Training camp is less than a week away. Detroit Lions players have already begun showing up to camp for what will be Jim Caldwell’s fourth season as head coach. It’s an exciting time for fans, not only because it is a sign that football is coming, but because it is going to be their first glance at the newest additions to the team. Camp is also going to give us our first chance to see the players in action, allowing us to gauge the strength of the roster and make our best guesses as to who will have the best chances to make the final roster. Over the past month or so, I’ve been going position by position, looking back on 2016 and making a prediction based on who I think will make the roster so far without seeing them in action. Let’s take a look at how that roster might look.
Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya
It’s rare that I find myself of the mind that a team with a quarterback like Matthew Stafford should carry three quarterbacks, yet here I am stating just that. My philosophy when a team has a QB in their prime is that the backup will be a typical clipboard type and Jake Rudock fits that description. Brad Kaaya also fits that description, but as a player once thought to be a potential first overall pick, he also carries with him the potential to be so much more. So the team carries their starter and his backup along with a developmental player in the hopes he continues to develop and could keep the team afloat in the potentially devastating instance that Matthew Stafford is laid low with injury. Long term, such an arrangement could lead to being flipped for an earlier draft pick, allowing the team to strengthen a weaker position.
Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Matt Asiata
On keeping Asiata over Dwayne Washington, I wrote:
Matt Asiata will hopefully see no offensive snaps in the regular season, but he provides some special teams ability and makes the team based on that.
Early reports have had Matt Asiata behind Dwayne Washington, but other than that nothing has really changed with this group outside of Theo Riddick being healthy. Asiata isn’t very good as a runner, but he can block reasonably well and catch the football in an offense that values backs who do so. His special teams value, as noted, is another reason I think he makes the squad at this point but it’s a very tenuous guess and one that is likely to change.
Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, Jace Billingsley
This group is set for the first three spots, but the fourth and potentially fifth are in a state of flux. OTAs and minicamps were all about Jared Abbrederis and it basically came down to Jace Billingsley, T.J. Jones, and him for the final spots. Ultimately, I went with Billingsley as a stylistic choice based on how I feel the offense will look in 2017 and his potential as a returner. Little has changed since making this prediction, though T.J. Jones has had some positive buzz about his return ability as has Keshawn Martin, who I hadn’t previously considered seriously in this offense.
Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Michael Roberts, Cole Wick
Quite the turnover in this group, but it’s one of the most improved individual units on the team. Eric Ebron has improved every year, but he needed a stronger supporting cast. Darren Fells and Michael Roberts are locks, but I’ve felt for some time the team keeps a fourth tight end. For the moment it is Cole Wick, and I’ve seen little reason to change that prediction. It very much may change depending on how the other undrafted free agents look or if another free agent is picked up, even during final cuts.
Taylor Decker (PUP), Greg Robinson, Rick Wagner, Cyrus Kouandjio, Corey Robinson
In what ends up being an almost completely retooled unit, the only returning player at the tackle position on opening day ends up being Corey Robinson. This is assuming his health, of which we’ve heard little one way or the other, but the remaining three are almost assuredly locked in. Cornelius Lucas has shown little development in his years as a Lion and I have yet to see enough of Storm Norton or the veteran Tony Hills to suggest they make a legit run at the active roster.
Interior Offensive Line:
Graham Glasgow, T.J. Lang, Travis Swanson, Joe Dahl, Laken Tomlinson
I waffled a bit with changing this one up as Brandon Thomas was one of the last players I left on the roster. I considered going with more than the regular nine offensive linemen but ultimately decided to keep nine despite the lingering uncertainty about T.J. Lang’s long-term durability. This may end up being a position carried for the first couple weeks of the season until the first injury occurs, but for now I decided not to go heavy. This is one I’m going to watch very closely as there has been plenty of praise for undrafted rookie Leo Koloamatangi.
Ezekiel Ansah, Kerry Hyder, Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel
On keeping only four DE, and on whom I kept:
I went with Zettel as the last DE here, opting to keep his pass rushing promise over the risk that Armonty Bryant both stays healthy (he is still rehabbing his second knee injury in three seasons) and stays out of trouble. I wanted to keep Pat O’Connor as well, but feel the likelihood he passes through waivers is high enough to outweigh any value of keeping him on the active roster.
As it is, Armonty Bryant wasn’t able to stay out of trouble and it landed him his third suspension in the past two seasons. The limited value he provided is not outweighed by the fact that he will now have been suspended for as many games as a Lion (8) as he has played in games (5) and recorded sacks (3). My worry with this pass rushing unit has not abated as it is very clearly the weakest group on the team. The hope is that Washington or Zettel will be replaced with another free agent (or, more likely, Zettel remains as the fifth DE in that instance).
Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Jordan Hill
This unit has actually seen some changes since I last made my roster prediction, but I haven’t changed my prediction upon review. Bruce Gaston is a negligible acquisition, but many believe Ego Ferguson has a real shot to make the roster as a reclamation project. As it is, I had Ferguson rated as an undrafted free agent in the 2014 draft so you can imagine my laughter when he was drafted in the second round by the Bears. He lived up to my draft prediction, so I’m going to stay with the Lions own draft pick in Jeremiah Ledbetter and another reclamation project in Jordan Hill.
Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Steve Longa
The Lions linebacking corps is full of potential, but enters the season with some of the biggest concerns in the NFL in terms of tackling ability. Missed tackles were a complaint for Davis and Reeves-Maybin in the draft and was a problem for Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow the last couple of years. As a group, this one is pretty much set in stone with the exception of the last spot that I gave to Steve Longa. Longa continues to be mentioned as a possible final roster addition and I’ll continue to believe he gets that final spot until I have reason not to. So maybe next week.
Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, D.J. Hayden, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Adairius Barnes
Throughout this roster prediction, I’ve largely kept with my original guesses and made no changes, so this may seem like an odd time to make a turn. My original corner prediction had special teams ace Johnson Bademosi instead of Adairius Barnes, and removing a player with that sort of special teams value may seem ill-advised on the surface. Barnes is listed at almost ten pounds heavier than he was in 2016 and the athletic potential that saw him make the final roster in 2016 is not likely to have been diminished much if at all. The explosive corner has the potential to completely shore up the cornerback group in 2018 and beyond, assuming Tabor and Agnew pan out to their respective draft positions, and that value trumps the special teams ability of Bademosi.
Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Don Carey, Miles Killebrew, Alex Carter
Another spot I wavered, but not for the reasons you think. Don Carey has been a top special teamer for years, but his abilities on defense have been a liability when he sees the field. As valued as his special teams abilities have been, I had thought about going younger and keeping Charles Washington instead. Washington is a player the team has spent some time on, and if he shows special teams ability, he would be an intriguing replacement at cost over Carey. As it is, I opted instead to keep one of the more vocal leaders on the team. Alex Carter is another on the bubble, but until I see him in camp playing safety, I’m going to keep him right there on that bubble.
Sam Martin, Matt Prater, Don Muhlbach
No changes here.