This is the third version of my Detroit Lions 53-man roster projection, and those fans looking for more changes than what we saw between my first and second articles, will (probably?) be happy with this update.
I should’ve noted this in my previous versions, but my projections are based on what I believe the organization will do as opposed to my personal preferences.
With that in mind, I didn’t believe there was much roster movement after their first preseason game, as coaches were getting their first taste of players in live action. But now, after the second preseason game, things appear to be settling down and changes are likely on the horizon.
“There’s some guys that maybe were counted out that have a chance of making this team. And then there’s some ones that maybe everybody thought was gonna make it and they’re not gonna make it,” Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said at his post-game press conference, per The Athletic’s Chris Burke.
Let’s get started.
Note: Asterisks indicate rookies
Changes: Blough IN
I’ve been close to pulling this trigger for a while now and with the COVID-19 rules currently in the league, it makes business sense to keep three options at quarterback. Additionally, Boyle has struggled in the preseason, and while the coaching staff is clearly giving him every opportunity to win the backup job, Blough has looked like the better option.
Running backs (4)
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Dedrick Mills* Godwin Igwebuike Craig Reynolds Javon Leake
Jefferson got the start last game with Swift and Williams resting and I still believe he has the inside track for the RB3 job. Mills, Igwebuike, and Reynolds are giving Jefferson a run for his money, but I believe Mills—despite being the only one of the group to not score a touchdown this preseason—still has a slight advantage if they decide to keep an RB4.
Wide receivers (5)
Amon-Ra St. Brown*
Tom Kennedy Victor Bolden Geronimo Allison Damion Ratley Javon McKinley* Sage Surratt* Darius Jennings
Change: Bolden OUT
After lighting up the spring and early portions of camp, Bolden has fallen from grace the last two weeks and dropped down the depth chart. At this stage, Kennedy appears to have a clearer path to the roster, but even he faces an uphill battle with the addition of a third quarterback.
With two pass-catching running backs and an elite tight end option, the Lions can afford to go lighter at a weaker position group like receiver.
Tight ends (3)
Mack and Wright continue to battle for TE3 but neither has seized the opportunity to lock up the position. The Lions’ coaches continue to put Mack on the field ahead of Wright, so therefore he gets the nod for the job—but it’s very much still a wide-open race.
Offensive Tackles (4)
Taylor Decker - LT
Penei Sewell* - RT
Tyrell Crosby - Swing OT3/G
Matt Nelson - Swing OT4/G
Dan Skipper Darrin Paulo
If Crosby can't get healthy before the opener, it could open the door for Skipper to land on the roster. For that to happen, here’s how it would likely work. Crosby would have to make the initial 53-man team and then be placed on injured reserve. This would force him to miss (at least) the first three weeks of the season, but he would be eligible to return (Note: if he went on IR before making the 53-man team he would not be eligible to return). That move would create an open roster space and that could be used on Skipper.
Frank Ragnow - C
Jonah Jackson - LG
Halapoulivaati Vaitai - RG
Logan Stenberg - reserve G
Evan Brown - reserve C/G
Tommy Kraemer* Evan Heim
Changes: Evan Boehm to IR
If the Lions believe Nelson can hold down the OT3 reserve role, and the Lions opted to take the above IR route with Crosby, that could open the door for an interior player to be added instead of Skipper. In this scenario, this could be an opportunity for Kraemer—or Stenberg if Kraemer beats him out, which is a battle not yet settled.
Interior defensive line (7)
Alim McNeill* (NT)
John Penisini (NT)
Jashon Cornell (suspended) Bruce Hector Miles Brown PJ Johnson
Changes: Strong IN
Brockers’ veteran rest is lingering, Williams got banged up in his only practice since returning from the COVID-19 list, Onwuzurike is being worked in slowly due to a college back injury, while Hand and Penisini are both currently injured. With injuries and plenty of talent to choose from, I’ve got the Lions playing it safe and opening the season with seven defensive linemen.
Even if the Lions were healthier, Strong and Hector have looked terrific in the preseason and each has earned a legitimate shot at making the roster. I’m leaning Strong for a DL7 spot, but even if they keep just six defensive linemen, he could still make a run at Penisini’s spot. So could Hector for that matter. This position group continues to present some difficult choices for the Lions’ decision-makers.
Austin Bryant Robert McCray Rashid Berry
I’m still on the fence between Harris and Bryant but I don’t think there is room for both. Unfortunately, neither has separated from the other at this stage.
Jahlani Tavai Anthony Pittman Tavante Beckett*
Changes: Tavai OUT, Shaun Dion Hamilton to IR
With the extra defensive linemen added, the linebacker group takes a hit but after the two preseason performances, this shouldn’t be surprising. Special teams will surely come into play, which is why Reeves-Maybin lands the LB4 role over Tavai—despite both struggling on defense.
The coaches have bent over backward to give Tavai opportunities, raving about his physical make-up and work ethic, but it just hasn’t translated to the field. At all. Don’t be surprised if the Lions are currently shopping Tavai, but if other teams have seen the Lions' preseason games, his value isn’t likely going to produce much in a trade.
Mike Ford (NB/CB)
A.J. Parker* (NB)
Nickell Robey-Coleman (NB)
Bobby Price (DB)
Corn Elder (NB) Jerry Jacobs*
Changes: Parker IN, Elder OUT
How about the rise of AJ Parker? After being absolutely toasted on the outside in Week 1 of training camp, he shifted inside and has gotten better at every opportunity. Parker was arguably one of the Lions’ best players last game and not only looks to have a solid shot at making the 53, but he could even be in line to start at nickel.
A victim of the injury bug, Elder could be a high-priority option for the practice squad.
Jalen Elliott Alijah Holder
Changes: Bobby Price switched from safety to corner
For better or for worse, not much has changed here.
Special Teams (3)
P Jack Fox
K Randy Bullock
K Zane Gonzalez
LS Scott Daly
Changes: Daly IN, Don Muhlbach OUT
Gonzalez has been on the Lions roster for both preseason games but has yet to attempt a field goal. This is Bullock’s job to lose.
Daly is in the driver's seat after Muhl’s departure (yeah, that still hurts to write), and with no competition to speak of, it would be surprising if he didn't make the 53-man roster.