Allen Park — With more than half of training camp completed, and the first preseason game in the books, the Detroit Lions are still a long way from sorting out the team’s roster. Still, a pecking order is starting to take shape at the bottom of the roster.
Here is our initial projection for how the roster will shake out. There’s only one cut day this year. Teams must get down to 53 players by 4 p.m. on Sept 2.
■ In: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
■ Out: Brad Kaaya
■ Thoughts: Kaaya was sharp in the preseason opener, looking much better than he has during training camp practices. Still, the Lions can’t afford the luxury of carrying a third quarterback on the roster with some of the team’s needs at other spots, particularly on defense. They should be able to slide him through waivers and add him to the practice squad, like they did with Rudock last season.
RUNNING BACKS (4)
■ In: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington
■ Out: Matt Asiata, Mike James, Tion Green
■ Thoughts: The sample size was beyond small, but in his limited touches against the Colts, Washington showed significantly better patience and feel than he did as a rookie. He did a solid job in pass protection, as well, but will need to clean up his drop issues on the practice field to secure the spot.
The Lions need their third and fourth backs able to contribute if Abdullah or Riddick go down. Asiata can do a little bit of everything, but as a ball carrier, he simply isn’t dynamic. That was on full display against the Colts, with six rushing yards on five carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS (5)
■ In: Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley
■ Out: Jared Abbrederis, Keshawn Martin, Michael Rector, Dontez Ford, Dez Stewart, Noel Thomas
■ Thoughts: TJ Jones’ usage against the Colts — getting quickly removed from the lineup after a sizable gain — is a good indicator of where he currently stands. He’s drawn praise all camp and made good on the team’s challenge to add weight after he was cut last season.
I have Billingsley as the fifth receiver today, but that can quickly change. Abbrederis had a big play and a drop in Indianapolis, but he’s still in the mix. And it’s tough to rule out Martin, who is still further down the depth chart, but making the most of the opportunities he’s seeing.
TIGHT ENDS (4)
■ In: Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Michael Roberts, Cole Wick
■ Out: Tim Wright, Robert Tonyan, Khari Lee
■ Thoughts: If Roberts were performing more consistently, as both a pass-catcher and blocker, I might lean toward the Lions keeping three at the position. Wick gives you something on special teams and is an improved blocker, despite some gaffes against the Colts.
Wright and Lee are different types of tight ends, but both have been mixed in with the first-team offense during camp and under consideration, along with Wick. Tonyan is a good route runner and has reliable hands. He seems like a perfect fit for the practice squad as he continues to develop at his new position.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
■ In: Greg Robinson, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Laken Tomlinson, Joe Dahl, Cyrus Kouandjio, Cornelius Lucas
■ Out: Leo Koloamatangi, Brandon Thomas, Matt Rotheram, Storm Norton, Nick Becton
■ Thoughts: Before suffering an injury, Lucas was off to a good start in camp, looking sharp while primarily playing right tackle. If Corey Robinson returns from injury, it could shake up the roster dynamic at that spot, but there’s been no indication that’s imminent.
Joe Dahl and Laken Tomlinson haven’t done anything to deserve to be locks, but they have a longer leash because of their ceilings and their contracts. Dahl also offers versatility, which has value when the injury bug bites harder than expected.
Koloamatangi could certainly sneak on to the roster. He’s cooled a bit since his strong start, but the Lions coaches really like him and keeping him on board allows him to be developed as a potential Swanson replacement in 2018.
■ Injured: Taylor Decker, Corey Robinson
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
■ In: Ziggy Ansah, Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jordan Hill, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett
■ Out: Ego Ferguson, Bruce Gaston, Pat O’Connor
■ Suspended: Armonty Bryant, Khyri Thornton
■ Injured: Kerry Hyder
■ Thoughts: The last few spots on this group is the most fluid situation on the roster. Ansah, Washington, Zettel, Ngata, Robinson and Spence are locks. That’s three ends and three tackles, and the team could conceivably carry up to 10 total linemen. That seems like a stronger possibility after Kerry Hyder and flex option Brandon Copeland were lost to season-ending injuries in the preseason opener.
O’Connor, a seventh-round pick, is one of the tougher cuts. He was in on a sack-fumble against the Colts, but his practice performance has been more inconsistent than the two undrafted challengers -- Valoaga and Barrett.
■ In: Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Antwione Williams, Paul Worrilow, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
■ Out: Thurston Armbrister, Nick Bellore, Steve Longa
■ Injured: Brandon Copeland
■ Thoughts: Williams was trending toward winning the starting strong-side job, even before Copeland went down. Depending on how confident the Lions are at that spot, they could find a way to keep Longa, a practice squader from last year. Worrilow’s experience and versatility will be good to have on the roster, and he’s also a quality special teamer.
■ In: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, D.J. Hayden, Teez Tabor, Johnson Bademosi, Jamal Agnew
■ Out: Adairius Barnes, Tramain Jacobs, Josh Thornton
■ Thoughts: Seven cornerbacks? Yeah, it’s a lot. Too many, really, but special teams are a big factor here. Bademosi and Agnew might not contribute much on defense in 2017, but both have the potential to be top special teams performers — Bademosi as a cover guy and Agnew returning punts.
Hayden is trending toward being a top backup, both on the outside and in the slot, while Tabor can be developed for a bigger role next season, while sporadically being worked into a series here and there this year.
■ In: Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew, Don Carey
■ Out: Charles Washington, Rolan Milligan, Alex Carter
■ Thoughts: The top three — Quinn, Wilson and Killebrew — are locks and it’s difficult to imagine the Lions suddenly moving on from Carey, a four-phase special teams standout. Washington is a tough cut, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Lions find a way to keep him. They like his versatility and ability to get after it on kick coverage.
■ In: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
■ Out: Kasey Redfern
■ Thoughts: We still haven’t seen any indication Sam Martin is close to returning, but it’s obviously his job once he does. Redfern has been a pleasant surprise as a fill-in and is setting himself up for a job somewhere in this league.