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Detroit Lions bubble watch: Final roster predictions on defense

Our staff makes their final predictions for 2023 Detroit Lions roster cuts on defense.

NFL: AUG 25 Preseason - Lions at Panthers Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have made massive changes on defense this offseason. That has not only increased the expectations for a defense that finished among the league’s worst last season, but it also means some players who were around last year may get pushed off the bottom of the roster in 2023.

All this training camp, we’ve been tracking the players we perceive to be on the roster bubble. Now that the final preseason game is over and roster cuts are due by Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET, we’re prepared to make our final predictions. Surprisingly, there was the lot of movement in our choices after several defensive players made an impression against the Carolina Panthers.

Here is the final edition of Bubble Watch: Defense.

Final Bubble Watch: Defense

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 Julian Okwara OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -1
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
DT Benito Jones IN IN OUT OUT OUT OUT IN 3 +2
LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
LB Anthony Pittman OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -5
CB Chase Lucas IN IN OUT IN IN IN IN 6 +5
CB Starling Thomas V IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 0
CB Steven Gilmore IN IN IN OUT IN IN IN 6 +2
CB Khalil Dorsey OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 N/A
S Ifeatu Melifonwu IN IN OUT IN IN OUT IN 5 -1
S Brady Breeze OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -2
S Brandon Joseph OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 0
K Parker Romo OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT OUT 0 -1
K Riley Patterson IN IN IN IN IN IN IN 7 +1
On: Dorsey
OFF: Smith

Edge defenders

  • James Houston: 7 “IN” votes (no change)
  • Romeo Okwara: 7 votes (no change)
  • Julian Okwara: 0 votes (down 1)

The late injury to Julian Okwara made our staff’s decisions unanimous here. James Houston seems relatively safe despite playing late into the fourth quarter in the preseason finale (the Lions were short on bodies), but I think it’s fair to wonder if Romeo Okwara is fully safe. His contract situation, though, makes him a difficult cut. He costs about $5.6 million against the cap this year, but if Detroit decides to part ways, he’ll cost $9 million in dead cap spread across the next two seasons. That said, he’s hitting the 2024 cap as $3.5 million in dead cap regardless of whether he makes the team or not. So, in essence, Romeo would cost the Lions the same whether he’s on the team or not—with only about $150,000 in savings over two years if the Lions part ways.

Defensive tackle

  • Levi Onwuzurike: 7 votes (no change)
  • Benito Jones: 3 votes (up 2)
  • Christian Covington: 0 votes (no change)

Our staff was correct on Christian Covington, who was reportedly told of his release on Saturday. The decision beyond that is still up in the air. If the Lions decide to only keep four defensive tackles (Isaiah Buggs and Alim McNeill are essentially locks), our staff believes Levi Onwuzurike will be the last one in. However, about half of our staff believes Detroit will keep Benito Jones as the fifth option after a strong preseason from the depth lineman.

Linebackers

  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin: 7 votes (no change)
  • Anthony Pittman: 0 votes (down 5)

This is one of the more fascinating moves at the end of the preseason. In my opinion, Anthony Pittman still has a very good chance to make the roster due to his special teams value. However, our entire staff decided to cut him in order to make room for an extra defensive back.

Cornerbacks

  • Starling Thomas V: 7 votes (no change)
  • Steven Gilmore: 6 votes (up 2)
  • Chase Lucas: 6 votes (up 5)
  • NEW TO BUBBLE WATCH: Khalil Dorsey (0 votes)

After both picked up huge interceptions in the preseason finale, both Steven Gilmore and Chase Lucas have the majority of our support heading into roster cuts. While that may seem a little overreactive to a single game, both had strong finishes to camp and can provide on special teams.

Khalil Dorsey is another player who trended up in the final couple weeks of camp and had a strong preseason finale. However, he didn’t garner a single Bubble Watch vote. Personally, I think there’s a good chance he makes it, but he also has a decent chance of passing through waivers.

Safety

  • Ifeatu Melifonwu: 5 votes (down 1)
  • Brandon Joseph: 0 votes (no change)
  • Brady Breeze: 0 votes (down 2)
  • OFF BUBBLE WATCH: Saivion Smith — waived with injury settlement

While a few of us have Ifeatu Melifonwu making the initial roster, there’s also a realistic shot he makes it only to be placed on injured reserve—which was the thinking behind both my vote and Erik Schlitt’s. Otherwise, our staff believes the rest of the safety depth did not earn their way onto the roster.

Kicker

  • Riley Patterson: 7 votes (up 1)
  • Parker Romo: 0 votes (down 1)

Despite missing two kicks on Friday—including an extra point—our staff fully agrees that Rilery Patterson will be the kicker for 2023. The reasoning is pretty simple: Parker Romo did not even play in the final two preseason games, and coach Dan Campbell didn’t seem too bothered by Patterson’s two misses.

“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.”

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