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Grading the Detroit Lions 2020 roster, position by position

An analytical look at the Lions’ roster and depth.

Dallas Cowboys v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Now that the roster tinkering after the 53-man cutdown is mostly over—though I doubt Bob Quinn is entirely done—it’s time to take a critical look at the Detroit Lions’ roster. It looks a lot different than it did last year, but different doesn’t always mean better.

And given the circumstances of this football season, it’s not just about the starters on the Lions roster. The depth of an NFL team may be more important than ever. With a shortened offseason, injuries could see an increase this year, and, of course, there’s always the looming threat of COVID-19.

So this roster evaluation will go well past the starters. In fact, I’ll be grading the team’s depth based not only the backups, but the practice squad members that could be promoted to the active roster at any point this offseason. Additionally, any player on a reserve list (injured/PUP/suspended) who is eligible to return is included in the evaluation.

Quarterbacks

53-man roster: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel
Practice squad: David Blough

Starter grade: A-
Depth: D+

Matthew Stafford is just outside the top tier of quarterbacks in the NFL right now, and if he can repeat last year’s performance for a full season, we may be able to even have that conversation.

As for the depth, Chase Daniel is only there to be an additional quarterbacks coach. David Blough looked solid in training camp, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him the reins if Stafford has another injury issue.

Running backs

53-man roster: Adrian Peterson, D’Andre Swift, Kerryon Johnson, Ty Johnson, Jason Cabinda (FB)
Practice squad: Jonathan Williams
IR: Bo Scarbrough

Starter grade: B+
Depth: A-

On paper, this looks like a pretty solid lineup of running backs, but there are enough questions for me to be hesitant to crown this position group. Adrian Peterson is 35. D’Andre Swift and Kerryon Johnson have injury concerns. Ty Johnson’s rookie year was uneventful until Week 17 and Jason Cabinda has never been a full-time fullback.

I have some faith that a combination of these players could work together to form a pretty solid running back by committee—hence the solid depth grade—but I don’t know if the Lions can trust in one, or even two, of these guys individually.

Tight ends

53-man roster: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Hunter Bryant
Practice squad: Isaac Nauta

Starter grade: C+
Depth: F

I really believe T.J. Hockenson could establish himself as a top-10 tight end by the end of the season. But until I actually see it, I’m not ready to crown him.

The depth here is just bad. As much as I’d like to see a big Jesse James turnaround this year, nothing about what I saw in training camp suggests that may actually happen. I know the coaching staff is resolute in getting him more involved, but with so many mouths to feed on offense, I just don’t see it.

Meanwhile, undrafted rookie Hunter Bryant is injured, and Isaac Nauta hasn’t proven anything. If T.J. Hockenson were to suffer an injury—and, remember, he’s recovering from a severe ankle injury—this group would be decimated.

Wide receivers

53-man roster: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr., Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall, Quintez Cephus, Jamal Agnew,
Practice squad: Victor Bolden, Tom Kennedy

Starter grade: A-
Depth: A

One of the best receiving trios from 2019 returns this year. After leading the NFL in touchdowns last year, Kenny Golladay could realistically take another step in his fourth season. And while Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola have likely seen their best days pass, they are both contributing at a high level.

The depth, too, is better than it’s ever been. Marvin Hall brings a deep threat that Stafford has no problem targeting. Quintez Cephus is a fifth-round rookie that already looks like he belongs. And Jamal Agnew offers confidence in case Amendola suffers an injury.

And while it’s unlikely Victor Bolden or Tom Kennedy ever see much time this year, those are nice developmental projects for the future.

Offensive tackles

53-man roster: Taylor Decker, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson
Practice squad: N/A

Starter grade: C+
Depth: C-

Taylor Decker just got paid, and rightfully so. He may just be the most underrated player on this team. However, Halapoulivaati Vaitai is a significant risk. He’s never been a full-time starter and his pass protection looks like it needs work. Maybe he can make up for it with some run blocking, but with all the ridiculous pass rushers in the NFC North, I’m concerned.

Tyrell Crosby is a nice swing tackle, but Matt Nelson—just a year from transitioning from defense—is an unknown commodity.

