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Final 2021 Detroit Lions 53-man roster prediction 4.0

This is the final installment in the series.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han via Imagn Content Services, LLC

This is the fourth and final version of my Detroit Lions 53-man roster projection for the 2021 preseason.

A few things to keep in mind with this installment: My projections are based on what I believe the organization will do as opposed to my personal preferences. I will note any changes from my most recent edition. And I will expand on any decisions I make about bubble players. A final note, asterisks indicate rookies.

Ok, enough setup, let’s get started.

Quarterbacks (3)

Jared Goff
Tim Boyle
David Blough

Changes: None

If there was any debate over if the Lions were likely to keep three quarterbacks, those conversations are likely moot after presumed QB2 Boyle injured his throwing hand—requiring a full splint/cast—early in preseason Game 3 and is expected to miss some time. The Lions won’t know the full extent of his injury until they get further testing done, but with the cut deadline set for Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, they may not have a choice but to keep all three.

Running backs (5)

D’Andre Swift
Jamaal Williams
Jermar Jefferson*
Godwin Igwebuike
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Craig Reynolds
Dedrick Mills*

Changes: Igwebuike IN

Igwebuike may have played himself onto the roster in the preseason finale, but if we look back at his preseason as a whole, the signs have been there that he was right on the cusp of making the roster. Back when the Lions held their modified scrimmage at Ford Field earlier this month, Igwebuike was the first man up on kick returns, something that carried over to all three preseason games. When he started to show decisiveness as a runner on offense during games, his stock only went up. Furthermore, with Swift being currently injured, and coming off a season with multiple injuries, Igwebuike gives the Lions depth insurance. His growth as a runner, improving from game to game, along with his return ability, and Swift’s questionable injury status, has shown me enough to justify a spot for Igwebuike.

Jefferson has been my RB3 since the jump and he solidified that spot for me during the preseason.

Wide receivers (5)

Tyrell Williams
Amon-Ra St. Brown*
Kalif Raymond
Quintez Cephus
Breshad Perriman
Tom Kennedy
Geronimo Allison
Victor Bolden
Damion Ratley
Javon McKinley*
Sage Surratt*

Change: None

The big debate for me here was Perriman vs. Kennedy and I’m not fully confident in my decision to keep Perriman. Perriman has struggled this preseason and in the finale he was targeted three times, resulting in one reception for six yards and two drops. Not ideal. But at the same time, we are watching him try and catch passes from quarterbacks he hasn’t built chemistry with, as he has typically been with the ones and Goff. Could the switch to Goff be enough to solve his issues?

After leading the Lions in receptions and receiving yards through two preseason games, Kennedy hardly played in the third game and wasn't targeted. When asked about the lack of playing time, coach Dan Campbell said they knew what they had in Kennedy and wanted to give others more looks. So, does that mean, Kennedy has done enough to earn a spot and was rested, or does it mean he didn’t do enough on special teams and they knew his ceiling wasn’t on the roster?

For now, I’m sticking with the player they invested money in during free agency and giving him one more shot to prove he’s worth it. Kennedy will likely still be waiting in the wings on the practice squad if they want to add him later.

Tight ends (2)

T.J. Hockenson
Darren Fells
Alizé Mack
Brock Wright*

Changes: Mack OUT

Stick with me for a minute and let me explain.

Neither tight end did enough to prove they’re worth a spot on the 53 and the spot for Igwebuike had to come from somewhere. But before you hit “send” on your scathing comment or Tweet, allow me to explain why I think Campbell will be willing to think outside the box here.

First, I am anticipating a player to make the initial 53-man roster and then be placed on injured reserve—more on that in a bit—thus opening a spot if the team wishes to re-sign Mack or Wright—both will surely clear waivers—or maybe a free agent made available via cuts.

Second, if the Lions don’t wish to immediately add a third tight end, they have the personnel to cover the role, either via fullback Jason Cabinda playing some H-back or utilizing a sixth offensive lineman to block out of big sets.

It’s unconventional, especially with a former tight end at the helm, but this move is all about getting the best 53 players on the roster.

Offensive Tackles (4)

Taylor Decker - LT
Penei Sewell* - RT
Tyrell Crosby - Swing OT3/G
Matt Nelson - Swing OT4/G
Dan Skipper
Darrin Paulo

Changes: None

Skipper was making a late push and Crosby is just coming off an injury, but Skipper needed to be carted off the field due to an injury in the third preseason game, putting an end to this debate.

