Early Projections for Detroit Lions' Final 53-Man Roster
With the NFL draft in the books, the only major shakeup left for the Lions roster between now and Week 1 is cutting it down to 53 players.
That won't happen for another four months, but those 53 players—barring the rare midsummer impact free-agent signing—are already on the roster. So from here, it's all about narrowing. Who makes the roster, and who's on the outside looking for a new job? What will the 2013 Detroit Lions look like once the games start counting?
This is already a team that has undergone significant changes since the 2012 regular season wrapped up, and the team likely drafted three or four new starters in April. But which ones? What happens to the other five draftees? What happens to the guys behind them?
Don't get so greedy for this stuff on the intro page. Click forward and find out.
Note: It's way too early to have an idea of a completed depth chart, so players are listed in alphabetical order by last name (NOT depth chart order), with projected starters listed in italics.
The question mark here is really, let's be honest, about Moore. Stafford and Hill are entrenched for at least this year.
Moore did nothing of note to impress last season, and a lack of progression would open the door for undrafted free-agent signee Alex Carder, but ultimately, I don't see Carder being able to come in and be not only more talented than Moore, but represent enough of an upgrade to oust Moore after a year of development.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not sold on the idea of Moore even becoming a long-term backup, Jim Sorgi style. But I'm even less sold on the idea of Carder unseating him.
Moore was stable and rarely used in 2012. The Lions are just fine keeping him that way, and it seems the Lions are happier with stability at that spot than starting a shuffle at the third spot.
There is very little mystery here. The Lions need at least four running backs on the roster. Two of them were the most productive backs from 2012, one is a high-profile free-agent signing and the other is a draft pick.
The only real intrigue here is in whether a mystery undrafted player crashes the party. It's unlikely, but it happens from time to time. The Lions don't have a lot of depth at running back past these guys, so it's possible they look for someone else to buffer in case of injury.
That said, Bell, Leshoure and Riddick have roughly a combined two years of actual playing experience under their belts, so there is probably enough youth and inexperience on the roster already.
The big battle to watch here is between Bell and Riddick. Bell makes sense as the primary "spell" back, and he thrived in late-game situations. But Riddick has a little bit more burst, and could push Bell for time.
For as good as the Lions are at wide receiver, the bottom of the depth chart looks awfully bleak.
Most of this is obvious. Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles are virtual locks to make the roster and be the Lions' primary receiving options.
Mike Thomas should be greatly improved after spending an offseason with the Lions, and Corey Fuller should receive the benefit of being a draft pick at a position where there are no better options.
Kris Durham is a wild card here. Like Thomas, he should improve given an offseason in Detroit, and he showed a couple nice flashes of talent late in 2012 when he was forced into service. If he builds on that, he could stick around. If he doesn't, it will be clear he was simply a fill-in.
It's an interesting situation the Lions find themselves in. The Lions have two tight ends who they use regularly in Pettigrew and Scheffler. Both play well, but neither is really a star player at present.
So with both players entering a contract year, it will be interesting to see how the Lions handle these players next year, but there is no doubt about their ability to make the roster this year.
The only question mark is seventh-round draft pick Michael Williams, who I expect to be pushed by UDFA Joseph Fauria in training camp. Ultimately, the difference should be Williams' superior blocking ability, which fits into the "Will Heller" role the Lions will likely need out of their third tight end this season.
With the Lions drafting Warford, basically every position on the offensive line is set except one.
Right tackle will be a battle between Hilliard and Fox, and while I give the edge to a healthy Fox, it's not by much. That battle could go either way, but the loser won't be missing the roster by any means.
The biggest stretch here is putting UDFA LaAdrian Waddle on the roster instead of longtime incumbent Dylan Gandy. The reasoning for this is as follows:
Much of the reason Gandy has stuck with the roster as long as he has is that the Lions haven't had a reliable replacement for Dominic Raiola. Now, the Lions have Bill Nagy, who is effective as either a guard or a center and could be Raiola's heir apparent.
In addition, Waddle has something the Lions really like in their linemen: versatility and hulking size. Waddle is in the 330-pound range and played left tackle for his entire career at Texas Tech. That would give seem to give the Lions a tackle/guard prospect with the size to be shaped into an effective player.
This might fall under "hunch" territory, but I like Waddle as an "upside" prospect over Gandy, whose best football has already passed him.
