Detroit Lions: Early Projections for Lions' Final 53-Man Roster

Dean Holden@@Dean_HoldenAnalyst IMay 3, 2012

Detroit Lions: Early Projections for Lions' Final 53-Man Roster

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    The NFL draft is complete, the Detroit Lions have a bunch of young talent coming to town and offseason workouts and minicamps are scheduled to begin very soon.

    So with the draft and most of free agency in the books, it's time we start thinking about what this roster looks like.

    Some of these positions are going to be easy to figure out. Some haven't actually added any new players from last year. Some are a complete mess and full of three- and four-way training camp battles to be played out in August.

    But most importantly, the vast majority of these positions are stable. No longer do the Lions have to wonder about starters at key positions or take no depth chart at all into training camp.

    This is a roster with both stability and a taste of success, with the ability to build on both this season. But which 53 players will be most responsible for it (at least as of opening day)?

    Let's start with the easy ones:


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    1. Matthew Stafford

    2. Shaun Hill

    3. Kellen Moore (R)

    No surprises here. Kellen Moore is the newcomer to the list after signing with the Lions as an UDFA mere hours after the draft concluded.

    Moore is likely slated for Shaun Hill's position given a couple of years, but to think he will supplant Hill anytime soon is just madness. The kid has a lot to learn, but he has the mind and the time to learn it. He could be a good backup for a long while.

Running Back

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    1a. Jahvid Best

    1.b Mikel Leshoure

    2. Kevin Smith

    3. Keiland Williams

    And not a sure thing on the list.

    Best and Leshoure, if healthy, won't really compete so much as they complement one another, which is why I'm not really placing one over the other.

    Smith will step in to spell the starters, which could help to keep him (and the others) healthy, but he will likely end up with an expanded role at some point, as injuries are nigh inevitable for running backs.

    Keiland Williams is probably slated for a short-yardage/goal-line role but could, again, see some time due to injury.

    James Bryant is on the team as an enigma a fullback, but with H-back Will Heller back under contract, he will likely find himself expendable.

Wide Receiver

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    1. Calvin Johnson

    2. Titus Young

    3. Nate Burleson

    4. Ryan Broyles (R)

    5. Nate Hughes

    Ryan Broyles has lots of potential. But wide receiver, like cornerback, is a position that takes a while to ease into.

    Broyles will need time to realize that second-round potential, and in the meantime, Nate Burleson, while not flashy, is still productive. Broyles is basically earmarked for Burleson's job, but he won't be taking it this year.

    Look for Broyles to have a year much like that of Titus Young in 2011: slow to start, with a few flashes of brilliance and a few duds, developing into greater consistency later in the season.

    Incidentally, I expect Young to have a breakout season and soundly surpass Burleson in every meaningful passing statistic, including targets. He started coming on strong last year, and having a full offseason with the team will only help him.

Tight End

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    1. Brandon Pettigrew

    2. Tony Scheffler

    H-Back: Will Heller

    No surprises here. Once the Lions re-signed Heller, this rotation was pretty much set.

    Pettigrew needs to work on his drops but is still the clear all-around favorite.

    Scheffler might see a few less targets as the Lions' WR corps continues to improve.

    Heller won't see a lot of passes come his way, but his role as a situational blocker shouldn't be underestimated.

    The Lions will bring some UDFA players in to compete with this trio (especially Heller), but don't expect a shakeup here.

Offensive Tackle

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    LT - Jeff Backus

    RT - Riley Reiff (R)

    Bench - Gosder Cherilus, Jason Fox

    And this is where things start getting really complicated.

    Frankly, Riley Reiff's arrival, however fantastic, complicates the hell out of the offensive line.

    Without question, Reiff should play. But at what position? At whose expense?

    Reiff can play guard and could take over for Stephen Peterman at RG. But that is a colossal waste of his considerable talent and likely a miscast for him.

    So if the Lions play him at tackle, they're looking at moving Gosder Cherilus or Jeff Backus off-tackle. Neither has any notable experience at guard, though people have been talking about kicking Backus inside for years.

    But that raises another issue: Is Reiff, as a rookie, ready for the blind side? Could he use a year at RT to help get him up to speed? Can Cherilus play guard?

    It's a good problem to have, but it's utterly maddening to contemplate the possibilities.

    Oh, on a side note, if Jason Fox is healthy, he should beat out Corey Hillard for a roster spot. If the guy has developed at all between injuries in the last two years, he could be another player in the mix at RT.

    Of course, if he's hurt still/again, Hilliard is obviously the pick, and the Lions will need to think about cutting ties with Fox.

Interior Offensive Line

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    LG: Rob Sims

    RG: Stephen Peterman

    C: Dominic Raiola

    Bench: Dylan Gandy/Dan Gerberry

    It's a familiar bunch here. Sadly.

    The Lions went out and picked up a bunch of upgrades in the draft, but they left the interior of the offensive line alone, which is not good considering the part they played in the Lions' anemic rushing attack last year.

    The Lions are giving some looks to UDFAs, and there is the possibility that one of these starting spots gets taken by a tackle displaced by Riley Reiff, but if I had to put my money on what the line looks like in 2012, it would be this.


