The final preseason game isn’t for football fans. Typically no starters play, dropping the importance level of this game from “who cares?” to “why are you even watching?”
But the game remains somewhat important to the teams themselves. While the top 40-45 players on the roster have likely already won themselves a roster spot, the final 8-12 spots may still be up for grabs, and Thursday night’s game against the Cleveland Browns will be the final chance for head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn to evaluate the 2018 Detroit Lions roster.
Here are five roster bubble players that have the most on the line Thursday night:
Yes, Brandon Powell has had one of the best preseasons of any Lions player this year, but he still needs to prove he’s talented enough to justify keeping a fifth receiver around. He likely doesn’t have an offensive role with the team in 2018, and though he’s stuck out in the return game, the Lions already have those roles assumed by Jamal Agnew and (likely) Ameer Abdullah.
But if Powell puts out more good film on Thursday night, it may be enough for the Lions to believe that Powell won’t make it through waivers and onto their practice squad. They’ll have to keep Powell on the 53-man roster simply so they don’t lose him and his potential—even though he’s very unlikely to contribute in 2018.
Joe Dahl/Kenny Wiggins/Leo Koloamatangi/Wesley Johnson
Okay, I’m well aware this is cheating, but I’m having a really hard time gauging how the Lions’ reserve offensive linemen situation is going to shake out. The starting five and fifth-round rookie Tyrell Crosby are all pretty much roster locks at this point, but there are so many questions beyond that. Do the Lions keep eight or nine or ten offensive linemen? Who is the backup center? At what position do any of these players play best?
Unfortunately, the Lions haven’t made much clear in the preseason. With T.J. Lang out, they’ve been shuffling the starting lineup on a near daily basis, and no one has stuck out as a consistent, reliable option. Most of these guys provide positional versatility, so there’s no edge there, either. Every one of these players should be playing on Thursday like their job is on the line, because it literally is.
Yeah, I think the 2017 fourth-round pick is on the bubble. The Hakeem Valles hype is so much more than hype. He’s been the most consistently impressive tight end since the beginning of camp, and I would honestly consider him as close to a roster lock as you could get for someone assumed to be on the outside looking in at the beginning of camp.
That leaves Roberts as someone who could be playing for his Lions career Thursday night. The former Toledo Rocket hasn’t made much of an impact throughout August, and after a disappointing rookie year, nothing about his job security should be safe.
While tight end is admittedly a position that takes the longest to adjust to NFL-level talent, the Lions may not be able to afford waiting. Their tight end situation is dire, and they need production this year.
As for cutting bail on a draft pick after just one season, there is some precedent there with Bob Quinn. Former 2016 fifth-round pick, linebacker Antwione Williams, was surprisingly cut last year, even though Detroit’s linebacking crew was extremely weak.
Many, myself included, were surprised to see Cam Johnson out there during the first half of the Lions’ dress rehearsal game against the Buccaneers. Working with the first string defense—essentially in Devon Kennard’s role when he needed a break—Johnson appears to have a leg up on a backup position.
However, that may have all changed when the Lions trade for Eli Harold last week. While many believe Harold’s addition may push a linebacker like Freddie Bishop or Trevor Bates off the team, I believe Johnson’s roster spot is most in danger now. But a good preseason finale could convince the Lions to keep both Johnson and Harold around.
Trevor Bates/Freddie Bishop/Miles Killebrew
While I’m not so sure Harold’s addition has an impact on these three fringe linebackers and their chance to make the roster, there’s little doubt they are there on the bubble right now. Questions remain on how many linebackers the Lions will keep on this roster (and how many players they really consider to be linebackers). But here’s a look at the players that are likely in:
- DE/LB Devon Kennard
- DE/LB Eli Harold
- LB Jarrad Davis
- LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
- LB Christian Jones
- LB Jonathan Freeny
That’s already six. Do the Lions go with seven? Eight? Nine?
Killebrew (theoretically) brings the coverage skills to the group, so I think his job may be the safest. Bishop and Bates will have to prove their skills as a pass rusher and on special teams if they want to convince Quinn and Patricia that keeping at least eight linebackers is a good idea.