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2021 Detroit Lions post-draft, 53-man roster prediction

An early look at how the roster could look at season’s start.

NFL: AUG 06 Lions - Patriots Joint Training Camp Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After adding 13 undrafted rookies on Monday, the Detroit Lions’ roster is up to 85 players. While the Lions are almost assuredly going to add five more to get them to the limits of a 90-player roster, let’s look further ahead. By the end of August, this roster—plus any additions made before then—will have to be cut down to the 53-man limit prior to Week 1 of the regular season.

Obviously, that roster is far away from being determined. Not a single one of these players has practiced in a football capacity yet, and training camp will likely weed out some of these players.

But to get a sense of what the Lions roster may look like this year, let’s take an early crack at it and see what the 53-man team could look like this summer.

Quarterbacks (2)

Jared Goff
Tim Boyle
David Blough

To help guide me through this prediction, I referenced both the Rams’ and Saints’ 53-man rosters in the past, seeing as those rosters will most likely resemble what the Lions are trying to do. When it came to quarterback, one team kept two last year (Rams) and the other kept three (Saints). Considering the lack of depth elsewhere right now, I decided to save the roster spot and promote Boyle to backup.

Running backs (4)

D’Andre Swift
Jamaal Williams
Kerryon Johnson
Jermar Jefferson (R)
Rakeem Boyd (UDFA)
Dedrick Mills (UDFA)

Jason Cabinda (FB)
Nick Bawden (FB)

Last year, the Rams, Chargers (Anthony Lynn), and Saints all kept just three running backs on their initial 53-man roster. So we’re just going to roll with that, plus a fullback. The top three have been set since training camp, and while the Lions added three rookies via the draft and undrafted free agency, all three have a tall hill to hike.

Wide receivers (6)

Tyrell Williams
Breshad Perriman
Amon-Ra St. Brown (R)
Quintez Cephus
Javon McKinley (UDFA)
Kalif Raymond
Tom Kennedy
Damion Ratley
Victor Bolden
Geronimo Allison
Jonathan Adams Jr. (UDFA)
Sage Surratt (UDFA)

This is a position that likely won’t be decided until late in camp. Detroit’s top three are likely set in Williams, Perriman, and St. Brown, but anything can happen after that. I think Cephus has enough skill to keep around even though his skill set is somewhat similar to fourth-round pick St. Brown. McKinley was given $100,000 guaranteed as a UDFA, which means Detroit likes him a lot. And I have Kalif Raymond making the squad simply for what he adds in the return game.

Tight ends (3)

T.J. Hockenson
Josh Hill
Alize Mack
Hunter Thedford
Jake Hausmann (UDFA)
Brock Wright (UDFA)

With Hunter Bryant on the reserve/NFI list, the Lions will need to find a new TE3. They brought in two undrafted rookies to contend, but I’m giving the edge here to Alize Mack, who has a history with head coach Dan Campbell. That’s enough to give him the early edge.

Offensive tackles (4)

Taylor Decker
Penei Sewell (R)
Tyrell Crosby
Matt Nelson
Dan Skipper

This feels pretty straightforward. The Lions have two top-tier starters, a solid backup swing in Crosby, and even Matt Nelson looked comfortable in a replacement role last year. Nowhere is Detroit’s roster stronger than at offensive tackle.

Guards/Centers (5)

Frank Ragnow
Jonah Jackson
Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Logan Stenberg
Drake Jackson (UDFA)
Evan Brown
Tommy Kraemer (UDFA)

On the other hand, the Lions have some work to do at the interior spots. The starting crew isn’t bad in Jackson-Ragnow-Vaitai, but in this scenario, the Lions only have two backup interior offensive linemen. One is a second-year player who didn’t play an offensive snap last year, and the other is an undrafted rookie. Expect the Lions to add some depth here soon.

Defensive line (10)

Trey Flowers
Romeo Okwara
Julian Okwara
Michael Brockers
Levi Onwuzurike (R)
Alim McNeill (R)
Nick Williams
Da’Shawn Hand
Austin Bryant
Charles Harris
John Penisini
Joel Heath
Robert McRay
John Atkins
Jashon Cornell
Kevin Strong

Ten seems like a lot of defensive linemen to keep—and it is—but Detroit will have to make some tough decisions here. They’ve heavily invested in this position this offseason—re-signing Romeo Okwara, trading for Michael Brockers, signing Charles Harris, and drafting both Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill on Day 2 of the draft.

It’s a deep group, and it means Detroit will be letting go of some playable talent. For now, I have John Penisini on the outside looking in—McNeill provides more of what the Lions will want out of a nose tackle going forward. But I would put Da’Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant, and Charles Harris all on notice, as well.

Linebackers (5)

Jamie Collins Sr.
Alex Anzalone
Derrick Barnes (R)
Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Jahlani Tavai
Shaun Dion-Hamilton
Anthony Pittman
Tavante Beckett (UDFA)

The linebacking corps is pretty thin here, but it’s important to remember that Detroit may only be starting two off-ball linebackers in their base defense. That leaves Jamie Collins and Alex Anzalone as your clear starters. Derrick Barnes and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are playable depth. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure what happens with Jahlani Tavai. I feel like he’s getting a bit of an unfair rap from Lions fans—he has enough talent to play in this league—but he just doesn’t seem like a schematic fit. It’s certainly possible he gets cut for someone like Shaun Dion-Hamilton, who has playing experience at the NFL level, but I think Detroit may still want to find a role for him.

Cornerbacks (6)

Jeff Okudah
Amani Oruwariye
Ifeatu Melifonwu (R)
Quinton Dunbar
Corn Elder
Mike Ford
Jerry Jacobs (UDFA)
AJ Parker (UDFA)

The Lions are setting up for a great camp competition at outside cornerback. Okudah, Oruwariye, Dunbar, and third-round rookie Melifonwu are all capable of winning a starting job this year, although Melifonwu probably has the longest odds.

The picture at nickel is much more worrisome. At this point, Elder is the projected starter by default. However, Elder only has a half-season of playing experience on defense, so expect Detroit to do some more work here.

Safeties (5)

Tracy Walker
Will Harris
Dean Marlowe
C.J. Moore
Bobby Price
Jalen Elliott
Godwin Igwebuike
D’Angelo Amos (UDFA)

The trio of Walker/Harris/Marlowe is clearly the top three in this group, and theoretically the only ones who see time on defense this year. However, the Lions have a pair of promising special teamers in Moore and Price.

The starting group has plenty of questions, though, as both Walker and Harris are coming off a poor season, and Marlowe has started just seven career games in his six-year career. This is another position in which it seems likely the Lions will address before camp.

Specialists (3)

K Randy Bullock
K Matthew Wright

P Jack Fox

LS Don Muhlbach

Bullock gets the nod over Wright simply due to experience. Bullock may not have the power that Matt Prater brought last year, but he’s fairly consistent and reliable from 45 yards or shorter.

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