An early projection of the Lions' 53-man roster as training camp nears

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — With training camp opening Thursday, we take an early shot at projecting what the Detroit Lions’ roster could look like when the team opens the regular season in September.

Quarterback (2)

In: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage

Work to do: David Fales

Thoughts: As always, the Lions’ chances of success will hinge on Stafford’s durability. It’s remarkable to think he hasn’t missed a game in eight seasons, but he’s also toughed it out through some ugly injuries. Savage appears locked into the backup job after the team released Connor Cook in June. Savage has a cannon for an arm, starting experience and a pre-established working relationship with new quarterback coach Sean Ryan.

Head coach Matt Patricia and the Lions open training camp on Friday.

Running back (5)

In: Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson

Work to do: Mark Thompson, Nick Bawden

Thoughts: The tricky part about projecting the running back room was figuring out what to do with Bawden, who missed his entire rookie season after tearing his ACL. Both coach Matt Patricia and offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell come from backgrounds that utilize the fullback, but unless the team wants to part with the well-rounded and suddenly productive Zenner, or try to risk trying to sneak Ty Johnson through waivers, Bawden looks to be the odd man out.

Wide receiver (5)

In: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Jermaine Kearse, Andy Jones

Work to do: Deontez Alexander, Jonathan Duhart, Travis Fulgham, Tom Kennedy, Chris Lacy, Tommylee Lewis, Brandon Powell, Brandon Reilly

His early work this offseason, as well as his ability on special teams, appears to give receiver Andy Jones an inside track to a roster spot on the Lions.

Thoughts: The top three in the corps are locks, barring an unforeseen trade or injury. And Kearse, a late addition, signed a contract that indicates he’s a part of the 2019 plan. His flexibility to play inside and outside makes him a logical choice as the top backup.

The final spot should be hotly contested, with a number of potential candidates for the job. We’re leaning Andy Jones in this early projection because of how well he performed during the early portion of the offseason program, and the contributions he offers on special teams.

Fulgham is our first man out, but the rookie out of Old Dominion has flashed strong hands and the ability to go up and high point the ball. The case for Powell or Lewis could be bolstered if they can make a mark in the return game.

Tight end (4)

In: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas, Isaac Nauta

Work to do: Jerome Cunningham, Austin Traylor

Thoughts: Keeping four tight ends might seem like overkill, but Nauta’s versatility, including his ability to line up in the backfield and fill some of the fullback blocking assignments, increase his odds of sticking. Thomas, the converted quarterback, is playing on a modest, one-year deal with minimal guarantees, but has looked like a pretty good fit thus far.

Offensive line (9)

In: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, Kenny Wiggins, Rick Wagner, Tyrell Crosby, Oday Aboushi, Ryan Pope, Joe Dahl

Work to do: Luke Bowanko, Leo Koloamatangi, Beau Benzschawel, Micah St. Andrew, Andrew Donnal, Matt Nelson

Thoughts: The starting lineup still isn’t set, with the opening at guard likely to come down to Wiggins or Aboushi. The team could probably get away with keeping just eight offensive linemen, but the unit has been susceptible to injury, so extra depth never hurts.

We went with Dahl for the final spot, over the recently signed veteran Bowanko and intriguing rookie Benzschawel. Dahl’s versatility — the ability to play center, guard and fullback — was the deciding factor.

Defensive end Romeo Okwara led the Lions in sacks last season with 7.5.

Defensive line (7)

In: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Austin Bryant, Darius Kilgo

Work to do: Eric Lee, Mitchell Loewen, Jonathan Wynn, John Atkins, P.J. Johnson, Ray Smith, Kevin Strong

Thoughts: The Lions ran a little light on traditional defensive linemen last season because the scheme generally sees at least one linebacker playing on the line of scrimmage. This group has plenty of workhorses at the top of the depth chart, so the guys at the bottom likely will see limited playing time if the room is healthy.

That includes Bryant, who hasn’t been on the practice field yet as he continues to work his way back from offseason surgery. For the final defensive tackle job, we went with Kilgo, a traditional nose tackle who can back up Harrison when he needs a breather.

Linebackers (8)

In: Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Devon Kennard, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Miles Killebrew, Steve Longa, Malik Carney

Work to do: Garret Dooley, Tre Lamar, Anthony Pittman

Thoughts: The linebacking corps will be led by last year’s starters and supplemented by Tavai, a second-round pick who should be able to back up all three spots. The rest of the group is made up by core special teamers, including Longa, who is returning from a season-ending ACL injury in 2018.

I don’t have any inside knowledge on Carney having an early leg up on a job, but the Lions like to have depth at linebacker and he showed some excellent edge-setting ability as at North Carolina.

Lions cornerback Teez Tabor (31) could be fighting for a roster spot as training camp opens this week.

Defensive backs (10)

In: Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman, Jamal Agnew, Amani Oruwariye, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Charles Washington, Tavon Wilson

Work to do: Teez Tabor, Andrew Adams, C.J.  Moore, Andre Chachere, Marcus Cooper, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin

Thoughts: There will be some healthy competition for jobs in Detroit’s secondary throughout camp. Slay, Diggs and Coleman are entrenched in starting roles, while Walker has been trending toward a starting job since the middle of last year. Harris and Oruwariye, as mid-round draft picks, also are likely safe bets for the roster.

That leaves three spots. Melvin, a free-agent addition, remains the early projected starter opposite Slay. And we like Washington and Wilson for their special teams contributions. The latter, who has played in this scheme most of his career, also made a handful of plays on the ball during the open practices in May and June.

The biggest name left out, not just for the position group but the entire roster, is Tabor, a second-round pick in 2017. Maybe everything starts to click this preseason for the youngster, but even with his increased playmaking during OTAs and minicamp, he was plagued by inconsistencies.

Specialists (3)

Starters: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach

Work to do: Ryan Santoso

Thoughts: Santoso has some serious leg talent, but he’s still not nearly consistent enough to challenge either Martin or Prater for a job. Muhlbach, meanwhile, might play until he’s 50.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers