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Breaking down the Detroit Lions’ 2023 initial practice squad

Taking a closer look at the players on the Detroit Lions' initial 2023 practice squad.

New York Giants vs Detroit Lions Photo by Amy Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions 2023 roster is deeper than any time in recent memory. After the arduous task of establishing their initial 53-man roster on Tuesday, the Lions spent Wednesday building the initial framework of their practice squad.

Each NFL team is allowed to maintain a 16-player practice squad, made up of both veterans and players within the waiver system. This season, the Lions are participants in the NFL’s International Player Pathway program, and because of that, Max Pircher does not count against the limit. Therefore, the Lions will eventually end up with 17 players in total.

So far, the Lions announced 10 players—including Pircher—have been signed to their initial practice squad. While an 11th player (RB Zonovan Knight) was reported on social media, but not yet confirmed by the team. That would leave the Lions with six available spots to fill over the next few days.

As we have seen in previous seasons, these elevations can play a significant role in gameday management, and based on history, several players on this list will likely see some regular-season action at some point this year.

So let’s take inventory of which players are on the initial Lions 2023 practice squad.

RB Zonovan “Bam” Knight

Zonovan Knight was not part of the Lions' official Wednesday announcement, but his agent Mike McCartney is reporting that the deal is done, which is why he is included here.

Undrafted in 2022 out of N.C. State, Knight joined the New York Jets. After initially making their practice squad, he was a mid-season call-up, played in seven games, and started four. Over that time period, he rushed the ball 85 times for 300 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 13 of his 14 targets, producing another 100 yards of offense. Additionally, he had one kick return for 18 yards.

“Good player. Good player, good runner,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said of Knight prior to Detroit’s game against the Jets in 2022. “The thing is I’ve been told by other coaches around this league that’s played against that team that he’s a really tough runner, so we understand exactly who he is.”

With a nickname like “Bam,” you’d be right in assuming his game is power-based with solid contact balance and overall toughness. Knight is a decisive one-cut runner who gets downfield in a hurry and works best in gap and outside zone blocking schemes like the ones the Lions deploy. His quick decision-making translates to special teams, and he has three kick returns for touchdowns on his college resume.

WR Dylan Drummond

Dylan Drummond didn’t receive a UDFA contract from the Lions until after he made a positive impression on coaches during rookie minicamp. By the time training camp rolled around, he steadily worked his way up the depth chart through consistent play and started all three preseason games. Over those 97 preseason snaps, Drummond produced nine receptions on 15 targets for 87 yards.

Nearly half of Drummond’s snaps in the preseason came from the slot, and that may have been his biggest obstacle to making the initial 53-man roster. With Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond both capable of paying starter-level snaps, the path to opportunities was too difficult on a team that is much deeper than in seasons past. At the same time, Drummond's play was so reliable that he was surely a priority to return to the practice squad, and would likely be the first offensive skill player called upon if the Lions end up needing more weapons.

WR Maurice Alexander

A dynamic kick returner, Alexander spent most of last season on the Lions practice squad but was able to participate in four games. Over that time, he returned six kicks for 146 yards (24.3 yards per return) and caught his only target on offense—a 7-yard reception.

This offseason, Alexander was hampered by injury, which directly limited his chances to make the roster. When on the field, he once again showed off his natural returner skills—housing a 95-yard punt return in preseason Game 1—but was unproductive on offense only catching three of his six targets for 18 yards. He could be a situational game-day elevation if the Lions' return game needs a boost.

OT Connor Galvin

Connor Galvin was given $190,000 in guarantees to join the Lions as an undrafted free agent following the NFL draft—the highest in Detroit’s 2023 class. Working with the third team at left tackle for most of camp, Galvin slowly and steadily improved throughout camp and he ended the preseason with 65 snaps played and a PFF grade of 79.2—the highest among all Lions offensive players.

With only three offensive tackles signed to the 53-man roster—Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, and Matt Nelson—Galvin figures to be the “next man up” if an injury occurs. Galvin should also benefit developmentally from getting second-team reps throughout the season, and even if he never sees the field during a regular season game, he could be a player to watch in future seasons.

OG Kayode Awosika

Added to the roster early last season, Awosika played in 10 games, starting two for the Lions in 2022. He fluctuated up and down the Lions' depth chart during this year’s training camp, and started preseason Game 3, but overall he appears to be more consistent than some of the other options Detroit had on the interior.

OL Max Pircher (NFL’s International Pathway program player)

After spending multiple seasons with the Los Angeles Rams, Pircher got another shot to join the Lions this season as part of his development. Pircher spent most of training camp on the Lions' fourth line and only saw five snaps over their three preseason game. He will get the year to try and further advance his game while not counting against the Lions practice squad allotment.

DT Chris Smith

Undrafted out of Notre Dame, Smith found himself near the end of the Lions' interior defensive line rotation during training camp. His inclusion here is interesting because he was repping behind Christian Covington (who joined the Chargers practice squad) and fellow UDFA Cory Durden, who remains a free agent. Smith is compact and stout which makes him a solid run defender but doesn’t offer much as a pass rusher at this time. Hopefully, he will use his time on the practice squad to round out his skills.

LB Trevor Nowaske

Nowaske has the making of a position versatile linebacker who can be an important special teams contributor—similar to Anthony Pittman—with a bit more development. Nowaske is a downhill run defender, has the athleticism to drop into coverage, and can be used at MIKE and on the edge at the Lions SAM linebacker position. Time on the practice squad could be just what he needs to help him gain experience.

DB Chase Lucas

A multi-purpose defender and special teamer, Lucas’ consistency—especially in the third phase—drew praise from coach Dan Campbell during training camp, both during press conferences and in the locker room.

“He’s continued to compete every day,” Campbell said last week. “He’s done some nice things. I feel like he’s gotten better, but he is, he’s fighting for a spot. And, what I love about Lukey (Lucas) is I told him this, he’s the same guy every day. I mean the way he comes into work, he’s not up and down, he has the same attitude, he puts in the same amount of work, he–I mean nothing changes, he’s consistent.”

A source told me that Lucas had received several other practice squad offers to play for other NFL teams, but he opted to return to Detroit. Lucas has starting special teams skills and should be a name to watch as a possible game-day elevation option for the Lions this season.

S Brandon Joseph

Another undrafted defender out of Notre Dame, Joseph seized his opportunities (provided by injuries) to stack reps and showed steady improvement through camp. At this time, Joseph looks like a single-high-only safety, where his ability to play in space and find the football can be best utilized. He’s still growing as a player, but he can also provide the Lions with some needed depth at safety.

K Michael Badgley

After being the Lions' primary kicker in 2022 and converting on 24 of 28 field goals, as well as all 33 point after attempts, Badgley was let go over the summer after the team acquired current starter, Riley Patterson.

“It was hard to let Badgley go. That was tough,” Campbell said. “I have a lot of respect for Badge, but you know, we wanted to give another look at Patterson. We feel like they’re very similar type players, Badgley and Patterson. We’ll get a look at Patterson.”

After his release from Detroit, Badgley signed with the Washington Commanders, then Tennessee Titans—converting 3 of 4 field goals and all three extra points—but was released at cutdowns.

While the Lions kicking situation has been in flux for the past three seasons, it’s worth pointing out that Patterson and Badgley had a combined 30 starts and an 85.7% field goal success rate in 2022, each as their team's primary kicker.

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