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Inside The Numbers: How The Lions Assemble Their 53-Man Roster

ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 12: Head coach Jim Schwartz looks on during a rookie mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 12, 2012 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
ALLEN PARK, MI - MAY 12: Head coach Jim Schwartz looks on during a rookie mini camp at the Detroit Lions Headquarters and Training Facility on May 12, 2012 in Allen Park, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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When it comes to assembling a 53-man roster prediction, one of the most helpful things is to look back on what the Detroit Lions have done in the past. With the Lions entering season No. 4 of the Martin Mayhew/Jim Schwartz era, there is a pretty good amount of data available about how the Lions construct their 53-man roster.

The obvious caveat is that things change from year to year, meaning past numbers can't help you concretely predict the future. Even so, you can certainly see a lot of trends from the past numbers that at the very least provide a pretty good outline for how many players should be included from each position in your 53-man roster prediction.

Here's a position-by-position breakdown of what the numbers looked like the past three years for the Lions' Week 1 roster:

Position 2011 2010 2009
QB 3 3 3
RB 5 5 3
FB 0 1 2
WR 5 4 5
TE 3 3 3
OT 4 4 4
OG 3 3 3
C 2 2 2
DE 4 5 5
DT 5 4 4
LB 7 7 6
CB 5 4 6
S 4 5 4
K 1 1 1
P 1 1 1
LS 1 1 1

(Note: For these numbers, Stefan Logan is considered a running back, not a wide receiver.)

Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

  • In each of the past three seasons, the Lions have had exactly 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players and three special teams players on their 53-man roster. This indicates that 25 spots are set out for offensive players, 25 are set out for defensive players and another three go to special teamers.
  • On offense, there has been a lot of consistency. The Lions have had three quarterbacks, three tight ends, four offensive tackles, three offensive guards and two centers in each year of the Mayhew/Schwartz era so far.
  • The position that has experienced the most change on offense is fullback. In 2009, the Lions opened the season with two fullbacks on the team. Only one remained in 2010, and there were no fullbacks left in 2011. The spots previously used for fullbacks have shifted to running backs.
  • Wide receiver is the only other position on offense that hasn't been exactly the same in each of the past three seasons. The one difference is that the Lions opened 2010 with four receivers rather than five. That year, they went with six running backs/fullbacks instead of having five receivers.
  • On defense, there are a whole lot more differences from year to year, but one thing that has been consistent is the number of defensive linemen on the team. In all three seasons examined, the Lions had nine defensive linemen on their Week 1 roster. Last year was the first time the Lions opted to go with four defensive ends and five defensive tackles instead of the other way around, but there were still exactly nine defensive linemen.
  • How many linebackers make the team is dependent on how many defensive backs make the team and vice versa. In 2010 and 2011, the Lions had seven linebackers and nine defensive backs. In 2009, there were only six linebackers and 10 defensive backs.
  • The breakdown of the defensive backs has been different in each of the past three seasons. The Lions went with six corners in 2009, four in 2010 and five in 2011, and they went with four safeties in 2009, five in 2010 and four again in 2011.
  • The special teams positions have seen zero changes with there always being one kicker, one punter and one long snapper.

In general, what do these numbers tell us? The overall make-up of the team follows a specific pattern of 25, 25 and three. On offense, things don't change all that often in terms of the numbers per position. Defensively, there is much more variety. And on special teams, things never change.

It is important to remember that the past doesn't always indicate the future. This year, for example, the Lions could break the trend of having three quarterbacks by going with only two. The fact that they have always had three in the past under Mayhew and Schwartz could be an indication that they are likely to do that again, but it's far from a sure thing.

These numbers provide a good foundation for putting together a 53-man roster prediction, but there's more to it than simply filling in the blanks at each position.

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