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2021 Detroit Lions roster rankings: 40-31, the backups, role players

These players will likely play a small, but important role on the 2021 Lions.

NFL: JUL 30 Detriot Lions Training Camp Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

We’ve reached the point in our countdown of the Detroit Lions roster where we’re pretty sure most of these players will make the 2021 team. There are certainly a couple of these players that may be considered on the roster bubble, but most of them are assumed in.

Yet, unless the injury bug hits hard, these players will not be the key components of the 2021 season. That isn’t to say these players won’t play a role, they absolutely will. Some will be subpackage players. Some will be heavy contributors on special teams. A handful will likely even get some playing time as a starter.

Here are the players we ranked from 40 to 31 on the Lions roster, AKA the role players.

Note on methodology: Six Pride of Detroit members ranked the entire roster from 89 to 1. This list represents the averaged rankings of all six lists.


40. LS Don Muhlbach (Highest ranking: 21; Lowest ranking: 52)

Last year: 49

Muhlbach jumping nine spots in our ranking is perhaps the surest sign that we don’t think quite as high of this roster as we did last year. Muhlbach is just a steady constant. He long snaps. He long snaps good. So if he’s jumping in our rankings, it’s likely just because the perception of the roster around him is worse.

39. FB Jason Cabinda (Highest: 27; Lowest: 51)

Last year: 78

The Lions liked the job he did last year so much that they decided to move on from Bawden completely this year and just let Cabinda run unopposed at fullback. And if the first week of training camp is any indication, Cabinda could actually be in for a much bigger role than ever.

38. S Will Harris (Highest: 34; Lowest: 47)

Last year: 30

It’s not surprising to see Harris drop in our countdown this year after two years of intense struggle. The 2019 third-round pick has scored PFF grades of 55.3 and 50.5 in 2019 and 2020, respectively. The Lions have been hesitant to put him in the starting lineup simply because he hasn’t progressed as hoped.

That being said, Harris looks poised to win the starting job alongside Tracy Walker and there are small signs he’s improving in training camp. There’s still a heavy amount of skepticism surround Harris, and rightfully so, but he’s also a candidate to surprise in 2021.

37. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Highest: 32; Lowest: 46)

Last year: 35

2021 was looking to be a potential breakout year for Reeves-Maybin. After years of being labeled as “undersized” or a pure special teams linebacker, he’s finally in a system that could use his athleticism.

Unfortunately for him, he entered training camp on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Though it appears he’ll likely be removed soon, seeing as he was a spectator in practice on Friday, he doesn’t have a lot of time to make a case for himself.

36. S Dean Marlowe (Highest: 21; Lowest: 51)

Last year: N/A

Many assumed Marlowe would slide into the starting safety job given his solid season with the Bills last year. In fact, ask any of his former coaches and they’ll tell you he’s due to break out when he finally gets the opportunity.

However, early in camp, it looks like he’s firmly behind Harris on the depth chart. He’ll have to make a solid impression during the preseason to change that. But even if he doesn’t, there’s a good chance he’ll see the field in a subpackage role.

35. NT John Penisini (Highest: 26; Lowest: 53)

Last year: 55

Penisini jumps 20 spots on our roster after a surprisingly promising rookie season. Though the Lions drafted Alim McNeill—and he’s been an absolute terror working with the first-team defense—it appears the team still values Penisini as depth.

And when you consider his rookie season was hampered by calcium deposits the size of softballs in his shoulders, there could be even more beneath the surface with Penisini.

34. CB Corn Elder (Highest: 19; Lowest: 40)

Last year: N/A

Elder was added as competition for the starting nickel job, and he looked to be the favorite when Detroit signed him in April. Though he doesn’t have a ton of in-game experience, he had a solid 2020 season with a 68.5 PFF grade in 411 defensive snaps.

But Elder has repped with the second team in training camp because...

33. CB Mike Ford (Highest: 30; Lowest: 37)

Last year: 53

... Ford has jumped into the nickel spot and looked quite comfortable there. Though many were surprised to see him repping with the first team in training camp, the truth is he was there during spring practices as well. This has been a long time coming for Ford, and on top of the special teams value he already brings, many of his teammates believe he’s finally where he belongs defensively.

32. DT Nick Williams (Highest: 22; Lowest: 45)

Last year: 27

Williams looked like he was headed to be a cap casualty when the Lions were searching for ways to create cap space. Instead, they opted to keep him as long as he agreed to take a pay cut. He did, and the Lions have rewarded him with first-team reps for almost all of training camp. Williams, in turn, has looked reinvigorated and has been pretty disruptive in the first week of camp with pads on.

31. WR Quintez Cephus (Highest: 28; Lowest: 36)

Last year: 41

Cephus’ role for 2021 is really hard to gauge. Though he was fourth on the depth chart last year, and the Lions got rid of the three players ahead of him, they’ve since replaced them all, and Cephus, again, finds himself buried behind several receivers.

That being said, he brings a pretty unique skill set to the room with his size and route-running skills. He seems likely to make the roster, but I’m not sure how many opportunities he’ll get behind Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and even maybe Kalif Raymond.

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