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Detroit Lions Bubble Watch, Week 3: Last few roster spots on defense still up for grabs

A look at the latest positional battles and roster predictions after the Detroit Lions preseason game vs. the New York Giants.

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

On Monday, we broke down our predictions for the last few roster spots on the Detroit Lions offense. Now it’s time to shift our focus to the defense.

The Lions defense showed up in a big way in the first preseason game—holding the New York Giants to just a single touchdown, and even then, New York had a short field to work with after a Lions turnover.

Individually, there were a ton of impressive performances on Friday night. But did anyone impress enough to work their way onto the roster or—conversely—did anyone work their way off the roster?

Let’s take a look in our latest roster predictions in BUBBLE WATCH, WEEK 3!

Bubble Watch, Week 3: Defense/Special teams

Player Jeremy Reisman Erik Schlitt Ryan Mathews Hamza Alex Reno John Whiticar Morgan Cannon TOTAL CHANGE
Player Jeremy Reisman Erik Schlitt Ryan Mathews Hamza Alex Reno John Whiticar Morgan Cannon TOTAL CHANGE
EDGE James Houston IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
EDGE Romeo Okwara IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
DT Levi Onwuzurike IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
DT Christian Covington OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
LB Anthony Pittman IN IN IN OUT OUT OUT IN 4 +2
CB Chase Lucas OUT IN OUT OUT OUT IN IN 3 +2
CB Starling Thomas V IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
CB Steven Gilmore OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -1
S Saivion Smith IN IN OUT IN OUT IN IN 5 +1
S Ifeatu Melifonwu IN OUT IN IN IN OUT OUT 4 -1
S Brady Breeze OUT OUT IN OUT IN OUT OUT 2 0
S Brandon Joseph OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
K Riley Patterson IN IN IN IN OUT IN IN 6 +1

Edge defenders

  • James Houston: 7 “IN” votes (no change)
  • Romeo Okwara: 7 votes (no change)
  • Julian Okwara: 1 vote (up 1)

The Detroit Lions have a crazy amount of depth at the edge position—with Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, Charles Harris, and Josh Paschal already assumed to be in. That’s why Julian Okwara, despite a three-sack performance in the preseason opener, is still viewed to be on the outside looking in by most of our staff.

With Romeo Okwara taking high reps with the first and second teams—although also playing into the fourth quarter of the preseason opener—none of our staff believes he’s going anywhere. While James Houston has mostly been repping late, our staff still unanimously has him in after a solid preseason opener and a rookie season where he flashed elite pass rushing traits.

Defensive tackle

  • Levi Onwuzurike: 7 votes (no change)
  • Benito Jones: 0 votes (no change)
  • Christian Covington: 0 votes (no change)

No change at the defensive tackle position and for good reason. Levi Onwuzurike had an extremely solid preseason game, which is a tremendous sign considering expectations were so low for him going into 2023.

That said, don’t sleep on the possibility of the Lions keeping Benito Jones around, too. He continues to rep pretty high in practice. Still, no one is on board yet.


  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 7 votes (no change)
  • Anthony Pittman: 4 votes (up 2)

Reeves-Maybin is not only a special teams ace that this team trusts, but they also like what he can do on defense.

“I mean Germ just goes in there and makes plays,” coach Dan Campbell said of his preseason performance. “I mean that’s what he does.”

The debate here is whether the Lions have room for a sixth off-ball linebacker. Pittman struggled a bit on defense in the preseason opener, but he remains one of the team’s best special teamers, and also brings a little versatility as an edge defender. Our staff is currently split on his fate.


  • Starling Thomas V: 7 votes (no change)
  • Chase Lucas: 3 votes (up 2)
  • Steven Gilmore: 0 votes (down 1)

Chase Lucas gets a couple more staffers in his corner after taking almost all of the second-team nickel corner reps over the last week and posting the second-highest special teams PFF grade in the preseason opener.

Thomas seems close to a roster lock at this point, which is crazy to think about for an undrafted rookie entering a completely reformed secondary. That being said, with the news that Emmanuel Moseley may not be ready to start the season and could start on the Physically Unable to Perform list, that would leave the Lions needy at the outside corner position, which not only benefits Thomas but could benefit Gilmore as well.


  • Saivion Smith: 5 votes (up 1)
  • Ifeatu Melifonwu: 4 votes (up 1)
  • Brandon Joseph: 0 votes (no change)

It’s difficult to figure out how many safeties the Lions will keep behind C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, and Tracy Walker. With the versatility of other players on the roster (Brian Branch, Will Harris, Chase Lucas), the answer may be zero, the answer could be two.

It’s a pretty even battle right now between Saivion Smith and Ifeatu Melifonwu. Smith has the edge as a solid special teamer, but this Lions staff invested draft capital into Melifonwu, and his special teams skills have taken a noticeable jump this offseason—not to mention he’s growing as a safety, too. This one could go either way right now.


  • Riley Patterson: 6 votes (up 1)
  • Parker Romo: 1 vote (down 1)

The scales continue to dip in Patterson’s favor, but this is almost all based simply on how the coaches are talking about these two. In terms of field goal accuracy, the two have been nearly identical in camp. But the Lions continue to praise Patterson’s growth and development on kickoffs, while the conversation on Romo is almost exclusively about him needing to grow more beyond just having a big leg.

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