Detroit Lions: Predicting Final 53-Man Roster After Preseason Week 2

Dean HoldenAnalyst IAugust 22, 2012

Detroit Lions: Predicting Final 53-Man Roster After Preseason Week 2

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    With every preseason game, every practice, every press conference and spotlight piece, the Lions get a little closer to their final-roster construction.

    The Lions' front office itself is probably far less reactionary than we are after preseason games since they get to see these guys in practice every day where most of us see them once a week.

    Still, for a multitude of reasons, my projections on the Lions' final roster have changed drastically over the last couple of weeks.

    Players have suffered injuries or have come back from injuries or continue to suffer from old injuries. Some players who looked great early on have been lackluster in game action and vice-versa.

    Amari Spievey is one of those players who seemingly deserves his own disastrous category at this point.

    But for whatever reason, the final roster looks a lot different now than it did either one of the last two times I projected it, and it starts with the very first position...

Quarterback

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    Depth Chart:

    Matthew Stafford

    Shaun Hill

     

    There's a notable name missing from this list because two preseason games from Kellen Moore has been more than enough to prove that he is not ready for NFL action.

    Could he get better with time? Perhaps. He'll never be able to change his lack of arm strength, but plenty of moderately NFL quarterbacks have gotten by with below-average arm strength when they can make up for it with intelligence.

    Moore could do that, but not yet. He's a good candidate for the practice squad at this point.

    Some (and I, at one point) have found themselves wary of taking only two quarterbacks on the roster in the regular season because, despite his completion of a full, successful season, Stafford is only a year removed from two injury-riddled seasons.

    But, if the Lions truly end up losing both Stafford and Hill for the season (or even a large chunk of the season), is Moore going to save the team? Very doubtful. It will likely be time to pack up the season at that point anyway, whether it's Moore or a veteran free agent coming to play.

    So why keep Moore, instead of an extra RB/LB/CB who could actually bring some value?

Running Backs

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    Depth Chart:

    Mikel Leshoure

    Kevin Smith

    Joique Bell

    Stefan Logan

    James Bryant (FB)

     

    Jahvid Best, despite my earlier calls for calm, appears primed to start the regular season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and the future of his career is, perhaps, more doubtful now than it has been since his horrific concussion at Cal.

    Opinions on Best are wide-ranging, from the possibility that his career is over to the suspicion that he's fine and doctors are being overly-cautious because of ongoing litigation from former players regarding concussions.

    I happen to fall in the middle, assuming that Best will play sometime this year, but that he is probably one more good helmet shot from retirement. And even that might be one too many.

    At any rate, all we know right now is that Best isn't cleared to play, and it doesn't look like he will be by the time the 53-man roster is set.

    That leaves Mikel Leshoure, who is again healthy despite a hamstring injury sidelining him for most of training camp, to lead the way into the regular season. Sort of. Healthy or not, Leshoure won't be playing at all until Week 3 because of his two-game league suspension.

    That, in turn, leaves the load for the first couple of weeks on Kevin Smith, who has appeared more than up to the task.

    Joique Bell has displayed vision, patience and burst out of the backfield so far in the preseason and is a breakout candidate if he gets the necessary reps.

    Stefan Logan appears to be fine after an extremely scary-looking injury against the Ravens, and the Lions are referring to him as "day-to-day." That doesn't say much at this point, but it at least suggests that he's closer to re-joining the active roster than he is to landing on IR.

    Nobody really stepped up to take return duties away from Logan, so it would appear that he will stick around for a similar role as last year, but with a little more backfield responsibility.

    James Bryant is the most unlikely name on that list, but he has performed well in facilitating (which is to say lead-blocking for) power-running packages and just might be good enough to crack the roster for just that reason.

Wide Receivers

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    Depth Chart:

    Calvin Johnson

    Titus Young

    Nate Burleson

    Ryan Broyles

    Maurice Stovall

     

    Calvin Johnson requires no explanation. He will make the roster because the Detroit Lions are very, very lucky.

    Titus Young is a shoo-in and is primed for a breakout season if his performance in camp is any indication.

    Burleson is a team leader who still has plenty left in the tank, though Young appears ready to surpass him in targets (and likely a bunch of other stats).

    The rookie Broyles is healthy but has plenty left to learn. He has good awareness and seems to understand defenses, but he's still a rookie receiver. Rookie wide receivers tend to display widespread inconsistency, and Broyles should be no exception, especially coming off an ACL injury.

    Stovall gets the nod for the final roster spot for a couple of reasons. First, he has proven himself quite capable as a big-bodied receiver for two consecutive preseasons which will be good news if the Lions find themselves with injury woes at receiver.

