Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for Detroit Lions

Jeff Risdon@@JeffRisdonContributor IMay 11, 2014

Initial Post-Draft Depth Chart for Detroit Lions

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    The 2014 NFL draft is in the books, and the Detroit Lions added several new players to the den. 

    Some of those picks, such as first-rounder Eric Ebron and second-round pick Kyle Van Noy, figure to play prominent roles right away. 

    Others, such as fifth-rounder Caraun Reid, will fill depth roles. Competition will be fierce for the last few spots on the final 53-man roster, as several on futures contracts battle with undrafted free agents and bottom-of-the-roster holdovers.

    Here's an early look at the Lions' projected depth chart after the seventh round of the draft is complete.


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    Matthew Stafford, a former No. 1 overall pick, has been the unquestioned starter since 2009. His status atop the quarterback depth chart has never been in doubt.

    Behind Stafford, however, some have speculated and advocated for an upgrade over third-year pro Kellen Moore. After longtime backup Shaun Hill departed as a free agent, the Lions went out and signed Dan Orlovsky to battle Moore. 

    Orlovsky is a former Lion who infamously ran out of the back of the end zone for a safety against the Minnesota Vikings in the winless 2008 season, costing the team its best shot at a victory in that regrettable campaign. 

    The team quickly signed former Missouri quarterback James Franklin as an undrafted free agent after the draft. He brings great agility and some impressive athleticism to the table. He could beat out the weak-armed Moore, in part because he can emulate opposing quarterbacks with scrambling ability in practices.

Running Back

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    The predraft status quo prevails at running back.

    Reggie Bush and Joique Bell still project to share the bulk of the carries. Bush will nominally be the starter, though Bell will certainly see ample action. 

    Last year, Bush saw 625 snaps on offense, while Bell played 562. That ratio figures to remain about the same, as new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardo comes from a New Orleans offense which also deployed a backfield-by-committee.

    Former Saint Jed Collins, who signed in the free-agent season, will be the "starting" fullback. How much that role is utilized remains to be seen. The Lions have not used a fullback in years, but new head coach Jim Caldwell has operated offenses with fullbacks in Indianapolis and Baltimore.

    Theo Riddick maintains his status as the third running back. His skill redundancy with Bush gives him real value as a reserve. 

    Mikel Leshoure, who was the feature back in 2012, remains buried on the depth chart. He's in the final year of his rookie contract, and that makes him cheap labor. He will have to beat out Steven Miller, who offers more special teams potential.

Wide Receiver

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    This is another position where the draft failed to make much of a dent. 

    Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are the top dogs here. Johnson is a perennial All-Pro and one of the most feared weapons in the game. Tate joined the Lions after leading the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks in receiving in each of the last two seasons.

    They are a formidable duo with versatility. Both can play at split end, flanker or in the slot. 

    The third wide receiver is the subject of debate. 

    Kris Durham and Ryan Broyles are the front-runners, though each carries significant questions. A newcomer factors in prominently here too. 

    Durham has a leg up, but after registering just 38 receptions and 10 drops last year, he will not be back in a starting capacity. His size and chemistry with Stafford, his former Georgia Bulldog roommate, augment his meager skills. 

    Broyles, the team's second-round pick in 2012, is a natural fit in the slot. Alas, he has suffered a serious, season-ending leg injury three years in a row. It's best to view Broyles as a luxury instead of counting on him to get healthy and contribute. 

    To that end, the Lions selected Notre Dame's TJ Jones in the sixth round. I broke down his offensive potential here for Jones has the ability to step right in and contribute in the slot and even out of the backfield at times. 

    The most likely third wide receiver is actually new tight end Eric Ebron, who we will get to in that section. 

    Kevin Ogletree, Jeremy Ross, Corey Fuller and a host of long shots fill out the bottom of the roster. Ross holds elevated value as the primary return specialist. All of the others would be wise to rent and not buy a house.

Tight End

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    Any time a team uses a first-round pick on a player, he is expected to wind up at the top of his positional depth chart. That will be true of Ebron at tight end, though it's complicated.

    Ebron will essentially fill the offensive role Jimmy Graham has played in New Orleans. As reported by Gregg Rosenthal of, the NFLPA has filed a grievance over the definition of that role. The team believes he's a tight end, but the players association contends he's a wide receiver. 

    Whatever you want to call him, Ebron will see extensive action as a receiving option. He might line up inline at times too, though that role figures to fall to Brandon Pettigrew.

    The Lions re-signed Pettigrew after he tested the free-agent waters but couldn't find a better deal than the four years and $16 million in Detroit. 

    Joseph Fauria, who rose from undrafted obscurity into touchdown-dance phenom as a rookie, is likely relegated to short-yardage and red-zone receiving option. His size and strong hands are quite effective in that role. 

    Fauria played well after taking over the starting role for an injured Pettigrew late in the year, so that could be a camp battle worth watching. 

    Last year's seventh-round pick, Michael Williams, faces an uphill battle to make the final roster. His best bet to make the team might be to add 10 pounds and transition to offensive tackle.

Offensive Line

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    All five starters from the end of 2013 return, and all will enter 2014 as starters.

    From left to right:

    • Tackle Riley Reiff
    • Guard Rob Sims
    • Center Dominic Raiola
    • Guard Larry Warford
    • Tackle LaAdrian Waddle

    Reiff, Warford and Waddle were all first-year starters, and all played well. Warford quickly proved himself to be one of the best right guards in the league. Waddle was a major surprise as an undrafted rookie for his strong play in starting the second half of the season.

