Updated 53-Man Roster Projections for Detroit Lions Post Week 3 of Preseason
Many Lions perched on the roster bubble breathed a sigh of relief to survive this round of cuts.
One more preseason game remains, a Thursday night affair in Buffalo against former head coach Jim Schwartz, now the Bills defensive coordinator. For 22 more players, that will represent their final time donning the silver helmets pictured above.
The 53-man roster is due on Aug. 30. At least 45 of the players are already known or can be easily guessed, but predicting who will land the remaining undetermined spots is tricky.
Here is the latest projection for the Detroit Lions' final 53-man roster.
There is no drama with the top two spots. Matthew Stafford is firmly entrenched as the franchise quarterback and the key to the entire offense. He hasn't missed a game in three seasons and will take every snap once again if he's healthy.
Dan Orlovsky shook off a miserable preseason debut against Cleveland to solidify his role as the primary backup. He's looked much better in the ensuing games, building confidence that he could handle the offense for a few drives if Stafford gets hurt.
The only question is, do the Lions keep a third quarterback? Kellen Moore, the only remaining signal caller on the roster, has played reasonably well this preseason. He outdueled Johnny Manziel in the opener and his game-winning drive against the Browns birthed a movement to have the former Boise State star unseat Orlovsky as the No. 2.
That momentum has cooled, though Moore continues to develop. However, new head coach Jim Caldwell typically carried just two quarterbacks in his stint as the Colts head man. He had just two during his time as Baltimore's offensive coordinator the last two seasons, too.
Moore is the victim of a numbers game here. Expect to see him latch on somewhere else when the Lions reluctantly release him after he plays the majority of the final preseason game.
Final Spots: Stafford and Orlovsky (two)
Both Reggie Bush and Joique Bell will see extensive action sharing the primary running back role. They're one of the most effective and productive tandems in the league.
Bush and Bell are coming off a season in which they became the first duo in NFL history to each put up 500 yards running and receiving. It's unlikely the dynamic Detroit duo replicates that impressive feat, but both are accomplished runners and receivers.
Theo Riddick returns as the third back in the rotations. His workload is expected to increase in his second season, thanks in part to some impressive preseason work. The 2013 sixth-round pick offers the same sort of versatility and open-field style as Bush, which augments his value as a reserve.
The Lions are reinserting the fullback position back into their offense after a recent hiatus, and they imported Jed Collins from New Orleans to man it. His familiarity with new Detroit offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from their tenures together wit the Saints is his best asset, though he has not offered much in preseason.
There are three other backs who are fighting for one final spot, though it's possible the team keeps two.
Montell Owens won this role a year ago as a specials teams ace. However, Owens missed all but two plays last year with separate knee injuries. He can theoretically play both running back and fullback.
Mikel Leshoure was the feature back just two seasons ago, but the 2011 second-round pick doesn't offer much on special teams. That's a requisite responsibility for the fourth running back...
...which gives George Winn a fighting chance to earn a roster spot. He and Leshoure both run with similar power and drive, but Winn has performed quite well on punt- and kick-coverage units throughout the preseason. Thursday's game in Buffalo could very well decide the fate of each player.
Both fumbled away the ball in the Jaguars game, which keeps their roster seats flaming hot. Even if one or both survive the cuts this week, Detroit could bring in someone released from another team to take their place.
Final Spots: Bush, Bell, Collins, Riddick, Player TBD not currently on roster (five)
This is the easiest offensive group to project. Even after the Lions claimed Michael Egnew and Emil Igwenagu off waivers on Monday, pushing the current roster to seven, there are still just three keepers.
Eric Ebron is the team's first-round pick and projects as a key member of the passing offense. The Lions re-signed starter Brandon Pettigrew to serve as the in-line blocker, and he's played well in preseason in the new offense.
