Perhaps the most interesting part of training camp is watching the different roster battles and trying to figure out who will make the 53-man roster. This year, the cutdown to 53 players is scheduled to happen on Sept. 4. Although the roster announced that day will likely undergo a few changes before the regular season gets going (i.e. claiming players let go by other teams), it's still fun to try and predict what that initial 53-man roster will look like.
Every so often over the coming weeks I will put up a post that gives my predictions and allows all of you to share your predictions as well. With training camp officially getting underway later today, I figured now was a good time for the first edition. Right now we don't have any current (as in stuff not from seven or eight months ago) on-field stuff to go off of, so there will be even more guessing than usual in this edition of the roster prediction.
Before I jump into the position-by-position breakdown, I want to quickly share my thought process for predicting the 53-man roster. Basically, a massive prediction like this involves two main criteria: 1) which players I think will make the team; and 2) how many players will be taken at each position. There are many players that can be categorized as locks to make the team, so I went through and moved them to the "keep" category first. After that, I went through the positions and decided on the bubble players I would keep before ultimately choosing how many players to keep at each position (based heavily on what the Lions' week one roster looked like last year). It's obviously an inexact science, but that's how I decided on my 53-man roster for the Lions (after the jump).
Five or six teams went into the regular season last year with only two quarterbacks on the roster (including Jim Schwartz's old team, the Titans), but I don't think the Lions will do that. While Stanton does sort of seem like a waste of a roster spot, the fact is that he knows the system. Could he be let go if the coaches just couldn't stomach parting ways with a player at another position? It's possible, but with Stafford's injury history, I imagine the Lions don't want to deal with having to find Hill a backup in the middle of the season if Stafford went down.
Cut: DeDe Dorsey
This seemed pretty obvious to me. Best will make the team for sure, and Smith should be on the 53-man roster as long as he's healthy. For Brown, he is a player who is still developing and has lots of upside, and then Morris is the veteran backup in the group. Dorsey definitely has some skills, but unfortunately for him there just isn't much room at this position for the Lions.
Keep (1): Jerome Felton
I wouldn't be surprised if the Lions kept Nordin simply because he can play fullback and tight end, but I would bet on only Felton making the team. The Lions finished last season with only one fullback, and with four running backs projected to make the 53-man roster, there just isn't much room for another FB.
This was one of the tougher positions for me because there is so much uncertainty after Calvin and Burleson. While I did include BJ and Northcutt on the 53-man roster, I do believe they are on the bubble. The same even goes for Derrick Williams, as all it takes is one of the young guys to step it up and take the spot of a veteran (or a fellow young guy in Williams' case). A couple of the guys on the cut list seem like practice squad material, but if a veteran goes down with an injury or just has a rough camp, I could see someone like Toone squeaking onto the team.
If the Lions were to take a fourth tight end, my guess is it would be Nordin, who could serve as a hybrid TE/FB. Gronkowski still has a ways to go in my mind, and Dickson is an undrafted free agent. As long as they are all healthy, the top three of Pettigrew, Scheffler and Heller are locked in, so the battle for Dickson and Gronkowski will be to convince the coaches to keep a fourth true tight end on the roster. Unfortunately for them, I think that will be a losing battle.
Cut: Corey Hilliard
This pretty much speaks for itself. Backus is the starting left tackle; Cherilus and Jansen are battling it out for the starting right tackle job; and Fox is a rookie who will likely spend 2010 developing as a backup. The Lions don't need more than four tackles, so those are the obvious candidates to make the team.
This is basically the same setup as last year. Keep three "true" guards and then have one of the centers be a dynamic enough player that he can also line up at guard. Actually, the only difference is that Sims is on the roster instead of Daniel Loper. Other than that, everything else is the same, including at center.
Cut: Dan Gerberry
Raiola is obviously the starter, but Gandy is versatile enough that he can be a backup at center and guard. As a result, the Lions don't have to take an extra lineman and can use that spot for a different position.
At this position, my locks were KVB, Avril and Hunter. That left the other four players on the bubble, and ultimately I decided to keep McBride, who has been with Gunther Cunningham since their days in Kansas City, and DeVries, who is a veteran player. I thought about taking Young over McBride or DeVries since he is a rookie with potentially more upside, but he is probably a better fit for the practice squad.
This was another case of determining how many players the Lions will take at this position. The top three of Suh, Williams and Hill seems pretty set in stone, and I like Fluellen as the fourth DT. It was close between him and Landon Cohen, though. If I had the Lions taking five DTs, then Landon Cohen would have been on the 53-man roster.
This was quite possibly the toughest position of all, because after the starters (Peterson, Levy, Follett), it is a complete guessing game. Not only do you have to consider the backups' play at linebacker, but their play on special teams is also important. That is why Ekejiuba was the first backup I moved to the keep category. The Lions seem extremely high on his special team abilities, and I think he will have a spot on the team because of that. Johnson is in a similar situation, except his skills at linebacker are good enough that he will stick around. As for Dizon, he seems to be the best linebacker of the backup group, so I gave him an edge over the likes of Palmer and Ciurciu, who are mainly special teams player, and the two Campbells, who are inexperienced.
The top five players at CB seem to be in pretty good position to make the team right now. The only one I wasn't sure about was No. 6, Wesley. I think he could be beat out by Berry, who the coaches seem to like quite a bit. Even so, Wesley was one of those guys brought in from Carolina in part to play special teams. Since the Lions seem so committed to improving their play on kick/punt coverage, I think Wesley will get the nod over Berry. Even so, look for Berry to make the practice squad and likely end up on the 53-man roster at some point, as I would bet on the secondary changing quite a bit over the course of the season as coaches try to find out what works and what doesn't.
Cut: Marquand Manuel
This position is pretty simple: take Louis Delmas and pick three of the four other players. Why did I pick Manuel as the odd man out? Well, Simpson and White both seemed to play decent last year (White is a good hitter). Although Simpson is banged up right now, I gave him the edge over Manuel. As for Brown, he is a new guy, so I imagine coaches will keep him around and see what he's got rather than stick with somebody they already know is nothing more than average (Manuel).
Cut: Aaron Pettrey
This one doesn't require much of an explanation. Pettrey is around only to take some of the load off Hanson, and unless Hanson suffers an injury, Pettrey will be gone for sure.
So there you have it. Those are my 53 guys right now. I'm sure things will change quite a bit as training camp gets going and we start to hear about who is excelling and who is on borrowed time, but this is my initial prediction for the Lions' 53-man roster.
Now it's your turn. In the comments, share your thoughts about who will or won't make the roster and if you're so inclined, pick 53 of your own and share it with the rest of us. That way we can look back and see whose prediction was the most accurate and who was just way off. Plus, this is a good conversation starter as we wait for the first batch of news about camp to hit the presses.