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11 jobs up for grabs in the Detroit Lions’ preseason finale

A closer look at the jobs that will be on the line Friday night against the Colts.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Detroit Lions head coach Dan Campbell told the media that about 80 percent of the Lions’ 53-man roster has already been decided. So if you do the math, that means there are around 10 or 11 spots still to be determined this weekend.

Friday night’s game against the Indianapolis Colts will be the final opportunity for these bubble players to make an impression on the coaching staff and Detroit’s front office. Ball out at Ford Field, and some of these players could lock up not only a roster spot, but a contributing role. Struggle against the Colts and it could mean landing in a new city, slipping to the practice squad, or... well, something worse.

Myself (Jeremy Reisman) and Erik Schlitt identified 11 jobs we believe are on the line on Friday night and gave our thoughts on where each roster battle currently stands.

QB2

Locks: Jared Goff
The contenders: David Blough, Tim Boyle
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Even
  • Erik: Even

Jeremy: Both Erik and I agree that the Lions will likely keep three quarterbacks on the roster, but the backup job remains on the line Friday night. I expect Blough to get the first opportunity to impress against the Colts, and if he can do well against Indianapolis’ primary backups, he could lock up the job. Still, I think Boyle has been just as good at Blough during practice, so last week’s preseason performance may not have buried him as far as fans believe.

RB3

Locks: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams
The contenders: Jermar Jefferson, Dedrick Mills, Godwin Igwebuike, Craig Reynolds
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Jefferson
  • Erik: Jefferson

Erik: Since the moment camp opened, Jefferson has gotten the first opportunity to carry the rock behind Swift and Williams. An ankle injury and tougher competition during the preseason has kept him off some fans’ radars, but he has looked shifty and decisive in practices, which gives him an edge for me.

WR 4, 5, 6(?)

Locks: Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond
The contenders: Quintez Cephus, Breshad Perriman, Tom Kennedy, Javon McKinley,
The current favorites:

  • Jeremy: Cephus, Kennedy
  • Erik: Cephus, Perriman

Jeremy: Interesting that we both only have five wide receiver spots, but I guess that makes sense when it’s one of the weakest points on your roster. I flipped on Perriman and Kennedy mid-week, simply because the coaching staff has been raving about him, and I find it really hard to justify keeping Perriman. He just hasn’t earned his spot on the roster. It does leave the Lions vulnerable at outside receiver, but good coaches find a way to get good players on the field. Perriman is not a good player right now.

Erik: Jeremy’s right, Perriman looks bad right now, but his combination of size and speed will keep defenses honest on the outside and that may be enough in this scheme. Yes, Kennedy is more reliable, and coaches “trust” him right now, which gives him a legitimate shot, but I’m not convinced that they’re willing to give up on Perriman just yet.

TE3

Locks: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
The contenders: Alize Mack, Brock Wright
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Mack
  • Erik: Mack

Erik: Like with Jefferson at running back, Mack has been the preferred option off the bench all camp. He has a lot of intangibles in the passing game and the larger upside of the two competitors, which gives him the early edge. Here’s the rub. He’s also looked bad enough that even if he makes the initial 53-man roster, he could still be vulnerable to be replaced if he doesn’t make some big strides in his blocking and special teams contributions.

OL 8, 9

Locks: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson,
The contenders: Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg, Tommy Kraemer, Evan Heim
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Brown, Stenberg
  • Erik: Brown, Stenberg

Jeremy: I think Brown is as close to a lock as he can be as the team’s backup center, but look out for Evan Heim. Campbell sure made it sound like he’ll get a long look at center on Friday, after sitting out all of preseason Game 2.

“There were a number of guys we certainly want to get more reps like Evan Heim and (Darrin) Paulo on the O-line.”

That final OL spot is likely between Stenberg and Kraemer, and I think Stenberg has shown the most improvement in camp, but I believe that could change on Friday.

EDGE 4

Locks: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara
The contenders: Austin Bryant, Charles Harris
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Bryant
  • Erik: Even

Jeremy: I had this roster battle as even just a few days ago, but the thing that sent me over the edge was Campbell’s comments prior to the final training camp practice. When asked if there were any players that were better than he expected in camp, he pointed to Bryant specifically.

