I typically wait until training camp at least begins to even start thinking about what the Detroit Lions' 53-man roster will look like. Until you get the players in pads and in preseason games, it's really tough to make predictions about who will make the team.
This year, I don't feel like waiting until August to make my first draft of a roster prediction. With OTAs and the Lions' mandatory minicamp in the books, I feel like there is enough information to at least make a decent attempt at evaluating the roster and predicting which 53 players will be on the team come Week 1 of the regular season.
The obvious disclaimer that it's only June and lots could change by August applies, but this is my early stab at projecting what the roster will look like. (We are looking at the offense today; the prediction for defense and special teams will be posted tomorrow.)
The big question at quarterback this summer will be surrounding Kellen Moore and if he is good enough to make the team. The Lions have always kept at least three quarterbacks on their roster in the Martin Mayhew/Jim Schwartz era, but Schwartz admitted last month that there's no guarantee there will be three this year. The Lions could decide that Moore isn't among their best 53 players and cut him. Of course, he could be brought back on the practice squad, but there's the risk of losing him to another team on waivers.
Personally, as things stand right now, I think the Lions will keep Moore around. He is far from the lock I originally thought he was when he signed, but I just don't see the Lions going into the season with only two quarterbacks. If there was a guarantee that Moore would clear waivers and make it to the practice squad, then that would be the best option by far. Since there are no guarantees come the final round of roster cuts, I think the Lions will play it safe rather than take a chance and potentially lose their third-string quarterback.
If the Lions do end up cutting Moore, it's important to remember that they likely would use the extra spot on an offensive player. Each of the last three seasons, the Lions have had 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players and three special teams players on their initial 53-man roster. They could always change things up in 2012, but it seems like this would come down to keeping Moore or someone like Maurice Stovall rather than Moore or a defensive player. Somebody like Stovall might provide more value by playing special teams in 2012, but Moore has more value down the road.
Suspended to start season: Mikel Leshoure
Cut: Stephfon Green
When I was initially putting together my 53-man roster prediction, I had Stefan Logan on the cut list. Then I realized that there will be a spot open on offense for the first two weeks of the season with Mikel Leshoure being suspended until Week 3. Leshoure will not be included on the initial 53-man roster, opening up a spot. The big debate I had in my head was over keeping Logan around as the fifth running back (regardless of what he's listed on the Lions' roster, he's a running back, not a receiver) or giving the extra spot to, who would be the sixth receiver but mainly contribute on special teams.
The reason I went with Logan over Stovall is because Logan brings more to the table. With the emergence of guys like, and possibly even as candidates to be the Lions' return man, there is certainly less incentive to keep Logan around. That said, Logan can still contribute on special teams even if he's not returning kicks and punts, and he can be used every now and then as a running back. Plus, by keeping him around on the initial 53-man roster, the Lions would have an insurance policy if they went with somebody else at returner and it didn't work out. When Leshoure comes back, somebody will have to be cut to make room for him, but for the first two weeks I like Logan for the final spot on offense.
Keep (0): None
Cut: James Bryant
As we saw last year with Jerome Felton and Matt Clapp being let go, the fullback position has essentially disappeared from the Lions' offense. Believe it or not, but the Lions actually kept two fullbacks on their initial 53-man roster in 2009. That number was down to one in 2010 and zero in 2011. This year, unfortunately for James Bryant, I don't see the Lions keeping a fullback around.
The top four at wide receiver is essentially set as long as Ryan Broyles' recovery from a torn ACL doesn't result in him not being ready for the start of the season. If he is good to go, the first four slots on the depth chart are locked in.
The big battle during training camp will be for the fifth spot. There are a lot of guys set to compete for it, but I see Patrick Edwards emerging during camp and the preseason. This could be a case of getting too attached to a certain undrafted free agent like we have all done in the past, but Edwards' ability as a returner and as a receiver (he had 1,752 yards and 20 touchdowns his final year in college) makes me think he has the edge. Somebody like Maurice Stovall could certainly make a case to be on the team, but like with Stefan Logan, I'll take Edwards and his versatility.
When the Lions released Will Heller right before the start of free agency, it briefly looked like a change might be coming to the tight end position. He was re-signed not too long after, though. With Heller back in the fold and Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler still at the top of the depth chart, I don't see any reason why the tight ends in 2012 won't be the same as the past two seasons.
Cut: Johnny Culbreath
There is pretty good depth at offensive tackle with Riley Reiff joining the fold this year. He is obviously a lock to make the team, and Jeff Backus looks to be set to remain the starter at left tackle. Gosder Cherilus' job is in jeopardy as the starting right tackle, but is his roster spot? I personally don't think so. After him, both Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard provide good depth. Fox's injury problems could result in him being left off the 53-man roster, but if he's healthy he will be around.
With five offensive tackles already in, I just couldn't find room for Johnny Culbreath. He missed all of last season, and he was the first Lion to get in trouble this offseason. Right now, he seems to be at the bottom of the depth chart, and as a result, he's on the cut list.
Keeping only two offensive guards doesn't exactly provide a lot of depth, but this is why versatility is so important. On paper there may not be any guards on my 53-man roster other than the two starters, but guys like Corey Hilliard, Riley Reiff andcould slide over from other positions in a pinch. I could certainly see another guard making the team if a tackle gets hurt, but for now there's only room for two.
Cut: Dan Gerberry
The last three years, Dominic Raiola and Dylan Gandy have been the two centers kept on the 53-man roster. Raiola is the starter, and as mentioned, Gandy can also play guard. While it'd be nice to keep Dan Gerberry on the active roster for a change, I don't see Raiola or Gandy surrendering a roster spot.