It’s been a busy few days for the Detroit Lions. The organization established its initial 53-man roster, claimed nose tackle Benito Jones off waivers from the Dolphins, signed quarterback Nate Sudfeld, then waived quarterback David Blough and Jermar Jefferson in corresponding moves, while also establishing an initial 13-player practice squad.
The NFL made some new rules changes this offseason, including making some tweaks to how teams can use the practice squad. The most notable is that the NFL and NFLPA agreed to maintain the expanded 16-player practice squad on a permanent basis. Another carryover rule allows teams to be able to elevate practice squad players to the active roster on game days. Last season players were only allowed to be promoted twice per season, but in 2022, players are allowed three gameday elevations.
As we saw last season, these elevations can play a significant role in gameday management, and based on history, several players on this list will likely see some regular-season action at some point this year.
So let’s take inventory of which players are on the squad.
Justin Jackson, RB
The Lions added Jackson after rookie Greg Bell went down with a season-ending injury and he slowly worked his way into a more comfortable position on the roster. As camp progressed Jackson flashed skills as a runner—he led the team in preseason rushing yards—in the passing game, and on special teams, even returning kicks in Pittsburgh. This balanced skill set, plus the ability to produce, makes him a reliable fourth option in the running back room.
Tom Kennedy, WR
The darling of the preseason, Kennedy stepped up and joined the second team after Quintez Cephus was injured in the middle of training camp, and took over the first two games of the preseason. His lack of special teams contributions likely kept him off the 53-man roster, but Kennedy proved that he is capable of working out of the slot and as a WR-Y, making him an ideal practice squad player. If the Lions need a gameday injury replacement, Kennedy gives them a reliable option for elevation.
Maurice Alexander, WR
After leading the USFL in kick return yards and average, the Lions brought in Alexander to help bolster the competition on special teams. He flashed as a returner in the preseason—especially Game 2—but he still needs to expand his game on offense and the other phases of special teams if he wants to land a job on the active roster. Still, as a natural return man, Alexander gives the Lions an upside option if they need a boost.
Garrett Griffin, TE/H-back
Griffin was working with the Lions’ top units while fullback Jason Cabinda was out with injury, which is why it was surprising when he was released in the first wave of cuts. He’s a steady blocker and could be a possible H-back elevation option while Cabinda misses at least the first four weeks of the season after being placed on the reserve/PUP list.
Derek Deese Jr., TE
An upside rookie, Deese is an inline tight end with H-back range, and the Lions saw enough potential in him at San Jose State to give him a UDFA contract with $100,000 in guarantees. In training camp, he showed he still has a ways to go before he is ready to see the NFL field during the regular season, but any time coach Dan Campbell invests in a tight end, it’s worth taking note. Deese isn’t as far along as Brock Wright was at this time last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him follow a similar career arc.
Dan Skipper, OT
Skipper might have been the Lions' third-best offensive tackle during the preseason, but he lacks Matt Nelson’s range and that’s likely what cost him the OT3 spot on the roster. Skipper has been with the Lions, on and off again, bouncing between the practice squad and active roster for the last three seasons, so they know what they have in him as a player.
Obinna Eze, OT
Eze had his fair share of struggles in training camp, but part of that is because he is so new to football, and part of it is because he was transitioning from left to right tackle. When Eze would line up at left tackle, you could see his natural abilities, but it’s taking time for him to acclimate to the right side, with only minimal experience (one game started) there in college. Eze is very much a project for the future, but as he gains muscle memory on the right side, he could develop into a future swing tackle.
Bruce Hector, DL
Like Skipper, Hector is a reliable veteran option in the trenches for the Lions. With six defensive tackles currently on the roster, the path to a gameday elevation isn’t as clear for Hector, but he spent all of last season as a protected player on the practice squad, which illustrates how the team views his value.
James Houston, EDGE
Loaded with potential, it didn’t take coaches long before they realized they needed to scale things back for Houston, and they heavily leaned on his best attribute: his pass-rushing skills. Throughout camp, Houston flashed the potential that led to him being the Lions' sixth-round pick, but it was also clear he needed to add some functional strength and develop his overall skill set. The upside is definitely there for Houston to develop into a situational pass rushing specialist, and the practice squad is the ideal place to hone those skills.
Anthony Pittman, LB
One of the Lions’ surprise cuts, Pittman is a special teams ace and multi-functional linebacker, but he missed out on the LB5 spot, losing the roster battle to another special teams weapon, Josh Woods. If Woods struggles, an injury occurs at linebacker, or the Lions feel they need more depth on special teams, Pittman’s name should be at the top of the list.
Jarrad Davis, LB
The Lions’ former first-round pick has quite an NFL journey, but coaches love him, and Davis will surely provide the team with veteran leadership, even from the practice squad. At this stage of his career, Davis’ struggles at stack linebacker have been thoroughly documented, but his ability to pass rush remains a unique trait that could help him see the field this season.
AJ Parker, NB
Last year’s starting nickel corner, Parker’s physical nature and undersized frame haven’t always worked in unison. The Lions require their slot defensive backs to be physical, and while Parker is willing to throw himself into the fray, he’s had a hard time holding up physically, and missed several games last season because of it. He added 10 pounds of muscle this offseason and looked solid in the preseason—save Game 1—but Mike Hughes was better and won the starting role. Still, there is enough potential there that Parker was surely a priority for the staff to keep around on the practice squad.
Saivion Smith, CB
Smith loves to hit and it shows up in his run defense and on special teams, but his coverage skills need some polish. Right now, Smith’s best asset is his ability to contribute on special teams, and he remains an elevation option in case of injury or if someone struggles.
Keep an eye on...
The Lions have only filled 13 of their 16 available slots on the practice squad, and David Blough and Jermar Jefferson—who were waived on Wednesday— seem like logical options for two of those openings. Both players made the Lions' initial 53-man roster and the Lions could use more depth on the practice squad at quarterback and running back, respectively.