The Detroit Lions have completed four weeks of training camp and two preseason games and it’s time for Jeremy Reisman and I (Erik Schlitt) to update our 53-man roster projection.
It’s important to keep in mind that while game performance is an important factor in determining roster spots, coaches are also taking into account the 16 training camp practices, as well as behind-the-scenes performances in team meetings/weight rooms/etc. when making player evaluations, and we will be doing the same.
Note: An asterisk (*) denotes the player is a rookie.
Nate Sudfeld Adrian Martinez*
NFI list: Hendon Hooker*
Changes from post-preseason Game 1 projection: None
Erik: No changes this week and I don’t anticipate any in the future either. Bridgewater got the start despite only playing in three practices and we both agree he is firmly locked in as QB2.
Is there an argument to be made that Sudfeld is worth keeping around as QB3?
Jeremy: I considered it more this week than any other week. Besides the fact that it was the Lions who introduced the now-adopted emergency quarterback rule (that requires a team to carry three quarterbacks to use it), I think it’s fair to wonder if Bridgewater will be ready in Week 1 to be the backup. Maybe they carry three QBs for the first couple weeks while Bridgewater fully acclimates. He didn’t exactly look great on Saturday.
But, ultimately, I think we both agree that Bridgewater is a professional and should be ready after three or four weeks.
Running back (4)
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Jermar Jefferson Devine Ozigbo Benny Snell
IR: Mohamed Ibrahim*
Changes: Jefferson OUT
Jeremy: We gave in this week and opted to only keep three running backs and a fullback. Unfortunately, the options here keep dropping like flies with the cutting of Greg Bell, Justin Jackson’s retirement, and Mohamed Ibrahim’s waiving/injured. The RB4 job is there for a guy like Jermar Jefferson to take it, but he’s been dealing with his own injury.
It’s hard to justify that RB4 spot, so let’s talk about Jason Cabinda instead. After another drop in the preseason, I can sense Lions fans are frustrated with him and don’t view him as a valuable piece. What’s your argument for keeping him here?
Erik: Special teams.
As with most of the decision in the final roster spots, special teams is an important factor and Cabinda can not only play in every phase, but he is one of the best special teamers on the roster. Yes, the drops are a lingering issue, but for a player that only had four targets in Ben Johnson’s offense last season, it’s not going to be a looming factor in his ability to make the roster for me.
Wide receiver (6)
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Chase Cota* Trinity Benson Maurice Alexander Avery Davis* Jason Moore
Suspended list: Jameson Williams
Erik: There’s bound to be some hype surrounding Cota after scoring the lone touchdown on Saturday, but if Tom Kennedy has taught us anything about wide receivers’ preseasons, it’s that special teams contributions matter more than stats. Through four weeks of training camp, Drummond has shown to be the more consistent and versatile receiver, while Green is playing in all four phases of special teams. That leaves Cota on the outside looking in for me.
That being said, several members of the Detroit media spent a long time with Cota in the locker room after Saturday’s game. So am I writing him off too quickly? Or might he just be the flavor of the week because of the touchdown?
Jeremy: I think it’s worth pointing out that this is a competition between three rookies (Cota, Drummond, Green), so Cota absolutely has a shot here. Detroit didn’t invest highly in any of these guys. And as for Cota, he’s been steadily improving over the past couple weeks beyond his preseason performance. That said, you nailed it. Drummond has been more consistent—despite the two untimely drops on Saturday—and Green is the more trusted special teams player.
I expect Cota to get a heavy dose of special teams this week, however. And if he can rise to that occasion, it wouldn’t shock me to see him make a real play for the WR5/6 job.
Tight end (3)
Darrell Daniels Daniel Helm
IR: Shane Zylstra
Jeremy: There hasn’t been much to discuss here for a couple weeks, but I suppose we should at least consider the possibility that Darrell Daniels makes the case for a fourth tight end spot. Last year, they kept four tight ends for much of the season, and Daniels—back from injury—played a healthy 10 special teams snaps on Saturday.
With the lack of depth at RB and questions remaining at WR and OL, are we overlooking the possibility of keeping a special teams tight end?
Erik: Daniels’ previous relationship with Lions tight end coach Steve Heim could give him a slight advantage in that aspect, but I’m not sold on them taking this route. I think this group is locked in.
Offensive line (9)
Kayode Awosika Bobby Hart Darrin Paulo Obinna Eze Brad Cecil* Alex Mollette Max Pircher Conor Galvin* Ryan Swoboda*
Changes: Matt Nelson IN
Erik: The only move we made to the offensive projection this week was to remove running back Jermar Jefferson and replace him with offensive tackle Matt Nelson. We both agree the Lions will likely be targeting to keep a ninth offensive lineman for depth and security—they need eight healthy offensive linemen on game days to get a roster bonus—but we had a hard time agreeing on who that might be.
I pushed hard for Nelson—and eventually wore you down by persistently annoying you—but it’s not because I am sold that he is the best option, and more because I think the Lions believe he is the best option based on usage throughout camp and games.
Based on what we have seen on the field, we both agree that Ifedi has been the better option at OT3, so why keep an OT4? There are three reasons in my mind: 1) Nelson has been the Lions' preferred option in six offensive lineman sets; 2) he is position flexible enough to play inside at guard as well; and 3) coaches seem to like him more than the media and fans—leading to me refer to him as the “Will Harris of offense.”
At the end of the day, there may be another offensive lineman that can step into Nelson’s roles and perform at the same level, but we simply haven’t seen a clear option to do that. Could Halapoulivaati Vaitai slide out to right tackle in a pinch? Maybe, but we haven’t seen it since his back injury. Could Ifedi or Graham Glasgow kick out as a sixth offensive lineman? Probably, but again, we haven’t seen it in camp.