Joseph Fauria danced his way into Detroit fame by catching seven touchdowns as an undrafted rookie out of UCLA last year. His blocking has noticeably improved, too:
The Lions taught Joe Fauria how to be an above adequate blocker, so I now think anything is possible.— Josh Norris (@JoshNorris) August 25, 2014
Egnew and Igwenagu face long odds to extend their Detroit tenure beyond a few days. They join undrafted rookies Jacob Maxwell and Jordan Thompson on the depth chart.
Igwenagu plays a H-back/fullback role that does make him somewhat unique among these guys, who are likely fighting for no more than two practice squad spots. Thompson has been serving as the reserve long snapper, and that's the Ohio product's path to sticking in Detroit.
Final Spots: Pettigrew, Ebron, Fauria (three)
Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are set as the starting duo. They project to be among the most prolific tandems in the league, both capable of lining up in multiple spots around the offensive formation.
Jeremy Ross is guaranteed a roster spot as a return specialist. He'll get some work in the offense as the fourth or fifth receiver too.
That leaves several competitors for the final two or, more likely, three spots.
Ryan Broyles is the most natural slot receiver on the roster, and he's looked great during the preseason. He appears healthy, and his ability to find holes in the defense and get yards after the catch are major feathers in his cap.
Kris Durham flopped as the No. 2 receiver last year, but he's had a strong camp and his more limited skills fit the role of a possession guy with great size. Durham's touchdown pluck over a defender in Oakland is a signature moment that his competition lacks. His run blocking helps his cause, too.
Kevin Ogletree spent much of training camp working as the third receiver with the first unit, and generally looked comfortable in that role. He's had sporadic production in his NFL career, but does he offer anything unique to the offense?
Corey Fuller certainly does, and that's his deep speed. The 2013 sixth-round pick has been one of the pleasant developments in camp, showing he's progressed immensely from the wide-eyed, raw rookie who struggled on the practice squad last year.
Those four are almost certainly the only realistic options for the remaining spots. Rookie Andrew Peacock has shown enough to merit a practice-squad spot, while Patrick Edwards is the most obvious remaining cut on the entire roster.
Final Spots: Johnson, Tate, Ross, Durham, Broyles, Fuller (six)
Four of the five starting spots are carved in marble:
- Left tackle Riley Reiff
- Left guard Rob Sims
- Center Dominic Raiola
- Right guard Larry Warford
That foursome is one of the better ones in all of the NFL today.
It was widely presumed that LaAdrian Waddle would be flanking them all at right tackle after his impressive rookie campaign. However, the former undrafted free agent from Texas Tech has not played to expectations this summer.
That has opened the door for Corey Hilliard to win the right tackle job. He fared well running with the first team in extended action against Jacksonville and likely has sealed up the starting spot for the regular season opener against the New York Giants.
Waddle will still make the team as the top reserve tackle. Giant undrafted rookie Cornelius Lucas and Mike Williams have both had positive moments in their battle for the fourth tackle spot. Williams is making the conversion from tight end, and his late charge almost certainly guarantees him a practice squad spot.
The interior reserves are a bigger unknown. Rodney Austin opened training camp with some potential to beat out Sims for that left guard spot. Instead, he's struggled with maintaining blocks and effectively engaging in space and is now on the roster bubble.
So is third-round pick Travis Swanson, who has continually looked overpowered and in over his head as Raiola's presumed successor. His draft status all but ensures he makes the team, but he doesn't inspire much confidence at this point.
Former practice squad player Darren Keyton took some of Swanson's reps as the second-unit center and outplayed him simply by not snapping erratically. Garrett Reynolds, a former Falcons starter who can play both guard and tackle, has had some solid reps and could steal a spot.
It would not surprise me if the backup interior lineman is not currently in Detroit, but Reynolds gets the tentative nod here.
Final spots: Reiff, Sims, Raiola, Warford, Hilliard, Waddle, Reynolds, Lucas, Swanson (nine)
This unit has essentially been a stable entity since May's draft, when the team added fifth-rounder Caraun Reid to the mix.
He joins the tackle rotation as the fourth member, and the Princeton product has had enough moments in preseason to merit a handful of snaps in the regular season.
