Our countdown of the top 90 players on the Detroit Lions continues. As a reminder, these rankings are based on the average rankings from five of our contributors.
70. LB Thurston Armbrister (High: 62, Low: 89)
For a 2015 undrafted free agent, Thurston Armbrister has had a pretty busy two seasons. In his rookie year with the Jaguars, he appeared in 16 games, starting in three, and picked up 23 tackles along the way. In the wake of massive injuries at linebacker, the Lions swooped up Armbrister from waivers just before the 2016 season began.
Armbrister was part of the Lions’ severely disappointing linebacker crew last season. He was forced into two starts (12 game appearances), but only managed 15 tackles.
But at just 24 years old and now with 30 games of experience under his belt, Armbrister could have a brighter future than his dim past.
69. DL Pat O’Connor (High: 67, Low: 72)
The Lions’ final draft pick in 2017, Pat O’Connor will have to work his way to compete for a roster spot. The former Eastern Michigan defender will probably best translate into a defensive end in the NFL, but even with the Lions’ thin depth chart, O’Connor will have to do some quick growing up to make the final roster. It’s much more likely that he lands on the practice squad for 2017.
68. LB Steve Longa (High: 62, Low 77)
Longa is an intriguing prospect with a lot of potential still untapped. After being claimed as a UDFA by the Seahawks in 2016, he eventually found his way onto Detroit’s practice squad. Despite Detroit’s tumultuous situation at linebacker, Longa only made it to the active 53-man roster once during the season.
However, Longa is only 22 and after three extremely successful seasons at Rutgers (338 total tackles), there is still plenty of potential there. He’s a bit undersized, but when the lights come on, he shines. If he can’t make the final 53, fully expect him to take up a practice squad spot, assuming he clears waivers.
67. RB Mike James (High: 65, Low: 68)
Mike James has to be one of the most forgotten players on the roster. Added to the Lions’ practice squad in December, James has received some praise from Jim Caldwell this offseason. When asked what he thought of their current set of backs, Caldwell specifically mentioned James. “We like what we see in that particular area and [Dwayne Washington is] developing and then we’ve got Mike James as well,” Caldwell said.
James has a few years of experience with the Buccaneers, where he averaged 4.2 yards per carry over 83 rushes. He’s still a longshot to make the roster, but he’ll certainly be part of the competition.
66. TE Cole Wick (High: 60, Low: 70)
Wick managed to work his way onto the Lions roster after Detroit’s depth chart was depleted by injury. The rookie out of Incarnate Word didn’t get much play during the 2016 season. He only made appearances in two games and caught just two passes for 18 yards. His season ended with a knee injury that landed him on IR.
This year, he’ll have a much tougher path to the final roster. Detroit added well-rounded Darren Fells to back up Eric Ebron and drafted Michael Roberts in the fourth round. Wick is still practice squad eligible, however, so he could stick around another year.
65. TE Khari Lee (High: 61, Low 73)
Lee will have similar problems making Detroit’s final 53, but it’s clear the Lions are a little higher on him than Wick. Lee was claimed off waivers right at the beginning of the season and ended up taking the most tight end snaps behind Eric Ebron for the first eight weeks. Used mostly as a blocking end, Lee did an adequate job, but was demoted to the practice squad once Detroit added Matthew Mulligan.
64. DT Ego Ferguson (High: 59, Low 74)
Ferguson was added just a month ago in a swap of defensive tackles that also saw the Lions sign Bruce Gaston while sending defensive tackles Nick James and Maurice Swain to the waiver wire.
Ferguson was a second-round pick by the Bears just three years ago. After two subpar seasons, Ferguson suffered a shoulder injury that ended his 2016 season. He was released by the Bears earlier this year and only spend two days with the Packers before failing a physical.
Now theoretically healthy, Ferguson has a real shot at making Detroit’s final roster with a clear deficiency in interior defenders.
63. LB Nick Bellore (High: 51, Low: 76)
Bellore is the Lions oldest and most experienced linebacker on the team. A seven-year veteran, Bellore has spent time previously on the Jets and 49ers. Last year in San Francisco, Bellore started 10 games, picked up 83 tackles, had one interception and one forced fumble.
Detroit could use a veteran presence like Bellore—especially with DeAndre Levy gone—but it’s also clear the Lions are trying to get younger. By drafting Jarrad Davis and Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Detroit is looking to overhaul the middle of their defense. Bellore still has a chance to make the roster as a special teams standout, but he’ll have to beat out the likes of Paul Worrilow or Antwione Williams.
62. CB Adairius Barnes (High: 58, Low: 67)
As a UDFA, nobody expected Barnes to make the Lions’ 53-man roster, let alone contribute in his rookie year, but Barnes beat the odds. In fact, he shocked just about everyone:
Wait a minute, did I miss something or did Adairius Barnes make the #Lions 53-man roster?— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) September 3, 2016
Adairius Barnes is the most shocking player to make the Lions' roster. I just realized that one. Had three pass breakups in preseason finale— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) September 3, 2016
Barnes finished the season with seven game appearances, including 62 defensive snaps.
His route to the final 53-man roster will be even tougher this year. Detroit stacked themselves with new cornerbacks this year, drafting Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew, while adding DJ Hayden in free agency. With all of Detroit’s 2016 starters returning this year, it’s hard to imagine Barnes beating the odds again this year.
61. QB Brad Kaaya (High: 57, Low: 67)
Kaaya was viewed as one of the biggest Day 3 steals of the NFL Draft. Detroit, with no pressing need at quarterback, took Kaaya anyways, setting up an interesting camp battle for the backup quarterback position. All but one Pride Of Detroit staffer (Alex Reno) has Jake Rudock ranked about Kaaya, but none of us have seen Kaaya take a snap in a Lions jersey.
Although Kaaya reportedly struggled during minicamp, a lot could change in the preseason. Even if it doesn’t, the Lions will have a dilemma on whether to carry two or three quarterbacks on their roster.