    Detroit finished 2013 ranked sixth in pass protection and 14th in run blocking, per Pro Football Focus. A full year of continuity should only help those ratings improve going forward.

    Third-round pick Travis Swanson (pictured) projects as the top interior reserve. The team presumably drafted him to groom for a year behind Raiola and Sims, both of whom are in the last year of their contracts. The Arkansas product could conceivably win a starting role, but that is unlikely. 

    Corey Hilliard returns as the swing tackle after starting a handful of games at right tackle in 2013. 

    Two players on futures contracts, tackle JB Shugarts and guard/center Rodney Austin, face long odds to stick with the team. Austin has flashed potential in preseason action, however.

Defensive Line

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    Three of the four starters are very easy to forecast. Former first-rounders Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will man the tackle spots inside, while former first-rounder Ezekiel Ansah is the man at one end position. 

    The fourth starter will either be Devin Taylor or Jason Jones, who was the starting left end last year before blowing out his knee early in the season. Taylor, a fourth-round pick in 2013, played well in increased duty down the stretch.

    Both Jones and Taylor will play in the rotation outside, as will journeyman Darryl Tapp. The ex-Redskin signed as a free agent and will fill the fourth end role.

    The inside depth comes from C.J. Mosley and Vaughn Martin. Mosley played well in the third tackle role last year, his first in Detroit. Martin was once a starter in San Diego and brings functional beef to the rotation. 

    Prodigal Lion Andre Fluellen will once again compete for his seemingly annual role of 53rd man who gets waived and re-signed at least twice. Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Corvey Irvin will fight for tackle spots in camp.

    Fourth-round pick Larry Webster should be destined for the practice squad. He's a very raw athletic prospect from D-II Bloomsburg, where he played basketball before switching to football. It's worth noting Webster also worked out for some teams as a tight end, though that path to the Lions roster is even more crowded than defensive end.


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    The most radical change on the depth chart comes at linebacker, where second-round pick Kyle Van Noy joins the fray. 

    Detroit primarily played just two linebackers under former coach Jim Schwartz. DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch each logged over 1,000 snaps, while the third backer saw just 367. 

    With Van Noy in the fold, the Lions will play with three linebackers a lot more. His versatility enables new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to mix and match his nickel packages as well, while also keeping his fellow starters fresher. 

    The third backer from last year was Ashlee Palmer, and he now slides down a peg to the top reserve. He and Tahir Whitehead figure to do most of their work on special teams, where both are stalwarts. 

    Recent seventh-round picks Travis Lewis and Brandon Hepburn will have to prove themselves on special teams to stick around.


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    Cornerback is the most crowded position on the roster. It's also the place with the most uncertainty. 

    Veterans Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis, the regular starters a year ago, both return. However, Houston is battling a toe injury that might need surgery, as reported by Pro Football Talk

    Mathis will be 34 when the season starts, and he returns to Detroit only after not finding any offers as a free agent after the season. PFF graded him out as the best corner on the roster a year ago, but the team values him as much for his veteran-mentor role as it does his on-field contributions.

    That's because a cadre of youngsters complete the depth chart. 

    Last year's second-round pick, Darius Slay (pictured) is expected to secure a starting role and not give it up, as he did a year ago. He finished 2013 strongly and is a player who could blossom in his second season.

    A trio of 2012 draftees, Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green, hold down spot for now. Bentley has started in the slot, when healthy, the last two years. He faces a real challenge from rookie Nevin Lawson, who is also a natural slot corner. 

    If the fourth-round pick from Utah State can clean up his hands—an issue that also plagues Bentley—he could quickly step in and take over the nickel role. 

    Greenwood is the biggest wild card. He's an athletic project who struggled with an abdominal injury and showed very little until the final game of the 2013 season. In that game against Minnesota, the Albion College alumnus showed why the Lions traded up to draft him in the fifth round. His length, speed and power drip with potential. 

    Recently signed Aaron Hester and Cassius Vaughn also factor in the mix. Vaughn started for the AFC South champion Colts a year ago, though he did not exactly impress the PFF game-charters

    Hester is another length/speed prospect who spent his rookie season on Denver's practice squad. 

    The final spots will be determined by special teams value more than ability to contribute as part of the defense. You will likely see several of these guys on other rosters or practice squads come September.


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    It surprised many that the Lions did not address the safety position more prominently in the draft. Instead, the Lions stood pat with the five currently on the roster. 

    All five have NFL starting experience, though only two will secure roles as starters in Detroit.

    One of those will be Glover Quin, who finished 11th in PFF's safety rankings in 2013, his first season in Motown. He can play in the box or as more of a cover safety. 

    Free-agent James Ihedigbo figures to be the other Week 1 starter, after signing from Baltimore, where he started under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin last year. He had a career year, finishing 16th in those same PFF rankings. 

    Don Carey was the third safety last year, and he will get a chance to keep his role. He offers additional value as a cornerback, too. 

    Former New Orleans Saint Isa Abdul-Quddus brings great size at 220 pounds, though he figures to make more of a contribution on special teams. DeJon Gomes started eight games for Washington in 2011 and '12, and he spent last year as the fifth safety in Detroit.


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    Sam Martin has nailed down the punting gig with a strong rookie campaign in 2013. The fifth-round pick from Appalachian State was a top-10 punter, according to PFF. He also capably handled kickoff duties as well. 

    There will be a three-legged battle royal for the kicking job. Seventh-round pick Nate Freese from Boston College figures to have the upper leg, but both John Potter and Giorgio Tavecchio will get a chance to kick their way into the job as well. Freese can also punt, which might further tilt the scales in his favor. 


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