The Detroit Lions have as good a top-to-bottom roster as they’ve had since Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell took over two years ago. That makes projecting their 53-man roster even more difficult than usual.
It’s mid-June, training camp doesn’t open for another month, and roster spots aren’t decided until late August, but it’s a drill I go through every summer after organized team activities and mandatory minicamp just to take stock of where things stand strengths and weaknesses in the Lions’ roster.
Here’s my premature (and sure to change) initial 53-man roster prediction.
On the roster: Jared Goff, Nate Sudfeld, Hendon Hooker, Adrian Martinez
If Hooker were healthy, the Lions would be a good bet to keep three quarterbacks, but the third-round pick is expected to open training camp on the non-football injury list and likely won’t be ready until September. With Hooker likely in line for a midseason return, the Lions can go easy on the QB, keep Martinez on the practice squad and bolster their depth elsewhere.
IN: Goff, Sudfeld.
Running backs (4)
On the roster: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Jermar Jefferson, Craig Reynolds, Mohamed Ibrahim, Greg Bell, Jason Cabinda.
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Montgomery and Gibbs should see the bulk of the work at running back this fall, but running backs rarely make it through 17 games healthy, and the Lions have a battle brewing for the No. 3 spot. I’m giving Reynolds the edge for now based on past production, but Jefferson could win the job with a strong camp. Ibrahim is an underrated free agent to watch, and the Lions will need special teams production from whoever wins the job.
IN: Montgomery, Gibbs, Reynolds, Cabinda (FB).
Wide receivers (5)
On the roster: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Josh Reynolds, Marvin Jones, Jameson Williams, Antoine Green, Tom Kennedy, Maurice Alexander, Trinity Benson, Chase Cota, Dylan Drummond.
The first four players on this list appear to be locked into roster spots, and Williams will enter the playing group when his suspension ends in late October. The Lions kept five receivers on their initial 53-man roster last season (employing both Kennedy and Benson) and seven on their initial 53-man roster in 2021. The final one or two roster spots will be decided in camp, but the receivers coach Antwaan Randle El had good things to say about Green last week, so seventh-round draft picks get the nod for the final spot for now.
IN: St. Brown, Raymond, Reynolds, Jones, Green.
Tight ends (3)
On the roster: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell, Shane Zylstra, Derrick Deese Jr.
The Lions have a tight end-friendly offensive staff, with Campbell (a former NFL tight end) running the show and Ben Johnson (a former tight ends coach) calling the plays. I could see them keeping Zylstra as a fourth tight end given Mitchell’s injury history and the special teams value of the position, but he’ll have to win a job in camp.
IN: LaPorta, Wright, Mitchell.
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Offensive Line (9)
On the roster: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell, Graham Glasgow, Matt Nelson, Brad Cecil, Ross Pierschbacher, Kayode Awosika, Logan Stenberg, Colby Sorsdal, Connor Galvin, Ryan Swoboda, Obinna Eze, Germain Ifedi, Darrin Paulo, Max Pircher.
The lions have 18 — 18! – offensive linemen currently on their roster, which speaks to the injury concerns they have up front. Of all the attacking positions, this is the one they seem to go heavy on to start the season, although it is impossible to tell anything about the candidates for back-end guard positions now. When the pads come on, we’ll have a better idea of how young players like Swoboda and Eze compare to vets like Ifedi and Nelson. Glasgow is locked into the interior backup job and I predict Eze will make a leap this summer with his physical tools.
IN: Decker, Jackson, Ragnow, Vaitai, Sewell, Glasgow, Nelson, Sorsdal, Eze.
Defense line (10)
On the roster: Edge — Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, Josh Paschal, Charles Harris, James Houston, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Zach Morton.
Interior DL — Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, Levi Onwuzurike, Brodric Martin, Benito Jones, Christian Covington, Chris Smith, Cory Durden.
As with the offensive line, it’s hard to tell too much about the defensive front seven in the summer, given the physical nature of the positions. The Lions have plenty of candidates for backup edge-rushing jobs, and a couple of those players (Paschal and Cominsky) will see plenty of time inside in sub packages. On the interior line, Onwuzurike is a complete wild card given his back issues. Smith and Durden have both impressed so far as undrafted free agents.
IN: Hutchinson, Cominsky, Paschal, Harris, Houston, R. Okwara, McNeill, Buggs, Martin, Jones.
On the roster: Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, Jack Campbell, Anthony Pittman, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Trevor Nowaske.
I might be overstating special teams a bit here, but I think most of the Lions’ off-ball linebackers have a path to a roster spot. The Lions will start a combination of Anzalone, Barnes, Rodriguez and Campbell at the off-ball linebacker spots, and the other two, plus Pittman and Reeves-Maybin, could be core special teamers. The Lions were able to hide Pittman on the practice squad early last season and could look to do the same again if they need to create cap space elsewhere.
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IN: Anzalone, Barnes, Rodriguez, Campbell, Pittman, Reeves-Maybin.
Defensive backs (11)
On the roster: CB — Cam Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, Jerry Jacobs, Will Harris, Chase Lucas, Starling Thomas V, Steven Gilmore, Khalil Dorsey, Jarren Williams.
S — Tracy Walker, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, Brian Branch, Saivion Smith, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Brady Breeze, Brandon Joseph.
Similar to the situation at linebacker, the Lions have a very defined group competing for starting jobs and several backups expected to play key roles on special teams. Gardner-Johnson and Branch are slot cornerbacks who will play safety in the base defense, and Smith and Melifonwu have similar position flexibility (though their primary contributions will come in the kicking game if they make the roster). I put Thomas on my list as a UDFA based on the feedback from Allen Park, and I feel more confident about his chances to stick than some others on this list.
IN: Sutton, Moseley, Jacobs, Harris, Thomas, Walker, Gardner-Johnson, Joseph, Branch, Melifonwu, Smith.
On the roster: Jack Fox, Michael Badgley, Riley Patterson, Parker Romo, Scott Daly, Jake McQuaide.
The Lions have training camp competitions underway at kicker and long snapper. I didn’t see enough of Daly and McQuaide to make a read on who will win the job, but I put McQuaide on this list based on the fact that the Lions signed the veteran in free agency. At kicker, Badgley doesn’t have the strongest leg, but he kicked well last season and will have to be beaten out by Patterson or Romo to lose the job.
IN: Fox, Badgley, McQuaide.