Reid sits behind starters Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley. Yes, you read that correctly; Mosley has ascended to the starting role next to All-Pro Suh.
Mosley's play has been strong, but his promotion is more about the man moving in the other direction. Nick Fairley has eaten and lazed his way out of the starting gig:
Suh admitted Nick Fairley is more athletically gifted than him and could be better. Pretty bold statement and sad that it's not happening.— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) August 20, 2014
The 2011 first-round pick can still flash brilliance at times, and that makes him a valuable reserve. It says here he and Mosley wind up roughly even in snaps by the end of the season, a campaign that figures to be Fairley's last in Detroit.
End Jason Jones will also see some time at tackle. He even got first-team reps inside during camp. That keeps the roster allotment at just four. Xavier Proctor, who blocked a field goal with his outstanding length, is destined for his second year on the practice squad. He's got potential to move up in 2015.
Final Spots: Suh, Mosley, Fairley, Reid (four)
Defensive end is the deepest well of talent on the roster. The Lions feature six players who are all viable NFL starters.
The two who will start in Detroit are Jason Jones and Ezekiel Ansah. Jones will man the closed end in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin's more tailored scheme. As mentioned earlier, he'll see some opportunities at tackle, too.
Ansah has missed most of the offseason, as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He got his feet wet this preseason against Jacksonville and came out just fine. The 2013 first-round pick bagged eight sacks as a rookie while also quickly demonstrating an ability to play stout against the run. He has Pro Bowl potential.
Devin Taylor is Jones' primary backup. The second-year end offers great length and has enough strength to bull rush most offensive tackles. If he can learn to faster diagnose plays, he could be very good. Like Jones, the 2013 fourth-round pick can also slide inside. Both are effective when used on stunts and twists, too.
Darryl Tapp signed as a free agent after bouncing around the last few seasons. He provides quickness on the edge. Tapp has also played outside linebacker, an attribute that probably ensures his roster spot even though he's fallen behind others in the battle for defensive end reps. He's on the bubble and could wind up moving on if the Lions address a weaker position with a waiver claim.
George Johnson has rocketed up the depth chart with an outstanding camp and preseason. He took full advantage of Ansah's absence, earning first-team reps and looking like he belonged with the starters.
Fourth-round rookie Larry Webster has also pleasantly surprised. Though he's a D-II basketball player making the conversion to football, he's taking to his second sport quickly. His athleticism stands out and has allowed him to do positive things on special teams.
That means Andre Fluellen will not make the Lions for the seventh straight season. Perhaps he can reunite with current Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, who was the Lions head coach when Detroit drafted Fluellen in 2008.
Final Spots: Ansah, Jones, Johnson, Taylor, Webster, Tapp (six)
The linebacker spot has experienced some uncertainty of late. What once seemed to be a position pretty easy to forecast is now clouded with some variables.
Here's what is known:
- Stephen Tulloch will start in the middle, and he'll be used more as a blitzer
- DeAndre Levy will man the weak side and serve as the primary cover linebacker
- Tahir Whitehead earned a bigger role on the defense with a great game against Jacksonville
Now for the clouds...
Second-round pick Kyle Van Noy was projected to play extensively as a pass-rusher and versatile backer. But he's got an abdominal injury that could be a sports hernia, which requires surgery. It's possible he misses significant time, though that's all unknown at this point.
Van Noy was battling with Ashlee Palmer for that other starting spot, but Whitehead defiantly threw his hat into the mix with his tour de force performance (10 tackles, three sacks) in the third preseason game. Whitehead is a better athlete with more speed and range, while Palmer offers more stoutness against the run and experience.
Regardless of how the depth chart shakes out, those are the five Detroit linebackers. Tapp can play outside linebacker as a rush specialist if Van Noy winds up missing extensive time, but that would put the Lions in the market for a reserve who can contribute on special teams.
