Predicting the Detroit Lions' Depth Chart, Post OTAs
For the Detroit Lions, and every other NFL team, OTAs are nothing more than a preparatory activity. Remember back in high school, when your teacher handed out a practice test to prepare you for the real thing? That's exactly what OTAs are—except the "real thing" for NFL players is training camp.
Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said as much when discussing rookie offensive lineman Larry Warford's progress with Chris McCosky of The Detroit News:
He’s a big man and he’s got good athletic ability. He’s working hard and he’s picking things up quickly. But that’s all you can say about a guy now because we are not in pads. These aren’t even like non-padded practices in training camp because we can’t get a really good tempo going. But he is setting himself up for training camp where he will be able to show his physical ability.
In other words, there were are no big revelations after OTAs regarding the Lions right guard spot, or any other position for that matter.
With that said, predictions never go out of style.
The depth chart is a big topic of conversation at this time of year, so here are some very early predictions, following OTAs, about the Lions' current depth chart.
10. Punt and Kickoff Return
1. Michael Spurlock
2. Patrick Edwards
3. Theo Riddick/Corey Fuller
In all honesty, I had been planning on putting Edwards in the No. 1 spot, then common sense took over. The Lions' recent signing of Spurlock tells you all you need to know and is eerily similar to their offseason acquisition of Stephen Logan in 2010.
Spurlock is actually more accomplished than Logan was then, but both were under-the-radar signings. Logan was dynamic that year for the Lions, and Spurlock could have a similar impact this year.
Edwards has received a lot of hype during rookie minicamp and OTAs, but he has more value to the Lions as a receiver, particularly with Ryan Broyles' status up in the air to start the year.
Detroitlions.com reported that veteran Nate Burleson gave Edwards rave reviews for his playmaking ability on offense but gave no mention of him showing that ability on special teams.
Consider that foreshadowing.
Edwards will make a nice secondary option in the return game, but the full-time job will go to Spurlock, who's demonstrated he has the big-play ability the Lions have lacked in the return game the past two years.
He recorded a punt and kickoff return touchdown last season for the chargers and has five total return TDs in his career, according to ESPN.
Rookies Riddick and Fuller will get some play in practice but will only be emergency options in case of injury.
9. Offensive Line
RT: Jason Fox
RG: Larry Warford
C: Dominic Raiola
LG: Rob Sims
LT: Riley Reiff
With all due respect to veterans Jake Scott and Leroy Harris and youngsters Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin, this will be the Lions' Week 1 offensive line.
The Lions added a lot of depth to their offensive line this offseason, but that's all it is. The aforementioned players will serve as cheap insurance policies should one of the starters I mentioned go down with an injury.
Nagy and Austin are players to watch for in 2014 and beyond, but not this year.
Fox has the skills to win his position battle with Corey Hilliard and will take over at right tackle for Gosder Cherilus, who left for the greener (as in money) pastures of Indianapolis.
Warford is a beast who has the body and attitude that this line needs to finally improve the run blocking and take the next step.
Raiola and Sims are veterans, and both would have to fail dramatically to lose their starting spots.
Finally, Reiff was drafted to take over for Jeff Backus, and with the veteran's retirement this offseason, that's exactly what he'll do.
Reiff wasn't drafted in the first round to play guard or to come in as an extra lineman on third downs. He'll get the first crack at protecting Matthew Stafford's blind side this year.
8. Running Back
1. Reggie Bush
2. Mikel Leshoure
3. Joique Bell
When the Lions signed Reggie Bush, the running back depth chart got a whole lot easier to predict. He's an explosive veteran rusher who can provide big gains running as well as receiving, and that makes him a shoe-in for the top spot.
He will give the Lions offense what it's lacked since Jahvid Best went down in 2011.
Last year's dynamic duo of Mikel Leshoure and Joique Bell will be 2A and 2B, but not necessarily in that order.
Leshoure was underwhelming last season despite hitting paydirt nine times, and he's spent time during OTAs on the sideline with an injured hamstring already this season.
Theo Riddick and Montell Owens will round out the depth chart. They will contribute mainly on special teams, barring injury to any of the top three.
7. Tight End
1. Brandon Pettigrew
2. Tony Scheffler
3A. Michael Williams
3B. Joseph Fauria
The competition at tight end might be one of the more interesting position battles this offseason.
The Lions brought in two talented rookies who will push Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
Michael Williams was drafted in the seventh round, and Joseph Fauria was signed as an undrafted free agent.
Fauria's the more athletic of the two, but Williams' size and blocking ability make him a valuable commodity. The Lions aren't in the business of cutting new draft picks either, so Williams will be around, albeit lower on the depth chart.
Fauria's the wild card. He can be a downfield threat and is a huge red-zone target. The Lions don't have a tight end with both of those characteristics. Pettigrew and Scheffler might be able to stretch the field but neither have developed into a reliable weapon in the red zone.
At this point, there's no basis to predict that Fauria will unseat either of them. It's too early. However, it's something to watch for. If he excels during camp, the Lions might opt to cut ties with Scheffler, who is in the final year of his contract.
For now, Pettigrew and Scheffler remain No. 1 and 2 on the depth chart, with Williams and Fauria not far behind.
