What has the Caldwell regime done in its two years?
For a clue as to what kind of position mix the Lions will retain on the 53-man roster in 2016, we can look at what the same coaching staff did in 2014 and 2015. While this may not be deterministic since many of the players are different and the Lions have a new general manager, it gives us an idea of what numbers are plausible. Other factors which may tip the numbers away from prior counts are the specific injury situations in 2016 at tight end and linebacker. Final 53-man rosters taken from our Pride of Detroit posts at the deadlines in 2014 and 2015.
|QB||3||Stafford, Orlovsky, Moore||2||Stafford, Orlovsky|
|HB||3||Bush, Bell, Riddick||4||Bell, Riddick, Abdullah, Zenner|
|WR||6||Calvin, Tate, Olgrtree, Broyles, Ross, Fuller||5||Calvin, Tate, Moore, Fuller, TJ|
|TE||3||Pettigrew, Fauria, Ebron||3||Ebron, Pettigrew, Wright|
|OT||4||Reiff, Waddle, Hilliard, Lucas||4||Reiff, Waddle, Lucas, Robinson|
|OG||2||Sims, Warford||3||Tomlinson, Warford, Ramirez|
|OC||2||Raiola, Swanson||2||Swanson, Boggs|
|DE||5||Ziggy, Jones, Taylor, Webster, Johnson||5||Ziggy, Jones, Taylor, Tapp, Hunt|
|DT||4||Suh, Mosley, Fairley, Reid||4||Ngata, Walker, Reid, Wright|
|LB||6||Levy, Tulloch, Whitehead, Van Noy, Palmer, Lewis||7||Levy, Tulloch, Whitehead, Lewis, Bynes, Van Noy, Copeland*|
|CB||5||Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson||6||Slay, Mathis, Lawson, Wilson, Diggs, Carter|
|S||5||Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, IAQ, Couplin||4||Quin, Ihedigbo, Carey, IAQ|
*At the time in 2015, current DE Brandon Copeland was considered a linebacker, and was included in the LB total. If he were to make the roster today, Copeland would almost certainly be considered a defensive end.
What does this suggest about the 2016 position mix?
Based on the makeup of the 53-man rosters above, we can see a few guidelines that the Lions are likely to follow. On offense, the team should have 2 or 3 quarterbacks, 5 running backs, and 5 or 6 wide receivers making the cut. Up front, the blocking unit is likely to carry 3 tight ends, and 8 or 9 offensive linemen (of which 4 will be tackles).
Defensively, Detroit has generally kept 9 linemen with 5 of them defensive ends and 4 of them defensive tackles. There should be 6 or 7 linebackers on the roster, and 10 defensive backs. At least 5 of the defensive backs should be capable of playing cornerback.
The 53-man roster guess
|HB||4||Riddick, Abdullah, Zenner, Washington|
|WR||5||Marvin, Tate, Boldin, TJ, Lee|
|TE||3||Ebron, Charles, Wick|
|OT||4||Reiff, Decker, Lucas, Ola|
|OG||3||Tomlinson, Warford, Dahl|
|OC||3||Swanson, Glasgow, Ikard|
|DE||5||Ziggy, Taylor, Gilberry, Zettel, Hyder|
|DT||5||Ngata, Walker, Reid, Thornton, Robinson|
|LB||6||Levy, Whitehead, Bynes, Van Noy, Williams, DiManche|
|CB||5||Slay, Bademosi, Lawson, Diggs, Walls|
|S||4||Quin, Wilson, Bush, Killebrew|
What differs from the historical patterns in this projection is the addition of one extra offensive lineman and one extra defensive lineman. These spots were cleared by keeping fewer defensive backs than in past years, just two quarterbacks, and six linebackers (the lower end of the range). Several decisions were influenced by the players Detroit has on PUP and IR lists who are likely to return to action later in the year.
Tight end may look curious with Ebron, Charles, and Wick to start the year, but that group is only holding down the fort until two players become available. Once Andrew Quarless serves his two game suspension, he would replace Orson Charles. Then, when Brandon Pettigrew becomes eligible to return from the PUP list after week 6, the team can evaluate how Cole Wick is doing. My guess is that Pettigrew comes back to the active roster and Wick gets waived but re-signed to the practice squad if he clears.
At linebacker, Jon Bostic could be brought back early from injured reserve sometime in November (no longer needs to be designated). Until then, the team needs one of the veterans signed for the preseason to stay in the spot. Neither Gooden nor Greene made a great impression in their longer stints, so the spot goes to recently claimed Jayson DiManche (carry Bostic, send to IR, then re-sign DiManche if the rule requires it). The worst-case scenario is that DiManche doesn’t work out and the Lions call either Gooden or Greene to come back to the team if they are available.
Why the extra offensive lineman?
