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Grades for the Detroit Lions’ 53-man roster

The Lions roster is trimmed, but expect some more maneuvering from Bob Quinn and Co. For now, grades!

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The league’s 4 p.m. ET deadline for each team to cut their respective rosters down to 53 players came and went on Saturday. It wasn’t until almost two hours later, on the first college football Saturday of the year, that the Detroit Lions announced their final cuts.

Look, I’m just trying to enjoy my weekend for I am human.

Jeremy Reisman, who did his best Bill Lumbergh impression yesterday, already discussed some of the biggest surprises provided by the Lions’ 53-man roster. And Mansur Shaheen has six players released on Saturday who should catch the attention of Detroit’s front office.

In the here and now, however, the Lions have a roster, so here are some grades by position for the team Detroit finalized so to speak.

Quarterbacks - B+

Matthew Stafford
Matt Cassel

Matthew Stafford is a franchise quarterback and worth an ‘A’ on his own, but he shares a position with Matt Cassel, who isn’t exactly an ideal backup quarterback. At this point in Cassel’s career, he’s basically a replacement level backup.

Detroit, as many other teams in the NFL, would be in for disaster should their starter not be able to make it on the field. But some teams have made it a priority to solidify their backup quarterback position, like the New Orleans Saints trading for Teddy Bridgewater, or the Oakland Raiders making an #actuallygood move by trading for AJ McCarron.

Don’t expect the Cassel experience to last beyond this season.

Running backs - B

LeGarrette Blount
Theo Riddick
Kerryon Johnson
Ameer Abdullah
Nick Bellore

The Lions preseason performance was rarely a cause for celebration, but if there was a reason to be excited, the running backs did more good things than bad things, which I’m not sure I can say for any other position on this team.

Abdullah is the fourth running back on this depth chart, and I don’t know of too many other teams who have that kind of talent that deep on their roster at the running back position. Seeing the running back usage develop and evolve over the course of the regular season will be one of the more interesting subplots, and hopefully it’s headlined with a bunch of 1-yard touchdowns from Blount, 2,000 yards from Johnson, 100 catches from Riddick, and Abdullah not causing frustration.

Wide receivers - B

Marvin Jones Jr.
Golden Tate
Kenny Golladay
TJ Jones
Brandon Powell
Bradley Marquez

Six wide receivers? What gives? This is overkill. This won’t last.

Brandon Powell certainly made a case for why he belongs on an NFL roster with his performance this preseason as a receiver and his flashes on special teams, but even he was very much on the bubble. Add in Bradley Marquez and it’s a huge departure from the four receivers the team kept last season.

Of course, the Lions top three receivers—Jones Jr., Tate, and Golladay—should end up being one of the most productive trios of receivers considering the tight end position has shown next to nothing in terms of being reliable—or even capable—pass catchers (Other than Hakeem who was out there doing this thing all preseason long, he deserves all the praises.)

Tight ends - D-

Luke Willson
Levine Toilolo
Michael Roberts
Hakeem Valles

Speaking of Hakeem Valles, he should definitely be on the gameday roster. There wasn’t another tight end during the preseason who proved they belong there instead of Valles, which basically means Valles was the only thing that kept this group from a failing grade.

It wasn’t super surprising to see Roberts make the roster, but after doing nothing during training camp or the preseason to show any growth or improvement from a year ago, it wouldn’t have shocked me to see the Lions choosing Valles over him. Instead, the Lions have four tight ends, one more than they should be caring because they decided to cut Eric Ebron and do this to themselves. Sweet.

Offensive linemen - B

Taylor Decker
Frank Ragnow
Graham Glasgow
T.J. Lang
Rick Wagner
Kenny Wiggins
Joe Dahl
Brian Mihalik
Tyrell Crosby
Leo Koloamatangi

A lot of offensive linemen, but not really an offensive number either because did you watch more than one Lions game last season? Do you remember when Detroit had their projected offensive line all out there healthy and together and stuff? Doubt it.

In a division loaded with pass rushers and strong defenses, the Lions might have the best offensive line in the division. It’s sort of wild, but this unit who struggled with health and continuity a year ago is essential in order for Detroit to reach the heights of success they’re aiming for this season.

Defensive linemen - D

Ezekiel Ansah
Anthony Zettel
Kerry Hyder Jr.
Ricky Jean Francois
A’Shawn Robinson
Da’Shawn Hand
Sylvester Williams

Partake in this exercise, if you will.

Close your eyes. Clear your mind. Picture Ricky Jean Francois. Alright, you probably don’t know what he looks like, so just think back to the first three weeks of the preseason where he was the only player who was consistently making an impact on the defensive line. Got it? Cool, now imagine the Lions never signed him. So instead of seeing Francois, you’re probably picturing something like a Ford F-150, engulfed in flames, rolling off the side of cliff and turning into the single most disastrous disaster the instant it collides with the ground below.

The Lions are much better off along the interior than they are on the edge right now because on the outside, the ends can’t contain and the ends aren’t getting after the quarterback as much as they need to be. Hopefully the Lions can add something from the other team’s leftovers before the season kicks off for them on national television of all places.

Linebackers - D

Jarrad Davis
Devon Kennard
Christian Jones
Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Eli Harold
Miles Killebrew
Trevor Bates

Another less than pretty grade for a position group because it’s thin on depth, not adequately staffed with skilled contributors as starters, and is just an overall bummer in general.

Detroit’s linebackers struggled in coverage, missed tackles, and failed to fill gaps all preseason long. Jarrad Davis ended up being the poster boy for these struggles which was the exact opposite of what this team needed from their former first-round pick. Still, there’s hope that Patricia’s defense will only continue to become more familiar territory for a player who is on his second defensive scheme in as many years in the NFL.

Devon Kennard showed much more from a pass rushing aspect than I expected of him after he didn’t do it very well while in New York with the Giants, and Eli Harold made a couple of nice plays in his only performance with Detroit in the final week of the preseason, but as a unit, it doesn’t inspire much confidence heading into the season.

Secondary - C+

Darius Slay
Nevin Lawson
Teez Tabor
Quandre Diggs
Jamal Agnew
Glover Quin
Tavon Wilson Sr.
Charles Washington
Tracy Walker

Many were optimistic about the Lions secondary heading into this season because if there was anything to elicit confidence about the team’s defense, it was the back end.

It took about a month and a half to figure out that wasn’t case and the “rich depth” in the secondary was more fool’s gold than not.

Darius Slay is still a top-7 cornerback in the NFL, and Glover Quin remains among one of the best safeties in football regardless of whether you think he’s slow or not, but past that, what of sustained substance do the Lions have to hang their hat on?

Quandre Diggs has shown to be impactful in spurts, Tavon Wilson Sr. is useful from time to time, but the youth on this roster didn’t do much in the preseason to leave fans encouraged about what’s to come.

Special teams - B

Matt Prater
Sam Martin
Don Muhlbach

Matt Prater missed a field goal he shouldn’t have attempted, and then the field goal unit all collectively were about as useful as Sam Martin’s towel.

At times during camp, Sam Martin’s job didn’t seem safe, with Ryan Santoso pushing him a bit for his spot, but ultimately, the veteran won out.

Death, taxes, Don Muhlbach.


What overall grade are you giving the Lions roster?

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