It isn’t easy to make an NFL team. Whether you’re drafted or not, actually making it onto an NFL team is difficult business, and more fail than succeed in any given year. The cut down from 90 players to 53 is brutal and those left standing are generally those who fought and scraped the entire way through training camp if they hadn’t already established themselves on an active roster. Today we’re going to look at which Detroit Lions are going to have contested battles for a roster spot in 2016 and whose training camp performances will be the most closely scrutinized.
QB Jake Rudock
Let’s get this one out of the way early. Jake Rudock wasn’t a very good prospect coming out of Michigan and hasn’t had a stellar showing in front of coaches so far. Rudock is a likely practice squad candidate if he doesn’t make it as it’s unlikely he would be claimed on waivers if cut. The Detroit Lions would benefit more from Jake Rudock on the practice squad than they would an actively rostered game day inactive third QB.
OL Chase Farris
Farris is liked by many since he was talked up by Jeff Risdon over at SLR. Farris was given a sizable bonus by the Lions and they have tended in the past to keep UDFA they offer large sums to. I don’t see it with Farris, he measured terribly for both a T and G, and in an already crowded position I don’t see a spot for him.
OT Corey Robinson/Cornelius Lucas
With Riley Reiff, Taylor Decker and Michael Ola ahead of them on the depth chart and Joe Dahl getting camp reps over each, they are getting the same amount of attention teams give to guys expected to keep their bags packed. Both are late round Mayhew projects with little tying them to the team and not enough results to warrant keeping them around. Being backed into a corner may bring out the best in one or both, but I can’t presently see a roster spot for either tackle.
RB Dwayne Washington
Drafted for his obvious athleticism, the former Washington Husky put the ball on the dirt quite often during camp, an issue carried over from college. Add injury concerns to his ball control issues and there are a lot of flags that made many surprised to see him drafted at all. There isn’t, however, a player with Washington’s skillset currently on the roster and the big-play-waiting-to-happen could make a miracle run at a roster spot with some swift and drastic improvement.
WR Quinshad Davis
He’s a tall guy. Can be out-leaped by 5-foot-9 corners, which was enough for me to put him firmly on the roster bubble. With the team cutting the only other tall wideout on their roster in former Giants receiver Corey Washington and the relative lack of tight end depth, there is a spot for Davis if he can show a whole lot more than he did in college. History hasn’t been kind to tall, relatively unathletic wide receivers (Only one in the past 17 seasons has hit 1,000 yards, Kelvin Benjamin), but the team doesn’t need a superstar. If Davis comes in the preseason and finds a niche in the old Joe Fauria jump ball role, he could stick to the bottom of the roster.
WR Jeremy Kerley
Since acquiring Jeremy Kerley, the Detroit Lions have done nothing but add players for the same role he was signed for, throwing Kerley's job security into doubt and making it tough to see him on the roster Week 1. The former Jets slot receiver and return man was expected to fill the No. 3 receiver role immediately, but Andre Roberts and others were brought in, as well as other visitors like Anquan Boldin, showing that confidence is probably not very high in Kerley.
WR Jay Lee
I’m not leading the hype train for Lee, or even boarded, but his role over the top is very specifically needed, and not shared by many in this WR corps. The quality of this receiving corps after the top two is pretty weak, but there is some serious volume of mid-to-bottom tier receivers fighting for the same two or three spots to contend with.
RB Zach Zenner
Zenner is a fan favorite, but he’s also a good runner who can catch and block. He is only okay on special teams, but that’s more than Stevan Ridley has. Working against Zenner is the familiarity with Ridley and general manager Bob Quinn, but also there is no relationship between Zenner and the entire front office, and he didn’t get to play with the offensive staff after the turnover mid-season 2015 due to injury. It’s an uphill fight in a crowded backfield and Zenner will have to show improvement on teams as well as an ability to run with more power than Ridley and Winn.
DT Gabe Wright
This is only year two for Gabe Wright, but it will probably be his last as a Detroit Lion. It would have been tough before free agency and is now almost impossible to beat both Tyrunn Walker and Caraun Reid out for a roster spot. Wright didn’t flash much in 2015 and was relegated to the bench for street free agents by the end of the season.
DE Brandon Copeland
The former veteran combine standout wasn’t able to find a niche as a linebacker but has been receiving praise since he moved to defensive end. With Darryl Tapp not returning and razor thin depth beyond Ezekiel Ansah, Copeland could find a spot as a pass rushing specialist. In truth, the starting left end spot isn’t fully Devin Taylor’s, so preseason could mean anything from a starting gig to roster washout for the former Ivy League LB.
LB Jon Bostic
This former Chicago Bears and New England Patriots linebacker enters a linebacker corps that boasts DeAndre Levy and recently re-signed Tahir Whitehead. With no chance to stick at the two primary linebacker spots, he’ll be fighting with former second-round pick Kyle Van Noy and Josh Bynes for a shot at Sam linebacker. The problem with Bostic is that he’ll also be battling a former Bears teammate in Khaseem Greene, super athletic Zaviar Gooden, and 2016 fifth-round pick Antwione Williams. Bostic has some versatility where he can play, so he might have an in as a reserve, but it’s a tough road when the Lions would have to keep six linebackers minimum for him to have a spot.
S Don Carey
A perennial fringe player, Don Carey has gotten by almost exclusively with his special teams skills. If he were an exceptional special teamer, I doubt I’d be talking about him much on the fringe -- kind of like Johnson Bademosi, whose role is pretty much assured. Unfortunately Carey has ranged from above average to very bad on special teams and is one of the worst defensive backs on the roster if he had to be forced into an actual defensive role. You can never write off Don Carey, sort of how Dylan Gandy was always ensured a roster spot due to his specialized role, but eventually Gandy was pushed off by younger, better players, and Carey has to hope the team keeps five safeties (They’re keeping Glover Quin, Miles Killebrew, Rafael Bush, and Tavon Wilson) if he wants a job. With the aforementioned Bademosi already taking an extra DB spot, can the team afford to keep two ST-only players at DB?
CB Darrin Walls
An early FA signing for the Detroit Lions, Darrin Walls played nickel and occasional boundary CB for the New York Jets. Like Nevin Lawson, he fits more on the inside than outside but will likely be out of place unless something happens with Quandre Diggs at nickel. Darius Slay and Diggs have two spots locked up, with Alex Carter presumably locking up a third CB spot. This leaves Walls fighting with Lawson, Crezdon Butler, and several younger players for a fourth and fifth CB spot. With his recent starting experience in system, Nevin Lawson probably has a leg up on one of those spots. The team lists Walls at 6-foot-1 despite being just under six feet, but that still gives him a size advantage over most corners. I say most because it won’t help him against Carter, Butler, or Keith Lewis, and keeping a role as a tall corner is tough on a roster replete with them.
With training camp only a few short weeks away, who are you expecting to have a heated fight for their NFL careers? Several of us at Pride of Detroit will be on hand during training camp to have real time, eyes on of these players, so let us know in the comments who you'd like us to pay close attention to once camp rolls around.