The final man kept there is Gabe Ikard, who is intended to be not only the backup center (yes, ahead of Glasgow) but also depth at guard. If the Lions do not keep Ikard, the only interior line backups will be rookies: Dahl and Glasgow. That is not the best situation to begin the year when the young players have no game experience. As the season goes on, if the coaching staff is confident in what they see from Glasgow or Dahl, Ikard could be cut for additional depth elsewhere.
Why only one extra defensive lineman?
The last guy on this unit is Kerry Hyder, who is a converted defensive tackle that lined up a lot in preseason on the edge. Anyone that watched the fourth preseason game against the Buffalo Bills witnessed Hyder providing surprisingly good pressure from the left defensive end spot. The fact he can play both inside and outside makes him a very useful rotational defensive line piece to have around (see Ryan Mathews’ postgame coverage on this).
I wish there was some way to keep more of them (Stefan Charles, Gabe Wright). The defensive line is the deepest and most talented unit from top to bottom, but it’s tough to commit more than one extra roster spot when depth is needed elsewhere.
No third quarterback?
Why cut the number of defensive backs?
One guy makes this possible, and his name is Tavon Wilson. Possessing above-average coverage skills for a safety, Wilson is able to provide pass coverage depth against possession receivers or running backs/tight ends that are split wide. We know Detroit will play a lot of substitution packages, and one of them could be a three safety look that puts Quin, Wilson, and Bush on the field at the same time.
The emergence of Johnson Bademosi as a credible cover corner in the preseason also helps me feel better about being able to count on everyone in a smaller unit to produce. In nearly every one of Kent Lee Platte’s stock reports, our new special teams ace was in the stock up column for his coverage on defensive snaps. The roster additions of solid special teams players like Bademosi and Darrin Walls who can also contribute as defensive backups make it tough to justify holding on to Don Carey.
Who would have been the tenth defensive back retained?
Cut Jayson DiManche and keep Don Carey to further boost special teams if DB numbers are deemed too important to skimp on. A lot of people don’t want to give up on Carter yet, but the cornerbacks are fairly young as a group even without him. Nothing in preseason or training camp made Carter look like a project with good expected returns. He may end up a decent player in the future, but it will take a lot of work — possibly more than it’s worth.
How did Jay Lee vault into the fifth WR spot?
My latest piece for @freepsports: WR Jay Lee could fill need for Detroit #Lions https://t.co/bu9LNArvkY— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) May 13, 2016
Alex Reno has been trying to sell us on Jay Lee for months now. He has a big frame that most of the wide receiver corps lacks, and helps fill the deep threat void on the outside. Now that Corey Fuller is unavailable due to injury, Lee can be the young guy running deep routes (and hopefully better than Fuller).
Up to the final preseason game, none of the receivers fighting for the last spot on the 53-man roster did anything to distinguish themselves from the pack. Somewhere around the third preseason game, it looked like it might be Andre Roberts by default. Recall that a major selling point for Roberts was his prior experience as a kick returner, something Detroit was actively pursuing.
Then Roberts went missing in the fourth preseason game while both Jay Lee and Jace Billingsley put on a show for the home crowd. Roberts took no kick returns while the pride of Winnemucca handled every punt and kick return for the entire game. Either Lee or Billingsley would be great as the fifth receiver on the roster, but there may be a higher risk of Lee getting poached, which is why he is the one to keep on the main roster.
Who would go to the practice squad?
The most recent attempt at drafting a practice squad list was done before the final preseason game. Some of the players I would have tried to put on the practice squad actually appear on the 53-man roster you see here. Taking into account the numbers in the predicted roster above, here is a modified practice squad list to accompany it.
|QB||Jake Rudock||0||Method 1: Zero AS|
|HB||George Winn||2||Method 3: 4 players with 2 AS|
|WR||Jace Billingsley||0||Method 1: Zero AS|
|TE||Adam Fuehne*||0||Method 1: Zero AS|
|G||Brandon Thomas||2||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
|T||Corey Robinson||1||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
|DT||Gabe Wright||1||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
|DE||Brandon Copeland||2||Method 3: 4 players with 2 AS|
|LB||Chi Chi Ariguzo||1||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
|CB||Alex Carter||1||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
|CB||Adairius Barnes*||0||Method 1: Zero AS|
|S||Isaiah Johnson||1||Method 2: No AS with 9+ active games|
Notice there are 12 players listed here. Alex Carter and Gabe Wright are likely to be poached if waived, but if they clear waivers both are excellent players to have on the practice squad. If Carter does not clear waivers, the replacement would be Barnes. If Wright does not clear waivers, Fuehne is the replacement. Once the TE dominoes start falling and Pettigrew replaces Wick on the main roster, the hope would be to replace Fuehne on the practice squad with Wick.