Allen Park — Now that the Detroit Lions have broken camp and are halfway through the preseason, it felt like a good time to take another stab at projecting the team’s final roster.
Go here for our first crack at the roster, projected before the start of training camp.
► In: Matthew Stafford, Tom Savage
► Work to do: David Fales, Josh Johnson
► Thoughts: Detroit’s backup situation is certainly more muddled than it was at the start of camp, largely due to Savage suffering a concussion in the preseason opener. The team added Johnson to the mix as a stopgap, and he quickly managed to jump Fales on the practice depth chart. But it was Fales who delivered a stellar performance in Saturday’s game against Houston.
Concussions are tricky, because it’s difficult to gauge the time it will take for a player to be cleared. Add Savage’s history of brain injuries and it adds another layer to the conversation. If he manages to get cleared to return quickly, he should be able to reestablish himself as the top choice, but every day longer he’s out is a chance for Johnson or Fales to take hold of the role.
Running back (5)
► In: Kerryon Johnson, C.J. Anderson, Zach Zenner, Ty Johnson, Nick Bawden
► Work to do: Mark Thompson, Justin Stockton
► Thoughts: In our initial projection, prior to the start of camp, we had Bawden on the outside looking in. Now, he’s closer to a lock. A big reason for our earlier logic was not knowing what to do with Theo Riddick, the longtime productive third-down back, but the Lions made the decision to move on in the first week of camp, cutting the veteran.
The only real question remaining with this group is whether Thompson can do enough over the next couple of weeks to threaten Zenner’s roster spot. That’s a steep uphill battle, but Thompson is an interesting player because of his size and how difficult he is to tackle. He’s probably bound for a practice squad spot.
Wide receiver (5)
► In: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Travis Fulgham, Brandon Powell
► Work to do: Chris Lacy, Andy Jones, Jonathan Duhart, Deontez Alexander, Tom Kennedy, Tommylee Lewis
► Injured: Jermaine Kearse
► Thoughts: After Kearse went down with a season-ending leg injury in the preseason opener, there’s been an open competition for the top backup jobs, with multiple contenders getting some revolving reps with the first-team offense. To date, none have been able to snatch the brass ring.
Fulgham’s status as a draft pick, combined with his ability to make contested grabs, make him a good candidate to stick. The fifth spot could go to almost anyone in the mix. Lacy has gotten the longest look in practice, Andy Jones brings a valuable special teams component and Powell has been uniquely used throughout camp, lining up all over the place, including in the backfield.
The Lions saw something in Powell last year, rostering him the full season as an undrafted rookie, so we leaned in that direction. Of course, if the Lions end up signing Dontrelle Inman, that changes the landscape.
Tight end (4)
► In: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Logan Thomas, Isaac Nauta
► Work to do: Jerome Cunningham, Austin Traylor
► Thoughts: We kept Nauta on the 53-man, but his hold on that job is tenuous. Shortly after coach Matt Patricia noted the rookie was putting too many balls on the ground, Nauta dropped a pass in the fourth quarter against the Texans, helping end a potential game-winning drive.
Offensive line (9)
► In: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Frank Ragnow, Kenny Wiggins, Rick Wagner, Tyrell Crosby, Oday Aboushi, Joe Dahl, Beau Benzschawel
► Work to do: Luke Bowanko, Leo Koloamatangi, Micah St. Andrew, Andrew Donnal, Matt Nelson, Ryan Pope
► Thoughts: The first seven spots feel pretty safe. The starting left guard job remains a competition between Dahl and Wiggins, with Dahl holding the slight edge at the moment. In the meantime, Wiggins is proving his versatility, playing some tackle while Crosby deals with an injury.
Beyond that, we slotted two more interior linemen on the roster. It might be redundant to keep both Aboushi and Benzschawel, but the undrafted rookie should be viewed as a developmental project who has made enough progress in camp to merit a greater investment.
The same can’t be said for Pope, who netted a nice payday for an undrafted player, but has labored with his transition to the pro game. So much so that he’s only received one snap of work through two preseason games.
Defensive line (8)
► In: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Damon Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, Mike Daniels, Da’Shawn Hand, Eric Lee, Mitchell Loewen
► Work to do: Jonathan Wynn, John Atkins, PJ Johnson, Ray Smith, Kevin Strong
► Injured: Darius Kilgo, Austin Bryant
► Thoughts: It’s tough to get a read on some of the Lions’ injuries right now, but there hasn’t been any sign of significant progress with Bryant from what we’ve seen on the practice field. That opens the door for Loewen to squeak on to the roster.
Claimed off waivers at the end last season, he’s fit in well with Patricia’s scheme and has had an impact as an edge rusher in the early stages of the preseason.
On the inside, the Lions' interior depth made it difficult to find room for Strong, a camp standout. He is more than a feel-good story and if Hand's arm injury lingers, Strong is a solid replacement option, offering some pass-rush ability.
Johnson also misses the cut, but he's flashed some impressive athleticism for his size and would be an easy addition to the practice squad.
► In: Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Devon Kennard, Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Miles Killebrew
► Work to do: Garret Dooley, Anthony Pittman
► Injured: Steve Longa
► Thoughts: The group is a little light based on the personnel groupings the Lions like to run, but Lee and Okwara have got some off-ball work during training camp, supplementing the group’s depth. Dooley might have factored in as well, had he not had his momentum derailed by a mid-camp injury.
This is a group where I think the Lions could add a player from another team’s cuts. We’ve got our eye on Elandon Roberts in New England.
Defensive backs (11)
► In: Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Amani Oruwariye, Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Charles Washington, Andrew Adams
► Work to do: Tavon Wilson, C.J. Moore, Andre Chachere, Mike Ford, Dee Virgin, Johnathan Alston, Jamar Summers
► Thoughts: There are a couple of conundrums to sort out in the secondary. First, what to do with Tabor? He was doing enough through the early stages of the offseason program to merit a job, but he’s been out of action for a while with an injury. It’s possible he starts the year on IR, allowing Detroit to kick the can down the road with the decision.
At safety, the Lions are loaded with intriguing depth. It wouldn't be fair to leave Adams off the roster. He might not be the most consistent player, but he has a knack for picking off passes, and that’s a skill the Lions need.
The last spot comes down to Wilson and Washington. Wilson is the better all-around option, particularly with his defensive versatility, but Washington is an outstanding special teams player and the team’s best punt gunner. That specific specialty might be enough.
► Starters: Matt Prater, Sam Martin, Don Muhlbach
► Work to do: Ryan Santoso
► Thoughts: There’s nothing to see here. This group has been working together for the better part of five years and that’s not about to change.