    Also, if you're wondering about my decision to put all three positions on the same slide, it makes it easier to place Gandy and Gerberry, who can both play all three interior positions, together.

Defensive End

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    LDE1: Cliff Avril

    RDE1: Kyle Vanden Bosch

    LDE2: Lawrence Jackson

    RDE2: Willie Young

    RDE3: Ronnell Lewis (R)

    Nothing much should surprise you here, unless you missed the part about the Lions seeing Ronnell Lewis as more DE than OLB.

    This isn't so much a depth chart as it is a rotation, and we will likely see a healthy dose of each of these guys during the season. Lewis may not see as much time, as he tries to transition from the college "tweener" position to NFL DE, but he could factor in at times.

    Lewis is more NFL-ready than Willie Young was in 2010, but I see a similar progression from Lewis over his first two years, with a quiet 2012 (lots of special teams work, unlike Young) and then a much bigger defensive role in 2013.

Defensive Tackle

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    1. Ndamukong Suh

    2. Nick Fairley

    3. Corey Williams

    4. Sammie Hill

    Again, nothing shocking, except maybe the exclusion of Andre Fluellen (who may be cut to make room for Ronnell Lewis at DE).

    Nick Fairley, despite his drug-related issues, had moments of absolute dominance in 2011 and was never truly healthy. With Corey Williams in a contract year, it may be time for him to pass the starting job to Fairley and let opponents figure out how to stop a pair of linemen worthy of a double-team.

    Williams and Sammie Hill will still play a whole bunch, of course, but the future is Suh/Fairley and they should get the snaps to prove it.


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    SLB: Justin Durant

    MLB: Stephen Tulloch

    WLB: DeAndre Levy

    Bench: Doug Hogue, Travis Lewis (R), Tahir Whitehead (R)

    For now.

    This is a position more in flux than some others. Levy and Durant are both in free-agent years with no indication of their return one way or another.

    Meanwhile, the sky is the limit in terms of Doug Hogue's development, and Travis Lewis was a ridiculous seventh-round steal. Either player could push the starters on the outside by the end of this season, with Levy being the more vulnerable of the two.

    There is no apparent replacement for Stephen Tulloch in the middle, but barring an injury, they won't need one. The Lions champion the idea that linebackers should be able to play any position, so it's highly likely that Hogue will take some reps at the Mike, just in case.

    Tahir Whitehead will probably make the roster, but I'm not yet sure how the Lions see him, so he's difficult to place.

    Ashlee Palmer, though his days are likely numbered, could make the team just because the Lions are so thin (and young) at the position, but it would likely mean Whitehead's roster spot. Palmer would have to perform extremely well to justify a decision to put Whitehead on the practice squad or IR.


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    1. Chris Houston

    2. Aaron Berry

    Nickel/3. Bill Bentley (R)

    Dime/4. Jacob Lacey

    5. Chris Greenwood (R)

    6. Alphonso Smith

    7. Jonte Green (R)

    No, I don't expect Bentley to start. Not right away, anyway; Gunther Cunningham would have a coronary.

    The Lions will run with Berry for a while, who should improve considerably over 2011 after his first healthy year and a full offseason. If he steps up, great. If not, Bentley might see the edge by the end of the season.

    Greenwood also has some upward mobility, given his raw physical skills and coachability. Think of him like 2012's version of Berry in 2010, but with a higher ceiling.

    Seven cornerbacks may seem like a whole bunch to take into the season, and it is. But the Lions play in a pass-happy division, they were slammed with injuries here last season and they certainly don't want any other teams to snipe their valuable draft picks off the practice squad.

    So the Lions will make room for these guys by putting them on special teams and shaving off Stefan Logan and extra linebacker (special teams) depth.


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    1. Louis Delmas

    2. Amari Spievey

    3. Erik Coleman

    4. John Wendling

    Another way the Lions make room for an extra corner is by being paper-thin at safety.

    That's not really a good thing, but if isn't like the Lions are loaded down with safety talent right now. Delmas and Spievey are both coming up on make-or-break years. They each need to improve considerably on their 2011 performances.

    The wild card here is Ricardo Silva, arguably the hottest name of the 2011 preseason. Silva seems to have that rare playmaking ability, and if he learns to play within himself, he could challenge to either supplant Coleman or one of the young corners for a fifth safety spot.

    Given the rash of injuries that tore through the safety position last year, the Lions might actually appreciate keeping that fifth safety in the fold, rather than a seventh cornerback.

Special Teams

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    K: Jason Hanson

    P: Ryan Donahue

    LS: Don Muhlbach

    KR/PR: Not Stefan Logan

    Fun fact: Did you know Stefan Logan will be 31 years old in June?

    Can we go ahead and say return duties will be handled by someone else this year?

    The Lions are becoming too talented to spend a pick on a return man with no value elsewhere. I know return guys are important, but Logan, after a standout season in 2010, was barely even adequate in 2011.

    The Lions just drafted three speedy cornerbacks, and it might be worth it to see their returning prowess. That would justify that extra CB position.

    Oh and regarding Donahue over Ben Graham, Graham was great last year, but Donahue should be healthy and he is the future. They Lions didn't cut Nick Harris to move forward with a guy several years older than him.

    I wish the best of luck to Graham moving forward, but it has to be the young, big-legged Donahue moving forward.