Hodge signed with the team right after initial cuts. The Lions’ were still searching for a No. 2 option after free agent signing Breshad Perriman didn’t work out. Now, with injuries to Tyrell Williams and Quintez Cephus, Hodge is the next man up, and he’s got an edge that could make him an instant contributor this week: his brief history with Lions quarterback Jared Goff back during his season in Los Angeles.

“He had to step in there and it was seamless,” Goff said of their time together in 2019. “It was really like, ‘Whoa, OK. This guy can play.’ And then in L.A., he moved on and went to Cleveland and now we’ve got back with him and our chemistry is a little further along than it would be with somebody I haven’t played with. He’s a guy I trust and a guy that we want to get involved.”

That trust could go a long way. Goff has had to deal with a constantly rotating cast of characters at receiver already this season, which could be a reason the Lions quarterback has been hesitant to push the ball downfield. Through five weeks, Goff’s average pass has traveled just 6.8 yards downfield, the sixth-lowest mark in the NFL. However, Goff doesn’t believe that’s a problem, necessarily.

“I’m trying to find the guy who’s open every play, and if that happens all the way down the field, that’s the guy. If it’s not, then it’s not,” Goff said. “I’m not concerned with my yards per attempt, or completion, really. I’m just trying to find the guy who’s open. If you guys want me to improve my yards per attempt, I’ll overthrow everybody 50 yards over and over again and my yards per attempt will go through the roof. So, I don’t plan on doing that.”

Hodge knows the perception of this wide receiver group isn’t very high, but he’s taking that as a challenge to prove them wrong.

“We got to prove to them that we are who we say we are, you know? We got to continue to work, and not really pay attention to what people say about what we know we can do. Time will tell.”

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