I’m not going to sugar coat it for you. The fourth preseason game is pretty darn boring, even for the diehard fans. Most of the players on the field will either be finding work elsewhere or spending the majority of the 2019 regular season on the practice squad.
This game is still important, though. For the last 10-15 spots on the roster, Thursday night’s preseason game between the Detroit Lions and Cleveland Browns is absolutely crucial. For some, it’ll be the opportunity to finally get some live NFL reps. For others, it will be a chance to show their versatility and special teams value.
The Lions still have several spots on the roster up for grabs, so here’s 10 players who need big performances Thursday night.
1. QB Luis Perez
It’s probably inaccurate to call Luis Perez a bubble guy, as the quarterback doesn’t have a realistic shot to make the roster. That’s not a knock on Perez; it’s unrealistic to expect a guy added earlier this week to win a spot on the 53.
However, Perez is absolutely playing for a spot on Detroit’s practice squad. He’ll likely only get a short amount of playing time with a very limited playbook. If he can display accuracy and poise, the Lions may take a shot on him as a developmental third stringer on the practice squad.
2. TE Isaac Nauta
The Lions seventh-round pick has fallen out of favor due to drops and overall ineffective play. He is very much on the roster bubble right now, and many are starting to believe Detroit doesn’t need a fourth tight end on the roster—especially if they decide to keep a fullback (as expected). Of all 90 players on this roster, Nauta may have the most pressure on him Thursday night.
3. WR Travis Fulgham
The wide receiver battle is wide open right now. I’m fairly confident the top four spots are locked in with Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay, Danny Amendola and Chris Lacy, but beyond that, it’s a mystery.
Fulgham brings some special teams value, but his fumble last week looms large. This preseason, he has just four catches for 67 yards, but he did flash his big-play potential against the Texans. If he can do that more often, he can land on the 53-man roster rather than hitting waivers and potentially finding a spot on the practice squad.
4. WR Brandon Powell
Powell is in a similar situation, but his opportunity to shine on Thursday will likely be at special teams. Chances seem pretty good that he and Tom Kennedy will split time as the returners, and while it doesn’t seem likely Powell will be the team’s starting returner, putting good tape out there is key to his future.
5. OG Beau Benzschawel
With Frank Ragnow’s immediate future still up in the air, it’s hard to know exactly what the Lions’ plans are for interior offensive line depth. Will they keep an extra center around as an emergency, giving the likes of Luke Bowanko and Leo Koloamatangi a window to the final roster? Or will they just go with the best players they’ve got?
Benzschawel still has plenty of work to do to prove he’s one of those best players, but he’ll likely get a long look against the Browns.
6. RB James Williams
Just signed on Wednesday, Williams has virtually no chance of making the Lions’ 53-man roster. But much like Luis Perez, Williams has a very good opportunity Thursday night to make his case for a practice squad spot.
Williams is a guy that draft Twitter loves, and is also a PFF darling:
Williams has earned an 89.0+ receiving grade every year of his collegiate career at Washington State, recording 952 receiving snaps— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) August 28, 2019
7. Steve Longa
I was pretty surprised the Lions opted to take Steve Longa off the PUP list, thinking they’d ride him into the regular season on the reserve-PUP. But now that he’s active, he has a short amount of time to prove himself.
It’s a tough position to put Longa in, but the injury to Jarrad Davis opens up an opportunity to find an extra roster spot for him. Longa hasn’t played a live snap in over a year, so getting his feet wet against the Browns is absolutely critical for him.
8. Dee Virgin
Dee Virgin’s name came up twice this week in Matt Patricia press conferences. Both times, Patricia referred to Virgin as a guy who won a roster spot thanks to his Week 4 preseason performance last year with the Texans. That game, he tallied eight tackles, two passes defended and an interception. Virgin was waived by Houston, but the Lions claimed him off waivers, and he even made four game appearances for Detroit last year.
This year, his special teams value may land him a spot on the 53-man roster, but he likely needs another big game to prove he’s progressing nicely.
9. Teez Tabor
Virgin may be in direct competition with former Lions second-round pick Teez Tabor for one of the final roster spots. Tabor came back from injury this week, giving him the perfect opportunity to prove all of the offseason hype was real. This will be Tabor’s first preseason action (assuming he’s healthy enough to play), so he absolutely has to make the most of it. There’s no other way to put this: This game is absolutely huge for him.
10. Andrew Adams
When the Lions signed Adams, it looked like he would not only make the team but potentially have a big role as the third safety on the depth chart. But inconsistent play has him on the bubble, and he doesn’t quite bring the special teams value that a guy like Charles Washington has.
Adams has been getting a lot of looks in the second halves of preseason games, which can’t be great for chances. But a lockdown performance on Thursday could make him too valuable a defensive asset to give up.