The Detroit Lions wrapped up the preseason on Friday night, officially turning the page on the 2023 offseason. Before the team can turn its attention to the Kansas City Chiefs game in less than two weeks, general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell must face the daunting task of trimming the roster down to 53 players prior to Tuesday’s 4 p.m. ET deadline.
“It’s tough. Here we are in Year 3 of what Brad and I have done, and so it’s getting that much harder,” Campbell said after Friday night’s game. “We’re going to have to let go of some really good players and that’s tough. It’s tough to do. But it also means that there’s growth and the talent level has gone up, and that’s a good thing for your football team.”
Here is my prediction for the Lions’ initial 53-man roster.
Note: An asterisk (*) denotes the player is a rookie.
Nate Sudfeld Adrian Martinez*
NFI list: Hendon Hooker*
With news that Hendon Hooker is expected to be activated during the season and Dan Campbell admitting that the emergency quarterback rule won’t impact how they construct the roster, I’m feeling pretty confident the Lions only keep two. That’s especially true after Nate Sudfeld’s injury in the preseason finale.
Running back (4)
Jason Cabinda (FB)
Jermar Jefferson Devine Ozigbo Benny Snell
Jason Cabinda is the only player I’ve seen play fullback for this team, and they seem to be using it more in practice than in previous years. Forget the drops, that’s not why he’s on the team. He’s a fearless blocker and good special teamer.
As for the RB3 spot, Craig Reynolds cemented his spot on the team with a strong preseason finale. If the Lions were to keep four, Benny Snell has had a nice short time in Detroit, but given that he was just on the market, I think he’ll make it through waivers and would be a solid addition to the practice squad.
Wide receiver (6)
Amon-Ra St. Brown
Chase Cota* Trinity Benson Maurice Alexander Avery Davis* Jason Moore
Suspended list: Jameson Williams
Dylan Drummond has had too consistent of a camp and preseason to keep off this roster. He’s also got that workaholic gene that seems to define that receiver room. Meanwhile, Antoine Green finally flashed some of that size and speed combo that Detroit is missing with a lot of their receiver depth.
“I thought Green really showed up,” Campbell said after Friday’s preseason finale. “That catch he had where he ran through the dagger for the touchdown was big.”
Tight end (3)
Darrell Daniels Daniel Helm
While I briefly considered keeping a fourth tight end, I didn’t think Darrell Daniels or Daniel Helm had a particularly good game against the Panthers.
Offensive line (8)
Germain Ifedi Kayode Awosika Bobby Hart Darrin Paulo Obinna Eze Brad Cecil* Alex Mollette Max Pircher Conor Galvin* Ryan Swoboda*
Changes: Ifedi OUT
I don’t particularly love only keeping eight offensive linemen, and the reserves actually played quite well on Friday. However, keeping four offensive tackles no longer makes much sense to me after seeing Detroit give rookie Colby Sorsdal some reps at right tackle this week. With Sorsdal and Halapoulivaati Vaitai both capable of playing on the outside, Detroit has enough insurance to only keep one extra swing tackle. Based on how I’ve seen the Lions use them, Nelson is the more trusted player right now, despite some struggles in the preseason.
You could make an argument for a third reserve interior lineman, and Kayode Awosika has been the most steady of the bunch, but I think the Lions can get by stashing a guy or two on their practice squad.
Interior defensive line (5)
Christian Covington Cory Durden* Chris Smith*
Brodric Martin, to me, doesn’t look ready quite yet. And that means the Lions may need some extra depth at defensive tackle early on in the year. Levi Onwuzurike has been very flashy thus far, but by keeping Benito Jones, too, the Lions will have a more trusted resource to help give guys like Isaiah Buggs a much-needed rest on gameday.
I’ve had this settled for a few weeks now. Six edge defenders is a deep rotation, and while Julian Okwara had his moments in the preseason, consistency has been an issue his entire career. We don’t know the status of his injury suffered on Friday, but it can’t help his roster chances, which may have already been considered a long shot.
Anthony Pittman Trevor Nowaske*
I’m going heavy on the defensive line and the secondary, which means I had to make the tough decision of cutting Anthony Pittman. The good news for Pittman is that he was waived in the initial cutdown last year, but ended up coming back and playing in all 17 games last year. I think that’s very much on the table again this year.
Brian Branch* (NB/S)
Will Harris (CB/NB)
Chase Lucas (NB/CB)
Khalil Dorsey Colby Richardson
PUP: Emmanuel Moseley
This may feel like a little bit of overkill at cornerback, but Steven Gilmore has put too much good tape out there to risk losing him to waivers, and this story about Chase Lucas has me thinking he’s valued enough by the coaching staff to stick around.
(Dan) Campbell proceeded to play a clip of Lucas making a key block on Maurice Alexander’s punt return touchdown against the New York Giants and another on Chase Cota’s long return against the Jacksonville Jaguars, then dropped the remote at the front of the room.
“He was like, ‘I love you, dude,’” Lucas said. “He was like, ‘You’re never up, you’re never down, you just stay like this every day.’ He said, ‘I love you, brother.’ And I took that home, called my mom … All good things.”
Khalil Dorsey was a tough cut here, as he was trending up the last couple weeks of camp—and took full advantage of a late promotion to the second-team defense with a forced fumble on Friday night to go along with an impressive 61-yard kick return. He’s an easy re-sign to the practice squad if he clears waivers.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson (S/NB)
Brady Breeze Brandon Joseph* Scott Nelson
I’m stealing Erik Schlitt’s idea here. Ifeatu Melifonwu makes the initial 53-man roster only to be placed on injured reserve a day later. That way, it clears a roster spot for one of the initial cuts—in this instance, Pittman—and Melifonwu sits for only the first four games. If the Lions were to place him on IR before the final roster is established, he’d have to sit for the entire season.
Special teams (3)
Jack Fox (P)
Scott Daly (LS)
Riley Patterson (K)
Parker Romo (K)
Parker Romo could very well find a home somewhere else, but it was pretty obvious early on that the Lions preferred Riley Patterson. After all, they jumped at the opportunity to trade for him when he became available, and Patterson has been somewhat steady all preseason... until Friday night. But Campbell seemed to excuse the two missed kicks against the Panthers.
“I feel like he’s been pretty steady and reliable, and I think he just kind of had a rough one today,” Campbell said. “That’s what I’m chalking it up to because he’s really been on it I feel like for this training camp.”
In the end, my 53-man roster is only a single player different than Erik’s prediction. While he kept Germain Ifedi, I used that roster spot to prevent Steven Gilmore from hitting waivers. That makes the roster a bit unbalanced—23 offensive players, 27 defensive players—but I think that speaks to the depth on the defensive side of the ball, and it can also be easily remedied by Detroit’s choices on the practice squad.