It's not easy to predict what the 53-man roster will look like before the Detroit Lions have even played a game, but it is pretty fun to take a stab at what will happen when the dust settles on the final round of cuts next month.
Over the coming weeks it will become easier and easier to predict what will happen as we get more information from practices and preseason games. For now early camp reports and what the Lions have done in the past are the best indicators for what the 53-man roster will look like. Based on that information I have put together my first 53-man roster prediction. You can check it out below, and make sure to leave your thoughts and predictions of your own in the comments.
Cut: Zac Robinson
Barring an injury, this is one of the positions on the Lions roster without any real question marks. If Stafford, Hill and Stanton stay healthy, they will make the 53-man roster and Robinson will be released. Robinson will likely later be signed to the practice squad as long as no other teams try to add him to their active roster.
Place on IR: Mikel Leshoure
This was one of the tougher calls to make. Not only have Harrison and Bell only been on the team for a few days, but what will happen with Brown could depend on how someone at another position performs (more on that in a second). I ultimately chose Harrison to join Best and Morris on the 53-man roster because he seems to have more upside than the other backs and appears to be more likely to contribute on a regular basis for the Lions.
Keep (1): Jerome Felton
Cut: Matt Clapp
I know a lot of people have jumped on the cut Felton bandwagon, but I'm not ready to do that just yet. The Lions seem to like Felton quite a bit, and before any games have been played I would peg him as the favorite to return at fullback. That said, this will be one of the more interesting battles to watch as actual games are played.
The reason I decided to keep six wide receivers and only three running backs is because of Williams. While he isn't necessarily competing directly with Brown for a spot on the roster, the number of players the Lions ultimately keep at each position will likely come down to how these two players perform during the preseason.
There are four main reasons why I went with Williams as the sixth WR instead of Brown as the fourth RB: 1) Williams has reportedly had the best camp of his career so far; 2) With Young missing so much time, Williams has gotten a chance to show he can be perform as the Lions' third WR; 3) Although special teams is important for players like Williams, the Lions aren't hurting for good special teams performers with both Davis and Logan expected to make the team; and 4) The chances of Williams contributing at WR seem higher than Brown contributing at RB.
Like quarterback, there aren't really any question marks at tight end. If healthy, Pettigrew, Scheffler and Heller should be the Lions' three TEs for 2011.
Injuries have created some uncertainty at offensive tackle with coaches having to shuffle players around to even have a set of No. 1 OTs at times. Even so, by the time the final round of roster cuts rolls around, chances are there won't be too many question marks here. If healthy, Backus and Cherilus are the starters and Hilliard and Fox are set to be the backups. Chances are nobody else at the position will make the team, although Culbreath will almost certainly be signed to the practice squad if he is let go.
Cut: Greg Niland
Like they have in the past, the Lions will likely only keep three guards. The two starters are Sims and Peterman and the backup is Thomas. I gave Thomas the nod because of his versatility. He helped fill in at tackle early on in training camp and has shown he can play multiple positions. On the offensive line, versatility is very valued.
Speaking of versatility, that is why I expect Gandy to once again make the team as Raiola's backup at center. Niswanger can play guard and center as well, but right now I have Gandy edging him and Gerberry out to make the team.
Had Turk McBride re-signed with the Lions, it would have been interesting to watch the battle for a roster spot between Young and someone like Fluellen. With McBride now in New Orleans, the defensive end position is set right now with Vanden Bosch, Avril, Jackson and Young.
The Lions have kept five defensive ends and four defensive tackles the last two years. With there not being a fifth DE worthy of a roster spot, I expect Fluellen to make the team as the fifth DT this year. He started off as a DE, so he can move around on the D-line, and I think he's a better bet to stick around than someone like Callaway or Pitcock.
Although the Lions' two-deep at linebacker is essentially set with Levy, Tulloch, Durant, Carpenter, Ekejiuba and Palmer, there is some uncertainty with how many LBs will make the team. I debated keeping Hogue on the 53-man roster, but I ultimately decided that the Lions will be more apt to attempt to put him on the practice squad and move forward with their top six LBs.
Part of the reason I only kept six LBs is because I wanted to keep six cornerbacks as well. Houston, Wright, Smith and Berry are virtual locks to make the team, and I think both Vasher and McDonald are deserving of a spot as well. Keeping all six of them would give the Lions solid depth at cornerback, and I see more value in keeping both Vasher and McDonald instead of Hogue as the seventh linebacker.
Delmas and Spievey are on track to be the starters at safety for the Lions, and Coleman is set to be the primary backup. Wendling is one of the best special teams players in the league right now, so he will probably earn a spot for that reason alone. Because spots in the secondary are limited with six corners being kept, that means there is no room for an additional safety.
Barring an injury, I have a tough time seeing Hanson and Harris getting beat out by Rayner and Donahue, respectively. As a result, I went with the Lions usual special teams group of Hanson, Harris and Muhlbach.