The Detroit Lions have officially reduced their roster to 53 players in preparation for the 2022 regular season.
In looking at the overall roster, things played out close to as expected. There were a few surprises, but nothing earth-shattering, and the Lions created a nice balance of leaning on established veterans and investing in youth.
Dan Campbell wasn’t kidding when he said this team was going to move on from 2021 contributors
At his Monday press conference, coach Dan Campbell said the team was making some difficult decisions, and there were some choices that may end up with them moving on from players they previous counted on:
“We’re going to probably have to let go of some players that were here all last year that we depended on, did everything we asked them to do, and produced for us last year, but that’s a sign of progress too.”
Here’s a list of players who were brought back this offseason with the hopes of expanding on their 2021 contributions, but were released at cutdowns:
- AJ Parker — starting nickelback
- Tim Boyle — QB2, started three games
- C.J. Moore — special teams starter
- Anthony Pittman — special teams starter
- Tom Kennedy — reserve slot receiver
- Godwin Igwebuike — starting kick returner
Will the Lions stay with just 2 QBs?
The feeling around Allen Park has been that the Lions’ plan was to enter the season with two quarterbacks on their active roster, and that’s how things initially played out. The team elected to stick with David Blough as Jared Goff’s backup and released Tim Boyle after a disastrous preseason.
Will the Lions stay at two on the active roster? I’d think that makes the most sense with the development and depth of the rest of the roster. Now, they will surely add a third quarterback to the team, but that will likely be to the practice squad for depth purposes.
Parker was the incumbent starter and held the starting role for the majority of camp. Unfortunately, things started to get shaky over the last few weeks and he apparently lost his starting role to Mike Hughes.
The wildcard at nickel was Chase Lucas. With tremendous upside, the Lions we not willing to risk losing Lucas to waivers despite the fact that he is still developing and not yet ready to challenge to start. That put Detroit in a spot where the winner of the Parker vs. Hughes battle made the roster, and the other was cut.
Now, it’s still possible (likely?) that Parker ends up on the Lions' practice squad, as he still remains a solid contributor, and could stay in the mix to re-establish himself with more development.
Surprise at running back
After their top three running backs—D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and Craig Reynolds—the Lions continually used Jermar Jefferson as their fourth option. But Jefferson struggled quite a bit in each game, and never really looked like the player he was last season before injury. With both Justin Jackson and Godwin Igwebuike looking solid, Jefferson looked like the odd man out, but when push came to shove, it was Jefferson making the team over both.
Despite his struggles, Jefferson has a history of flashing and the Lions must feel confident he can regain that form. He also improved his special teams quite a bit, which surely helped his case. But for him to be active on game days, he’ll need to not only contribute in the third phase, but also clean up some of the flaws that showed up this preseason.
Why didn’t Tom Kennedy make the team?
The darling of the preseason, Kennedy was sensational during the Lions’ first two preseason games and down the stretch in practices. But the hiccup for him making the roster was his lack of ability to contribute on special teams. The Lions did try to give him opportunities, but for whatever reason, it has always been a skill that escapes him.
Now, Kennedy remains a valuable situational option, and a return to the practice squad seems very likely, as he can be a reliable injury elevation any given week. But at the end of the day, for a non-starter on the depth chart, you have to be able to contribute on special teams in order to justify a roster spot.
9 offensive linemen
Logan Stenberg basically played his way onto the roster with tremendous performances in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. After struggling with consistency over his first two seasons, in year three, we have finally started to see the player most thought Stenberg would be: a mauling aggressor who relocates people in the run game.
Lions carrying 3 injured defenders on the active roster
A few of the Lions' top defensive reserves got bit with the injury bug in camp, and it forced the team to make some other tough decisions. Julian Okwara, Levi Onwuzurike, and Ifeatu Melifonwu are all dealing with injuries, and may not be ready for Week 1—though they are hoping Okwara will be.
By needing to allocate spots for injured players, we saw a few other decisions made on the players. Jerry Jacobs moved to reserve/PUP, instead of being activated, while others—like Trinity Benson, C.J. Moore, and Jason Cornell—were released with injury designations. This looks like it became a numbers game, and they could not make enough room to allow for three injured players on the active roster.
It’s possible, some of the three injured players end up on injured reserve, but if the Lions are planning on designating them to return to the roster this season, they can’t be placed there until Wednesday, August 31 at 4 p.m. ET.
Who is the Lions’ kick returner?
Another surprise cut was returning starting kick returner Godwin Igwebuike, who was projected to be the lead candidate for the job in 2022. Igwebuike didn’t return a kick in the preseason, but five other players did. Following cutdowns, only one of the group remains on the 53-man roster: Craig Reynolds.
Now, there is still a possibility the Lions starting kick returner isn’t on the roster at this time, as Igwebuike—or even Justin Jackson—could return, or the Lions could look at other avenues. But for the time being, Reynolds looks like the front-runner.
Don’t get comfortable just yet
While the initial 53-man roster is set, the Lions hold the No. 2 overall spot in the waiver claim system. If you’re not familiar, that means any player waived during cutdowns can be claimed by another NFL team and the Lions get second priority on any (and every) player they put a claim on.
That means if the Lions put in a claim on a player, and the Jaguars don't, that player will be placed on the Lions' roster. In turn, a corresponding move will be required and the Lions would have to remove a player from this initial 53-man team—typically by releasing, waiving, or placing them on injured reserve.
For all the important details surrounding the waiver claim process, as well as the important dates to know over the coming days, be sure to visit Jeremy’s explainer piece from the previous day.