The Detroit Lions finished putting together their first 53-man roster under new general manager Bob Quinn. The results were, largely, unexpected at several positions, and the team ended up looking very differently than many had expected. We at Pride Of Detroit took our own stabs at predicting the roster, and even then there were some shockers both in who was cut and who was retained that nobody predicted.
Most of the POD staff had Jake Rudock being waived despite a good final preseason outing. The only one who had him on noted that it had less to do with Rudock and more to do with the roster in general, so carrying two quarterbacks with Matthew Stafford and Dan Orlovsky isn’t a shocking revelation.
One position most everyone nailed was running back, which was settled pretty much in its entirety after the second preseason contest.
The decision to go with four wide receivers is an odd one, and one that very few agree with. More so, not one of the receivers retained was drafted by the Detroit Lions and the retention of Andre Roberts as the fourth wideout seems particularly strange after he was outplayed by Jace Billingsley and Jay Lee this preseason. The journeyman ended his preseason with a decent stat line, but notched several drops and only seemed to gain separation while running comeback routes. It’s likely the team will bring in a fifth wideout after Jon Bostic goes on IR, most likely TJ Jones, but it’s a decent probability the team continues to scour the waiver or free agent pool for more reliable help.
One surprise, in a weird way, was the retention of Orson Charles. Most of the POD staff had Charles being kept but it was mainly by default once Matthew Mulligan -- who played better than Charles -- was let go. Charles is essentially Brandon Pettigrew insurance and will likely be waived once the veteran returns from PUP. A move that may have generated more buzz with a stronger preseason is Cole Wick making the team. Wick had a very strong camp, but ended up being this year’s "cockroach player" who disappeared once the lights came on in games. His showing in camp means there is potential there, but the likelihood of Wick being a significant target or impact blocker on the offense is very small in 2016.
Where to start? Cutting Michael Ola wasn’t a very popular move, but almost certainly had to do with injury concerns rather than actual play on the field. Ola was the smallest offensive tackle in the NFL, and in his place the Lions kept one of the biggest in Cornelius Lucas. Lucas has played poorly as a Lion, including this preseason, but the Lions must want to keep depth at OT with Decker being a rookie and Reiff playing a new position. Corey Robinson had enough good moments to keep him but confidence won’t be high if he’s pressed into game action. There were no surprises at guard or center.
Brandon Copeland isn’t going to raise many eyebrows as he’s a popular player, but I felt he was one of the weakest defensive lineman this preseason. Draft pick Anthony Zettel, free agent Khyri Thornton, and UDFA Kerry Hyder all played their way onto the roster with Thornton pushing all the way up to the third or fourth DT spot. They played well enough to push recent starter Caraun Reid off the roster and flush Gabe Wright off the team. Keeping 11 DL is frankly insane and the biggest craziness there being the retention of Stefan Charles. The team paid Charles good money to come to Detroit, but that faith wasn’t rewarded this preseason where Charles looked like he didn’t belong while others soared past him on the depth chart.
Outside of starters, this wasn’t a crazy position. Reserve swing linebacker Josh Bynes makes the team as the top backup with Jon Bostic likely headed to IR, while rookie Antwione Williams went from being lost as a small school rookie could-be to being a decisive thumper in the course of four preseason games. Once Bostic is moved, it’s more likely than not a receiver is pulled in (defense currently outweighs offense 27 to 23, a sizable balance difference), but it’s possible another linebacker is brought back like Jayson DiManche or Zaviar Gooden for special teams play.
The team retained ten defensive backs but we’re only going to talk about one, since he’s the only one that surprised anybody (everybody). Nobody had Adairius Barnes making the final roster, and nobody would be blamed for their surprise. Barnes was one of the worst players at training camp and fairly easily the worst defensive back. He quietly had a good, mistake-free preseason, but it’s rare that a player who struggled in camp and only played with third team makes an NFL roster. Barnes is very skinny for a corner at only 179 pounds., which is smaller even than Bill Bentley was. The rookie undrafted free agent out of Louisiana Tech has a solid athletic profile (A RAS of 7.04) but looked like someone who needed time on the practice squad to beef up before he saw any NFL action. The only successful corner I could find with that type of size was Lardarius Webb, and Webb is known more for his fragility than his solid play these days.
I spoke before about how weak I viewed this roster coming into 2016 after training camp got me concerned. Those concerns weren’t laid to rest with a spotty preseason and certainly weren’t with the final roster. The Lions went light at one of their deepest positions, wide receiver, and didn’t keep a single one of their four developmental players. Offensive line depth looks as poor on paper as the starters did on the field through four games, and I have no faith they’ll move far from being the worst rushing team in 2015.
Defensive depth and starters is a little more comforting, but that’s in part because they kept 27 players so far. Almost half of that is just defensive linemen, but defensive tackle is the only position that is actually strong. The Lions fourth cornerback, who may end up seeing significant time considering Nevin Lawson and Darius Slay’s injury history, is a career special teamer, while their fifth corner is a completely unknown UDFA that nobody thought would make the roster at all (this was Quandre Diggs’ spot in 2015). The roster took a step back from their 2015 squad in terms of depth and will have to rely on players at nearly every position being better than they were in the Lions 7-9 run just to hit that number.
There is a silver lining I’d be remiss in ignoring. Let’s say the execution improves, dramatically, from preseason to regular. If the team remains healthy then the implementation of Jim Bob Cooter’s offense may add an element none of us got to see yet. Teryl Austin is clearly going to blitz often and from everywhere, and maybe that starts to actually work. The Detroit Lions face one of the weakest schedules in the NFL for 2016, it’s very possible the team could go on a 2011-like run by rolling over weaker teams and minimizing the team’s roster shortcomings just enough to win games. It’d be an erratic, often frustrating season if that happens, but double digit wins wouldn’t be out of the question. Weak as the NFC is, it’s even possible the team gets a good draw in the postseason, putting one of the NFL’s most notorious streaks in a position to be broken. A lot of things would have to go right for this to be possible, but I won’t rule it out.