In July, the league approved rule changes allowing teams to get more gameday value from their practice squads (PS). While the main provisions most people focus on are the increased PS size (up to 16 players) and permission to use two PS players as part of a gameday active roster, another change allows teams to “protect” four PS players each week:
NFL owners ratified increased practice squads of 16 players per team, source says. Four players on the practice squad can be protected from other teams on a weekly basis.— MarkMaske (@MarkMaske) July 24, 2020
As mentioned by our own Jeremy Reisman earlier this week, teams had to wait until Tuesday to designate their protected PS players:
Protected players: Prior to this year, if a player was on a practice squad, they could be “poached” by another team. In other words, another team can swoop in and sign another team’s practice squad player to their 53-man roster, as long as the player agrees to do so.
Teams are still allowed to do that in 2020, but the league is offering teams a little extra protection. A team can protect four players every week from being poached. Those players cannot sign to any other team’s 53-man roster.
But there is a catch here: Team cannot designate those four players until Tuesday. So from Monday until Tuesday’s designation deadline, no practice squad players are protected. We may see some early-week poaching from teams this year.
Today, the Lions announced their four protected players for Week 1:
The Lions' four protected practice squad players this week: QB David Blough, TE Isaac Nauta, CB Dee Virgin, RB Jonathan Williams— kyle meinke (@kmeinke) September 8, 2020
Each of these four players makes a lot of sense, given the current composition of the roster and how hard they would be to replace.
QB David Blough: Many of us thought Blough would make the initial 53-man roster because the risk of any one quarterback becoming unavailable due to COVID testing or even a regular injury carries heavier consequences. It is very difficult to bring in new quarterbacks who do not already know the system, and Blough has real game experience with the Detroit offense under coordinator Darrell Bevell. This makes him an extremely valuable member of the practice squad.
TE Isaac Nauta: In the case of Nauta, the fact the Lions only carried two healthy tight ends on their final 53-man roster makes quality tight end depth on the practice squad essential. Hunter Bryant, though he may someday become a contributor on the active roster, is unavailable due to injury for an indeterminate amount of time. Nauta, again, has a year under his belt learning as a member of the team, so he could be moved to gameday active status right away if necessary. That makes him very valuable to the team.
CB Dee Virgin: As we noted in our free agent analysis of your 2020 Name Bracket Champion, “no player on the entire Lions roster played more special teams snaps than Virgin (360). Per TeamRankings.com, Virgin finished with 10 special teams tackles (unofficial, which is why it doesn’t match the totals above), which ranked third on the team and 22nd in the entire NFL.” Knowing how much this team thinks about special teams, a young, quality high-effort guy who can produce in kick coverage like Virgin is one they will try to keep around.
RB Jonathan Williams: When the Lions signed All Day to take a spot on the active roster, the team’s official position was that it had nothing to do with injuries the position group was dealing with (despite placing Bo Scarbrough on injured reserve as the offsetting move). Aside from Peterson, Williams is probably the best straight power option among the running backs now that Scarbrough is unavailable for at least three weeks. After the Eagles claimed Jason Huntley off waivers, the Lions were left with Williams as the lone ball-carrier the team could bring back to the practice squad. Given D’Andre Swift’s injury, the team cannot afford to lose another running back at this time.