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In-depth analysis of the 2023 Detroit Lions 53-man roster

With the 53-man roster finalized, lets breakdown each position and what each Detroit Lions player provides

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Kirthmon F. Dozier / USA TODAY NETWORK

On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions cut their roster down from 90 to 53 players. Then afterward, they made some other roster moves due to injuries and now the dust has settled and the roster is finalized. Some good players weren’t able to make the final cut, but that just shows where this team is now: sometimes being good is not good enough to make this team. Depth at certain positions is stacked, while other spots are tougher to find the final piece to the puzzle.

Now while Detroit does have these players on the roster, they still have some others hidden. Third-round quarterback Hendon Hooker will start the year on the NFI list, meaning he will have to miss at least the first four games as he is recovering from a torn ACL he suffered back in college at Tennessee. Another is wide receiver Jameson Williams, who is suspended for six games due to violating the NFL’s gambling policy. Outside of those two, Julian Okwara is on IR and can return after at least four weeks, and Detroit also has 16 players currently on their practice squad.

Now that we got out of the way, it’s time for me to break down each position for the Lions for the 2023 season. Players that are bolded are the projected starters.

Quarterbacks (2)

  • Jared Goff
  • Teddy Bridgewater

To the surprise of nobody, the Lions only kept two quarterbacks on their roster, Goff and Bridgewater. There was competition between Nate Sudfeld and Bridgewater for the backup job and while it was heavily leaning towards Bridgewater as the winner, Sudfeld getting injured in the final preseason game was the nail in the coffin as to who would come out on top.

Goff returns as the starter in what could be the best season for him as offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is back with the team for another year. Goff will have the starting offensive line in front of him for the first time since arriving in Detroit, which should make his job easier and he also has a ton of options in the passing game. While his contract is a big talking point, he still has to go out there and prove to everyone that he deserves an extension.

Bridgewater was a late offseason addition to the team and one that Detroit tried to make before the NFL Draft back in April. His starting history and how long he has been in the NFL are important as the Lions want to have a solid option in case Goff goes down due to injury. Bridgewater gives the team a fighting chance to win games if he has to come in and play or even start a game or two.

Running backs (4)

  • David Montgomery
  • Jahmyr Gibbs
  • Craig Reynolds
  • Jason Cabinda - FB

The running back room got a makeover this offseason as both Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift left via trade or didn’t re-sign with the team in the offseason. General manager Brad Holmes made sure to replace them appropriately as he signed Montgomery in free agency and drafted Gibbs in the first round of the draft this season. You could technically call this 1A and 1B as both will be heavily involved with the offense.

Montgomery will be your power back, but with some speed as well to him. His ability to break tackles will be huge, and with the best offensive line he has ever been behind, he could be in for his best season yet. Gibbs will be the speed/receiving back and he could even be lined up in the slot if need be. His ability to cut and avoid defenders will be fun to watch.

Reynolds had some competition at the third running back spot, and despite getting a little banged up in training camp, he had a strong preseason finale to make the roster. The fullback role is still locked in for Cabinda as he will get used rarely on offense and if so it will mostly be for blocking. He is primarily used for special teams, as that is his strength and where he will play the most.

Wide receivers (5)

  • Amon-Ra St. Brown
  • Kalif Raymond
  • Josh Reynolds
  • Marvin Jones Jr.
  • Antoine Green

What a turnaround this unit has been from what Goff was given in 2021. Even with Williams suspended, the group still has plenty of talent and it starts at the top with St. Brown. Goff expects him to have a big season this year, and with more play time as the outside receiver, that very well could be true.

Behind St. Brown is some solid depth of Raymond, Reynolds, and Jones Jr. All three are veterans who will be able to do different types of things for the team. You need speed, you got Raymond. You need a jump ball, you got Jones Jr. You need a big third-down catch, you got Reynolds. This group has plenty of talent in its veteran core and could be looked at as one of the best receiver rooms in the league.

The final player of the group is the rookie seventh-rounder Green, who had to fight a tough battle in the preseason and training camp to make the roster. Green showed some flashes of what he is capable of doing, and if an injury occurs, he would be called upon to step up and be able to contribute. Green can use this year to work on any skills he needs to improve upon and next season he could see himself perhaps higher on the depth chart.

