For a team undergoing a massive organizational overhaul, training camp and the preseason was primarily an opportuntity for Detroit to get a sense of what kind of depth they had at the backend of their roster. Rookies—both draft picks and undrafted free agents alike—received significant playing time while many of Detroit’s expected starters didn’t see much preseason action.
Let’s get to how Detroit’s depth graded out in their preseason finale ahead of Tuesday’s roster cut from 80 to 53.
Quarterbacks - D+
Plenty of us were looking forward to seeing David Blough finally get a chance to run with the Lions second-team offense after spending the first two preseason games playing with the bottom of Detroit’s offensive depth. We got what we asked for, but it came at a price.
Tim Boyle suffered an injury to his finger on the first series when he was sacked by Colts’ first-round pick Kwity Paye, but the veteran stuck it out for another series where he really locked in, completing five of six passes and connecting with Quintez Cephus on a nicely thrown slant to cap off the 14-play, 75-yard drive for a touchdown.
Boyle’s injury is expected to cause him to miss some time, so that meant Blough entering the game earlier than initially anticipated. Blough did quarterback the offense to another touchdown before the end of the half, but a late-game interception that led to the Colts taking the lead, along with taking a couple of sacks, resulted in Blough’s worst showing of the preseason.
Running backs - B-
Perhaps one of the toughest decisions ahead of this Lions staff is deciding how many running backs to roster, and it became that much more difficult after the performances of those runners on Friday nights.
Building off an impressive few plays in Week 2 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Jermar Jefferson put together his most complete game yet with 43 yards on 11 carries behind mostly second and third-string offensive linemen. He showcased some of that one-cut ability he touted at Oregon State and even threw in the highlight of the night when he hurdled a Colts defender on the team’s first scoring drive.
In addition to Jefferson’s showing, Godwin Igwebuike, the converted safety to runner, scored a touchdown from the Colts’ 1-yard line to cap off the team’s second touchdown drive, and has been so effective in pass protection this preseason—earning an 83.4 grade on a position-high 7 pass-blocking snaps this preseason per PFF—it’s going to make the decision of whether or not to keep four running backs a tough one. And that’s not even taking into account the performances of Craig “Netflix” Reynolds—someone who had a relatively quiet finale—or Dedrick Mills over the course of these last three weeks.
Wide receivers - D
Part of this is certainly due to Blough’s ineffectiveness, especially in the second half, but there were some miscues from this wide receiver group that were particulalry glaring, and left many wondering what Detroit’s plan is when it comes to one of—if not the most—in-flux positions on the roster.
For starters, Breshad Perriman is a player who has dealt with plenty of injuries to start his NFL career, and now that he was finally healthy, he got an opportunity to show up as the team’s No. 1 wideout in this finale. What happened instead was one recorded drop—another tough drop on a free play the Lions earned that would have put them inside the Colts’ 10-yard line—and just an overall lackluster performance when he needed to prove himself as a dependable receiver.
Rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown is one of the most-talked about players for this revamped offense and for good reason, he’s really shown his abilities this preseason. But he misread a situation on a hot read from Boyle that could have resulted in a nice gain and finished the game with two catches for 4 yards.
After tonight’s 27-17 loss to the #Colts, WSN #Lions beat writer @KoryEWoods asked Detroit Lions HC Dan Campbell which WRs stuck out to him, as DC said the competition is deep a few days ago. Gave credit to Amon-Ra St. Brown and Quintez Cephus but still needs to review film. #NFL pic.twitter.com/sFOqNSLQgl— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) August 28, 2021
Cephus, someone on the bubble to begin training camp, is a lock to make the roster after this game. Partially because he had a good performance, catching three passes for 35 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, but also because if you look around, no one else in this receiving room did anything to move the needle in the preseason as a whole. The quartet of Victor Bolden, Geronimo Allison, Sage Surratt, and Damion Ratley combined for three catches and 29 yards on nine targets.
Tight ends - D+
This grade is propped up by Darren Fells best performance of the preseason. From his effort as a blocker in both pass-pro and the run game, to the two catches he made for 20 yards, the Lions can rest assured knowing they have a solid second option at tight end alongside T.J. Hockenson.
Beyond that, I don’t see a tight end currently on the roster worthy of that TE3 spot and that’s really concerning for a team that would certainly like to run some 13 personnel this season. Alize Mack and Brock Wright have had ample opportunities to earn a spot on this roster, especially with Hockenson not suiting up for any of the preseason games, and neither has done anything to impress or even be noticed. Wright did catch a pass for 11 yards in this one, but neither him or Mack had a good showing run blocking—both earning sub-50 grades from PFF.
Count on the Lions to search the waiver wire this weekend and past Tuesday’s deadline to find a potential solution for this problem.
Offensive line - D
Friday night’s biggest concern was the play of Penei Sewell and it was warranted. Detroit’s seventh overall pick, and the final piece to their offensive line construction, looked like a rookie who is going to take his fair share of lumps this season. Beyond the play where both him and Tyrell Crosby were beat off the edge as Boyle took a 5-step drop out of shotgun (?), Sewell had chances to showcase his athleticism that was touted as one of his best attributes coming out of Oregon. A couple of plays that stuck out were a screen to St. Brown where Sewell failed to get out in space and make the block that would have sprung the receiver for a nice gain, and play where Sewell failed to get down on a block and clear a path for Jefferson out of the backfield.
Of course, it’s the preseason, and it’s better that Sewell gets a chance to learn from these mistakes now which is probably the reason he was the only projected starter on the offensive line to play in the preseason finale. But in two weeks, the Lions face the San Francisco 49ers, and that’s going to be one helluva test out of the gate for Sewell.
There’s a ton of muscle memory involved with playing OL. You do the same movements over and over. Most guys are gonna take a good while, before they can pass set the same at the opposite side as they did on their primary side. Your feet and hands are in reverse. It’s HARD— FOST (@GeorgeFoster72) August 28, 2021
Detroit suffered some injuries along the offensive line in this one. Dan Skipper had to be carted off the field, unfortunately taking him out of the running for a spot on this roster, and Logan Stenberg, a player very much entrenched in the race for a backup position along the interior offensive line, came up lame after a play late in the game.
While the first-team offensive line will continue to earn the focus and attention of fans, the backups, beyond Crosby, are something this coaching staff will be taking a long, hard look at leading up to Tuesday’s final cuts.