2020 has already been the most unique year in recent memory, and its impact on the sport of football will be felt for decades. With no preseason, we’re not going to have the same opportunity to see lesser known players get their shot to make the final roster. Restricted information from training camp means we won’t even know who is getting opportunities to fight for a roster spots.
Projecting the roster becomes simultaneously tougher than ever and easy as pie. Draft picks? Probably on, that’s investment. Veteran free agent signings? Probably not going to lose their spot. At the same time, with two new coordinators and a somewhat different approach on offense we have no clue how the team values the players as a whole. It’s not going to prevent us from taking a crack at it, though, so here we go!
Pretty easy one here. This is your starting QB and your backup for at least the next two years due to the contract they handed Chase Daniel. You can just write that in sharpie and save time. David Blough doesn’t offer much in developmental potential, but he may land on the practice squad just so the Lions have a backup in place should the season tank like last year with Stafford going down.
Ty Johnson Wes Hills
The starting pair is pretty easy to pick in the running back group with Kerryon Johnson starting the season healthy and D’Andre Swift drawing the investment of a second-round pick. After that, I think fans will be pleasantly surprised with how quickly rookie fifth-round pick Jason Huntley acclimates to the offense and pulls snaps. Bo Scarbrough will get some snaps occasionally, but given this group’s injury history there are probably names not listed here that will see snaps before the season ends just like we saw in 2019. Unfortunately, we can’t turn the injury slider down in real life.
If we weren’t staring at a year with no preseason and limited camp and prep time, I think undrafted rookie fullback and film junkie Luke Sellers would have a fair chance of making the roster this season. Though the team likes Nick Bawden, injuries and ineffectiveness have defined his limited time in the NFL, and the team would likely move on if Sellers had a strong enough showing. With everything going on, this is likely just going to be a case of who knows the scheme better and Bawden has a (currently healthy) leg up.
Hunter Bryant Matt Sokol
Bryant would have had a pretty good chance of knocking off second-year tight end Isaac Nauta if the team had a preseason for him to command targets. But without any preseason games, it’s more likely going to come down to blocking ability and versatility. Nauta is able to play H-back immediately in this scheme and has more experience with the staff, so I think he gets the edge. It’s still a very weak group as a whole; if the team were to try upgrading any position group before the season actually starts, this is an easy choice.
The Lions presently have five tackles, but I think only four of them make the final roster. I think they could stand to upgrade both backup spots; it’s another position the team might have looked at pulling in additional bodies if there was more camp time to evaluate them. Tyrell Crosby is a serviceable fill-in for limited action, but this group as a whole is pretty risky. Nelson is a converted defensive lineman (likely landing on the practice squad) while Skipper is barely rosterable, so this is a unit where the team really cannot afford to have any injuries in 2020.
Interior Offensive Line
Josh Garnett Beau Benzschawel Caleb Benenoch Russell Bodine
As much as the team likes to talk about versatility, I think they go heavy on their interior line mostly because they have too much unproven talent at the position and will need to shuffle things around quite a bit as the season goes on. This is especially true with no preseason, and I suspect that Joe Dahl will get the starting nod at left guard in Week 1 along with one of the other veterans (Kenny Wiggins or Oday Aboushi) on the right side. That will change when Jonah Jackson is up to speed and/or (if the stars align) Logan Stenberg impresses early, but Matt Patricia is generally risk averse and likely to revive everyone’s favorite guard rotation for about, oh, 16 games before the line is set.
Marvin Jones Jr.
Geronimo Allison Chris Lacy Jamal Agnew Tom Kennedy Geremy Davis Victor Bolden
Wide receiver is one of the only position groups that doesn’t have many question marks around it. The starting trio are locked in and game day depth spots probably are as well. Marvin Hall provides a deep threat the team liked to play around with, and more importantly found success with. Quintez Cephus was a draft pick, and while that wouldn’t guarantee a spot in most years, he’s probably safe with how limited the team’s preparation time has been this season.
