The Pride of Detroit Bubble Watch is a staple of training camp and preseason. In it, Pride of Detroit writers and editors make their pick of which players will be on the roster and which ones sit outside. This list is in constant flux as the regular season approaches, but it also helps illustrate a player’s rising or falling stock.
The 2023 edition of Bubble Watch is coming soon, but beforehand, it’s worth looking at the Detroit Lions roster. We have done a 53-man roster projection already, but that doesn’t necessarily paint a picture about how many roster spots are truly up for grabs.
Instead, I want to focus on the roster locks. These are players that, barring injury, retirement, or trade, will be on the initial 53-man roster. By knowing how many roster spots are already accounted for, we can figure out how many roster spots are available for the remainder of the roster.
Lock: Jared Goff
Not: Hendon Hooker, Adrian Martinez, Nate Sudfeld
The first position group and we’re already jumping into caveats. Goff is an obvious roster lock, but shouldn’t third-round selection Hooker be safe as well?
Technically, yes, he is a very safe bet to make the roster. However, that might not be the initial 53-man roster. Recovering from a college ACL injury, there is a decent chance that Hooker is unavailable come Week 1. While the Lions could feasibly keep him on the active roster, he might start the season on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) reserve, similar to how Jameson Williams started the 2022 season. On the NFI, Hooker would not count against the 53-player limit. As a result, I cannot call Hooker an official roster lock.
Sudfeld is probably as close to a roster lock as you can get, but I can’t bump him into that tier quite yet. If the Lions opt to keep two quarterbacks and Hooker is healthy, Sudfeld could be on the outs. Even if Hooker starts the season on the NFI, there’s a non-zero chance that Martinez pushes Sudfeld for a roster spot—after all, Sudfeld is little more than a career backup.
Number of roster locks: 1
Lock: Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, Jason Cabinda (FB)
Not: Greg Bell, Mohamed Ibrahim, Jermar Jefferson, Craig Reynolds
The running back group is fairly straightforward. Gibbs and Montgomery are the starting pair, while Cabinda is the team’s fullback/superback. Unless the Lions make the surprising choice to go without a fullback, all of these players are locks.
The remaining four backs are competing for one or two roster spots. Reynolds is perhaps the favorite entering training camp, but expect a hard-fought battle that anyone could win.
Number of roster locks: 3
Lock: Marvin Jones Jr., Kalif Raymond, Josh Reynolds, Amon-Ra St. Brown
Not: Maurice Alexander, Trinity Benson, Chase Cota, Dylan Drummond, Antoine Green, Tom Kennedy
Other: Jameson Williams (suspension)
St. Brown is the ace of the staff, while Jones, Raymond, and Reynolds are sure-fire bets to be contributors come Week 1. Williams falls into the “Other” category due to his pending suspension. As a result, he will not count against the initial 53. Unlike Hooker, however, it is guaranteed that Williams will miss time, hence why he gets his own category.
The wide receiver position could see some serious shuffling come September. The Lions could opt for a mere four wide receivers thanks to their tight end group (I’ll get to that shortly). The Lions could go the opposite way as well, keeping six receivers in a crowded receiving group. The number of receivers they keep could be based purely on preseason performances—at wide receiver and elsewhere on the roster.
Number of roster locks: 4 (+ 1 suspended)
Lock: Sam LaPorta, James Mitchell, Brock Wright
Not: Derrick Deese Jr., Shane Zylstra
LaPorta should not only be a roster lock, but an immediate contributor as a rookie. At first, I was hesitant to put Mitchell and Wright as roster locks, but I don’t see much competition for their roster spots, nor do I think the Lions go thin at the position. Zylstra is less battling against the other tight ends as much as he is the numbers game. I don’t see him rising above the TE4 spot, but the Lions could also keep four tight ends like 2022.
Number of roster locks: 3
Lock: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Penei Sewell, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Not: Kayode Awosika, Brad Cecil, Obinna Eze, Connor Galvin, Germain Ifedi, Matt Nelson, Darrin Paulo, Ross Pierschbacher, Max Pircher, Colby Sorsdal, Logan Stenberg, Ryan Swoboda
The Lions have a clear top six offensive linemen, with Decker, Jackson, Ragnow, and Sewell starting at left tackle, left guard, center, and right tackle, respectively, while Vaitai and Glasgow will battle for the right guard spot. Vaitai has the advantage, but Glasgow will stick around regardless thanks to his experience at center.
Sorsdal might be my first controversial pick. As a fifth rounder, one would hope that he would make the roster. However, waiving a Day 3 selection would not be unprecedented—in fact, the Lions had originally cut sixth-round pick James Houston just last season. Sorsdal has two hurdles to overcome: he will transition from tackle to guard and he will have to handle the jump from the FCS to the NFL. If he struggles during preseason, his roster spot might not be safe.
