Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have fleshed out their 90-man offseason roster following the draft and are beginning to progress through more on-field elements of the offseason program, starting with last weekend’s rookie minicamp.
And while we’re still approximately four months away from the regular season, we are able to get a much better sense for how the depth chart is shaking out. Acknowledging there are several spots that are up for grabs through offseason competition, here’s an early attempt at projecting the team’s 53-man roster.
Starter: Matthew Stafford
Depth: Matt Cassel
Work to do: Jake Rudock
Thoughts: Stafford’s position on the depth chart is about as obvious as they come, but Detroit’s backup quarterback situation is a true coin flip. Cassel brings a wealth of experience, as well as familiarity with coach Matt Patricia, which gives him the slightest advantage over the incumbent Rudock.
It’s unlikely salary considerations will factor into this battle. Cassel’s one-year contract carries $350,000 in guarantees, which is only 0.2 percent of the team’s overall cap.
Running back (5)
Starter: LeGarrette Blount
Depth: Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner
Work to do: Dwayne Washington, Nick Bawden
Thoughts: Starting running back is likely to be a superficial title in Detroit this year. Blount may be on the field first for most games, but could easily finish third in reps behind the rookie Johnson and either Riddick or Abdullah.
Sorting out the back end of the depth chart is tricky. Even though we have both making the roster right now, it’s difficult to imagine the Lions keeping both Riddick and Abdullah because of the overlap in skill sets, as well as the fact neither has contributed much on special teams in recent years. Moving on from one or the other, whether by trade or a cut, opens the door for Bawden, this year’s seventh-round draft pick, to make the roster as a fullback and special teams contributor.
Wide receiver (4)
Starters: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones
Depth: Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones
Work to do: Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, Brandon Powell, Teo Redding, Deontez Alexander
Thoughts: Given the versatility of the group, the Lions should be able to roll into the season with just four receivers again this year. TJ Jones’ spot is probably the least safe, with a $1.9 million cap hit and no guaranteed money, but the upward trajectory in his development, combined with his special teams contributions, still makes him a reasonable value.
The team brought in some intriguing UDFA options who could push for jobs. Powell offers some open-field shake from the slot while Redding is a taller, rangy option with the ability to outjump most defensive backs.
Tight end (3)
Starter: Luke Willson
Depth: Michael Roberts, Levine Toilolo
Work to do: DeAndre Goolsby, Hakeem Valles, Marcus Lucas
Thoughts: This is another position where the starter label doesn’t mean much. All three offer some level of versatility, with Roberts and Toilolo serving as the better in-line blockers.
Offensive line (10)
Starters: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner
Depth: Corey Robinson, Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Joe Dahl, Wesley Johnson
Work to do: Brian Mihalik, Dan Skipper, Brett Kendrick, John Montelus, Beau Nunn, Leo Koloamatangi
Thoughts: The Lions are keeping their options open with the rookie Ragnow, but he’s a near lock to start, whether it’s at guard or center. As for depth, the team loaded up on options after last season’s injury issues.
Crosby could see some work at guard this offseason, but is most likely to remain as a tackle. Keeping both Dahl and Johnson could be redundant, especially if Dahl continues to make progress snapping the ball. That would open the door to free up a roster spot to use at another position.
Defensive line (9)
Starters: Ziggy Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams, Anthony Zettel
Depth: Kerry Hyder, Da’Shawn Hand, Cornelius Washington, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Cam Johnson
Work to do: Alex Barrett, Jeremiah Valoaga, Josh Fatu, Toby Johnson, Christian Ringo, JoJo Wicker
Thoughts: After the draft, it appeared Washington might be on the hot seat, but it turned out to be Akeem Spence who was on his way out, dealt to Miami earlier this month.
The Lions have decent depth on the edge, assuming Hyder returns close to the level he was playing at before last season’s Achilles injury. And the addition of Williams in free agency and Hand in the draft should bolster the interior’s ability to stop the run.
Ledbetter and Cam Johnson’s roster spots are guesswork at this time of year. Those final two defensive line spots remain fluid. This is a position group where one of the undrafted players, such as Wicker, could emerge with a strong training camp.
Starter: Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones
Depth: Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Jonathan Freeny, Nick Bellore, Chad Meredith
Work to do: Al-Rasheed Benton, Steve Longa
Thoughts: The Lions aren’t a 3-4 defense, but they’ll be incorporating more 3-4 looks with their multiple fronts. Recent history suggests a UDFA will make the roster somewhere and Meredith is as good an option as any. The small school linebacker has top-tier athleticism and would be a valuable contributor on the scout team and special teams as he’s developed.
Starter: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Quandre Diggs
Depth: DeShawn Shead, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Tracy Walker, Miles Killebrew
Work to do: Amari Coleman, Antwuan Davis, Mike Ford, Chris Jones, Raysean Pringle, Charles Washington, Rolan Milligan, Stefan McClure, Josh Okonye
Thoughts: There’s nowhere the Lions are deeper than in the back end. Expect the team to take full advantage of the unit’s positional flexibility to uniquely match up against specific opponents.
We’ve listed Lawson as a starter, but like last year with D.J. Hayden, expect him to split snaps on the outside with either Shead or Tabor. Diggs, meanwhile, has the making of a chess piece after his second-half success at safety last season.
And while injuries could always alter the situation, Agnew appears destined to be largely limited to special teams once again in 2018.
Starters: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
Work to do: Ryan Santoso
Thoughts: There’s not much to say about this group. The only thing worth watching is how Martin bounces back after a disappointing 2017 campaign. He struggled after missing training camp and the first several games with a foot injury. If he doesn’t get back to being among the league’s best at his position, his roster spot could be in jeopardy in 2019.