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Detroit Lions 53-man roster prediction: Post-draft edition

We’re always doing things too early, and roster predictions are no exception.

NFL: Combine Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Mid-May is probably a bit too early to start pounding the table and finding hills to die on when it comes to predicting the final 53-man roster for any NFL team. Since I started putting this article together, the Detroit Lions have made no less than six roster moves and it’s very possible they’ve made more by the time this is published. We’re still going to do our best to look ahead and try to guess what the team is going to look like based on the moves they’ve made so far, so let’s jump right to it!

Quarterback (2)

Starter: Matthew Stafford
Backup: Matt Cassell
Cut: Jake Rudock

Not easing to this at all, I feel the Lions roll into 2018 with only one quarterback behind Stafford on the depth chart. The team drafted Rudock to back up Stafford in 2016, but he didn’t show enough to keep the job over a veteran in Dan Orlovsky. The Lions drafted a more developmental type of quarterback in the sixth round of 2017, and Rudock battled to take sole ownership of the reserve spot. Though his only real game action was a dismal showing where he threw an immediate pick-six, it’s likely the change of coaching staff that had the team bringing in a veteran backup.

Rudock isn’t a developmental starter, so the signing of someone like Cassell is likely a sign the former Michigan and Iowa QB will have to battle it out or find a new team.

Running Back (5)

Starter: LeGarrette Blount (Week 1), Nick Bawden
Reserve: Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah
Cut: Dwayne Washington, Zach Zenner

This one didn’t really cause me as much stress as I had imagined. Blount and Johnson are locks due to their contracts and draft position respectively, but it’s really not too complicated after that. Only Riddick and Abdullah provide value on both offense and special teams. Tion Green was the first cut at this position, and his lack of versatility is a pretty sure reason why. With no real value as a rusher for either Washington or Zenner, and with a fullback coming on to take over blocking responsibilities from Zenner, it’s tough seeing either making it over more useful and productive players like Riddick and Abdullah.

Tight End (3)

Starter: Luke Willson
Reserve: Levine Toilolo, Michael Roberts
Practice Squad: DeAndre Goolsby
Cut: Hakeem Valles, Marcus Lucas

There isn’t a lot of intrigue at this position at this stage of the offseason, and the likely rostered players are pretty much set in stone barring any injuries. That doesn’t mean that it lacks intrigue, however. With no real standout on the roster, the door is wide open for someone to immediately make a name for themselves in this offense. It’s most likely Luke Willson, whose athletic ability and previous experience give him the clearest path, but Michael Roberts may finally flash that red-zone ability he was drafted for and take over a bigger role in the supposedly more run oriented offense. DeAndre Goolsby is a dark horse to make the roster as well, with interesting on-field receiving traits that may be enough to net him a small role on the team.

Wide Receiver (5)

Starters: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay
Reserve: TJ Jones, Teo Redding
Practice Squad: Deontez Alexander, Jace Billingsley
Cut: Dontez Ford, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Brandon Powell

The only unknown for the top of the Lions WR depth chart is how big of a role Kenny Golladay is going to carve out and how quickly. Beyond the top three, it gets very interesting very quickly. TJ Jones broke out in 2017 while filling in for Golladay due to injury, but an RFA tender is not usually enough to guarantee a spot by itself.

The team has several undrafted free agents who could fight over the last spot on the roster or even contend with Jones. The strongest pound-for-pound player on the team, Jace Billingsley, returns once again, and this year he’ll be facing off with a pair of athletic, Marvin-Jones-Lite players in Teo Redding and Deontez Alexander. Dontez Ford briefly flashed in 2017, so he’s another to watch out for if he comes in hot this year.

Offensive Line (10)

Starters: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner
Reserve: Tyrell Crosby, Joe Dahl, Wesley Johnson, Leo Koloamtangi, Brian Mihalik
Practice Squad: John Montelus, Beau Nunn
Cut: Adam Bisnowaty, Corey Robinson, Dan Skipper, Kenny Wiggins

I’m not sure exactly how the lineup will look in terms of position, but the personnel are written in whatever form of permanent correspondence you can think of. Who backs up the starters is extremely wide open, though not in a “We have so much talent!” kind of way.

Crosby is likely making the roster due to his draft status and versatility, but beyond that it could be anyone. Dahl has been a disappointment, but likely sticks once again since he can play anywhere. The only player I kept that isn’t super versatile is Leo Koloamatangi, who was the last one on, and the only reason I kept him was the difference in talent I see between him and the remaining four. I could see Robinson making it since he’s flashed occasionally, but ultimately I think they move on.