6. Wide Receiver
2. Nate Burleson
3. Mike Thomas
4. Patrick Edwards
5. Corey Fuller
Noticeably absent from this list is Ryan Broyles. If healthy, he'd be No. 2. However, he's not healthy and hasn't set foot on a practice field yet this offseason.
It's likely he won't be ready to go by Week 1, so including him on this list now doesn't make sense.
The Lions will move forward with who is healthy and on paper that is largely unimpressive. Besides Megatron, is there really anyone else who stands out?
Edwards has potential but is unproven. Burleson is still effective in spots but is clearly on the downside of his career, and Thomas has been unreliable so far.
Fuller is too young and raw to be counted on.
In other words, Lions fans should be praying to the Greek God Asclepius for Broyles to return quickly.
5. Defensive End
1. Jason Jones (L)
2. Ezekiel Ansah (R)
3. Willie Young
4. Devin Taylor
5. Ronnell Lewis
According to Freep.com, Jim Schwartz already named Jason Jones a starter, and for him to be that clear about a personnel decision really says something.
Schwartz likes revealing his game plan about as much as he likes making small talk with Jim Harbaugh.
In other words, pencil in Jones as the starter at left end and rookie phenom Ezekiel Ansah the starter on the other side. The Lions won't sit his potential for greatness on the sidelines, particularly with Jim Washburn and Gunther Cunningham coaching him up.
Willie Young and rookie Devin Taylor will see plenty of action as well. The Lions have to have a rotation of players and those will be the top four.
Second-year player Ronnell Lewis will likely be the odd man out. He simply lacks the size and athleticism of the other players I mentioned and will find himself relegated to special teams yet again.
4. Defensive Line
1. Ndamukong Suh
2. Nick Fairley
3. C.J. Mosely
If the Lions could start Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley every down, they would. Unfortunately, guys who weigh 300 pounds need a break every now and then.
That won't stop Suh and Fairley from seeing the lion's share of plays, though.
Nine-year veteran C.J. Mosley will play the part of Corey Williams from last season. He'll spell the two starters and provide solid play, particularly at stopping the run.
Ogemdi Nwagbuo is a dark horse to win the fourth spot. He's a product of Michigan State and, despite being an undrafted free agent, has worked hard enough to earn a job in the NFL the past four years.
He'll continue to work hard and could provide the depth the Lions need. At 6'4", 312 pounds, he's also the biggest defensive lineman on the roster.
1. Stephen Tulloch
2. DeAndre Levy
3. Ashlee Palmer
4. Tahir Whitehead
5. Travis Lewis
6. Carmen Messina/Brandon Hepburn
Ultimately, I believe that Ashlee Palmer will not be the third starter when it's all said and done, but right now, there's no reason not to put him there.
Especially since he was the first player Schwartz mentioned when asked by the Detroit Free Press about candidates to fill the spot vacated by Justin Durant.
Palmer played solid football in two starts last season, and he's put in his time on special teams. Why shouldn't the coach give him a vote of confidence?
I'm not sold, though. The Lions have several players on their roster with potential for much more, and training camp will clarify if Tahir Whitehead and/or Travis Lewis have developed enough to pass Palmer.
1. Chris Houston
2. Dwight Bentley
3. Jonte Green
4. Darius Slay/Chris Greenwood
Despite his speed and potential to be a starting corner this season, Darius Slay remains at the bottom of the depth chart following OTAs.
That's because he's only done limited work due to offseason knee surgery. The rookie simply hasn't had a chance to move up the depth chart yet, but his time will come. He's a likely candidate to win the starting job opposite Chris Houston
That would relegate Dwight Bentley to the nickelback position, which is a better fit for him anyway.
Then again, according to Josh Katzenstein of The Detroit News, it's no big leap to think Bentley will secure the starting job this year.
After all, he won the job last year. Not to mention he's completely recovered from the shoulder injury that robbed him of all but three games his rookie year.
Needless to say, the competition between Bentley and Slay will be intense and fun to watch.
Jonte Green, Chris Greenwood and nine-year veteran Ron Bartell will provide solid depth and coverage on special teams. The wild card of this bunch is Greenwood. His physical abilities are off the charts, but he has no experience at the NFL level.
If he can quickly adjust to the speed of the game during training camp, a rapid climb up the depth chart is a distinct possibility.
1. Glover Quin
2. Louis Delmas
3. Amari Spievey
4. Don Carey/Ricardo Silva
Glover Quin is hands down the No. 1 safety in Detroit these days. After him, the Lions' safety depth chart is essentially the same as last year.
Yes, Louis Delmas has been a no-show in OTAs due to his ailing knees; however, as everyone knows by now, when he's healthy he'll be the starter.
Even if he doesn't don pads until September.
Similarly Amari Spievey will get the nod as the top backup if he's healthy. He's got the experience and the trust of defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, according to Tim Twentyman of detroitlions.com.
Relying on the health of either player is a major gamble. That's why it doesn't really matter where Don Carey or Ricardo Silva are on the depth chart. They're next in line to play and performed admirably in six starts each last season.
Carey recorded two interceptions.
By developing talent like Carey and Sliva and adding Quin via free agency, the Lions should avoid a disaster at safety, even if Delmas and Spievey don't return.