Detroit Lions: Immediate 53-Man Roster-Cut Predictions Post-Buffalo Bills Game
The Detroit Lions have until Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET to cut 22 players. And all anyone cares about is whether the third-string quarterback—Kellen Moore—will make the cut.
We'll get to that discussion when appropriate, but don't skip the rest. A lot of bubble guys on this team deserve some recognition as well.
For instance, the Lions have seven capable receivers and only six slots, three of which are tied up. And the defensive line is stacked with talent, which possibly exposes two rookies to the cold reality of waivers.
So click through for all of the drama-spoiling predictions. And then sound off about who got screwed in the comments section.
The unthinkable has happened. The Detroit Lions have a quarterback controversy.
The actual competition is between the much-maligned Dan Orlovsky and cult figure Kellen Moore. Head coach Jim Caldwell has a well-documented history of only keeping two quarterbacks, so it was presumed both couldn't make it.
As Rothstein suggests, the coaches never gave Moore a chance to run with the second string. That seemed telling.
But Orlovsky struggled in all but one game. Against the Bills, he consistently looked rattled by the pressure, and his accuracy was erratic at best, resulting in a poor 3.5 yards-per-attempt average.
Conversely, Moore looked composed under pressure, often showing pocket awareness while keeping his eyes downfield to pick up first downs and touchdowns. He finished with a 102.1 quarterback rating.
In all but one game, Moore outshone Orlovsky. The coaches can't feel confident in Orlovsky based on what they've seen.
Thus, for now, Moore is safe.
However, as you'll see later, the Lions will likely need another roster spot once they find a cornerback who doesn't force the refs to litter the field with flags. When that day comes, I don't know who will remain on the team.
But that's not the call I'm asked to make here.
Safe: Stafford, Orlovsky and Moore
Much like the quarterbacks, the top two spots have been settled for a while. Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will form one of the best duos in the league.
Behind them, the depth chart has remained fluid throughout the preseason.
Kevin Ogletree had the early lead for the third spot, but the games didn't present the same player as practice. He dropped an easy one in the opener and never made enough of a splash to erase the memory.
Meanwhile, Ryan Broyles asserted himself in every game. He wasn't allowed onto the field until the fourth quarter in the all-important third game and proceeded to catch three balls for 44 yards to set up the game-winning score.
Broyles caught every ball thrown near him this preseason. The Lions dropped the most passes in the league last year. Broyles is safe.
Jeremy Ross is also safe due to his special teams value. He could climb the receiving depth chart later in the season, but it's irrelevant for our purposes here.
That leaves the rangy Kris Durham and quickly ascending Corey Fuller to battle with Ogletree for two spots.
Fuller has been a revelation this preseason. With each passing game, he looks more comfortable finding holes in the zone or blazing by man coverage. He's shown enough that he wouldn't slide through to the practice squad if cut, and the Lions aren't going to let another team scoop him up.
While some will point to the tall tight ends and Johnson as a reason not to value Durham's 6'6" height, it's just the opposite. Durham provides something that Ogletree cannot. And Ogletree doesn't possess the reliability of Broyles or the potential of Fuller.
Safe: Johnson, Tate, Broyles, Ross, Fuller and Durham
Cut: Ogletree, Andrew Peacock and Patrick Edwards
The Lions don't have any controversy surrounding their top three running backs. Since there wasn't an injury, the long-held assumption that it would be Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick at the top of the depth chart will come to fruition.
And it'll be tough to top that trio anywhere in the league. Each player brings a little something different to the rotation, with Riddick playing the role of Bush Lite (pun intended).
You can also safely assume Jed Collins will make it as a fullback. He's the only one who got any real reps and proved himself with a couple of catches. Montell Owens can't measure up to the offensive threat of Collins, and Emil Igwenagu was only brought on for a practice-squad tryout.
That leaves one spot for either Mikel Leshoure or early fan favorite George Winn.
If the reduction to the 53 had gone down two weeks ago, Leshoure would be the odd man out. Winn was running harder and showing a nice burst.