    But more importantly, the Lions have shown major problems in special teams, and Stovall is one of the good ones (along with John Wendling). Considering how the Lions need, above all else, to improve special teams, the last thing they want to do is leave behind one of their best special-teamers.

    Patrick Edwards is the first man off the list, as he has had lackluster performances in preseason games and hasn't shown much promise as a return man.

Tight Ends

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    Depth Chart:

    Brandon Pettigrew

    Tony Scheffler

    Will Heller

     

    This is an easy one. Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler are important offensive targets, especially around the goal line.

    Pettigrew in particular has been a team leader in receptions for the last two seasons, and while Scheffler doesn't post the same kinds of stats, the production he does post tends to be extremely timely. Scheffler is also the best tight end the Lions have when it comes to stretching the defense downfield.

    The biggest question here is likely Will Heller, especially considering the fact that he played H-back for the Lions last season, and I just projected James Bryant to make the final roster. But regardless of what position Heller plays, and in what capacity, there is no way the Lions take less than three tight ends into the season.

    Heller may not be as physically impressive as Pettigrew and Scheffler, but he is a valuable blocker and did catch a touchdown pass in the playoffs against the Saints. The man can play.

Offensive Tackle

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    Depth Chart:

    Jeff Backus (LT)

    Gosder Cherilus (RT)

    Riley Reiff

    Jason Fox

     

    Backus and Cherilus are still outplaying their competition and should be the starters when the season starts, so that's two spots.

    Fox is finally fully healthy and is already playing like he's trying to make up for his two years off. He might be the Lions' primary backup at either tackle position right now.

    Reiff is young and talented, but more importantly (for now), he is versatile. He can play either tackle position as well as guard, so this year, he might be as useful for interior line depth as for tackle depth.

    Reiff may be the left tackle of the future, but the Lions clearly have no interest in rushing him into the role. For now, he's quality depth at four positions, and that is extremely valuable, especially considering what this next position looks like.

Offensive Guard

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    Depth Chart:

    Rob Sims

    Stephen Peterman

     

    Seems a little thin, I know. And in reality, the Lions will likely have to change the way they list some players in order to meet league minimums.

    But in reality, the Lions don't have a lot of talent at guard. Their starters are serviceable, and the depth players are projects at best.'

    The Lions do, however, have a lot of players with versatility on the offensive line, and that means they have depth at guard, even if they don't actually have people who are guards by trade.

    Based on the Lions' blatant disregard for the guard position since acquiring Rob Sims, it would appear they don't value the guard position terribly highly, which is why I project them to hold onto the starters are leaving the depth to guys at other positions.

Center

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    Depth Chart:

    Dominic Raiola

    Dan Gerberry

     

    Going back to the guards for a moment, considering Gerberry has versatility at either center or guard, the Lions would theoretically have two backup guards (Gerberry and Reiff), despite technically having none.

    But, we're talking about centers right now, and the big story is Dylan Gandy not making the roster.

    Simply put, Gerberry has outperformed him, thus far. If the Lions are going on performance in training camp and preseason, and not history with the team, Gerberry should be the winner.

    Gerberry is also roughly four years Gandy's junior, making him a better long-term investment in the event the Lions see him as more than simply a stop-gap player.

Defensive End

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    Depth Chart:

    Cliff Avril

    Kyle Vanden Bosch

    Willie Young

    Lawrence Jackson

    Ronnell Lewis

    Everette Brown

     

    The first four on this list are easy.

    Avril and Vanden Bosch are still the starters for the Lions, and rightfully so, though Vanden Bosch's medical issues appear to be getting more and more frequent.

    Jackson and Young are quality backups who would likely be quality starters on some teams, though their order on the depth chart is highly debatable.

    Lewis is a fourth-round rookie who will make the roster just because the Lions want to take time to mold him into a 4-3 end. He also has considerable value as a special-teamer.

    Brown is the dark horse here and may find it difficult to crack such a deep rotation, but he has simply played too well and with too much impact for the Lions to ignore him. He seems to be a perfect fit for the team, just as expected.

Defensive Tackle

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    Depth Chart:

    Ndamukong Suh

    Corey Williams

    Sammie Hill

    Nick Fairley

     

    The players here should be no big surprise, with the possible exception of the omission of Andre Fluellen whose roster spot basically goes to Everette Brown.

    But, I project Fairley to hit the bottom of the depth chart because he still appears undisciplined.

