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Detroit Lions 53-man roster prediction: Preseason edition

A lot can change between now and Week 1 of the regular season, but let’s give our prediction for what the roster may look like in 2017.

NFL: Detroit Lions-Minicamp Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’ve concluded the first week of Detroit Lions training camp, we have a slightly better understanding of which players are impressing thus far and where this team stands. Of course, we still have a long way to go before the Lions are forced to thin their roster back down to 53 players, but let’s take our best guess at what the final 53-man roster will look like heading into the 2017 regular season.

Offense (24)

Quarterback (2)

QB Matthew Stafford
QB Jake Rudock
QB Brad Kaaya

For Kaaya to make this roster, he’s going to really have to show out in the preseason and look like an entirely different quarterback. If you’ve ever attended an open practice or seen any of these guys throw side-by-side, it’s obvious how much more talented Stafford is compared to his peers. This year is no different.

Neither Rudock nor Kaaya have performed very well in camp or during the mock game and Rudock has the slight edge so far, mostly due to experience. Kaaya has consistently been given reps with the third-team, and it doesn’t look like things are going to change soon.

Running back (4)

RB Ameer Abdullah
RB Theo Riddick
RB Zach Zenner
RB Matt Asiata
RB Dwayne Washington
RB Mike James
RB Tion Green

Dwayne Washington really needs to perform well as a special teamer and kick returner, because he’s still extremely unpolished as a runner. As of now, it’s almost certain that cornerback Jamal Agnew will be the team’s starting punt returner, but we don’t know a whole lot about the kick return role just yet. Perhaps Agnew will carry out both roles, but we have seen the Lions use a separate punt and kick returner in the past.

The top three guys on this list are all but guaranteed roster spots, but Asiata and Washington still have some battling to do. Asiata has had a better camp up thus far, so my best guess is they keep him as their fourth.

Wide receiver (4)

WR Marvin Jones
WR Golden Tate
WR Kenny Golladay
WR Keshawn Martin
WR Jared Abbrederis
WR Jace Billingsley
WR TJ Jones
WR Noel Thomas
WR Michael Rector
WR Dontez Ford
WR Dez Stewart

Last year, the Lions kept four receivers as they finalized their roster, and they can afford it when they have Ebron, Riddick and Abdullah—all capable receivers in their own right.

If Abbrederis manages to make this team, it’s because the Lions kept five receivers. If they choose to keep four, it likely means that the No. 4 receiver will serve as a backup slot receiver to Golden Tate, who will serve as their slot guy in three-or-more-receiver sets. That role, to me, comes down to either Keshawn Martin, TJ Jones, or Jace Billingsley.

I chose Martin over Billingsley because he simply does everything better than Billingsley on the practice field when you watch him. The key for Martin is whether that will translate to the field once the lights are on. Same goes for TJ Jones, who has looked sharp in practice, but has “deer in headlights” syndrome when facing a real game situation. Jones had a poor drop during Saturday’s mock game and nearly dropped a touchdown pass later on.

Tight End (4)

TE Eric Ebron
TE Darren Fells
TE Michael Roberts
TE Cole Wick
TE Khari Lee
TE Robert Tonyan
TE Tim Wright

Last year, the Lions were desperate for help at tight end and now they have a log jam at the position with some tough decisions to make. Cole Wick is no Ebron in the slightest, but he is the closest thing they have to him when it comes to creating mismatches as a receiving TE. That is why he gets the slight edge over Khari Lee should the Lions decide to keep four tight ends. Darren Fells has looked great during camp with an absent Ebron, and Roberts looks more like a vet than a rookie out there.

Offensive line (10)

OT Greg Robinson
OT Rick Wagner
OT Cyrus Kouandjio
OT Corey Robinson
OT Cornelius Lucas
OG Graham Glasgow
OG T.J. Lang
OG Laken Tomlinson
OG Joe Dahl
C Travis Swanson
OT Taylor Decker (PUP)
OT Storm Norton
OT Nick Becton
OG Matt Rotheram
OG Brandon Thomas
C Leo Koloamatangi

The Lions kept nine offensive linemen last year, but it may be in there best interest to keep an extra tackle with how lousy the left tackle position battle has looked so far. If they keep four OTs, Cornelius Lucas probably has the edge, just due to being healthy during camp.

Defense (26)

Defensive line (11)

DE Ezekiel Ansah
DE Kerry Hyder Jr.
DE Cornelius Washington
DE Anthony Zettel
DE Jeremiah Valoaga
DE Brandon Copeland
DT A’Shawn Robinson
DT Haloti Ngata
DT Jeremiah Ledbetter
DT Jordan Hill
DT Akeem Spence
DE Armonty Bryant (suspended)
DE Alex Barrett
DE Pat O’Connor
DT Khyri Thornton (suspended)
DT Bruce Gaston
DT Ego Ferguson

Brandon Copeland is too versatile for the Lions to cut. He’s been working as a linebacker and defensive end since he’s gotten here and has the ability to play special teams. That, to me, gives him the edge over some other fringe guys like Barrett and O’Connor, who may be destined for the practice squad.

My surprise pick is Jeremiah Valoaga who has only practiced for a few days but has already impressed me more than some of the other UDFA guys, and had a heck of a day on Saturday during the Lions’ mock game. Jordan Hill is another guy that’s really looked great and is the only guy creating consistent pressure at defensive tackle, while guys like Ego Ferguson and Bruce Gaston have been ghosts.

Linebacker (5)

LB Jarrad Davis
LB Tahir Whitehead
LB Paul Worrilow
LB Antwione Williams
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
LB Steve Longa
LB Nick Bellore
LB Thurston Armbrister

Not much of a surprise here, but a tougher call than expected. Worrilow hasn’t stood out much in camp and is receiving fewer and fewer snaps with the first team, but the money still points to him making the team.

The Lions could also decide to keep an extra linebacker as a special teams ace. Longa, Bellore and Armbrister can all fit that role.

Defensive backs (10)

CB Darius Slay
CB Nevin Lawson
CB Teez Tabor
CB Jamal Agnew
CB D.J. Hayden
CB Johnson Bademosi
S Glover Quin
S Tavon Wilson
S Miles Killebrew
S Alex Carter
CB Quandre Diggs
CB Adairius Barnes
CB Josh Thornton
CB Tramain Jacobs
S Don Carey
S Rolan Milligan
S Charles Washington

Despite earning most of the reps with the first-team defense, Diggs is the odd man out at nickelback. Jamal Agnew has set Lions training camp on fire, and not just as a return man. He looks just as good, if not better, than his peers in the slot, while Hayden gives the Lions insurance on the outside and in the slot as a backup if he isn’t given the starting job. Alex Carter has also looked like a new man at safety and has completely won me over, so he gets the nod over special teams ace, Don Carey.

Special teams (3)

K Matt Prater
P Sam Martin
LS Don Muhlbach
P Kasey Redfern

The Muhldozer lives on.

Practice squad

QB Brad Kaaya
WR Noel Thomas
WR Jace Billingsley
OT Storm Norton
C Leo Koloamatangi
DE Alex Barrett
DE Pat O’Connor
LB Steve Longa
CB Adairius Barnes
S Rolan Milligan

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