Detroit Lions training camp is just days away. And while the hardcore fans may be paying attention to the camp battles that will determine the bottom of Detroit’s 53-man roster, there are also more than a handful of starting jobs that are likely on the line. The Lions roster has taken a big step in the past couple years, but there are still some key decisions to make with their top-end talent.
Let’s take a closer look at each one of these starting jobs that are on the line, the competitors, and which players are entering camp as the favorite to win that position.
The competitors: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell (for 2 spots)
The favorites: LaPorta, Wright
While they may not use them on every snap, the Lions truly have two “starting” positions at tight end: the F position (slot) and the Y (in-line) position. LaPorta is almost certainly going to be the team’s starting F tight end, but Wright and Mitchell should have a healthy competition for the Y position. Wright has held down that job for the last two seasons admirably, but the Lions sound hopeful about Mitchell, their 2022 fifth-round pick.
“I can already see growth and development in him,” coach Dan Campbell said in the spring. “There again, that’s going without pads. But I think just part of the emphasis for him would really be in the run game, the blocking. He was a receiver in college before he was a tight end. So, he kind of has a feel and knack for some of those things. But it was the run game because we think there is a lot of potential. We think he can be an all-around type tight end for us, more of an athletic, Y tight end. He puts everything into it.”
The competitors: Marvin Jones Jr., Denzel Mims
The favorite: Jones Jr.
Prior to Wednesday night, the Lions WR situation seemed pretty straightforward. With Jameson Williams serving a six-game suspension, the Lions would use some combination of Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, and Marvin Jones Jr. in their three starting roles. But with the trade for Mims, that immediately gives the Lions a younger, faster option on the outside.
That said, Mims has A TON to prove before we assume he’ll win a starting job. Consider Jones the heavy favorite here, with Mims far from even guaranteed a roster spot. His Jets career never took off and it’s no given that a change in scenery untaps his potential.
The competitors: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Graham Glasgow
The favorite: Vaitai
In all honesty, I’m not entirely sure how much of a camp battle this is. Vaitai should be considered a heavy favorite for the job. The Lions made a strong effort to keep him around in an affordable way, while Glasgow only got a modest contract, and you could make the easy argument that he’s a 1-to-1 replacement for reserve lineman Evan Brown.
That said, if Vaitai isn’t quite ready from his back recovery, suffers another injury, or is just downright outplayed by Glasgow, there could be an upset here.
Closed defensive end
The competitors: Charles Harris, Romeo Okwara, John Cominsky
The favorite: Cominsky
This is a bit nitpicky because all three of these players are likely to get significant playing time in different roles and subpackages. There figures to be a pretty heavy rotation throughout the season, so getting caught up on the true “starter” is not really necessary.
That said, it will be interesting to see who Detroit opts to start outside Aidan Hutchinson to start the season when in their base packages. The coaching staff obviously loved Cominsky enough to re-sign him to a two-year deal, but don’t sleep on Harris, who this coaching staff continues to speak very highly of.
The competitors: Alex Anzalone, Jack Campbell
The favorite: Campbell
It’s only a matter of time before Jack Campbell—the 18th overall pick in this year’s draft—will assume MIKE linebacker duties. But this coaching staff will not immediately hand the job to him if he hasn’t earned it. The Lions have a ton of faith in Alex Anzalone, and if he’s the starting MIKE linebacker in Week 1, they won’t blink twice.
But at the same time, Campbell was almost exclusively repping at the MIKE position in training camp (with the second-team defense). It’s clear that’s where his future lies, and the sooner he’s in the lineup, the better.
If Anzalone holds off Campbell, that will create another starting job on the line:
Sub-camp battle — WILL linebacker
If Campbell assumes the MIKE job, Anzalone will almost certainly shift to WILL. The Lions are paying him too much for him to come off the bench. But if Campbell isn’t ready to take over the MIKE, there will be a competition for who will play alongside him. Let’s dive into that (theoretical) competition.
The competitors: Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, Campbell (?)
The favorite: Barnes
Maybe I’m being naive, but all the offseason talk about Barnes didn’t seem disingenuous to me.
Here’s LB coach Kelvin Sheppard:
“Derrick Barnes is coming, and that’s a real thing. That player is a very explosive, very violent, very strong linebacker.”
And Dan Campbell:
“Barnes is having a good spring. And I just bring this up again, nobody is counting Barnes out. Nobody is counting Barnes out. And he’s going to get his opportunity, so and there again, there’s a reason you’ve got competition in your room, but he’s having a good spring.”
“(He’s) really grown a ton. I feel like mentally, I’ve never seen — I’m going into my seventh year — that big of a mental transition from a college to a pro level. He’s put in the work to really study the game and grow from an on-the-ball defender to a middle linebacker in the NFL. It’s way different. Yeah, it’s honestly remarkable how far he’s come.”
Barnes was repping with the ones in the spring, but Rodriguez spent most of that time sidelined. He’ll certainly have an opportunity to reclaim that job, assuming he’s healthy.
Outside cornerback 2
The competitors: Jerry Jacobs, Emmanuel Moseley
The favorite: Jacobs
Perhaps the most intriguing starting camp battle of the bunch. Jacobs is the incumbent, and he also gets the nod because we’re not entirely sure where Emmanuel Moseley’s health currently stands. Nine months removed from ACL surgery, Moseley was still sporting a brace in the spring.
If healthy, Moseley may be considered the favorite simply by contractual obligations (Moseley got one year, $6 million with $2 million guaranteed). But those figures aren’t big enough to assume he’ll win the job, especially when he’s going up against someone as gritty, competitive, and talented as Jacobs.
The competitors: Michael Badgley, Riley Patterson, Parker Romo
The favorite: Badgley
Despite a solid season from Badgley, the Lions clearly wanted to create some competition in their kicker room. I still have Badgley as the favorite after some inconsistencies from Patterson and Romo in the spring, but Romo brings tantalizing leg strength and the Lions like Patterson enough to have traded for him.
Hopefully, someone emerges as the clear choice in camp.
The competitors: Jake McQuaide, Scott Daly
The favorite: McQuaide
It’s hard to read the Lions signing of Jake McQuaide—a 36-year-old former Pro Bowler—as anything but trouble for Daly. Maybe he just needed the extra pressure. Maybe McQuaide provides a nice mentor—but the Lions already had that in coach Don Muhlbach. Daly needs to sharpen up fast.