    Now, that isn't to say that he hasn't learned from his arrests in the offseason because he took a penalty. But, the Lions need to preach the virtue of discipline and not taking themselves out of games, and Fairley taking a personal foul against the Ravens is not reflective of that message, even if the call was borderline.

    We're still far from the point where Fairley gets cut, but we're also far from the point where Fairley becomes a starter next to Ndamukong Suh. He doesn't appear ready to be an instant game-changer, and the other three players on the line are all more accomplished than he is.

    This depth chart reflects that, though I fully expect him to move up a spot or two on it by season's end.

Middle Linebacker

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    Depth Chart:

    Stephen Tulloch

    Ashlee Palmer

     

    At one point, I wasn't so sure about Palmer as even making the squad. But at this moment, he looks like, perhaps, the best option to play the middle if something happens to Tulloch.

    It's, perhaps, more likely that DeAndre Levy moves in from the outside and Doug Hogue takes over Levy's spot, but if we're talking about people who fit naturally in the middle right now, it's Tulloch, Palmer and Travis Lewis who are still fighting through some rookie stiffness.

    Palmer is also one of the Lions' more valuable special teamers, and as long as he hasn't been part of the problem, he holds enough value in both the defense and special teams to hang around.

Outside Linebacker

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    Depth Chart:

    Justin Durant (SLB)

    DeAndre Levy (WLB)

    Doug Hogue

    Tahir Whitehead

    Travis Lewis

     

    I am tempted to add Carmen Messina to this list, but that is likely one too many linebackers, especially when we're talking about an undrafted rookie who has only had positive showings in a couple of preseason games.

    Durant and Levy are each obvious starters, and both are in contract years. That means that both players will be on their best on- and off-field behavior this season.

    It also means Hogue could easily be gunning for one of their jobs next year.

    Whitehead and Lewis are low-round rookies, and while they have both had flashes of brilliance since being drafted, it's obvious both have a long way to go. Still, there's lots of potential there, so it's unlikely that the Lions take the chance of stashing either of them on the practice squad.

    Messina is likely already on his way there, though.

Cornerback

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    Depth Chart:

    Chris Houston (LCB)

    Bill Bentley (RCB)

    Jacob Lacey (Nickel)

    Alphonso Smith (Dime)

    Jonte Green

    Justin Miller

     

    Just so we're clear, if the situation still looks like this after the Lions scour the waiver wire and some trade possibilities, I'll be extremely surprised.

    I don't expect the Lions like anything about this lineup after Lacey at nickel. But hey, this is the kind of talent they're dealing with right now.

    It's not much, and there are a couple of players whom the Lions may be ready to part with, most notably Smith. They're probably also not thrilled at the idea of keeping Justin Miller on the roster, but they're simply short on options.

    It doesn't look like Chris Greenwood is going to be ready to play anytime soon, otherwise, he would like make the roster instead of Miller. So, this is likely close to what the final roster will look like in Detroit at corner, if only for a day or two.

Safety

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    Depth Chart:

    Louis Delmas

    Erik Coleman

    John Wendling

    Amari Spievey

     

    Spievey is unquestionably in the collective dog house of each of his coaches because he's not even sniffing his old starting job at this point.

    This is not surprising, and perhaps, even highly justified, considering he looked completely lost against Baltimore.

    More importantly, Wendling and Coleman have come on with a vengeance with both looking like starting-quality players.

    Wendling, the career special-teamer, has exhibited, perhaps, the most surprising improvement on the entire team. Nobody expected Wendling to contribute to the defense, but through two preseason games, he has been one of the defense's most consistent playmakers.

    With Delmas out injured, it looks like the Lions could confidently start Wendling and Coleman on opening day and still be in decent shape.

    Spievey still makes the roster because I'm not certain the Lions are ready to give up on him, but I can't say that for sure. After all, Ricardo Silva is still waiting in the wings.

Special Teams

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    Jason Hanson (K)

    Ryan Donahue (P)

    Don Muhlbach (LS)

     

    The only spot up for grabs here is the punter position. Hanson's only real competition is his age and health, and Muhlbach doesn't even have another long snapper competing with him.

    But, Ryan Donahue and Ben Graham are putting up a good fight for the punting position, and either is easily a starting-quality player.

    However, Donahue has a slight edge in most statistical categories and showed both power and precision in plopping a 54-yard punt out of bounds at the 2-yard line at Baltimore.

    Graham has that great rugby-style kick that creates backspin and makes it easier to down balls inside the 20, but his leg doesn't have the same power for either distance or height.

    Right now, it looks like Donahue over the veteran Graham, but there are still two preseason games left, and it would not be terribly surprising to see things turn out either way.