The Lions closed the preseason with an ugly 35-17 loss to the Browns. Does it matter? Justin Rogers and John Niyo of The Detroit News discuss. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions announced the team's initial 53-man roster, with a few surprises, most notably keeping six receivers and four tight ends.
The Lions rewarded tight end Hakeem Valles and undrafted rookie receiver Brandon Powell for their impressive preseason performances. In addition to Powell, the Lions also kept receiver Bradley Marquez, a special teams standout during the preseason.
Defensively, the Lions went light up front, carrying seven defensive linemen. That makes more sense when you consider that linebackers Devon Kennard and Eli Harold spend most of their time operating on the line of scrimmage.
In the defensive backfield, Detroit somewhat surprisingly opted to part ways with free-agent addition DeShawn Shead. The veteran battled an injury through much of the preseason and struggled the weeks he was on the field.
Shead earned $1.6 million in guaranteed money during his brief stint with the team, but the Lions will save $1.53 million in cap space this season, and up to another $218,750, based on per-game bonuses, by releasing him.
In the backup quarterback competition, veteran Matt Cassel emerged the victor over Jake Rudock. If the former Michigan standout clears waivers, he's a candidate to be added back to the practice squad.
Rudock posted the better preseason numbers, but the stat line was artificially inflated by a number of short passes in the closing minutes of the preseason games, working against opponents' third- and fourth-string defense.
The Lions now have until noon on Sunday to claim any of the hundred of other players waived by the league's other 31 teams.
In: Matthew Stafford, Matt Cassel
Out: Jake Rudock
Thoughts: If you simply look at the box scores, you might struggle to understand this choice, but Rudock's stat line was inflated late in games, throwing exclusively check-down throws against third-stringers primarily running prevent defenses.
Cassel was far from great, and that pick-six against the Browns was downright ugly, but he was the better player, in the preseason and on the practice field.
Running back (5)
In: LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Nick Bellore
Out: Dwayne Washington
Injured: Nick Bawden, Zach Zenner (placed on IR on Saturday with a back injury)
Thoughts: Washington stated his case with a quality showing against the Browns, but it was too little, too late. Keeping Bellore shows the team is committed to using a fullback this season, and the four backs offer the Lions plenty of game-planning versatility.
Wide receiver (6)
In: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Bradley Marquez, Brandon Powell
Out: Jace Billingsley, Dontez Ford, Andy Jones, Chris Lacy, Brian Brown, Teo Redding
Thoughts: I had Marquez in on my final projection. He made the team for his performance on special teams. I had mistakenly thought it was an either/or situation between him and Powell, but Detroit found a way to keep the productive, undrafted rookie, as well.
Powell will probably be inactive much of the regular season, at least as long as Jamal Agnew and Tate are healthy, but keeping him on the 53 protects him from getting claimed off waivers, and allows him to be developed for a potentially bigger role in 2019.
Tight end (4)
In: Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Hakeem Valles, Michael Roberts
Out: Sean McGrath, Marcus Lewis
Thoughts: Valles earned his way in with a strong offseason, and while the perception was Roberts might be the odd man out in this scenario, the Lions were able to find room to keep the fourth-round pick from a year ago and hope he irons out the inconsistencies that have plagued him early in his career.
Offensive line (10)
In: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Joe Dahl, Brian Mihalik, Leo Koloamatangi
Out: Corey Robinson (traded to Carolina), Wesley Johnson, Dan Skipper, Jamar McGloster, John Montelus, Beau Nunn
Thoughts: The Lions were thrilled to land Koloamatangi as an undrafted free agent a year ago, and after a full season on the practice squad, and an offseason committed to bulking up, the Lions liked the improvements enough to find him a roster spot.
But 10 linemen is a little heavy, and if there's some intriguing options on waivers, this might be the group that has to sacrifice depth to add a player elsewhere.
Defensive line (7)
In: Ziggy Ansah, A’Shawn Robinson, Sylvester Williams, Anthony Zettel, Kerry Hyder, Da’Shawn Hand, Ricky Jean Francois
Out: Cam Johnson, Jeremiah Ledbetter, Alex Barrett, Josh Fatu, Toby Johnson, Christian Ringo, Jeremiah Valoaga
Thoughts: At first glance, seven defensive linemen seems light, but you have to remember, the strongside linebacker in Matt Patricia's scheme spends most of his time operating at the line of scrimmage.
That said, there's room for upgrades to this group, and New England waived a pair of interesting options in Marquis Flowers and Vincent Valentine. Plus, as long as he remains available, people won't stop asking about run-stuffing defensive tackle Jonathan Hankins.
In: Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Trevor Bates, Miles Killebrew, Eli Harold
Out: Jonathan Freeny, Darnell Sankey, Chad Meredith, Freddie Bishop
Injured: Steve Longa
Thoughts: It was a little surprising to see Freeny miss the cut, but if special teams are the tiebreaker, it's tough to argue against Bates and Killebrew. The Lions have a few more weeks before they need to make a decision on Harold and understandably want to see more. The conditional seventh-round pick they traded to the 49ers locks in if he's on the roster for Week 4.
Defensive backs (9)
In: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Quandre Diggs, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Tracey Walker, Charles Washington
Out: DeShawn Shead, Mike Ford, Chris Jones, Rolan Milligan, Josh Okonye, Dexter McDougle, Sterling Moore
Thoughts: As noted above, it was a mild surprise Shead didn't make it. He struggled, no question, but he was also battling an injury and offers impressive size and valuable positional flexibility and special teams ability.
Instead, the Lions rolled with Washington, one of last season's key special teams contributors. The team also has complete faith in Diggs playing all over the field this season.
In: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
Out: Ryan Santoso
Thoughts: Martin is in a prove-it year, after struggling in his return from a foot injury last season, but there was almost no way he was going to lose his job to Santoso in 2018.