The Detroit Lions aren’t done building their roster for the 2019 season, but they have a solid foundation to take into this month’s Organized Team Activities. So let’s take the opportunity to look at the Lions’ roster and what it may look like going into their Week 1 regular season game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Here’s my crack at the Lions’ 53-man roster.
(Note: I’m not filling out the Lions’ entire practice squad, just pointing out the more notable players)
Practice squad: Connor Cook
This isn’t exactly the improvement Lions fans were hoping for in terms of backup depth. However, the Lions have proven to like a veteran backup over a youngster. Savage has experience with Lions quarterback coach Sean Ryan, and that already gives him an edge up. Throw in the fact that Cook still has practice squad eligibility, and this is likely what the quarterback room looks like if there aren’t any roster changes coming.
Running backs (5)
Nick Bawden (FB)
Practice squad: Ty Johnson
While I think Ty Johnson has a chance at unseating either Theo Riddick or Zach Zenner, you have to remember just how little importance kick returner is in today’s NFL. With touchbacks so prevalent due to new kickoff rules, it is just not worth it to keep a pure kick returner on your roster. Johnson will have to show his value elsewhere to crack the roster, and I just don’t think he’ll do it in his rookie year.
Wide receivers (5)
Marvin Jones Jr.
Not a ton of surprises here. There’s a chance Tommylee Lewis slips in the fifth spot, but considering the shaky depth here, Detroit may also opt to only keep four receivers. I do think Fulgham’s height and length gives him a unique skill set that should earn him a roster spot.
Tight ends (4)
Obviously, the top two positions are locked, but there is going to be a pretty intense camp battle for the next one or two spots on the roster. Between Michael Roberts, rookie Isaac Nauta, quarterback-turned-tight end Logan Thomas and even Jerome Cunningham, I don’t get a real sense of who the Lions will be leaning on for depth.
It wouldn’t surprise me if any of those guys make or miss the roster, but I ended up selecting Roberts, who should absolutely feel the pressure in his third year in Detroit, and Nauta, whose versatility should give him an edge up, even though he has practice squad eligibility and may take some time to transition to the pros.
Offensive line (9)
Again, I’m not too confident in the depth projections here. In this case, the Lions would be keeping two UDFAs in Benzschawel and Pope. However, those were two high-priority players after the draft was done, and the Lions clearly outbid teams to retain their rights. That doesn’t guarantee their spots on the roster—not by a longshot—but Detroit doesn’t have a lot of great depth on the team currently, so those two have a great shot at making the roster.
Defensive line (8)
Damon Harrison Sr.
Ricky Jean Francois*
*Not currently on the roster
Practice squad: PJ Johnson
Last year, the Lions only went with seven defensive linemen, but that likely had much to do with talent available. This year, their depth looks a little better, though they could still use a little more veteran presence in that room. That’s why I think Detroit may still re-sign Ricky Jean Francois. You may remember that Francois didn’t sign until July last year, so it’s likely the veteran will wait deep into the offseason again before signing with another team.
Detroit would almost certainly like to keep a Snacks backup on the roster, and I gave the slight edge to John Atkins over seventh-round pick PJ Johnson, who will be long-term project if he can ever crack an NFL roster.
And, yep, another UDFA making the 53 with North Carolina’s Malik Carney. Why do I think he’ll make the team? Well, you know the Lions are going to like this:
Malik Carney was efficient against both the pass and the run this season. He totaled 26 stops in run defense and led the ACC with a 9.8% run-stop percentage. pic.twitter.com/FgyXCqb7R0— PFF College (@PFF_College) April 15, 2019
*Not currently on the team
Couple quick notes: I placed Lions fourth-round pick Austin Bryant under linebackers, because I think he projects to a similar role as Devon Kennard—and the Lions also announced the pick as a linebacker, for whatever that’s worth. (Though he’s listed as a DE on the official Lions roster.)
Again, I am taking my own liberties here by adding another free agent. Jamie Collins is certainly a risk given the reputation he left New England with, but he certainly fits the bill of what the Lions currently need in the linebacker room: veteran experience within Matt Patricia’s system. It’s what this room desperately needs, and if Patricia thinks he can get through to Collins, this is a no-brainer signing.
Defensive backs (10)
Yep, this is the year the Lions move on from both Teez Tabor and Miles Killebrew. This will be an intense camp battle for those final few spots on the roster, and the Lions will have to get rid of some talented players that will likely find homes elsewhere. Gone, too, in my projections is special teams ace Charles Washington and free agent addition Andrew Adams.
However, I think the current selection of defensive backs is a nice mix of veteran leadership, young talent and versatile pieces.
Special teams (3)
You can go ahead and write this one in pen. The only player remotely in danger of losing his job is Sam Martin to Ryan Santoso, but I don’t see it happening, even with the $2.5 million in savings Detroit would get by moving on from Martin.
(Note: A previous version said the Lions could save $3.35 million by cutting Martin, those are the numbers for a 2020 release. Sorry for the confusion.)