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2021 Detroit Lions depth chart: Pre-NFL Draft update

Updating the Lions depth chart ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft.

NFL: NFL Draft Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

As we prepare for the start of the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s a good idea to see how the Detroit Lions roster has changed through free agency and update it based on what we have learned about the team. While we have yet to see a single practice, coaches have been (relatively) forthcoming with the media about what concepts the offensive and defensive schemes will be based on, and our research has led us to a better understanding of how players will fit into those schemes.

At this stage in the offseason, an NFL roster can have up to 90 players on it, but the Lions currently have just 65 players signed. Let’s take a closer look at where those players fit on the depth chart—with the anticipated starters bolded.

Quarterback

  • Jared Goff
  • Tim Boyle
  • David Blough

The Lions seem poised to roll with Goff as the starter in 2021, but beyond that, it’s up in the air. Will the Lions target the quarterback of the future in this draft? Kick the can down the road? Or do they think they already have their guy?

Running back

  • D’Andre Swift — primary back
  • Jamaal Williams
  • Kerryon Johnson — third-down back

This is a nice trio, and the likely active game day backs, but depth is needed and these players can come via the draft or as undrafted free agents.

Fullback

  • Jason Cabinda
  • Nick Bawden

If the Lions keep a fullback, these two are the likely candidates.

Wide receiver

  • Tyrell Williams
  • Breshad Perriman
  • Quintez Cephus
  • Geronimo Allison
  • Damion Ratley

Slot receiver

  • Kalif Raymond
  • Tom Kennedy
  • Victor Bolden

Cephus is the only player signed beyond this season and the Lions could use some help via the draft rebuilding this room. It’s not at all surprising that receiver ranked No. 1 on Jeremy Reisman’s top needs list.

Tight end

  • T.J. Hockenson
  • Josh Hill
  • Alize Mack
  • Hunter Thedford

The release of Hunter Bryant with a non-football injury Wednesday stirred up the bottom of the tight end depth chart and the Lions could be looking at adding competition here late on the third day or in the undrafted pool of players.

Expected starting offensive line

  • LT — Taylor Decker
  • LG — Jonah Jackson
  • C — Frank Ragnow
  • RG — Hal Vaitai
  • RT — Tyrell Crosby

For now, this is expected to be the starting five that opens up mini-camp later this spring.

Reserve offensive line

  • LT – Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper
  • LG – Logan Stenberg
  • C – Evan Brown
  • RG – Logan Stenberg
  • RT – Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper

Depth is needed for this season and in the future and the Lions are expected to add talent early in the draft. This is also a spot where the Lions could add undrafted players as well as free agent veterans after the draft.

Interior defensive line

  • Michael Brockers — Defensive tackle (4i)
  • Trey Flowers — Defensive end (3/5T)
  • John Penisini — NT
  • Nick Williams — DT
  • Da’Shawn Hand — DL
  • Jashon Cornell — DL
  • Kevin Strong — DL
  • John Atkins — NT
  • Joel Heath — DT

Lions coach Dan Campbell has said they plan on modeling their defensive front off of the Los Angeles Rams’ defense and that means a defensive tackle, defensive end, and nose tackle. Early expectations are that Flowers would transition into the Aaron Donald role.

EDGE Rushers

  • Romeo Okwara
  • Julian Okwara
  • Austin Bryant
  • Charles Harris
  • Robert McCray

Right now the EDGE spot opposite Romeo is up for grabs but Julian has the skill set that best suits that role. Injury histories for Julian and Bryant, as well as production issues with Harris, could have the Lions looking to find a diamond in the rough here.

Off-the-ball linebacker

  • Jamie Collins — MIKE
  • Alex Anzalone — INSIDE
  • Jahlani Tavai
  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin
  • Anthony Pittman
  • Shaun Dion Hamilton

Is this where Tavai fits or would he be more likely to compete with Julian Okwara? Depth and future needs remain high here.

Cornerback

  • Jeff Okudah
  • Amani Oruwariye
  • Quinton Dunbar
  • Mike Ford

Nickel corner

  • Corn Elder

Not a bad start on the outside, but the Lions need competition in the slot and depth both inside and out. This is another position where the Lions should invest some of their draft capital.

Safety

  • Tracy Walker
  • Will Harris
  • Dean Marlowe
  • C.J. Moore
  • Bobby Price
  • Jalen Elliott
  • Godwin Igwebuike

Despite the number of bodies, finding a starter here remains a high priority. Expect the Lions to also invest a draft pick at safety—and likely someone who could start.

Kicking team

  • Jack Fox — punter, holder, kickoffs
  • Randy Bullock — kicker
  • Matthew Wright — kicker
  • Don Muhlbach — long snapper

The kicker battle looks like it is headed to training camp, but the veteran gets the nod for now. If the Lions add any bodies here they should come from the undrafted pool.

Kick/Punt returns

  • Kalif Raymond — kick and punt returns

This spot s very much up for grabs and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions draft a player capable of competing for these spots.

Kick coverage

  • Mike Ford — gunner
  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin — five-phase specialist
  • Jason Cabinda — five-phase specialist
  • Will Harris — five-phase specialist
  • C.J. Moore — Personal Protector (PP)

A five-phase specialist is a player who can fill a role on the kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage, as well as field-goal/extra-point block teams.