I think the team goes heavy on receivers despite the talk about more two tight end sets because they quite simply lack the tight ends to do that. On the other hand, the Lions actually have a group of receivers who are both willing blockers and generally good at it. Jamal Agnew’s wide receiver conversion is a fun story, but the addition of Jason Huntley likely renders his special teams time at an end.
Defensive End (and Jack)
Jonathan Wynn Austin Bryant
The starters are locked in, and I think Julian Okwara starts either fairly early or day one. 2019 fourth-round pick Austin Bryant hasn’t been able to stay healthy and his limited playing time showed pretty much every pre-draft concern about him was valid. Bob Quinn isn’t shy about dropping a mid-round pick if they don’t provide value early in their career, and the selection of Okwara puts Austin Bryant pretty firmly on the bubble. Otherwise, there’s not much controversy here, with solid starters who would not have faced much competition even if we had a full camp and preseason.
Defensive Tackle (and Nose)
Kevin Strong Frank Herron Olive Sagapolu
This coaching staff loves them some nose tackles and, unlike most teams, tends to carry more than one on the roster. Danny Shelton is pretty locked in to start at nose with John Penisini and John Atkins backing him up. Nick Williams was paid like someone they want having a big role so let’s hope his single productive season is more indicative of what he can do than what preceded it. I think it would have been really fun to see Jashon Cornell, Kevin Strong, and Frank Herron battle it out for that last spot, but with no preseason the draft pick gets the nod.
Jamie Collins Sr.
Reggie Ragland Elijah Lee Anthony Pittman Christian Sam Jason Cabinda
Considering this was the team’s weakest unit in 2019 (and probably the weakest in the NFL), just adding Jamie Collins was not enough, and I’m hopeful this unit gets some attention during cut downs. The extension of Christian Jones likely locks him onto the roster. When it came down to the last spot between Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Reggie Ragland, neither are likely to get much playing time so it’s a special teams consideration. I’d like to see the team go heavy at linebacker given how bad the unit as a whole is, but that’s also why I couldn’t justify it.
Mike Jackson Tony McRae Darryl Roberts Dee Virgin
The first four spots are pretty simple and took all of three seconds to lock in, maybe less since I type fast. The last spot, and the decision to keep only five corners, came down to preparation. Ford has had moments where he looked like he could develop into a spot player and while he lacks the special teams ability of Virgin or McRae, I think the team more than makes up for that elsewhere on the roster.
Miles Killebrew Bobby Price Jeremiah Dinson
The Lions love to use three safeties in their defensive scheme and I doubt that changes with the addition of a first-time defensive coordinator. The top three (and arguably the top four) are all locked in, so there wasn’t much hand-wringing over those. The last spot came down to special teams contributions. While Killebrew has experience and talent in that area, I think the team moves forward with C.J. Moore in that role. New special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs is likely familiar with (and thinks highly of) Moore’s special teams work, and there’s a lot to mold there.
Arryn Siposs Steven Wirtel
Don Muhlbach is going to be gone eventually, but with no preseason and limited camp you can probably safely assume it won’t be this year. Prater is the kicker and frankly it doesn’t matter which punter wins because neither are overly impressive. Fox got the nod because he’s significantly younger and there’s at least a chance of there being some untapped potential there.
With strengths at wide receiver, cornerback, and safety, this roster doesn’t have too many holes at starting positions. That said, the depth at most positions is razor thin and the margin of error this team has for injuries is non-existent. The group has the talent to force itself into playoff consideration even coming off a three-win season, but I’m not convinced it has the durability and depth to sustain a late-season push.
Even after losing Stafford in 2019, the team was still able to hold their own in most games. However, an excruciatingly conservative gameday approach often doomed the team to keeping scores close, but not much else. Can they do more than just play “competitively” in 2020? Perhaps turn close losses into wins, or put up leads on weaker opponents consistently?