With 13 training camp practices and one preseason game completed, now is a good time to examine the Detroit Lions 90-players and project which 53 have an inside track for the regular-season roster.
This is the second version of my 53-man projection, so in addition to naming the front runners, I’ll also note any changes and give a brief explanation for my thinking. (You can view my first 53-man roster prediction here).
Let’s get started.
One of the final decisions I made in my projection was deciding if the Lions will keep three quarterbacks. I’m still not ready to say “yes” to that question, but in this COVID-19 environment, losing a quarterback could cripple a team that only keeps two on the active roster.
If the Lions opt for this strategy, they’ll surely want to get Blough onto the practice squad, but teams have tried to poach him before so there are no guarantees he gets there. Just this risk alone could be enough to justify keeping three.
Running backs (4)
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Dedrick Mills* Godwin Igwebuike Craig Reynolds Javon Leake
Reynolds burst onto the scene in the Lions' preseason opener, but he’ll have to be on the roster more than 48 hours before I am ready to move him too far up the depth chart. He’s earned some more looks, that’s for certain, but he still has a few players in his way, including Mills, who also looked solid in the game.
Wide receivers (6)
Amon-Ra St. Brown*
Tom Kennedy Chad Hansen Damion Ratley Geronimo Allison Sage Surratt* Javon McKinley* Darius Jennings
Change: Bolden IN, Ratley OUT
If the Lions are going to keep a third quarterback or an additional running back, it’ll likely be the wide receiver group that takes the hit. That’d be bad news for Bolden, who replaces Ratley from my 53-man projection 1.0.
Bolden is clearly the coaches’ preferred sixth option at receiver, but Hansen and Kennedy have slowly been closing the gap between them. Factor in Bolden’s rough performance in the game, and he is firmly back on the roster bubble.
Tight ends (3)
Brock Wright* Charlie Taumoepeau Hunter Thedford
Mack’s grip on the third tight end spot is getting looser and looser by the day. He still holds the biggest immediate potential among the reserves, but Wright and Taumoepeau are making their case. There are flaws in all their games and this decision will likely come down to which player possesses the best skill in an area the coaches believe the team is weak.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Taylor Decker - LT
Penei Sewell* - RT
Tyrell Crosby - Swing OT3/G
Matt Nelson - Swing OT4/G
Dan Skipper Darrin Paulo
Not only are Decker and Sewell solidified at starters, but Crosby and Nelson have shown the ability to play both tackle and guard, which could make them the top reserves on the offensive line regardless of position.
Frank Ragnow - C
Jonah Jackson - LG
Halapoulivaati Vaitai - RG
Logan Stenberg - reserve G
Evan Brown - reserve C/G
Tommy Kraemer* Evan Boehm Evan Heim
Ragnow, Jackson, and Vaitai are locked in, and while the rest of the interior reserves have struggled, Stenberg and Brown have shown the most promise. Kraemer is right on the fringe of making this a full-on competition, but he doesn't play center which means he either has to beat out Stenberg or convince the coaches to keep 10 offensive linemen.
Interior defensive line (6)
Alim McNeill* (NT)
John Penisini (NT)
Jashon Cornell (suspended) Kevin Strong Bruce Hector Miles Brown PJ Johnson Michael Barnett
Any way you cut it, there’s likely going to be at least one player from this group that gets released and ends up on another team's roster. Penisini’s injury could be a factor in whether or not he can hold onto his spot, as Cornell and Strong have been making noise and are legitimate candidates to bump him off the 53. Cornell’s three-game suspension buys coaches some time in making a decision on him, but Strong illustrated how he has expanded his skill set in the Lions game against the Buffalo Bills. Hector also impressed in the first preseason game, making him a player to keep an eye on.
Austin Bryant Robert McCray
It wasn’t clear why Harris didn’t play against the Bills, but with him not available, it opened the door for Bryant and McCray to make their case. Bryant, now healthy, has a legit shot of earning his way onto the 53, but he needs to show he can stay healthy the rest of the preseason before I’ll be ready to consider him here.
Shaun Dion Hamilton Anthony Pittman Tavante Beckett*
Collins and Anzalone are the clear starters. Barnes is the future. Reeves-Maybin is a special teams demon who will be incredibly hard to leave off the roster, and Tavai has consistently been the coaches’ preference as the team’s third option, nearly always the first off the bench.
But here’s the rub. Tavai’s skill set doesn't translate well to this scheme very easily and that showed up in spades on Friday against the Bills. He’ll still have time to rebound at practice and over the next two games, but Hamilton and Pittman have shown a lot of promise—and fit the scheme like a glove—which should have Tavai fans concerned.
Mike Ford (NB/CB)
Nickell Robey-Coleman (NB)
Corn Elder (NB)
Alex Brown Jerry Jacobs* A.J. Parker* (NB)
Changes: Robey-Coleman IN, Quinton Dunbar OUT
One offseason free agent out and a training camp free agent addition in. Beyond that, not much has changed. Jacobs and Parker have the coaches' attention but at this time they both feel like practice squaders. That being said, if Elder can’t get back from injury quickly, his spot could quickly become available.
Bobby Price (DB)
Jalen Elliott Alijah Holder
Yes, Price played outside corner in the first game but until I see him officially make a position I’m going to slot him at his natural safety spot. Regardless of where you list him, it’s his special teams play that is going to earn him a spot on the roster.
Special Teams (3)
P Jack Fox
K Randy Bullock
K Zane Gonzalez
LS Don Muhlbach
LS Scott Daly
Bullock attempted, and made, all three of the Lions’ field goal attempts in the first game, so it’s fair to say he’s in the lead for the kicker job at this time. Gonzalez will get his turn soon enough, but for now, he has ground to make up.