As we start to look ahead to training camp, we're going to take a position-by-position look at the Detroit Lions roster. Next up is the linebacker position. (The final year of each player's contract is listed in parentheses.)
Set starters: DeAndre Levy (2019), Tahir Whitehead (2017)
Backups: Josh Bynes (2016), Antwione Williams (2019)
On the bubble: Kyle Van Noy (2017), Khaseem Greene (2017), Jon Bostic (2016)
Long shot: Jerry Franklin (2016), Zaviar Gooden (2016)
Though the Detroit Lions typically only play with two linebackers on the field (and five defensive backs), the Lions roster still has inadequate depth for the position. Detroit is set with their starters with DeAndre Levy making his return and Tahir Whitehead taking over for Stephen Tulloch at middle linebacker (much like he did successfully in 2014). But beyond those two, the Lions are lacking.
Antwione Williams will likely make the cut purely because he’s a fifth-round rookie. Williams’ skill set lends his talent well to special teams, so he could be a significant contributor in his rookie year there. However, Williams comes from a small college and to rely on him as a backup in his rookie season is a pretty big risk for the Lions.
The one player that provides some proven depth for Detroit is Josh Bynes, who stepped in for Levy for all of the 2015 season. Bynes, 26, finished his first season as a primary starter with 56 tackles and five passes defended.
Beyond those two, it will be a heated competition for the remaining few roster spots. Kyle Van Noy saw some first-team reps in OTAs, but as we pointed out earlier in the offseason, his play needs drastic improvement if he wants to make the team. Jon Bostic probably has the best chance of the group to make the final roster. General manager Bob Quinn swooped him up in free agency a year after trading for him while Quinn was with the Patriots, meaning Quinn is well-versed in his talent, which should give the young linebacker a leg up against his competition. Khaseem Greene is considered on the bubble because, although he didn’t play at all in 2015, he had significant contributions to the Bears in his two years before that. The Lions placed him on the practice squad late in 2015, so they may have a plan for the former Rutgers linebacker.
Rounding out the depth chart is Jerry Franklin and Zaviar Gooden. The former is an NFL journeyman who has jumped to seven different teams since 2012; the latter was a third-round pick in 2013 who just fell out of favor with the Tennessee Titans. Gooden suffered a hamstring injury in the preseason, forcing the Titans to put him on IR, but instead of sitting out the season as a Titan, Tennessee decided to give him an injury settlement and release him in early September. He failed to rejoin any roster that year.
Need going forward?
Outside of Josh Bynes, the Lions have no proven depth. They have promising player in Williams and are hoping for a pipe-dream turnaround with Van Noy. But the reality is if one of their current starters suffers an injury, the Lions are in real trouble. They could certainly use another veteran linebacker on the squad, especially with the tutelage of Tulloch now gone from the locker room. If a talented linebacker fails to make the cut of another team, expect the Lions to make a play for them.
Additionally, only two linebackers are signed through the 2017 season. Detroit doesn’t appear to have a plan to groom their next starting linebacker. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Lions draft a linebacker near the top of the draft next year.