30. DE Cornelius Washington (High: 27, Low: 40)
Earlier in the day, we debated whether Cornelius Washington is up to take over the starting job at left defensive end. It appears our staff is mixed on how likely that is. While everyone has Kerry Hyder listed higher on their lists, Washington’s ranking suggests our staff thinks he’s anywhere from a fringe starter to a deep backup.
It makes sense to have such uncertainty considering Washington is transitioning back to a 4-3 defense and has yet to take a snap as a Lion.
29. DT Haloti Ngata (High: 21, Low: 39)
The second-most senior player on the Lions barely made his way onto the top 30 list. Ngata is entering his 12th season in the NFL, and despite some signs of aging, he is still considered a starter on the Lions roster.
Detroit does use a heavy rotation along the defensive line, so it’s likely Ngata won’t receive the portion of starter snaps that a typical defensive tackle may get. However, the Lions’ depth at the position is lacking, so Ngata will still play a significant role.
28. LS Don Muhlbach (High: 24, Low: 39)
I’m not sure what it says about the Lions roster when the long snapper ranks higher than a few starting players on the team, but it can’t be good.
That being said, Muhlbach has been everything the Lions have needed at the position for over a decade. Though that time is likely coming to an end in the near future, it’s nice to have a position locked down for that long.
27. LB Tahir Whitehead (High: 25, Low: 31)
If we would have done this list last year, I suspect Whitehead would have ranked much higher. However, 2016 wasn’t kind to the Lions linebacker. Although he finished with 132 tackles—good for eighth in the NFL—his coverage skills and play diagnosis left more to be desired. He was beat up by Pro Football Focus, which ranked him as one of the worst starting linebackers in the league last year.
But there is a renewed sense of confidence in Whitehead now that he’s transitioning back to outside linebacker.
26. T Cyrus Kouandjio (High: 20, Low: 45)
Kouandjio was added just as minicamp closed this offseason as part of the “break in case of emergency” contingency plan when Taylor Decker suffered a serious shoulder injury. Kouandjio currently sits on the PUP list as he nurses a hip injury suffered from a fall at home. There is a sense of optimism surrounding Kouandjio that’s not quite shared by everyone (see: me). A lot of that is bolstered by his performance as a backup last year:
Cyrus Kouandjio visited the Lions today. He impressed as a reserve in 2016. pic.twitter.com/kQ68HIclAq— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) June 7, 2017
Even so, I’m a bit surprised to see Kouandjio ranked this high in comparison to Greg Robinson (No. 43). Granted Robinson has seen a huge fall from grace since being taken second overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, but Kouandjio, himself, has been a huge disappointment in his own right as a former second-round pick.
25. TE Darren Fells (High: 23, Low: 31)
Fells has been touted as one of the most underrated free agent signings for the Lions this offseason. The Lions have been desperate for a blocking tight end ever since they parted ways with Brandon Pettigrew, and now they have one of the most efficient pass blocking tight ends in the league.
Fells isn’t likely to put up a huge stat line this year, but he’s bound to be an integral part of the offense now that they’re suited to line up in more two tight end formations.
24. WR Kenny Golladay (High: 23, Low: 29)
In general, expectations for rookie receivers are generally too high. Back in mid-June, our roundtable predicted what Golladay’s rookie season may look like and even the most conservative estimates had him catching at least 35 catches for 500 yards.
If that’s truly his floor, Golladay should be in line for a fine career in Detroit. However, expectations should be tempered a little more.
23. CB Teez Tabor (High: 23, Low: 28)
Back-to-back rookies here as Tabor barely eked out Golladay for the 23rd spot on our list. Expectations for Tabor’s rookie season are undoubtedly lower as Detroit’s competition at cornerback is fierce. However, the trajectory for Tabor’s career is clear. The Lions eventually want him to take over Nevin Lawson’s spot as a starting corner opposite Darius Slay.
With Tabor currently on the NFI list and cornerback being one of the steepest learning curves for rookies, it may be a while before we see Tabor making serious contributions to the team.
22. G/C Graham Glasgow (High: 21, Low: 27)
Glasgow didn’t have a great rookie year, but as a player that wasn’t really expected to contribute much, he certainly exceeded expectations.
Entering 2017, the bar is set much higher for Glasgow. He’s on the fast-track to become the Lions’ starting left guard this season, and it appears he has already jumped much-maligned Laken Tomlinson on the depth chart.
21. CB Nevin Lawson (High: 19, Low: 22)
Whether Lawson had a successful 2016 season depends on who you ask. He gave up a handful of big plays, and therefore has been hammered by a lot of fans this offseason. However, outside of those big plays, Lawson played in pretty tight coverage throughout the year.
His PFF ranking (36 of 109) may seem too generous, but Lawson was in a position to make a play quite often last year. The problem is, he rarely did. He has yet to record his first NFL interception, but he’ll likely enter the season as the team’s No. 2 cornerback anyways.