Or, alternatively, Tapp loses his roster spot to a new addition. If Van Noy winds up on IR with designation for return, the fifth 'backer is not currently on the roster. Travis Lewis has some special teams value, but not enough to land a roster spot.
Final Spots: Tulloch, Levy, Palmer, Whitehead, Van Noy (five)
Cornerback has been the toughest group to predict all offseason. Consider that a function of the lack of distinguished talent at the position.
Rashean Mathis and Darius Slay will start on the outside. Mathis is the grizzled veteran and ringleader of the group, coming off an underrated first year in Detroit. Slay, the team's second-round pick in 2013, is being counted on to make a big jump from an uneven rookie season.
Third-year player Bill Bentley will be the primary slot corner, which is no longer a starting position after the Lions switched from a base 4-2-5 to a more traditional 4-3 defense. He's struggled all preseason with NFL officiating's newfound emphasis on illegal contact.
Cassius Vaughn, a free agent from Indianapolis, has emerged as the third outside corner. His time playing under Caldwell with the Colts is an asset, as is his physicality at the line.
Those four are safely in the den. After that, there are serious questions.
Fourth-rounder Nevin Lawson is very likely to make the cut. Like Bentley, he's best in the slot. Also like Bentley, he's had major issues with illegal contact and holding penalties. The Utah State product has been strong on special teams.
Chris Greenwood is fighting for his Lions life. His considerable physical potential has yet to consistently translate to the field. He allowed an ugly touchdown to Jacksonville. Considering an interception in that same game couldn't save fellow 2012 draft classmate Jonte Green, it's hard to see Greenwood surviving.
Undrafted rookie Mohammed Seisay has shown enough potential to earn a practice squad spot. That's an impressive rise for a player who didn't even start at Nebraska last year.
Expect the Lions to actively pursue outside help at cornerback, hitting the waiver wire for at least one new face.
Final Spots: Mathis, Bentley, Slay, Vaughn, Lawson, Player TBD not currently on roster (six)
Glover Quin enters his second year in Detroit as the last line of defense. After playing interchangeably as both a strong and free safety in 2013, the former Houston Texans cornerback will play a deeper free safety this year.
He has a new running mate in James Ihedigbo, formerly of the Ravens. His leadership and knowledge of Teryl Austin defense, coming from their time in Baltimore together, have been as valuable as his strong run support this preseason.
There is some debate about who will fill the third and fourth safety roles.
Isa Abdul-Quddus, a free-agent acquisition from New Orleans, has shown tremendous range in coverage and has been a very active presence on both defense and special teams. He should be—should be—a lock to make the final 53.
Don Carey was a prominent reserve last year, playing both corner and safety. He signed a new three-year deal this offseason, and that's about the only reason he has a chance to make the team. Carey has been lousy all summer, playing his way down to the third unit.
It's either Carey or undrafted rookie Jerome Couplin who gets that fourth spot. The hard-hitting Couplin has steadily progressed, earning second-team reps and generally playing well. He's still fairly raw in coverage but brings a physical presence no other defensive back on the roster can match.
The decision could come down to special teams, where Carey has a more proven track record. However, he injured his hamstring on punt coverage last week. That could impact the decision, as could the embarrassment of cutting him so quickly into a multiyear contract.
Recent acquisition Nate Ness showed some skills in his one-game audition and could end up on the practice squad.
Final Spots: Quin, Ihedigbo, Abdul-Quddus, Carey
With Monday's release of Giorgio Tavecchio, these three roster spots are all set.
Seventh-round rookie Nate Freese beat out Tavecchio for the kicking job. It will mark the second season in a row in which the Lions will utilize a rookie kicker.
They can only hope Freese winds up as effective as punter Sam Martin was in his first season. He's looked great in camp and also serves as the kickoff specialist.
Veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach is as steady as they come, and he's widely respected as a team leader.
Final Spots: Freese, Martin, Muhlbach (three)
All camp and preseason observations not otherwise attributed were obtained firsthand by the author. All statistics and transactions are courtesy of NFL.com
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