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Where the Lions roster stands: Detroit has solid safety depth in 2017, big questions in 2018

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Detroit’s safeties look decent for 2017, but the future of the position is up for grabs.

Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In the leadup to the Detroit Lions preseason, we are breaking down the current and future statuses of the roster by position. We conclude this series with the Lions’ safeties.

Previously: Quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs, tight ends, offensive tackles, offensive guards, centers, defensive ends, defensive tackles, linebackers, cornerbacks

Starters: Glover Quin (2019), Tavon Wilson (2017)

Backups: Miles Killebrew (2019)

On the bubble: Don Carey (2017), Alex Carter (2017)

Long shots: Rolan Milligan (2017), Charles Washington (2018)

Overview

The Lions’ top three safeties are pretty clear: Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew. Their roles in 2017, however, are not as defined. Though Quin will clearly be the team’s free safety, it remains to be seen how Wilson and Killebrew will split their time. Detroit used a third safety early and often in 2016, and there’s no reason to suggest they won’t do the same this year.

Killebrew is a versatile defensive back that can come down and act as a linebacker or blitzer, and Detroit has already given him several looks at training camp. He isn’t likely to be declared the starting strong safety out of the gate, but the Lions will be certain to use him whenever they can.

One big question facing this unit is how many roster spots will the Lions clear out for safeties? With the heavy competition at cornerback, it’s very possible the Lions keep six corners, leaving the possibility that they only carry four safeties. Last year, Detroit kept five and five, but the defensive back roster looks a lot different this season. (It also isn’t out of the question for the Lions to keep 11 DBs—6 CBs and 5 safeties.)

That means the Lions may have to choose between Don Carey and Alex Carter, who both offer very different things. Carey has been one of the biggest contributors on special teams over the past decade. While Carter brings youth and potential to a safety position he is still learning. General manager Bob Quinn has shown an affinity for special teams players, but Carter has reportedly transitioned well to safety and may make it tough for Quinn to cut either of them.

Need going forward?

Of players likely to make the roster, only Quin and Killebrew are signed beyond this season. That leaves a lot of questions about Detroit’s depth going forward.

If Tavon Wilson continues to give Detroit solid play, it’s very likely the Lions will keep him around for a second contract. As for depth beyond the starters, the key may be Alex Carter. Carter is still only 22 years old, and considering he’s already shown potential as a safety, that youth may be enough to win out a roster spot this year. He will be an exclusive rights free agent next year, so it would be easy and cheap to keep him around in 2018.

But one has to wonder about Don Carey’s future with the team. Carey turned 30 this year and signed just a one-year deal this offseason. The Lions clearly aren’t willing to fully commit to him at this point in his career, but his special teams value is undeniable. If the Lions don’t plan on keeping five safeties, he could very well be on his way out, leaving Detroit with a big special teams need going forward.