Guards/Centers (5)

Frank Ragnow - C
Jonah Jackson - LG
Halapoulivaati Vaitai - RG
Logan Stenberg - reserve G
Evan Brown - reserve C/G
Tommy Kraemer*
Evan Heim

Changes: None

Stenberg versus Kraemer is the tough decision here, especially with Stenberg getting injured against the Colts. Both have strengths and weaknesses, along with upside, but I’ve felt Stenberg has shown a bit more this offseason.

Interior defensive line (7)

Michael Brockers
Nick Williams
Alim McNeill* (NT)
Da’Shawn Hand
Levi Onwuzurike*
John Penisini (NT)
Kevin Strong
Jashon Cornell (suspended)
Bruce Hector
Miles Brown

Changes: None

I’m sticking with seven interior defensive linemen because I am anticipating Hand ends up on injured reserve after making the initial 53-man roster, thus allowing him to be eligible to return after three games.

“Obviously, it ended up being a little more than we thought it would be, so he’s going to be out here for a little bit,” Campbell said of Hand’s injury. “They’re kinda hoping that this thing—maybe we get him back before the season starts but we’ll see where it goes.”

If the Lions opt to keep only six at this spot, the Penisini vs. Strong debate should make for a difficult choice.

EDGE (4)

Trey Flowers
Romeo Okwara
Julian Okwara
Austin Bryant
Charles Harris
Rashid Berry

Changes: Bryant IN, Harris OUT

This was the literal last-minute decision for me: Harris vs. Bryant.

There isn’t much separating the two for me, and honestly, Harris may be the better pass rusher today, but this team is going to make some decisions with the future in mind rather than the now.

“He’s been pretty impressive,” Campbell said of Bryant earlier this week. “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.”

The seven words in that quote that stick with me are “high ceiling and can continue to grow”. While Harris may be the slightly better pass rusher now, I think his ceiling is capped, while Bryant is still ascending. He is also two years younger than Harris, still on his rookie contract, and signed through 2022.

And like in all final roster decisions, special teams will play a factor. In the preseason, Bryant contributed on 16 special teams snaps, Harris zero. Give me the developing kid with upside who also contributes in more than one area.

Linebackers (4)

Jamie Collins
Alex Anzalone
Derrick Barnes*
Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Jahlani Tavai
Anthony Pittman
Tavante Beckett*

Changes: None

Tavai remains a trade piece and it wouldn't be surprising to see him moved over the weekend. I’d love to find a spot for Pittman, but there are only so many spots available. Both he and Beckett seem destined for the practice squad.

Cornerbacks (7)

Jeff Okudah
Amani Oruwariye
Mike Ford (CB/NB)
Ifeatu Melifonwu*
A.J. Parker* (NB)
Nickell Robey-Coleman (NB)
Bobby Price (DB)
Corn Elder (NB)
Jerry Jacobs*

Changes: None

Elder made a strong case in the finale, securing the team's only interception of the preseason, but my gut feeling is he missed too much time with his camp injury and Robey-Coleman passed him on the depth chart. Jacobs showed promise early on in camp, but he’s not quite ready to contribute. His relationship with the other players in the secondary and developmental upside should warrant a spot on the practice squad.

Safeties (4)

Tracy Walker
Will Harris
Dean Marlowe
C.J. Moore
Jalen Elliott
Alijah Holder

Changes: None

This group seems to have been settle some time ago, for better or worse. Elliott showed up late in camp, illustrating his growth, which should earn him a spot on the practice squad.

Special Teams (3)

P Jack Fox

K Randy Bullock
K Zane Gonzalez

LS Scott Daly

Changes: None

The kicker job has been Bullock’s to lose all camp and I’m not sure any challenger has been able to unseat him in this lackluster camp battle. Are the Lions still in the market for competition? Are we headed for another 2013 season at kicker? Time will tell.

Practice squad (16)

The Lions can keep up to 16 players on this year's practice squad, as last year's rules remain in place. If the Lions elect to only keep players from their current roster—not likely—here is who I believe are the leading candidates:

  1. Charles Harris, EDGE
  2. Anthony Pittman, LB
  3. Bruce Hector, DL
  4. Tom Kennedy, WR
  5. Craig Reynolds, RB
  6. Tavante Beckett, LB
  7. Corn Elder, NB
  8. Jerry Jacobs, CB
  9. Jalen Elliott, S
  10. Tommy Kraemer, G
  11. Javon McKinley, WR
  12. Alize Mack, TE
  13. Brock Wright, TE
  14. Sage Surratt, WR
  15. Alijah Holder, S
  16. Zane Gonzalez, K