Now that the Detroit Lions’ roster is at 90 players, the process of self-evaluation has begun. Though roster cutdowns still feel like miles away, players’ auditions for a roster spot have already started. Players may not be at the team facility, but their devotion to staying in shape, learning the playbook, and staying focused on the overall goal are all being monitored right now.
So with that in mind, I took my first guess at what the Lions’ roster may look like in 2020. Here’s my post-draft 2020 Detroit Lions 53-man roster prediction:
No cuts necessary. The Lions have who they want in a backup and a long-term developmental prospect.
Running back (5)
Nick Bawden (FB)
Ty Johnson (PS) Wes Hills Luke Sellers (FB)
Things get a little tricky here. Five running backs is a lot to keep, but that’s what happens when you finally have a talented stable. The big decision here is between Jason Huntley and Ty Johnson. In my opinion, they don’t draft Huntley if they’re happy with Johnson. For now, I have Johnson on the practice squad, but I’m not so sure he’d want to stick around if the Lions cut him.
I considered going without a fullback here—with the Lions potentially just using Isaac Nauta in subpackages—but Bawden is still far better at that job than Nauta is.
Tight end (3)
Hunter Bryant (PS) Matt Sokol
Not much question here. The Lions didn’t bring in any serious competition at tight end, even though Hunter Bryant is likely the best undrafted rookie prospect the Lions grabbed. He’ll spend the year on the practice squad.
Wide receiver (5)
Marvin Jones Jr.
Chris Lacy (PS) Geremy Davis Travis Fulgham Geronimo Allison Tom Kennedy Victor Bolden
The top four wide receivers are as close to a lock as possible. That last spot, however, will likely be an intense battle between Hall, Chris Lacy and Travis Fulgham. Hall is the most proven of the bunch, bringing a deep-ball dimension of the offense that no one else on the team really provides.
Offensive line (9)
Joshua Garnett (PS) Oday Aboushi Russell Bodine Dan Skipper Matt Nelson Caleb Benenoch
The big question here is which player will serve as the backup center. Last year, it was Graham Glasgow, who is now in Denver. And their depth pieces from last year’s practice squad (Luke Bowanko and Leo Koloamatangi) are gone.
That’s where Benzschawel could earn his spot on the roster. He spent most of last season learning the center position as part of the scout team. Russell Bodine is also a candidate, but he spent a year out of football for a reason.
Although, I could see it just as likely the Lions stash Benzschawel on the practice squad, since there will be two extra spots on the squad in 2020 (10 to 12). There isn’t a lot of young depth besides Benzschawel, so the Lions could take a chance by trying to let him slip through waivers.
But practice squad eligibility rules have been relaxed, so I have Joshua Garnett slipping onto the squad, with Detroit hoping they can polish the former first-round talent.
Defensive line (6)
John Penisini (PS) Jashon Cornell (PS) Kevin Strong (PS) Jonathan Wynn Olive Sagapolu Frank Herron
Six isn’t a ton of defensive linemen to keep on the roster, so we’re stashing three on the practice squad here. The toughest decision here was John Penisini or John Atkins as the backup nose. I truly believe Penisini has a chance here, but the Lions also like Atkins a lot. There should be no hurry with Penisni, though, so the Lions will give him time to develop on the practice squad. Seventh-round pick Jashon Cornell joins him.
Reggie Ragland (PS) Anthony Pittman (PS) Miles Killebrew Elijah Lee Jason Cabinda Christian Sam
I think there could be some surprises here. Christian Jones, Jarrad Davis and Austin Bryant all shouldn’t feel completely safe, despite the fact that coaches have recently sung the praises of all three. Newly-added Reggie Ragland could challenge for a roster spot, but for now, I think they’re safe. Ragland falls to the practice squad, now being eligible once again.
The Lions brought back Jalen Reeves-Maybin in a somewhat surprising move, suggesting they value his special teams contributions more than I had originally believed.
Mike Ford (PS) Jamal Agnew Michael Jackson
With the Lions holding on to Jason Huntley, Agnew’s special teams contributions aren’t enough to keep him on the roster anymore. He hasn’t proven enough as a defensive player to warrant a spot on the team.
From there, it’s just a question of who the Lions like more on special teams units: Tony McRae, Dee Virgin, Mike Ford or Michael Jackson. Given new special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs, McRae has the leg up.
Jalen Elliott (PS) Bobby Price (PS) Jeremiah Dinson
The Lions look a little thin at the position after last year’s purge of talent. They like their starters, but they could use some more competition at the position.
Still, C.J. Moore was a solid special teams contributor last year, and Kearse has some playing experience to go along with special teams skills, so they land the two depth roles. Though it’s worth pointing out that Kearse could start the year on the suspended list, depending on discipline from the league due to a 2019 arrest.
Special teams (3)
K - Matt Prater
P - Jack Fox
LS - Don Muhlbach
Steven Wirtel Arryn Siposs
The Lions reportedly like Jack Fox a lot after a late 2019 workout. Though it will be fun to see how Aussie rules punter Arryn Siposs challenges him this offseason.