There's no better way to predict this, really. The Lions will want to carry at least four defensive tackles into the regular season, and I don't expect the fourth one to be Ogemdi Nwagbuo.
Before you ask, yes, Ogemdi Nwagbuo is a real person.
The Lions are good with Suh and Fairley starting things off, and C.J. Mosley is quality depth.
But as for the fourth player, the Lions have their choice of undrafted players, unheralded journeymen, and practice-squad players. I'm guessing that the Lions go back to the well here and find a viable, affordable option to finish the unit.
I'm not one to make unfounded free-agency decisions, but Corey Williams is still a free agent, and should be, at this stage, willing to sign for bottom dollar. Just a thought.
Not much intrigue to be had here. The Lions have five defensive ends on the roster, and they need every last one of them.
The most surprising thing is that the Lions haven't found a UDFA pass-rusher to bring into training camp. But with two rookies and a second-year player with no DE experience on the roster, maybe the Lions figure they have enough young players to bring along.
Ronnell Lewis is going to be a huge question mark this year. Lewis was drafted last year and expected to make the transition to defensive end, and the preliminary returns were not encouraging. Lewis will need to take a big step forward this year, or the former fourth-round pick may well be looking at an early end to his Detroit career.
Whitehead and Lewis should be the front-runners for the void left by Justin Durant, and I'm going to go ahead and give the nod to Lewis, who was criminally under-drafted in 2012 (the Lions took him at the top of the seventh round).
That's another one of those 51-49 decisions, though. Anything could happen.
I expect Messina to become this year's Ricardo Silva. Silva was huge in the 2011 preseason but didn't play a lot until 2012 because of a lack of depth. Messina was an impact player in the 2012 season, and the Lions are currently facing a lack of depth at linebacker in 2013. See where this goes?
Perhaps the most surprising thing here is that seventh-round pick Brandon Hepburn is left off the roster. He could earn a spot with solid special teams play, but the Lions don't seem to have any trouble keeping linebackers healthy.
Instead, the Lions would decide to keep more depth in the secondary, where they got badly depleted in 2012.
It would actually be a little strange to see the Lions take only six corners on the roster, considering how decimated this unit got in 2012. But nobody else is really worth carrying on the roster, so six it is.
I'm going to pencil in Greenwood as the second starter, even though he's a long shot. He is still the most physically impressive cornerback on the roster, and an abdominal injury in 2012 kept him from being able to show it.
Regardless, Greenwood has had a year to study the scheme, and he has immense growth potential. He has more experience with the team than the rookie Slay, has a better body type to play on the wing than Bentley and is faster and more agile than Jonte Green.
These rookies will all get a chance to contribute, of course, but I'm going to go ahead and ride Greenwood as the starter, even though Bentley is probably the more likely starter on paper.
Delmas and Quin will be a dangerous safety tandem if they ever actually play as a safety tandem. We'll wait to see on that.
Carey shocked everyone last season by not consistently being embarrassingly bad in coverage and should return in a backup role.
Spievey is my prime candidate for biggest comeback player, but he'll need to show it early, because he won't make it out of training camp otherwise.
Wendling will take up a roster spot at safety to do Wendling things (special teams coverage). The experiment of trying him out in the secondary is over, but he's ace-like enough on special teams that the roster spot is well worth it.
Ricardo Silva is a tough cut at this point, and he may well be the 54th man. But the Lions have seen enough from him, and I predict Spievey's comeback attempt will make Silva the odd man out. That said, if Spievey sputters in training camp, Silva is most likely in.
K: David Akers
P: Sam Martin
LS: Don Muhlbach
Akers is a tough sell after the year he had as one of the worst kickers in the league.
But let's not forget that Akers was a 69 percent field-goal kicker in 2012, which brought his career average down to 81, which is still really high (about a point lower than Jason Hanson's career mark).
If Akers recovers from the hip injury that obviously affected his performance in 2012, it's his job to lose, especially since his competition is a guy from the Internet (no offense to the Internet).
The other two here are easy.
When you draft a punter in the fifth round, you better expect that he's your starter, and his competition is a guy who hasn't played since 2010—at the University of Central Florida. Effectively, it's rookie punter vs. rookie punter. I'm giving the nod to the younger, more talented one that cost a draft pick.
Meanwhile, Don Muhlbach is a Pro Bowl long snapper, so no issues there.