Tight ends (3)

  • Sam LaPorta
  • Brock Wright
  • James Mitchell

The tight end position had a lot of competition heading into training camp and coming out on top was the rookie LaPorta. His ability to be a receiver and a blocker is something Detroit thought they had in former starter T.J. Hockenson. While LaPorta's blocking isn’t top of the line, he can contribute more than Hockenson in that regard. His hands are better, as he can catch some high-point passes, and his YAC ability is something Detroit hasn’t had in a tight end ever.

Behind LaPorta is Wright, who will take on more blocking duties than LaPorta. That said, he still can be used to run routes and catch passes. Last season, Wright had 18 catches for 216 yards and four touchdowns. Wright and LaPorta can be a fun little duo in the passing game to go along with the rest of the receivers and running backs, giving Goff weapon after weapon all around him.

The final tight end is James Mitchell who played in 14 games last season and caught 11 passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. He is another receiving tight end option that, while he might not see much playing time, can step in if Wright or LaPorta go down.

Offensive line (8)

  • Taylor Decker
  • Jonah Jackson
  • Frank Ragnow
  • Halapoulivaati Vaitai
  • Penei Sewell
  • Graham Glasgow
  • Matt Nelson
  • Colby Sorsdal

Yes, you read that right, all five offensive lineman starters are healthy and ready to play in the first game of the 2023 season. With back-to-back seasons of backups playing instead of the starters at every position, all five men are ready to play together. Decker and Jackson shore up the left side of the line where they will protect Goff’s blind side. Ragnow will help stop the nose tackles and interior linemen at center. Vaitai returns from his back injury and helps Sewell shore up the protection on the right side of the line.

Behind the starters is not much depth as Nelson will be the only backup offensive tackle on the 53-man roster. He was the sixth offensive lineman last season and will continue to be in that role this year. While it’s true that both Vaitai and Sorsdal can play tackle in a pinch, they are taking the majority of their reps at guard in practice.

Glasgow—assuming he didn’t win the starting RG job—came back to the Lions to be a backup guard/center for the team. Having a versatile player who can fill in for three starters can be a huge advantage. Sorsdal rounds up the group as another versatile player who moved from tackle to guard, giving the team more depth at multiple positions.

Defensive tackle (5)

  • Alim McNeill
  • Isaiah Buggs
  • Levi Onwuzurike
  • Brodric Martin
  • Benito Jones

Heading into the offseason, the defensive tackle position was looked at as one of the weaker positions on the roster. After free agency and the draft, the position could still be looked at as that. McNeill is the main starter at the position, and with him in better shape, he could be in for a big third season. Alongside him is a vet in Buggs who re-signed with the Lions in the offseason and will be a helpful contributor to the interior defensive line.

Outside of the starters, the depth is a little concerning. First, Onwuzurike is back from his injury last season, which is great news. If he can continue to develop and grow, he could be what the team thought he would be when they drafted him in the second round. But that’s a big if. It’s unclear if Detroit can trust him to stay healthy, and if they can’t he could be finding himself further down the depth chart.

Next is third-round rookie Martin, who had flashes in training camp as someone who would be a contributor this season, but he might need some more time to develop. Finally is Jones who is still young at 25 years old, but hasn’t been able to elevate himself among the others enough to be a big-time contributor to the defense. Overall, this position group could use some help still. This should be a major priority to revamp in 2024.

EDGE (6)

  • Aidan Hutchinson
  • Charles Harris
  • John Cominsky
  • Josh Paschal
  • James Houston
  • Romeo Okwara

The depth at the edge spot is immaculate. The starters, Hutchinson and Harris, will continue to apply pressure on the quarterback and help stop the run. Hutchinson will try to improve from his runner-up Defensive Rookie of the Year season. Behind them are Cominksy and Paschal, who not only can play the edge but can move interior if need be. Having four to five edge rushers on the field at once can be a scary sight for opposing offensive lines.

Next up is Houston, who was tested by Julian Okwara in training camp. While he still needs to work on his coverage and edge setting skills to become a full-time player, he is still a pretty good pass rusher who can get to the quarterback in a big situation. Speaking of an Okwara, Julian’s brother Romeo made the team again and still provides some depth at the edge position.

Having this group be three deep on either side, with all being able to do their job well, is a blessing for this defense. Injuries won’t slow this group down, and with how many options they have, they can constantly keep a guy with fresh legs on the field. Being able to substitute players and see minimal difference in the unit itself is something other teams wish they had.

