Mining for depth: Seven Patriots who could potentially help Lions' roster
Allen Park — The New England Patriots have made a habit out of adding players they got an up-close look at during joint practices, so it’s no surprise the Lions — run and coached by a pair of former Patriots employees — have started to dabble in a similar practice.
Last year, after hosting the New York Giants for joint practices, the Lions were able to snag defensive end Romeo Okwara off waivers. That move worked out better than could have been reasonably expected. Okwara played major snaps in place of injured starter Ziggy Ansah and wound up leading the team in quarterback pressures.
Later in the year, the Lions traded for defensive tackle Damon Harrison, but that likely had less to do with the joint sessions. His reputation as one of the league’s premier run-stuffers had already been well established.
The Lions also practiced with the Oakland Raiders last year. And while they didn’t immediately bring on any of their players, the Lions got a closer look at a pair they went on to sign this offseason in quarterback Connor Cook and cornerback Rashaan Melvin. Cook has already been let go, but Melvin is trending toward winning a starting job.
Given the schematic and philosophic overlaps between the Patriots and Lions, you can be certain general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia were on the lookout for New England players who might become available and could improve Detroit’s roster.
Here are seven possibilities we identified coming out of last week.
Wide receiver Dontrelle Inman
One of the biggest blows from Thursday's preseason opener was a season-ending injury to Jermaine Kearse. A late addition to the roster this offseason, he was brought on as a versatile, experienced option who could back up all three receiving positions.
Detroit will continue to evaluate the young options on the roster, determining whether someone like Travis Fulgham or Chris Lacy is capable of stepping up and filling the role. But if they're seeking another versatile veteran like Kearse, Inman might be the answer.
At 6-foot-3, Inman provides good length, but he also has extensive reps working out of the slot. He's three years removed from his best season, when he caught 58 balls for 810 yards with the Chargers. But at 30 years old, there's still probably something left in the tank.
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Offensive tackle Tyree St. Louis
There's a strong likelihood Detroit will carry four offensive tackles and that fourth spot is a good one for a developmental option. The team paid Ryan Pope top-tier money as an undrafted free agent, but he's struggled to validate the organization's faith through these first couple weeks of training camp.
Like Pope, St. Louis is an undrafted rookie, but looked more polished when the teams worked together this past week. He has a good frame for the position at 6-foot-5 and 315 pounds with 34.5-inch arms.
Linebacker Elandon Roberts
Beyond the starting tandem of Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones, the Lions don't have much experience among their off-the-ball linebackers. Roberts is currently on New England's roster bubble, given the Patriots' depth at the position, and he would give the Lions another option who has played under Patricia and knows both the scheme and the coach's expectations.
Roberts has appeared in 44 games in three seasons, including 30 starts. He's averaged roughly 65 tackles the past two years, while making modest contributions on special teams.
Safety Obi Melifonwu
If there's any position the Lions don't have a glaring need for depth, it's probably safety. As it stands, the team is already looking at the prospect of having to make a tough cut between Andrew Adams, Tavon Wilson and Charles Washington. But there's something about elite athleticism that gets football decision-makers excited, and Melifonwu is dripping with those rare physical gifts.
The 6-foot-4 — yes 6-foot-4 — safety displayed eye-popping leaping ability, to go with above-average speed, at the combine a few years back. He hasn't been able to translate those gifts to production to this point, largely due to missing extensive time with injuries.
Wide receiver Braxton Berrios
Berrios is considered a bubble guy, but with the way he looked during the joint practices, the Patriots would be hard-pressed to let the shifty slot receiver hit waivers. The former Miami standout spent his rookie season on injured reserve, but looks primed to contribute in his second year.
What might make him expendable has been the emergence of undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who carried his impressive practice performance into the preseason with a two-touchdown effort against the Lions.
If he comes free, Berrios could potentially be a better option than what the Lions currently have on the roster in Brandon Powell and Tommylee Lewis.
Linebacker Christian Sam
Like Berrios, Sam spent his rookie season on injured reserve. That's a quick way for any late-round pick to get lost in the shuffle.
Primarily a middle linebacker, Sam can also play on the weak side. He performed well in limited playing time in the preseason opener, which included 14 snaps on special teams. The question is whether he'd be a better option than Steve Longa or Garret Dooley, who are in the mix for the last linebacking job on Detroit's roster.
Quarterback Brian Hoyer
The most likely scenario remains the Patriots carry three quarterbacks into the season, but if rookie Jarrett Stidham continues to perform at a high level throughout the preseason, maybe, just maybe Hoyer (Michigan State) becomes available.
It's easy to imagine they'd shop the veteran, and probably find a buyer in exchange for a late-round draft pick. Given the way Tom Savage and David Fales have performed to this point, that might be a price worth paying for the Lions.