However, the roster cutdown is this weekend, and Winn's two fumbles paired with Leshoure finding his motor and vision means Winn will either hit the practice squad or try to find work elsewhere.
Safe: Bush, Bell, Riddick, Leshoure and Collins
Cut: Owens, Igwenagu and Winn
After having to make some tough calls, it's nice to take a breather and know what you have in the tight ends.
Brandon Pettigrew was signed to a decent four-year, $16 million contract this season to provide a veteran presence, block and catch the easy ones that move the chains when the defense is looking elsewhere. We know he can handle the first two duties, and Detroit is banking on him finding his hands again.
Signing guys to longer-term contracts is usually a dead giveaway of a team's intention; so is picking someone in the first round.
Rookie Eric Ebron will be the roving pain-in-the-butt that defensive coordinators have to account for. His preseason hasn't been overly impressive or effective, but his physical attributes make him an incredibly tough cover.
Another tough assignment is Joseph Fauria. The former undrafted free agent delighted Detroit with seven high-rising red-zone touchdowns last year and even better dance moves. Throw in his incredibly improved blocking and he's a lock.
That leaves undrafted free agent Jordan Thompson with a ticket to the practice squad. The same can't be said for recent acquisition Michael Egnew.
Safe: Pettigrew, Ebron and Fauria
Cut: Thompson and Egnew
The offensive line is mostly set, and there's no need to belabor the discussion.
Guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford are not going anywhere. Sims is a veteran who had one down season, and Warford could end 2014 as the best guard in the league.
Center Dominic Raiola is the leader of the unit and finished last season as the second-highest graded center. He's safe.
Tackles Riley Reiff, LaAdrian Waddle and Corey Hillard are also safe. The latter two are still fighting to start but not for roster spots.
The Lions aren't going to cut bait with third-rounder Travis Swanson either. He struggled through his first preseason. However, general manager Martin Mayhew obviously saw something in him in May and isn't going to give up that quickly.
The role of interior backup was presumably Rodney Austin's. Yet, he's been as bad as Swanson at times, leaving the door open for Garrett Reynolds, who even logged some time at tackle, to steal his spot. That versatility and his occasionally impressive play give Reynolds the nod.
Former tight end Michael Williams has been a quiet bright spot for the Lions. He posted a positive 1.1 grade through three games, albeit against weak competition. Still, it's better than what we've seen from undrafted free agent Cornelius Lucas, who will probably slip to the practice squad.
Safe: Reiff, Sims, Warford, Raiola, Waddle, Hilliard, Swanson, Reynolds and Williams
Cut: Lucas, Darren Keyton and Austin
Let's dispense with the obvious.
Defensive ends Ezekiel Ansah and Jason Jones will be the starters. Each harassed the quarterback, with Jones compiling seven hurries in three games and Ansah posting a sack in the preseason finale.
Ndamukong Suh will challenge for the best defensive tackle crown again and will be joined in the starting lineup by C.J. Mosley.
There is some concern whether Nick Fairley will ever put it all together. His well-publicized demotion to the second team hasn't seemed to light a fire underneath him, but his talent—like his gut—is too large to ignore.
Additionally, Devin Taylor is a valuable rotational end who could take over the starting role by the end of the year. His career arc has accelerated that quickly, and he's been a constant presence in the backfield.
The story of the preseason, however, has been George Johnson. The unheralded signee came out of nowhere to light quarterbacks up. He's brought the heat in the form of sacks and multiple quarterback hurries, including four in the first three games.
Two more spots will go to 2014 draftees Caraun Reid and Larry Webster. Neither was overly impressive this preseason, yet their draft status and flashes of potential mean they'll never make it to the practice squad.
Darryl Tapp will round out the defensive end rotation. He didn't pop out in the preseason film, but he's a veteran presence who can play the swing linebacker-defensive-end spot that coordinator Teryl Austin needs to fill with Kyle Van Noy sidelined.
