We’ve reached the point in our 2018 Detroit Lions roster countdown where we’re talking about players who are expected to be regular contributors for the team. While some of these guys aren’t expected to start, their contributions will be felt in 2018, and it could mean the difference between success and failure in Matt Patricia’s first year as head coach.
To catch up on our Lions roster rankings, click the links below.
30. DB DeShawn Shead (High: 26, Low: 33)
Shead was an under-the-radar signing this free agency. Though he’s still returning from a year-old ACL tear, Shead showed a lot of promise in Seattle, and is expected to be a key part in Detroit’s secondary rotation. He has the versatility to play multiple positions, and that’s exactly what Patricia is looking for out of his defensive roster.
29. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (High: 21, Low: 40)
Last year: 39
After a slow rookie year, Reeves-Maybin is a candidate to make a huge second-year jump. With a scheme change that may often require four linebackers on the field, plus the departure of Paul Worrilow and Tahir Whitehead, the path is cleared for Reeves-Maybin to take on a starting role in this defense.
He’s the perfect combination of size and speed that would allow him to be devastating in run defense and more than capable in pass coverage. Now he just needs to realize that potential.
28. DE Kerry Hyder Jr. (High: 21, Low: 36)
Last year: 18
It’s hard to know what to expect out of Kerry Hyder this season. Achilles injuries have claimed the careers of plenty NFL players, but it’s no longer unheard of to make a comeback.
Expectations seem to be high for Hyder—possibly because he showed so much promise in 2016, possibly because the Lions just don’t have that many other options at defensive end—but at this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to how Hyder will perform. That’s probably why there’s a significant range in our rankings for him.
27. CB Teez Tabor (High: 19, Low: 37)
Last year: 23
Speaking of a large range in expectations, Teez Tabor is another fascinating case heading into training camp. As most expected, Tabor didn’t contribute much of anything in his rookie year, something that has become commonplace for a lot of rookie cornerbacks.
But is 2018 too early to expect something from the former Gator? It took a guy like Darius Slay a couple years to get his footing underneath him, and the Lions signed last year’s No. 2 cornerback, Nevin Lawson, to a two-year deal. Training camp should give us a good idea of what to expect from Tabor this year, but for right now, it’s one of the biggest unknowns for this franchise.
26. WR TJ Jones (High: 25, Low: 31)
Last year: 45
Last year, Lions fans were all ready to move on from TJ Jones. The former sixth-round pick had just 15 catches in his first three seasons combined, and many felt he was out of chances.
But after making the team yet again in 2017, he actually displayed his worth when rookie Kenny Golladay was struggling with injuries. In 14 games and six starts, Jones pulled in 30 catches for 399 and a touchdown before eventually suffering a shoulder injury that would end his most productive season yet.
Jones now comes into 2018 fully expected to win the No. 4 job and contribute on a small, but consistent basis. He’s also proven he can start in a pinch, which is something Lions fans have been waiting for.
25. TE Luke Willson (High: 23, Low: 32)
No new Lions player has an easier path to likeability than Luke Willson. Not only is he a childhood Lions fan who once dressed as Barry Sanders for Halloween, but he’s also taking over for one of the most villified players on last year’s team.
Willson has catapulted to the team’s No. 1 tight end position and is expected to replace Eric Ebron. While his athleticism matches and surpasses his predecessor, Willson hasn’t had anywhere near the production that Ebron had in Detroit. Willson’s career high in receiving yards is just 362 back in 2014.
He’ll have more opportunities than ever in Detroit, and we saw what that did to Golden Tate’s career, but Willson would have to take a monster step forward in order to fill the void left by Ebron.
24. DB/PR Jamal Agnew (High: 15, Low: 31)
Last year: 52
One of two All-Pro Lions from 2017, Jamal Agnew comes into 2018 with unbelievable expectations—two punt returns for touchdowns in your rookie year will do that.
But the most interesting thing about Agnew will be his potential on defense. Agnew only saw 69 snaps on defense last year, with 57 of those coming in Detroit’s meaningless season finale. Though Detroit has a crowded secondary, Agnew could find a situational role this season, especially considering Patricia’s tendency to use a lot of different defensive backs.
23. RB Kerryon Johnson (High: 17, Low: 28)
Could Kerryon Johnson finally be the person to stop Detroit’s endless revolving door of running backs? Since Barry retired in 1999, the Lions have tried to replace him with high draft picks. Ameer Abdullah, Mikel Leshoure, Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, Brian Calhoun, Kevin Jones, and Reuben Droughns: all of them weren’t up for the task.
So, it’s probably not all that surprising that most of the staff took the cautious route and kept Johnson out of the top 20. But if all the stars finally align, Johnson could be a top-10 player on the roster this year.
22. S Tavon Wilson (High: 18, Low: 25)
Last year: 16
With Glover Quin locked into the starting free safety role, the future of the strong safety position seemed up for grabs last season. Would Miles Killebrew eventually assume that role?
Killebrew did not end up winning that job and now is firmly on the roster bubble, but Wilson probably shouldn’t feel all that safe in his position right now. The Lions drafted Tracy Walker this year, and while he’s not expected to contribute right away, Detroit certainly seemed pretty excited to add him in the third round.
21. LB Devon Kennard (High: 13, Low: 24)
The Lions’ splash free agency signing—if they had one—was defensive end/linebacker Devon Kennard. Kennard is being hailed as Detroit’s newest pass rush threat, even though he only has 9.5 sacks in his four-year career.
However, Kennard’s value really comes in his versatility. Not only can he play the role of a pass-rushing or run-defending linebacker, but he also has experience putting his fingers in the dirt and lining up all over the defensive line.
Matt Patricia’s buzzword all offseason was “multiples,” referring to both players and schemes that have multiple roles, and Kennard has that in spades.