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How might the Lions assemble their 53-man roster?

How many players might the Detroit Lions keep at each position on their 53-man roster? Let's look at the past to get a better idea of the future.

Ezra Shaw

When trying to predict a team's 53-man roster, looking at past data can be very helpful. A year ago, for example, we had four years of data on Jim Schwartz's Detroit Lions to use as a guide for how the 2013 53-man roster might be constructed. No two teams are exactly the same, of course, and a lot of different factors go into the construction of a 53-man roster, but past data is extremely helpful.

This year, with a new coaching staff in place, the Lions' past 53-man rosters aren't necessarily relevant. Yes, Martin Mayhew is still the general manager, but there are new schemes on both sides of the ball, and the Lions have a new head coach, offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator. In order to utilize past data to help with predictions for this year, it's necessary to go outside of the Lions' history.

To do this, I took a look at the Week 1 rosters for some of the teams that employed Jim Caldwell, Joe Lombardi and Teryl Austin before they got to Detroit. Again, every team is different, and a lot of factors go into putting together a 53-man roster, but if nothing else, maybe we'll discover some interesting trends that could be relevant to the 2014 Lions.

Jim Caldwell

2013 Ravens (offensive coordinator) 2 2 2 7 3 9

2012 Ravens (QBs/offensive coordinator) 2 3 1 6 3 9

2011 Colts (head coach) 3 5 0 5 4 8 9 6 6 4 3
2010 Colts (head coach) 2 4 0 4 4 10 10 7 6 3 3
2009 Colts (head coach) 3 3 0 4 4 9 8 7 6 5 4
2008 Colts (QBs/associate head coach) 2 3 0 6 4 9

2007 Colts (QBs/assistant head coach) 2 3 0 5 4 9

2006 Colts (QBs/assistant head coach) 2 4 0 6 4 9

2005 Colts (QBs/assistant head coach) 2

2004 Colts (quarterbacks coach) 3

2003 Colts (quarterbacks coach) 2

2002 Colts (quarterbacks coach) 3

2001 Bucs (quarterbacks coach) 3

(Note: Full data before 2006 was unavailable, so I simply looked at how many quarterbacks those teams kept. For the other teams that Caldwell was with as a coordinator or position coach, I looked at just the offense, and for the Colts teams with him as the head coach, I looked at the entire team.)

  • During these 13 seasons, Caldwell's teams kept just two quarterbacks eight times. The other five times the teams went with three quarterbacks.

  • The Colts loved them some tight ends, but that's partly because they utilized their tight ends at fullback and H-back as well. They weren't strictly limited to the traditional tight end spot.

  • Caldwell's teams only had more than four total backs once from 2006-13 (the 2011 Colts had five).

  • The wide receiver numbers varied quite a bit over the years, but Caldwell's teams kept nine offensive linemen more often than not.

  • For the three seasons that Caldwell was head coach of the Colts, the numbers on defense varied from year to year at nearly every position. Only cornerback was the same for all three seasons.

Joe Lombardi

2013 Saints (quarterbacks coach) 2 5 1 5 3 8
2012 Saints (quarterbacks coach) 2 5 2 6 3 8
2011 Saints (quarterbacks coach) 2 4 2 6 3 8
2010 Saints (quarterbacks coach) 2 4 1 6 4 8
2009 Saints (quarterbacks coach) 2 4 1 5 4 9
2008 Saints (offensive assistant) 2 4 1 6 3 8
2007 Saints (offensive assistant) 2 4 1 6 5 9
  • During Lombardi's time with the Saints, they went into the season with only two quarterbacks every single year.

  • From 2007-10, the Saints carried four running backs and one fullback. From 2011-13, however, the Saints had at least six total backs.

  • The Saints preferred to have six receivers during Lombardi's time with the team.

  • With the Saints having more backs in recent years, they have cut down to just three tight ends.

  • The Saints rolled with eight offensive linemen more often than not during Lombardi's tenure with the team.

Teryl Austin

2013 Ravens (secondary coach) 7 9 4 5
2012 Ravens (secondary coach) 7 8 6 5
2011 Ravens (secondary coach) 7 10 6 4
2009 Cardinals (defensive backs coach) 7 7 5 4
2008 Cardinals (defensive backs coach) 9 6 4 5
2007 Cardinals (defensive backs coach) 9 6 4 5
2006 Seahawks (defensive backs coach) 10 7 5 3
2005 Seahawks (defensive backs coach)

4 4
2004 Seahawks (defensive backs coach)

4 4
2003 Seahawks (defensive backs coach)

5 3

(Note: Once again, full data before 2006 was unavailable, so I simply looked at the numbers in the secondary for the 2003-05 teams. Also, keep in mind that the Cardinals transitioned to a 3-4 while Austin was there and the Ravens already utilized a 3-4 look when he got to Baltimore.)

