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2020 Detroit Lions Bubble Watch: Predicting defensive player cuts

A look at the players firmly on the defensive roster bubble.

NFL: AUG 21 Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Monday, we examined the offensive players on the Detroit Lions roster bubble entering the ramp-up period of training camp this year. Today, we shift our focus to the defense.

This side of the ball has gone through a lot more turnover in the past few months, and that could mean a lot of the guys that managed to squeeze their way onto the roster last year may not be as lucky this time around.

Aside from a big roster turnover, the addition of two new coordinators could have a big impact on roster decisions. Defensive coordinator Cory Undlin may say that he’s on the same page as head coach Matt Patricia, but he’ll undoubtedly have a different perspective as well. And don’t forget the addition of special team coordinator Brayden Coombs; special teams plays a huge part in the final roster spots, and that means Coombs’ voice will carry a lot of weight to general manager Bob Quinn come the end of camp.

So with all of that in mind, here’s our predictions for the Detroit Lions roster bubble on defense.

2020 Detroit Lions Bubble Watch: Defense

Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Andrew Kato Mansur Shaheen John Whiticar In Total
Player Jeremy Reisman Ryan Mathews Mike Payton Hamza Alex Reno Andrew Kato Mansur Shaheen John Whiticar In Total
DT John Penisini IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8
DT Kevin Strong IN OUT OUT OUT OUT IN IN OUT 3
DE Jashon Cornell OUT IN IN IN OUT OUT OUT IN 4
LB Austin Bryant IN IN IN IN OUT OUT IN IN 6
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 8
LB Reggie Ragland IN IN IN IN IN IN OUT OUT 6
LB Miles Killebrew OUT OUT IN IN IN IN IN IN 6
CB Darryl Roberts IN IN IN OUT OUT IN IN OUT 5
CB Dee Virgin OUT OUT OUT OUT IN OUT OUT OUT 1
CB Tony McRae IN IN OUT IN IN OUT OUT IN 5
CB Mike Ford OUT OUT IN OUT OUT IN OUT IN 3
S Jayron Kearse IN IN IN IN IN OUT IN OUT (SUSP.) 6
S Bobby Price OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0

Somewhat safe (6-8 in votes)

DT John Penisini (8 votes) - After John Atkins opted out and Daylon Mack failed his physical, the path seems to have cleared for the Lions’ sixth-round pick to slide into that backup nose tackle position, despite being a rookie. At this point, Olive Sagapolu is his only competition, and he has just as little experience at the pro level.

LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (8 votes) - The linebacker room is a little more crowded with the additions of Jamie Collins Sr. and Reggie Ragland, but the staff is still confident that Reeves-Maybin’s special teams contributions will land him a roster spot.

LB Austin Bryant (6 votes) - The staff is a little less confident in Bryant’s place on the roster, despite just being a year removed from being drafted in the fourth round. Quinn has said specifically that he expects more out of Bryant this year, but starting training camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list is not a good start on Year 2 after an injury-riddled rookie season.

LB Reggie Ragland (6 votes) - Ragland is a versatile linebacker with a lot of experience, and those are two things that have to make Patricia very happy. He’ll face a learning curve in Detroit, though, having little experience in this defense. However, former Crimson Tide defenders seem to transition fairly well into this scheme.

LB Miles Killebrew (6 votes) - You can see just how competitive the linebacker position will be in camp, as the converted safety is also in the mix here. Like Reeves-Maybin, Killebrew’s best attribute is his special teams skills (no one played more special teams snaps than him last year), but will that be enough to warrant a roster spot this year?

S Jayron Kearse (6 votes) - I should clarify here, because I’m not sure it was clear to the staff about his inclusion here. Kearse has been suspended for the first three games of the 2020 season, meaning if he “makes” the team, he’ll actually start the season on the Reserve/Suspended list. So he won’t technically “make” the team, because he won’t be on the 53-man roster. However, there is a possibility he still gets cut if the Lions decide he isn’t worth the trouble. I meant this to be a suspended vs. cut decision, and based on the results, most seem to believe he’ll safely make it onto the Suspended List.

50/50 shot (3-5 votes)

CB Darryl Roberts (5 votes) - The cornerback depth battle is one to keep an eye on, as the Lions will have to make some really tough decisions. Among the depth options, Roberts seems the most safe simply because he has a good amount of experience both as a starting cornerback (26 starts) and as a special teamer.

CB Tony McRae (5 votes) - McRae, though, may have an edge that no other secondary member has. He has direct experience under Lions new special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs. McRae has logged over 400 special teams snaps in the past two years with the Bengals, where Coombs served as the assistant special teams coach. He even started a couple games on defense last year, so cornerback play is not completely foreign to him either at the NFL level.

DT Kevin Strong (3 votes) - Last year, Strong played quite a bit—likely due to Da’Shawn Hand’s absence. But with a healthy Hand, an incoming Nick Williams and even seventh-round pick Jashon Cornell, the competition will be much more stiff for Strong this year.

DE Jashon Cornell (4 votes) - There’s never any guarantee that a seventh-round draft pick makes the roster their first season. Oftentimes, they’re perfect fits for the practice squad, and that may be especially true in a shortened offseason like the one the Lions are facing right now. Cornell had a fantastic senior season in Ohio State, but was just a role player prior to 2019. He may need time to grow at the NFL level.

CB Mike Ford (3 votes) - Ford has started six games over the past two years in Patricia’s defense, which could give him a leg up. However, his play has been a bit inconsistent. Luckily for Ford, he committed to a huge role on special teams last year, and that gives him a fighting chance for one of the last roster spots in the secondary.

Work to do (0-2 votes)

CB Dee Virgin (1 vote) - Speaking of huge special teams roles, no one played more on that unit than Dee Virgin last year. But with the addition of all these other cornerbacks with special teams experience, it seems like Detroit may not be willing to keep someone as inexperienced as Virgin (1 career defensive snap) on the roster. He’ll have to prove his defensive worth in camp.

S Bobby Price (0 votes) - Although the suspension of Jayron Kearse could open up a temporary roster spot at safety, our staff isn’t quite ready to give that spot to undrafted rookie Bobby Price. The Norfolk State product has extremely alluring athletic traits, but coming from a small school will likely work against him here.