“He’s been pretty impressive. I think this guy’s really got a high ceiling and can continue to grow. I think he’s even twitchier than I thought he was.”

That tipped the scales for me.

Erik: Yeah that quote was very telling and it may have tipped the scales slightly towards Bryant for me as well—just not enough for me to be as bold as Jeremy.

DT 5, 6, 7(?)

Locks: Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike
The contenders: John Penisini, Kevin Strong, Bruce Hector, Da’Shawn Hand
The current favorites:

  • Jeremy: Penisini, Hand
  • Erik: Hand, Penisini

Jeremy: Earlier this week, I had Penisini out in Bubble Watch after missing too much time to injury. However, he has since returned and immediately made an impression. Hand is a really tough call, because it’s hard to trust him, and players like Kevin Strong and Bruce Hector have really made a push for a roster spot. Still, I think Hand has a much higher upside, and there’s a good chance they can bring Strong or Hector back. I think they place Hand on IR after making the initial cuts, opening up a roster spot for one of the two. Sure, there’s a risk of Strong or Hector being claimed, but it’s a risk the Lions just have to take considering their already strong depth at the position.

Erik: Unfortunately, Hand to IR after making the initial 53-man roster is looking more and more realistic to me. Sigh.

LB 5(?)

Locks: Jamie Collins, Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
The contenders: Anthony Pittman, Jahlani Tavai, Tavante Beckett
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: No one
  • Erik: None

Erik: As I noted in my offseason preview of the linebackers, the blueprint for this position calls for four linebackers who can contribute and a possible fifth for special teams purposes. Reeves-Maybin is likely a lock for the roster because of his special teams play, but if he can also be LB4 on defense that’ll free up a much-needed roster spot. If Reeves-Maybin isn’t there in the coaches' eyes, this competition gets more interesting. If it comes to that, I’d lean Pittman based on upside. Jeremy, IF they keep a fifth linebacker, do you have a favorite?

Jeremy: I would definitely give the edge to Pittman. The Lions like Tavante Beckett, but this week Campbell basically telegraphed that he’s trying to get him on the practice squad (bold is my emphasis):

“There are limitations to him, but yet he needs physical growth, strength and conditioning. To be in our program a year will do wonders, but he has instincts and he’s kind of a ball guy.”

Nickelback 2

Lock: A.J. Parker
The contenders: Nickell Robey-Coleman, Corn Elder
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Even
  • Erik: Even

Jeremy: To be clear, I’m not locking Parker into the starting job. The Lions may not want to risk throwing an undrafted rookie into the starting lineup right away. However, I think his play and his potential have certainly locked him into a roster spot. As for that backup job—which could actually be the starting job—I just don’t have a good sense of who it may be. Both are veterans with starting experience, and both got a late start to camp due. Elder dealt with an injury, while Robey-Coleman was a late signing. This is one of the more fascinating overlooked stories to watch unfold on Friday.

DB 11

Locks: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Mike Ford, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Dean Marlowe, C.J. Moore, A.J. Parker, Nickelback 2
The contenders: Bobby Price, Jerry Jacobs, Jalen Elliott
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Price
  • Erik: Price

Erik: Special teams and developmental upside are Price’s path to the roster. His athleticism makes him a dynamic special teamer and is unique enough on defense that it’s worth cross-training him at corner and safety to see if they can find a spot. If he can get a grip on the outside corner spot, even if it’s only for specific matchups, it’ll be worth keeping him around.

Kicker

The contenders: Randy Bullock, Zane Gonzalez
The current favorite:

  • Jeremy: Bullock
  • Erik: Bullock

Jeremy: Bullock is the favorite simply because he’s been in camp longer and has possibly developed some chemistry with the long snapper and holder. In reality, Gonzalez brings a little more power, but both have been equally inconsistent. Let’s hope the Lions' offense is good enough Friday night to give these players some opportunities to kick in high-pressure situations.