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Detroit Lions position battles up for grabs in preseason finale

The Detroit Lions still have several position battles to work out heading into their preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s last call for the Detroit Lions preseason. Friday night’s game against the Carolina Panthers is the final opportunity for the bottom half of the roster to make their case for the 53-man roster—which must be established by 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. The Lions have intimated that they will not be playing starters, so that leaves plenty of reps for depth players to justify making the roster.

With that in mind, here’s an overview of the jobs still very much up for grabs heading into the preseason finale.

Running back

Currently safe (2): David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs
In the mix (3): Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, Benny Snell Jr.
Long shot (1): Devine Ozigbo

The RB3 spot has been open all training camp, but injuries and the sudden retirement of Justin Jackson have prevented anyone from running away with it. That said, Craig Reynolds is the heavy favorite based on where he’s repping in practice (almost always with the second-team offense) and his experience on special teams. That said, Snell has plenty of his own experience, too. Coaches were optimistic about Jefferson entering Year 3, but he’s currently injured.

Wide receiver

  • Currently safe (4): Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones Jr.
  • In the mix (4): Dylan Drummond, Chase Cota, Maurice Alexander, Antoine Green
  • Long shots (3): Trinity Benson, Avery Davis, Jason Moore

It’s been a very up-and-down experience with this group. Dylan Drummond and Chase Cota have likely been the most consistent, but as undrafted rookies, they’re also the most likely to pass freely through waivers.

Maurice Alexander has a decent shot to make the roster as a capable starting kick returner—a currently vacant spot on the roster—but he still has much to prove as a receiver. Antoine Green was drafted by this team for a reason, but his play has been inconsistent.

Offensive tackle

  • Currently safe (2): Penei Sewell, Taylor Decker
  • In the mix (2): Matt Nelson, Germain Ifedi
  • Long shots (4): Obinna Eze, Darrin Paulo, Max Pircher, Ryan Swoboda

The Lions will almost certainly keep a third offensive tackle, but will they keep a fourth? Halapoulivaati Vaitai provides a little extra insurance at the tackle position—as does rookie Colby Sorsdal—but Vaitai hasn’t taken any offensive tackle reps this offseason.

Matt Nelson vs. Germain Ifedi has been a neck-and-neck battle all training camp and could come down to the preseason finale against the Panthers.

Interior offensive line

  • Currently safe (5): Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Graham Glasgow, Colby Sorsdal
  • In the mix (2): Kayode Awosika, Brad Cecil
  • Long shots (3): Connor Galvin, Bobby Hart, Alex Mollette

It’s another tricky numbers game here. There’s no guarantee the Lions keep a sixth interior lineman, let alone a seventh. So Kayode Awosika, Brad Cecil, and the rest may be fighting for two roster spots. They may not have a roster spot available at all.

Defensive tackle

  • Currently safe (3): Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, Brodric Martin
  • In the mix (2): Levi Onwuzurike, Benito Jones, Christian Covington
  • Long shots (2): Cory Durden, Chris Smith

In our most recent roster projection, we found a way to keep five defensive tackles, but it’s quite possible they only keep four. Levi Onwuzurike brings the biggest potential of the reserves but is also the biggest risk with his injury history. Benito Jones has played well towards the end of camp and he’s got experience in this defense, but his ceiling is relatively low.

Defensive backs

  • Currently safe (8): Cameron Sutton, Jerry Jacobs, Brian Branch, Will Harris, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, Tracy Walker, Starling Thomas V
  • In the mix (5): Steven Gilmore, Khalil Dorsey, Chase Lucas, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Brandon Joseph
  • Long shots (3): Scott Nelson, Brady Breeze, Colby Richardson

Despite having eight relative locks at this position, defensive back may be one of the more unsettled aspects of this roster. You can make a solid case for any of those five players in the mix, as they can all contribute on special teams, and each has varying levels of potential on defense. When it comes down to roster cuts day, versatility and special teams will likely be the biggest difference makers.


  • In the mix (2): Riley Patterson, Parker Romo

Patterson seems to have the edge here, but there’s no pressure like gameday reps, so it’s possible Friday’s preseason finale could make the difference here.

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