We spent way too long debating this decision, but the floor is yours if you want to add a rebuttal, or you can abstain and we can put this debate to rest until after the Panthers game.
Jeremy: Talking about the Lions’ offensive line depth is depressing, so I’ll keep this short. I argued for Kayode Awosika as the ninth lineman but folded quickly because it wasn’t so much what Awosika did as much as it was how much Bobby Hart, Brad Cecil, and Colby Sorsdal struggled on Saturday. Outside of Graham Glasgow, the Lions have no trusted iOL depth, and at least Awosika has been around for a season. I’d love for the Lions to keep eight here and find a ninth on the waiver wire, but that falsely assumes other teams are just getting rid of solid o-line depth.
Interior defensive line (5)
Christian Covington Cory Durden* Chris Smith*
Changes: Jones IN
Jeremy: I’ve been trying to find ways to get Benito Jones on the roster for a couple weeks now, and after another decent preseason game, we managed to do it. I think it makes sense for a few reasons: Brodric Martin is a rookie who is still learning and on a pretty big developmental curve, I cannot completely trust Levi Onwuzurike yet (but am willing to keep him around), and we know Detroit wants to limit Isaiah Buggs’ snaps from last year.
Some will likely be skeptical of keeping five interior defensive linemen, especially when Detroit has so many edge players who can kick inside. Is five too much?
Erik: I think it’s right on the border of being too much because of John Cominsky and Josh Paschal’s abilities to kick inside. But I agreed with you here for two main reasons: 1) as you pointed out, Jones has been steady, while Martin and Onwuzurike still have some acclimating to do and 2) the Lions have been using a lot of five-man fronts during camp, suggesting they’re going to need interior defensive linemen who can be steady in Week 1.
If Martin and/or Onwuzurike show the staff something over the next week to suggest they can be more consistent, things may change, but for now, Jones has earned this spot.
Erik: In preseason Game 1, the Okwara brothers' stat line overshadowed a solid game from Houston, but in Game 2, Houston was able to pair stats with his impact, showing his value. Romeo quietly had another solid game (despite the lack of statistical production), while Julian nearly disappeared, illustrating his inconsistency and why he is on the outside looking in once again this week.
Jeremy: JAMES HOUSTON IS NO LONGER ON THE ROSTER BUBBLE. Are you happy now, comment section?
Anthony Pittman Trevor Nowaske*
Changes: Pittman OUT
Jeremy: Pittman is one of the hardest cuts we had to make here, and it certainly didn’t come easy. But with some necessary depth in the secondary due to injury, plus the aforementioned James Houston’s expansion to some special teams duties, the Lions may just not have room for essentially a special teams only linebacker.
This is the cut I feel both the least confident and the worst about. Make me feel better about this decision.
Erik: I feel the same way. We have been ping-ponging Pittman on and off the roster all offseason because he is such a dynamic special teams player, yet there may not be room for him on an expanding roster.
It would not be at all surprising to see the Lions take a similar approach as they did with him last season: sign him to the practice squad, elevate him for the first few games, then sign him to the active roster if/when they get hit by the injury bug.
Brian Branch* (NB/S)
Will Harris (CB/NB)
Chase Lucas (NB/CB)
Khalil Dorsey Colby Richardson
PUP: Emmanuel Moseley
Changes: Gilmore IN
C.J. Gardner-Johnson (S/NB)
Ifeatu Melifonwu Saivion Smith Brady Breeze Brandon Joseph* Scott Nelson
Changes: Smith OUT
Erik: We are combining our defensive backs conversation again this week because of the roster adjustments we made following injuries to Melifonwu and Smith. Last projection, we debated between Smith and Melifonwu, and while they each made their case for the roster with above-average special teams play, both suffered injuries that may keep them out until the regular season—complicating our roster construction decision-making process.
As a result, we replaced Smith/Melifonwu's spot with the next best defensive back on the roster and that is UDFA Steven Gilmore. This inclusion is not a direct result of him having an interception and two pass breakups in Saturday’s game, but more about the fact that he has been steadily climbing the depth chart and has earned extra attention.
I think we both agree Smith or Melifonwu bring more immediate value, and we could see some roster gymnastics to get them to active/injured reserve (so they can return to the roster later in the season), but in the end, this may be just the opportunity Gilmore needs to make the roster.
This decision does leave us in a bit of a precarious spot with safety depth. So Jeremy, what’s your comfort level with just three safeties? And do the Lions have enough position-flexible players in the secondary to cover if more injuries occur?
Jeremy: Not great, Bob. But Dan Campbell didn’t exactly sound optimistic about the injuries to Smith or Melifonwu, and I’m not ready to give a job to Brady Breeze or undrafted rookie Brandon Joseph. Maybe Breeze has a legitimate shot; he does play a lot of special teams. However, good ole’ Will Harris could drop back to safety, and I’m almost expecting that this week in practice after they moved him from outside corner to nickel last week.
So, is C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, Tracy Walker, and Will Harris enough depth at safety? Probably not, but if you keep one or two on the practice squad and get Smith and/or Melifonwu back in a month, it’s manageable.
Special teams (3)
Jack Fox (P)
Scott Daly (LS)
Riley Patterson (K)
Parker Romo (K)
Jeremy: I have nothing new to say about the kicker battle. They’re still both very close in field goal accuracy, but the coaching staff seems to prefer Patterson by their own comments.
Erik: Patterson taking all the kicks on Saturday is highly representative of what we have seen in camp all summer. When the coaches have an opportunity to use a kicker, Patterson gets the first, and sometimes only, shot.