Offensive guard/center

53-man roster: Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Oday Aboushi
Practice squad: Beau Benzschawel, Kenny Wiggins

Starter grade: C+
Depth: C+

Frank Ragnow is already establishing himself as a top-tier center, but the players on each side of him are big question marks. Joe Dahl had an average season last year. And while third-round rookie Jonah Jackson looked good in training camp, he’s bound to go through some first-year struggles at some point.

The Lions are doing alright in the depth department. Veterans Kenny Wiggins and Oday Aboushi provide starting experience that could be helpful in an injury situation. Meanwhile, Beau Benzschawel returns as the backup center and developmental project.

Defensive line

53-man roster: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Da’Shawn Hand, Nick Williams, Danny Shelton, John Penisni
Practice squad: Jonathan Wynn, Frank Herron, Kevin Strong

Starter grade: D+
Depth: D-

I want to believe that Danny Shelton and Nick Williams can be a significant improvement from Damon Harrison Sr. and Mike Daniels, but I just can’t. Williams has only had one good season, and Shelton hasn’t regularly played more than 50 percent of snaps in four years. Da’Shawn Hand could be in for a big resurgence in his career, but until he can prove he can stay on the field, I remain skeptical.

Romeo Okwara is the best depth piece they have. It is too early to expect much from sixth-round rookie John Penisini as the backup nose. And the practice squad is full of players that just aren’t ready to be in the gameday lineup.

Linebackers

53-man roster: Jamie Collins Sr., Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Jahlani Tavai, Julian Okwara, Reggie Ragland, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Elijah Lee
Practice squad: Anthony Pittman
PUP: Austin Bryant

Starter grade: D+
Depth: A-

This is a weird one. Outside of Jamie Collins Sr., I don’t like the starters here (presumably, Collins, Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones). Davis has been given more than enough chances and Christian Jones doesn’t inspire any more confidence at jack linebacker than Devon Kennard did last year.

However, I actually like the depth pieces quite a bit. Julian Okwara could be a nice situational pass rusher in his rookie season. Jahlani Tavai may be the starting mike linebacker by the end of the season. Reggie Ragland is a veteran piece that can backup any linebacker position. Meanwhile, Jalen Reeves-Maybin is the team’s best cover linebacker and special teams player.

The good news here is that I expect all of the Lions’ depth pieces to play some sort of role on defense this year. So don’t be surprised if the starters are on a short leash.

Cornerbacks

53-man roster: Jeff Okudah, Desmond Trufant, Amani Oruwariye, Justin Coleman, Tony McRae, Darryl Roberts
Practice squad: Dee Virgin
IR: Mike Ford

Starter grade: B+
Depth: A-

If all goes well, the Lions’ top corners could be elite. Jeff Okudah’s talent is undeniable. Desmond Trufant is a veteran that can still play. Amani Oruwariye already appears to have made a significant Year 2 jump after logging two interceptions last year. And Justin Coleman is looking to bounce back after a rough finish to 2019.

Additionally, the Lions have legitimate options on the bench. Darryl Roberts was a starter for the past two seasons, Tony McRae can decently play the slot while providing great special teams skills, and whoever doesn’t start between Okudah and Oruwariye will be a safe option on the bench.

Safeties

53-man roster: Tracy Walker, Duron Harmon, Will Harris, C.J. Moore, Miles Killebrew
Practice squad: Jalen Elliott, Bobby Price
Suspended list: Jayron Kearse

Starter grade: B+
Depth: D

The combination of Tracy Walker and Duron Harmon could be one of the best in the league if it all comes together as planned. Walker is due for a Year 3 breakout, while Harmon has quietly been a key member of the Patriots secondary for the past few years.

Unfortunately, there’s not much beyond them. Will Harris struggled last year, and I’m not too confident he’s ready to take a big jump. C.J. Moore and Miles Killebrew are essentially just special teamers. Meanwhile undrafted rookies Jalen Elliott and Bobby Price better stay on the practice squad all year for the Lions’ own good.

Jayron Kearse is the one solid option for depth here, but he’ll miss the first three games with a suspension.

Specialists

53-man roster: K Matt Prater, P Jack Fox, LS Don Muhlbach
Practice squad: P Arryn Siposs, LS Steven Wirtel

Starter grade: B
Depth: Existent

Prater is good. Muhlbach is good. I don’t know if Jack Fox is good.

The Lions have both a punter and a long snapper on their practice squad. I don’t know if either is good.