Safe: Ansah, Suh, Mosley, Jones, Fairley, Reid, Taylor, Johnson, Webster and Tapp
Cut: Andre Fluellen, Xavier Proctor and Jimmy Saddler-McQueen
With three recent first-rounders, the defensive line should be the unquestioned strength of the defense. But you could easily convince me otherwise.
Steady stalwarts DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch are back to hold down the middle and weak-side spots. Levy finished last season with six interceptions in a breakout season, and Tulloch was so good he earned the title "Secret Superstar" from Pro Football Focus by virtue of his continued excellence against the run and vast improvement in coverage.
Rookie Kyle Van Noy, depending on the severity of his abdominal injury, could be a candidate for the PUP list. However, that designation would mean he couldn't practice for the first six weeks of the season, so that's likely not an option.
His absence means that preseason standout Tahir Whitehead will be the starter come Monday night. His devastating performance against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when he racked up 11 tackles and three sacks, according to ESPN.com, displayed a young player who needs a role in this defense. He's played too well to sit on the bench.
The last spot won't be close either. Veteran Ashlee Palmer is a special teams contributor who provides valuable depth, which means Travis Lewis doesn't have a niche to fill.
Safe: Tulloch, Levy, Van Noy, Whitehead and Palmer
Cut: Lewis, Shamari Benton, Brandon Hepburn and Julian Stanford
The secondary hasn't followed the linebackers' lead. Except for the last preseason game, the defensive backs had trouble holding onto easy interceptions probably because they were too busy holding wide receivers.
Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis never faced any legitimate threats to their starting positions. Slay started the offseason well, but he often looked a step too late on throws. Detroit is hoping that a little more experience will equal a big jump in production.
Veteran Cassius Vaughn seemed quite average, which is good enough to lock down the backup outside spot. Presumably, third-year cornerback Bill Bentley will come off the bench in nickel situations. He had a rough preseason, garnering five flags, and has to be a major reason the team is desperately looking for secondary help.
After Bentley, rookie Nevin Lawson will be the next man up for slot duty. He was flagged three times in the first three preseason games but displayed a willingness to get physical in the running game.
Ultimately, Chris Greenwood didn't do enough to earn a roster spot. That third quarterback played that much better, and Moore will be safe until the Lions find a sixth cornerback who can bolster the secondary. Greenwood will be joined on the cut list by Mohammed Seisay, who performed well enough to get a practice-squad nod.
The starting safeties didn't get too much work this preseason as the team knows what it has in James Ihedigbo and Glover Quin. Ihedigbo made the biggest impact with his interception against Oakland, while Quin had some trouble tackling, missing three in the first three games.
Isa Abdul-Quddus is the only backup who is likely safe. The other spot will come down to Don Carey and undrafted free agent Jerome Couplin. Carey did sign a three-year deal this offseason, but his recent hamstring injury coupled with Couplin's high upside and decent play gives the rookie the inside track.
Safe: Slay, Mathis, Bentley, Vaughn, Lawson, Ihedigbo, Quin, Abdul-Quddus and Couplin
Cut: Greenwood, Seisay, Carey and Nate Ness
I should have started off with the special teams. Those guys have been set for the past week, if not longer.
Nate Freese, by virtue of being the only kicker left after Giorgio Tavecchio was cut earlier, is the starting place-kicker. He banged home field goals from 53 and 55 yards this preseason to nail down his position.
Punter Sam Martin's job was never in serious jeopardy. He was one of the better punters last year, averaging 47.2 yards per punt.
The same goes for Don Muhlbach. If you never hear a long snapper's name, it means he's doing his job. This is the only time of year his name comes up. He's good at his role.
Safe: Freese, Martin and Muhlbach
Brandon Alisoglu is a Detroit Lions Featured Columnist who has written about the Lions on multiple sites. He also co-hosts a Lions-centric podcast, Lions Central Radio. Yell at him on Twitter about how wrong he is @BrandonAlisoglu.
All stats, grades and rankings are courtesy of Pro Football Focus and require a subscription.
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