Sunday was the final chance for players on the Detroit Lions’ roster bubble to make a lasting impression. Given the high stakes—and the recency effect—it’s quite possible that there are a player or two whose performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers landed them a spot on the team’s coveted 53-man roster. Detroit has until 4 p.m. ET to make those final decisions, but it’s quite possible they’ve already decided after Sunday’s game.
While it wasn’t a particularly pretty game for the Lions—especially on offense—that doesn’t mean there was a lack of impressive individual performances worthy of praise. Coach Dan Campbell was a bit more dodgy than normal after the game, but he mentioned several times how he received some clarity from Sunday’s performances.
So today’s Question of the Day is:
Which Lions bubble player made their best case for the 53-man roster against the Steelers?
My answer: Without a doubt, it has to be running back Justin Jackson. Last week, Jackson had the best performance among Lions running backs, rushing for 7.7 yards per carry and earning the room’s highest PFF rating (81.5). He followed it up by rushing 5.5 yards per carry (the highest among Detroit RBs) against the Steelers, while also averaging a respectable 26.5 yards on two kick return attempts.
That kind of consistency is important. It’s even more notable when you consider that Jackson has four years of decent production in the regular season during his time with the Chargers—in which he averaged 5.0 yards per carry on 206 attempts. Perhaps more importantly—since he’s well behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams on the depth chart—he has experience playing on all four phases of special teams. That goes a long ways for special teams coordinator Dave Fipp.
“The one thing I would say is I value all that regular season work quite a bit,” Fipp said last week. “If you see a guy do it in the National Football League against real players in the National Football League in regular season games, then you’ve got a pretty good idea of what he’s going to do.”
Despite all of this, it’s still a pretty large climb for Jackson to make the roster. He was a late-coming on the team, and they have already expressed a good level of comfort in some of the players already here. Craig Reynolds has been nearly as effective on offense this preseason, and he, too, can play all four phases of special teams.
The tougher case to gauge is where Jackson compares to Godwin Igwebuike. The Lions didn’t get much of any offensive production out of Igwebuike this preseason, and they scaled back his special teams role, too, hoping to see if anyone else would catch on. But Igwebuike is the most special team experienced of the entire group, and he does it at a relatively high level. Last week, Campbell even referred to him as the starting kick returner right now.
So Jackson has certainly made this decision tougher, but he’s far from guarnateed to have locked down a roster spot.