Linebacker (6)

  • Alex Anzalone
  • Jack Campbell
  • Malcolm Rodriguez
  • Derrick Barnes
  • Jalen Reeves-Maybin
  • Anthony Pittman

Last season, the linebacker position relied on sixth-round rookie Rodriguez to start and contribute early on alongside Anzalone. No disrespect to Rodriguez as he had a good rookie year, but relying on a sixth-rounder as a starter shows that there are issues with the position group. Thankfully, that group seems to have improved with first-rounder Campbell joining the fray and moving up the depth chart to be a projected starter this season.

Despite Rodriguez possibly losing his starting job to Campbell, he is still a player who will see the fiel, rotate in, and be capable of making a play. Another player who stepped up in the preseason and training camp was Barnes. In fact, Barnes spent the majority of training camp as a starter—and it’s entirely possible he’s the Week 1 starter over Campbell. Regardless, Rodriguez, Campbell, and Barnes are all expected to have a defensiverole this year.

Behind those four are some strong special teams players in Reeves-Maybin and Pittman. Those two won’t be needed unless an injury or two happens, but you can expect them to be big contributors on special teams.

Cornerback (7)

  • Cameron Sutton
  • Jerry Jacobs
  • Brian Branch
  • Emmanuel Moseley
  • Will Harris
  • Steven Gilmore
  • Khalil Dorsey

No room saw more change than the cornerback room this offseason. The only two players on this list who were on the roster last season are Jacobs and Harris. Detroit needed help at the position badly and that is why they went out and signed Sutton, who will be the top cornerback on the team. He will be a big upgrade as the number one option, but he wasn’t alone. The team also signed Moseley, who was recently removed from the PUP and is eligible to play right away—although expectations are he’ll miss a week or two.

Behind them is Jacobs, who will likely start in Moseley's absence early on in the season and will continue to get playing time on the field. Branch has had a great training camp and is now slotted into the starting nickelback role. He played so well that the coaching staff had no choice but to put him on the field. Harris returns and will be a good depth piece at every defensive back position.

Gilmore and Dorsey each had strong preseason showings that helped them make the final roster. They will be the outside cornerback depth, and Dorsey had a 62-yard punt return in the preseason finale, giving him another way he can contribute to the team as a backup punt returner or possibly start as a kick returner.

Safety (4)

  • C.J. Gardner-Johnson
  • Kerby Joseph
  • Tracy Walker
  • Ifeatu Melifonwu

The biggest addition to this group was Gardner-Johnson, and man does he bring a lot to this team. While he was projected to start at nickel, Branch’s training camp forced the coaching staff to move Gardner-Johnson back to safety where he excelled last year with the Eagles. His type of leadership and trash-talking isn’t something the team has had much of in the past few years.

With Gardner-Johnson starting at one spot, Joseph will be the other starter after a strong rookie season last year. Joseph had himself a nice training camp to cling onto the starting role and to pair him with Gardner-Johnson will be a fun duo. With Gardner-Johnson taking over a starting spot, Walker was bumped to the bench and he will also be a situational player for the defense. Despite not being a starter anymore, Walker will still be a great leader for the team.

Melifonwu was battling injuries during training camp and overcame them enough to show the coaches he deserved to make the final roster. He will be a helpful backup who can come in and help if asked to. Prior to his injury, he showed notable improvement in his second year after moving from corner to safety.

Special Teams (3)

  • Riley Patterson - K
  • Jack Fox - P
  • Scott Daly - LS

This group has two out of three positions figured out with ease. Fox returns as the team's punter and will continue to be a big help in pinning opponents deep. Daly had a competition with Jake McQuaide in training camp that ended earlier than expected and Daly won.

The biggest conundrum is at the kicker position. Patterson defeated Parker Romo in the battle for the job, but not without drama to finish it out. In the final preseason game, Patterson missed a field goal and an extra point. Detroit was supposedly in the trade market for a kicker on Tuesday but ultimately wound up bringing back former starter Michael Badgley to the practice squad to compete with Patterson.

Patterson’s spot on the team could be in trouble if Badgley can outperform him in practice or if Patterson struggles in a game. Despite trying to eliminate kicker problems again this season, it appears it could be another year of woes when it’s time to kick a field goal.

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