The Detroit Lions have completed their preseason and now are required to reduce their roster to 53 players by the Tuesday, August 29, 4 pm ET deadline.
Throughout the offseason, Jeremy Reisman and I (Erik Schlitt) have collaborated on several joint 53-man projections, but for the final installment, we have ventured off on our own (You can find Jeremy’s here).
Without further ado, my 53-man roster for the 2023 Lions:
Note: An asterisk (*) denotes the player is a rookie.
Nate Sudfeld Adrian Martinez*
NFI list: Hendon Hooker*
There’s been some speculation surrounding whether or not the Lions would keep a third quarterback on the active roster, but I thought Teddy Bridgewater looked settled in during Game 3 and I’m not convinced Nate Sudfeld has done enough to justify that at this time.
While the Lions did propose the new emergency quarterback rule allowing teams to designate an extra quarterback on gameday, coach Dan Campbell has shot down the idea that this may influence their decision-making at cutdowns, saying: “I don’t think that’s a factor into what we’re going to do with the roster.”
There is a report that the Lions plan on activating rookie Hendon Hooker once he is medically cleared, so, they may add a third quarterback at some point, but I’m guessing that won’t happen at this time.
Running back (4)
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Jermar Jefferson Devine Ozigbo Benny Snell
For the second week in a row, the Lions only used one running back in the first half: Craig Reynolds. His performance against the Panthers should put any debate to rest that he is the team’s RB3 moving forward. Jemar Jefferson was likely his closest competition, but another camp injury took him out of the race. Benny Snell could be a sleeper for RB4, especially if roster construction leaves them short a bigger body on special teams.
Wide receiver (6)
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Chase Cota* Trinity Benson Maurice Alexander Avery Davis* Jason Moore
Suspended list: Jameson Williams
The rookies took this competition down to the wire and in the end, Green and Drummond stepped up and seized the final two spots at receiver. Drummond has been one of the more consistent receivers on the roster throughout camp, while Green showed off his breakaway speed and position flexibility on special teams against the Panthers.
Tight end (3)
Darrell Daniels Daniel Helm
This position group was set in stone the moment Zylstra went down with an injury early in camp. Daniels was a bit of a dark horse candidate for a TE4 role, due to his relationship with tight end coach Steve Heiden, but I didn’t see enough from him to justify a spot.
Offensive line (9)
Kayode Awosika Bobby Hart Darrin Paulo Obinna Eze Brad Cecil* Alex Mollette Max Pircher Conor Galvin* Ryan Swoboda*
The Lions top seven offensive linemen seem set, but deciding on an OT3 and OL8/9 was challenging. I was tempted to leave this position group at eight, but there also wasn’t another clear option on offense that forced that outcome. In the end, Ifedi is a reliable veteran, and Nelson has a track record in six offensive lineman sets. I was tempted to include Awosika here, but the Lions have consistently shown a preference for the tackles more during this training camp.
Interior defensive line (5)
Christian Covington Cory Durden* Chris Smith*
This was one of the more difficult decisions I needed to make, and in the end, I went with five interior defensive line players for two main reasons: 1) While Levi Onwuzurike has looked great, he is still in the recovery process and therefore hard to trust at this moment; and 2) Brodric Martin has not flashed as much in games as he did early on in camp, suggesting he is still early in the developmental stage. With two players in this position group too good to cut, but also still recovering/developing, the Lions need three players they can count on to give them consistent snaps.
I’ve tried to find a way to justify including seven edge rushers in my projection, but at the end of the day, Julian Okwara has been far too inconsistent throughout camp and appeared to suffer an injury against the Panthers. Of all the bubble players, he should have the highest trade value and I fully expect to see general manager Brad Holmes shopping him around over the next few days.
Anthony Pittman Trevor Nowaske*
What to do with Anthony Pittman has been a weekly thorn in my decision-making process. He is a dynamic player on special teams but is also clearly LB6 on a roster that is short of spots on defense. Keeping an extra interior defensive lineman costs Pittman his spot here, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets the same opportunities he had last season: sign to the practice squad, elevated each of the first three games, then get signed to the 53-man roster once an injury occurs.
* = could increase to 7 after initial cuts
Brian Branch* (NB/S)
Will Harris (NB/CB)
Chase Lucas (NB/CB)
Steven Gilmore* Khalil Dorsey Colby Richardson
PUP: Emmanuel Moseley
* = could decrease to 3 after initial cuts
C.J. Gardner-Johnson (S/NB)
Brandon Joseph* Brady Breeze Scott Nelson
I threw an asterisk on these two position groups because I expect the Lions may try and bring Ifeatu Melifonwu—who has had a solid camp—through the initial cuts, then place him on injured reserve, opening another spot on the roster. Because the rules surrounding injured reserve change from the offseason (where a player placed on IR ends his season) to the regular season (where a player can return during the season), I expect they may try to get Melifonwu to a spot where he can return later on in the year.
If Melifonwu does end up on IR, the player I expect them to bring back is Steven Gilmore, who was my last man out in this exercise. Gilmore has a nose for the ball and is just starting to scratch the surface of his potential.
This scenario may put the Lions in a bit of a bind with safety depth, but it’s worth pointing out that Brian Branch and Will Harris have safety experience and they have been giving Chase Lucas some occasional safety reps as a way of expanding his game. Additionally, look for the Lions to try and keep multiple safeties on the practice squad—namely Brandon Joseph and Brady Breeze—while Melifonwu recovers, giving them a bit more security at the position.
I also think a player like Khalil Dorsey should make the practice squad, and will likely be called upon during the season—either as an injury replacement or via gameday elevation—and could possibly be used as soon as Week 1 against the Chiefs.
Special teams (3)
Jack Fox (P)
Scott Daly (LS)
Riley Patterson (K)
Parker Romo (K)
All camp the Lions have seemingly leaned toward Patterson as their primary kicker, while Parker Romo has not kicked in either of the last two preseason games. Despite Patterson missing twice in Carolina—on a 53-yard field goal and an extra point—he still seems to be in a solid spot.
“I feel like (Patterson’s) been pretty steady and reliable, and I think he just kind of had a rough one today,” Campbell told Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com after the Panthers game. “That’s what I’m chalking it up to because he’s really been on it I feel like for this training camp.”
All indicators are that this is Patterson’s job.