  • Austin's teams from 2006-13 kept an average of 15.6 defensive linemen and linebackers. The 2009 Cardinals actually only had 14 players in the front seven, and two of Austin's teams had a whopping 17 players in the front seven.

  • When he was with the Seahawks and Cardinals, Austin always had either four or five cornerbacks to work with. In Baltimore, however, Austin had six cornerbacks in both 2011 and 2012.

  • In Seattle, Austin had either three or four safeties. Since 2007, though, he's had at least four, and he's had five more often than not.

Lions from 2009-13

2013 3 4 0 6 3 9 9 6 5 5 3
2012 3 4 0 5 3 9 9 7 6 4 3
2011 3 5 0 5 3 9 9 7 5 4 3
2010 3 5 1 4 3 9 9 7 4 5 3
2009 3 3 2 5 3 9 9 6 6 4 3
  • Schwartz's Lions were extremely consistent at certain positions. Case in point: They always had three quarterbacks, three tight ends, nine offensive linemen, nine defensive linemen and three specialists. Also, they always had either six or seven linebackers and nine or 10 defensive backs.

  • The Lions stopped carrying a fullback on their roster after 2010.

  • Going into every season except 2012, the Lions had 25 offensive players, 25 defensive players and three specialists. In 2012, they went with one extra defender and only 24 offensive players.

Major takeaways

Considering schemes and philosophies differ from team to team, it's tough to make any concrete conclusions about this data, especially since coordinators and assistant coaches don't get the final say on how many players are kept at each position or anything like that. However, I have three major takeaways that relate to the 2014 Lions:

1. Considering how often Caldwell and Lombardi only had two quarterbacks, I can't imagine the Lions will keep three. That's obviously bad news for Kellen Moore, but I don't think he's talented enough to take away a spot from another position.

2. Although the numbers have varied for Caldwell and Lombardi's teams over the years, expect to see two quarterbacks, three tight ends and nine offensive linemen on the Lions' 53-man roster. This would basically follow what Baltimore did when Caldwell was there, and it would allow for 10-12 backs and receivers depending on how many total offensive players make the team.

3. It's anybody's guess on the defensive side of the ball. There was a lot less data overall for the defense, and a lot of it was useless since it was based around a 3-4 scheme. As a result, it's going to be pretty interesting to see what happens with Austin's first defense in Detroit.

The Lions' 2014 roster

As is the case every year, how many players make the team at each position ultimately comes down to how much talent is available. If the Lions feel like they can get by with only five linebackers and they have 10 defensive linemen worthy of making the team, for example, then there's no reason for them to go with only nine defensive linemen and six linebackers. That's just one example, but the point is that the numbers are fluid at most positions.

With this in mind, here's a look at how the Lions might construct their 53-man roster this year:

2014 2 5 or 6 5 or 6 3 9 9 or 10 5 or 6 9, 10, or 11 3

If we set the number of quarterbacks, tight ends and offensive linemen in stone, there's really room for five or six players at running back/fullback and five or six players at wide receiver. This could mean that guys like Mikel Leshoure, Montell Owens, Kris Durham and Kevin Ogletree will be battling for the final spots on offense.

On defense, there's not nearly as much certainty. The Lions could go with 10 players each on the defensive line and in the secondary, which would likely leave room for only five linebackers. Or they could cut back on a spot at one of those position groups, leaving room for that sixth linebacker. It seems like George Johnson, Darryl Tapp, Travis Lewis and Isa Abdul-Quddus could be battling for the final spots on defense.

Of course, it's important to remember that nothing is truly set in stone with two weeks left in the preseason. Injuries could change the Lions' plans, and there's no guarantee they will go with an even 25-25 split between the offense and defense. There's nothing stopping them from keeping an extra defender by eliminating a spot at wide receiver, for example, and they could just as easily decide to keep an extra offensive player by keeping one fewer defensive back or something like that.

What we do know at this point is that the Lions will have to get their roster down to 75 players on Aug. 26. Then, on Aug. 30, they will be required to trim their roster all the way down to 53 players.