As exciting as it is to see players added to the Detroit Lions roster, there is always a fallout when upgrading positions.
On Monday, Jeremy Reisman identified five players who benefited from the results of the Lions 2023 draft, but there’s a flip side to that coin. In this companion article, we will take a look at five Lions players who could see their roles negatively impacted by the Lions draft. Some players will now have a harder path to snaps, while others may be pushed onto the roster bubble and could be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster.
The Lions primarily operate out of a nickel defensive scheme, meaning they only deploy two off-the-ball linebackers in their base set.
In 2022, Alex Anzalone was a captain, a green dot helmet wearer (play call distributor), and played over 95% of the Lions' defensive snaps. In the other spot, Rodriguez held down the other starting role, playing 54% of the team's snaps—which likely would have been more if not for an upper-body injury. Derrick Barnes saw about 30% of defensive snaps, Anthony Pittman saw 5%, with the remaining snaps split amongst reserves no longer with the organization.
This offseason, Anzalone signed a new three-year deal with $9M in guarantees, almost assuring he will return to his starting role. While the other starting spot is presumed to eventually land at the feet of first-round draft pick Jack Campbell. This should create a ripple effect through the rest of the position group.
Unless Rodriguez can outperform expectations (again) he is likely headed to the bench, though he will be the first in line ready to play. Now there is an argument to be made that Rodriguez has a higher ceiling than Anzalone, but the team trusts the veteran more, which makes Rodriguez’s uphill climb even steeper.
If anyone can overcome the odds, it’s Rodriguez, but things got a lot harder for the second-year linebacker.
Zylstra started 2022 on the practice squad but once the Lions traded T.J. Hockenson, he was promoted to the lineup and played out the season as TE2/3.
The Lions spent the No. 34 pick on Sam LaPorta and the smart money is on him ending training camp in the starting role, or in a platoon with current starter Brock Wright. James Mitchell was drafted knowing he would be limited as a rookie, but now that he is fully healthy, he should compete for a higher number of snaps.
That leaves Zylstra as TE4 and firmly on the roster bubble.
Now, it’s entirely possible that the Lions prefer to keep four tight ends, and that opens the door for Zylstra, but that’s far from guaranteed. Would the Lions still keep four tight ends once Jameson Williams is no longer suspended? It’s also possible that he is converting back to wide receiver—the Lions’ website no longer lists him at 240 pounds, but instead at 215, his college weight when he played receiver—but a position switch would not be a great sign of job security.
Tracy Walker is looking like he is nearly fully recovered from his Achilles injury, Kerby Joseph has solidified himself as a starter, the Lions signed Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in free agency, and drafted Brian Branch in the second round—though Gardner-Johnson and Branch will play mostly in the slot. The Lions could enter the season with those four in place and feel comfortable at safety.
But the odds are the Lions would like to add one more traditional deep safety. They appear to be patient with Melifonwu during his positional transition, which seems encouraging. But they also brought back Saivion Smith, who earned a starting role before being injured, and he will surely be in the competition.
Branch is considered by many as the steal of the draft, and while that may be true, Melifonwu may be left paying the price.
In 2022, Jones settled in as DT3 in the Lions' three-man interior rotation. This offseason, Jones and Isaiah Buggs re-signed, joining Alim McNeill in getting the band back together. But general manager Brad Holmes wasn’t satisfied with returning the status quo and traded up into the third round to select Brodric Martin.
The Lions gave up three draft picks to land Martin, which is not something teams do for a bubble player. The cost involved to get Martin is a good sign they plan on him being in the rotation, potentially as DT3—which is bad news for Jones.
Jones could be the beneficiary of the Lions wanting more bodies on the interior depth, making DT4 a real possibility, but based on what we saw last season, there’s no indication things are headed that way. Therefore, Jones may be asked to outplay the team’s third-round pick or replace one of their starters. Tough ask.
Last season, Stenberg was in competition with Evan Brown (now in Seattle), Dan Skipper (a free agent), and Kayode Awosika (still on the Lions). But the Lions upgraded their offseason losses by returning Halapoulivaati Vaitai from injury, adding former starter Graham Glasgow, and drafting Colby Sorsdal in the fifth round—who they announced at the NFL Draft as a guard.
Stenberg may have been behind Awosika on the depth chart as it is, but the added upgrade in talent between Vaitai, Glasgow, and Sorsdal may be enough to push Stenberg off the roster.
Stenberg will get a chance to compete, and may even be the team's second-string left guard, but he’s going to need to make some serious strides in order to lock up a roster spot.