Defensive End (5)

Starters: Ezekiel Ansah, Anthony Zettel
Reserve: Da’Shawn Hand, Jeremiah Valoaga, Cornelius Washington
Practice Squad: Alex Barrett
Cut: Kerry Hyder, Cam Johnson, JoJo Wicker

The defensive end group coming into 2017 had some excitement, especially coming out of the preseason with multiple UDFA who made a strong case for the roster. The 2018 group may be the exact opposite. Ansah and Zettel are likely the Day 1 starters, but after that it’s anybody’s guess.

I’d assume that Hand and Washington rotate as 5-Technique or closed ends, flip inside on passing downs, but I have no clue how this will all look. When choosing between Barrett and Valoaga, I took the younger, larger, and more proven of the two since I think that gives him a better chance of being used as a line versatile player.

I would have liked to keep Hyder, but I’m not one for sentimentality, and until I see him actually playing, it’s tough for me to see Hyder, a player who relied so much on his explosiveness, to return from such a devastating injury.

Interior Defensive Line (4)

Starters: A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams
Reserve: Jeremiah Ledbetter, Josh Fatu
Cut: Toby Johnson, Christian Ringo

Like the ends, the interior DL aren’t much to get excited about. Three of the four guys I kept, including UDFA Josh Fatu, are essentially run defenders only with very little pass-rush value. The fourth player is Jeremiah Ledbetter, a sixth rounder from 2017 who showed a little bit of promise early before trailing off. Bets are this group sees some new players before camp starts, and likely at least one who makes the roster.

Linebackers (6)

Starters: Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Reserve: Christian Jones, Nick Bellore, Steve Longa
Practice Squad: Chad Meredith, Al-Rasheed Benton
Cut: Jonathan Freeny

If the defense as a whole isn’t looking super inspiring, that’s only because we have yet to hit the team’s strongest positions in the secondary. 2017 first-round pick Jarrad Davis returns and hopes to continue his late 2017 play rather than how he started out. Beyond Davis, we see Tahir Whitehead stand-in Devon Kennard starting in a LB/EDGE role. The third and fourth linebackers in three and four LB sets could be anybody, but until we see the lineups in camp, I’m going to assume it’s Reeves-Maybin and newly signed Christian Jones.

I’m a bit more excited about the guys I think will make the practice squad. Polar opposites Chad Meredith and Al-Rasheed Benton are guys who posted either an elite athletic profile (Meredith) or impressive tape (Benton), but neither produced both of those things, so it’s going to be interesting to see how each develops.

Cornerback (6)

Starters: Darius Slay, DeShawn Shead, Quandre Diggs
Reserve: Jamal Agnew, Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor
Practice Squad: Amari Coleman, Mike Ford
Cut: Antwuan Davis, Chris Jones, Raysean Pringle, Josh Okonye

This is where it gets a lot tougher. Slay is the easy one, but it’s tough to nail down who is going to start in the other two spots. Ultimately, I think Shead starts opposite the team’s best defender and Diggs returns to his nickel spot, while Tabor, Agnew, and Lawson rotate in at various spots as needed.

I’m intrigued to see how the team utilizes Agnew on defense, as I think he has the potential to pick up more sacks than pass breakups as a specialized “rocket” pass rusher, which he did in spurts last year.

Obviously it would be preferable to see Tabor take the next step and own a starting job, but with the team’s intense interest in improving the CB position, it doesn’t look great to me. Coleman and Ford both provide some interesting upside, but I think each are at least a year out from contributing.

Safety (4)

Starters: Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson (Week 1)
Reserve: Miles Killebrew, Tracy Walker
Cut: Stefan McClure, Rolan Milligan, Charles Washington

No surprises here, Glover Quin returns to being the best at what he does while Tavon Wilson is likely the Week 1 starter on the other side. Whether it’s Miles Killebrew taking a more developed hybrid LB/SS role, Walker surprising by being a ready made FS/SS roamer, or Quandre Diggs making a triumphant return to the deep secondary, I don’t think Wilson’s foray as a returning starter lasts very long.

Specialists (3)

Kicker: Matt Prater
Punter: Sam Martin
Long Snapper: Don Muhlbach
Cut: Ryan Santoso

With no surprise injuries expected, this group should look exactly the same as last year.

Wrap Up

Obviously, this is a very early prediction and I expect tons of changes. While this roster is more talented than last season, and far more than the year prior, it’s very concentrated in specific position groups with others left playing whichever warm body is present. It’s going to be an extremely drama-filled training camp, and I tell you what, I’m freaking here for it. The last couple of years had a couple of surprises, but it was largely just the guys you expect to make waves making waves and the guys you expect to wash out doing just that.

This year, so many positions could go any which way, it’s bonkers. It may sound a bit pessimistic when framed that way, but I fully expect a competitive team this season. At the very worst, a team that can get out of its own way.

What are your thoughts? Did I boot off someone you want to see in Honolulu Blue on Sundays? Let us know in the comments or give us your own roster predictions!

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