It’s been a busy few days for Detroit Lions fans trying to keep up with all the team’s roster moves. The organization traded for WR Trinity Benson, established its initial 53-man roster, claimed WR KhaDarel Hodge and K Austin Seibert off of waivers, temporarily waived a couple veterans in a corresponding move as they prep to move players to injured reserve, and established an initial 15-player practice squad.
With concerns over COVID-19 last season, the NFL made some significant changes to how teams can use the practice squad. By expanding the platform the league allowed teams to lean on the practice squad for not just developing players, but also as a resource for in-season moves. It was widely considered a successful adjustment and because of that, the NFL carried the new practice squad rules over to the 2021 season.
One of those new rules was expanding the practice squad to 16 players. With the Lions announcing just 15 players to their initial practice squad, they still have an open spot to fill, meaning more moves are on the way. Speaking of which, the Lions have been reported to have signed three players to their practice squad that were NOT part of their initial announcement: QB Steven Montez, TE Shane Zylstra, and EDGE Jessie Lemonier. That means, if all three reports are accurate, the Lions have space for just one and would have to remove two players from this original list to make room.
For now, we don’t know which players will stick around, and with the practice squad such an important part of the team because players can be elevated to the game day roster at a moment's notice, fans should familiarize themselves with who is on the squad.
Craig Reynolds, RB
Added hours before preseason Game 2, Reynolds literally burst onto the scene and showed his value as a running back. Quickly a fan favorite, Reynolds looked to have an outside shot at RB4 on the roster but was outpaced by Godwin Igwebuike—who had a heck of a preseason himself and could end up being the team’s starting kick returner. If any of the four backs on the current roster get injured, or a reserve isn’t living up to expectations, Reynolds would have a chance to jump back in the mix.
Dedrick Mills, RB
Also competing for a second opportunity at running back, Mills looked solid in the preseason but appeared to fall slightly behind the others. There’s enough potential in Mills that he is worth keeping around and developing.
Javon McKinley, WR
A “what could have been” type of player, McKinley has never lacked talent but has never been able to seize his opportunity. After a nice late showing in Game 2 of the preseason that included a touchdown, he only saw the field for seven snaps in the finale, which was a strong indicator of his fate. The practice squad is a good fit for McKinley, as it will afford him the opportunity to prove to coaches that he has the talent he flashed in Game 2, but he will have to improve his consistency.
Sage Surratt, WR
Surratt was a highly productive player at Wake Forest in 2019, but after opting out in 2020, and putting up a subpar pre-draft workout, he went undrafted and signed with the Lions. The coaching staff/front office was very excited about his potential to contribute immediately, but once in camp, he showed he still had a lot of rust to knock off before he would see the field. He struggled during the preseason and was clearly not ready to make the 53-man roster, but the upside remains and if he can get back to 2019 form, he could help the team down the road.
Alize Mack, TE
Loaded with pass catching potential and athleticism, Mack held the inside track for the TE3 role all camp. Unfortunately, he was not able to improve his blocking skills or special teams contributions in time and it would cost him a chance at the initial 53-man roster. The practice squad will give him time to further hone those skills and if he can turn a corner, there may be a spot waiting for him.
Brock Wright, TE
The opposite of Mack in a lot of ways, Wright is a solid blocker but he doesn't stand out as a pass catcher, despite being an above-average athlete. Wright’s special teams contributions also need improvement, but he is closer to contributing in that phase than Mack is at the moment. If Wright can learn to be a more consistent pass catcher faster than Mack can learn to block, he’ll have a chance to find the roster.
Tommy Kraemer, G
Kraemer had a decent training camp and looked to be improving as the preseason progressed. While we saw several touchdowns run behind his blocking at right guard, he wasn’t able to pass a rising Logan Stenberg on the depth chart.
One of the new COVID-19 rules from last carried over from last season is the game day roster expansion, where teams can expand their game day roster by up to two players as long as they have eight offensive linemen among the active players. With the Lions only keeping eight offensive linemen on the active roster, Kraemer may only be an injury away from being elevated to the active roster so the Lions can take advantage of the rule.
Darrin Paulo, OT
With Tyrell Crosby and Dan Skipper waived with injury designations (Crosby has since returned to the Lions and reverted to IR, unable to return this season) Paulo became the Lions OT4 by default. Unfortunately for Paulo, he didn’t do enough to earn a spot on the initial 53 out of camp, but a spot here gives him a chance to prove his value.
Miles Brown, NT
Brown signed with the Lions about a week into training camp when the team was dealing with injuries along the defensive line. He initially looked to be just a placeholder but he improved his stock every practice and by the end of camp it looked like the amount of depth on the defensive line was the only thing keeping him off the roster. Nose tackle is a critical spot for this scheme, so if Alim McNeill or John Penisini suffer an injury, Brown could see himself as a practice squad elevation candidate.
Bruce Hector, DL
Another camp standout on the defensive line, Hector flashed all preseason and was likely one of the more difficult cuts this staff had to make. Like with Brown, Hector was a victim of the Lions depth, but will surely be waiting to see if any of the defensive tackles above him on the depth chart falter, which could create an opportunity for him to get on the field.
Rashod Berry, EDGE
A hybrid athlete who was signed less than two weeks ago, but made enough of an impression to stick around on the practice squad. With the Lions keeping five EDGE players on the active roster and reportedly signing Jesse Lemonier (expected to be added in the coming days), it’s fair to speculate if Berry is long for the team. If the Lions do keep him in addition to adding Lemonier, it will speak to how much he has impressed coaches.
Tavante Beckett, LB
Beckett signed with the Lions after going undrafted this past draft, and while coaches love what he brings to the table, he is still likely a year away from contributing.
“We loved his tape in college,” coach Dan Campbell said of Beckett. “He’s a football player, he’s very instinctive. 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. He can sniff out the football. So, he’s improved.”
Nickell Robey-Coleman, NB
The oldest corner on the Lions roster is just 25 years old (Amani Oruwariye), so the team could be looking to add veteran depth at the position and Robey-Coleman—who has three years experience in this scheme playing under DBs coach Aubrey Pleasant—makes a lot of sense.
In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions were taking advantage of one of the COVID rules with Robey-Coleman’s spot on the roster. The NFL has a rule in place which states that if a player with “vested veteran” status is signed after cutdowns and is on the roster for Week 1, then his contract for the year becomes fully guaranteed. To get around guaranteeing his contract for the season, the Lions can keep Robey-Coleman on the practice squad and use a game day roster elevation to allow him to play in the opening game. Then in Week 2, when contracts are no longer guaranteed, the team could sign him to the active roster.
Jalen Elliott, S
Elliott opened Lions rookie minicamp as a starting safety indicating he was in a good spot to make a run at the 53-man roster. When fall camp arrived, Elliott was challenged by C.J. Moore for the fourth safety spot, but he was never able to push Moore off his spot. Special teams likely played a factor here, as Moore holds a key personal protector role (among others), and Elliott was just a step behind—even though he also had a solid camp on special teams. If a special teamer isn’t holding his own on the active roster, Elliott showed enough in camp that he could be an option to seize a role.
Zane Gonzalez, K
Like it or not, the Lions kicker battle may continue throughout the season. Neither Gonzalez nor Randy Bullock impressed enough in camp to run away with the job, and were released, but newly claimed Austin Seibert is far from a “plug, play, and walk away” kicker—thus the need to keep Gonzalez around.