At least one of Sorsdal, Ifedi, and Nelson will make the initial roster, and the Lions will likely keep eight or nine linemen in total. It will be a very active training camp battle with multiple challengers.
Number of roster locks: 6
Lock: Isaiah Buggs, Brodric Martin, Alim McNeill
Not: Christian Covington, Cory Durden, Benito Jones, Levi Onwuzurike, Chris Smith
The Lions kept five interior defensive linemen in 2022, but it’s a fairly weak position entering 2023. McNeill is the clear top dog, while Buggs and Martin are locks due to a lack of serious competition. Covington and Onwuzurike have the best chance of making the roster as DT4, being a veteran and a former second-round pick, respectively—though the latter is battling significant injury woes. Jones could also be in the running for a roster spot, while Durden and Smith will have plenty of opportunities to impress in camp. Alternatively, the Lions might opt for simply three defensive tackles.
Number of roster locks: 3
Lock: John Cominsky, Charles Harris, James Houston, Aidan Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, Josh Paschal
Not: Zach Morton, Julian Okwara
It’s a very talented edge group for the Lions, and that means a lot of roster locks. Some might view Harris and Romeo Okwara as non-locks, but after restructuring both of their contracts this offseason and taking significant pay cuts, it would be very surprising to see either player off the roster.
Julian Okwara was a rotational piece on defense in 2022, but he has struggled with injuries throughout his career, including ending last season on the injured reserve. Worse yet for Okwara, his replacement, James Houston, exploded onto the scene with eight sacks in a mere seven games. Okwara already had a limited role on defense, but he might be redundant in 2023.
Number of roster locks: 6
Lock: Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jack Campbell, Malcolm Rodriguez
Not: Trevor Nowaske, Anthony Pittman, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
The linebacker position can be broken up into starters and special teamers. Anzalone and Campbell will likely start with Barnes and Rodriguez as capable depth, if not rotational pieces. That leaves a spot or two for special teams. Reeves-Maybin is a strong candidate to make the roster, but almost no special teamer can be called a roster lock. Between him, Pittman, Nowasake, and a number of defensive back special teamers, there’s a chance he doesn’t make the cut.
Number of roster locks: 4
Lock: Brian Branch, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Will Harris, Jerry Jacobs, Kerby Joseph, Emmanuel Moseley, Cameron Sutton, Tracy Walker III
Not: Brady Breeze, Khalil Dorsey, Steven Gilmore, Brandon Joseph, Chase Lucas, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Saivion Smith, Starling Thomas V, Jarren Williams
The eight locks in the secondary should be clear-cut. Joseph and Walker are the true safeties, with Joseph coming off an impressive rookie season and Walker fully recovered from his torn Achilles in 2022. Branch and Gardner-Johnson are nickel defensive backs with safety flexibility. Harris, Jacobs, Moseley, and Sutton are the four outside corners, with Moseley recovering well from an early 2022 ACL injury.
That leaves anywhere from one to three spots left for depth and special teams. Lucas and Melifonwu have pedigree as draft picks, though their early returns have been minimal. The final few spots in the secondary could come down to special teams, so keep an eye on the gunners, jammers, and punt protectors in camp—wide receivers will also factor into these battles.
Number of roster locks: 8
Lock: Jack Fox
Not: Michael Badgley, Scott Daly, Jake McQuaide, Parker Romo, Riley Patterson
Jack Fox will have an interesting training camp. Though he is the lone punter on the roster, he will have to catch from two different long snappers (Daly and McQuaide) and hold for three different kickers (Badgley, Romo, and Patterson). There is no clear frontrunner for either position battle as training camp approaches.
Number of roster locks: 1
Total roster locks: 39
Adding up the totals, the Detroit Lions are sitting 39 roster locks (40 if you want to include a healthy Hendon Hooker). On its own, that number indicates that the Lions have a fairly deep and talented roster: of the initial 53 roster spots, 39 of them are accounted for—just under 75 percent of the roster is set. There are many names in Detroit worthy of a tip of the cap. You can credit general manager Brad Holmes for building a competitive roster during his three seasons in Detroit. The coaching staff also deserves praise for developing its players into reliable pieces. For example, John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs went from castoffs for notable contributors.
Equally of note, it means that the Lions have 14 roster spots up for grabs. The Lions roster currently sits at 91 players (Max Pircher does not count against the roster limit as a member of the International Player Pathway Program), meaning over half the roster is battling for just 14 positions. That’s a significant roster squeeze, highlight how difficult the path to an NFL roster can be.