ALLEN PARK -- The preseason and training camp are in the books, so it’s time for the Detroit Lions to make tough roster decisions through the next few days.
Final roster cuts are due by 4 p.m. Tuesday. And while we know what most of the roster will look like in Kansas City in less than two weeks, there are still some tough choices to make at the back of the rotation at receiver and on the offensive and defensive lines. We’ll have dueling 53-man roster projections this weekend at MLive.com/Lions, so see below for Ben Raven’s attempt:
In: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
Out: Nate Sudfeld, Adrian Martinez
Injured: Hendon Hooker
Breakdown: Nothing to see here. I don’t see the pressing need to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster when you’ve invested in someone like Teddy Bridgewater -- at least out of the gates. The Lions can get an option or two on the practice squad if that’s the thinking, and plan to roll with the Goff-Bridgewater duo for the 2023 campaign. Bridgewater has continued to look more comfortable with each passing day. And Goff looks like the clean quarterback who ended last season on a historic hot streak. Nate Sudfeld hasn’t done anything through the last couple of weeks that makes me believe he belongs on this 53-man roster. And his injury in the exhibition finale doesn’t help. If the Lions keep three quarterbacks, it’ll be by adding someone rather than Sudfeld or Martinez, in my opinion. But let’s be clear: I do not envision this team opening the year with three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. That’s a move for postseason emergencies.
Running back (3)
In: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds
Out: Benny Snell Jr., Devine Ozigbo, Jermar Jefferson, FB Jason Cabinda
Breakdown: David Montgomery and Jahmyr Gibbs are the clear-cut one-two punch out of this backfield. And Craig Reynolds looks to have taken the RB3 job after a strong showing in the preseason finale, with so much movement at the back of the running back rotation through camp playing to his advantage. Reynolds missed valuable time this offseason. But he’s taken over at RB3 through the previous two weeks. He got a ton of work against the Jacksonville Jaguars, then ran 11 times for 41 yards and one touchdown in Carolina.
And as for Jason Cabinda? I’m at the point where Cabinda’s work on special teams feels replaceable. And that the tight ends can handle his few-and-far-between offensive reps out of the backfield. Benny Snell Jr. is a sneaky name to watch based on his special teams work from his time in Pittsburgh, not to mention his beefy ability to handle the ball out of the backfield. But give me another d-lineman or cornerback for now. It’s also important to remember all the moving pieces across the league through the next week.
Wide receiver (6)
In: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones, Antoine Green, Chase Cota
Out: Dylan Drummond, Trinity Benson, Maurice Alexander, Avery Davis, Jason Moore
Suspended: Jameson Williams
Breakdown: This is where it gets more difficult, with those last two spots up for grabs until the final minute. Dylan Drummond has been consistent in Allen Park, embodying the type of player this team is about. But he’s likely limited to a slot role on offense while only recently getting his feet wetter on special teams. The Lions need help on the outside, not to mention a dosage of speed. And that hurts Drummond’s chances.
And as for Chase Cota? I would love his size for this passing game, especially with Jameson Williams out for the first six weeks. Another reserve receiver who can play on the outside is a good idea around these parts. Antoine Green could be that person, too, bringing badly needed burners to the field. Green endured a quiet spring and camp. But the seventh-round rookie started to show life down the stretch, with a strong preseason finale putting the bow on his efforts. Green caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater, then paired that with a catch to open the next series and a slick back-shoulder grab from Nate Sudfeld. His speed, the investment and chances of keeping Drummond on the practice squad are enough for me to pick Green and Cota out of the gates. Green caught three balls on four targets for 97 yards and the score. Cota was limited to three catches on eight looks for 42 yards, while Drummond added five grabs for 46 yards in the finale. The three wideouts fighting for those final spots didn’t make it any easier on Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes.
Tight end (3)
In: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell
Out: Daniel Helm, Darrell Daniel
Breakdown: Tight end represents the easiest section to predict. It wasn’t always this way, with Shane Zylstra’s serious knee injury paving the way for James Mitchell to slide in behind Brock Wright and second-round rookie Sam LaPorta. The rookie tight end has been one of the team’s best offensive players through camp. LaPorta is a slippery, dangerous option that should eat a ton of snaps from the big slot. While Wright and Mitchell can handle the dirty work, moving into the backfield on certain sets and selling those blocks in the team’s patented play-action looks. Mitchell has continued to grow, and it’s easy to envision the position’s future for this franchise when looking at his skills paired with LaPorta’s natural receiving ability.
Offensive line (9)
In: LT Taylor Decker, LG Jonah Jackson, C Frank Ragnow, RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RT Penei Sewell, G/C Graham Glasgow, G/T Colby Sorsdal, T Matt Nelson, G Kayode Awosika
Out: T Germain Ifedi, C Brad Cecil, OL Connor Galvin, OL Bobby Hart, OL Ryan Swoboda, T Obinna Eze, T Darrin Paulo, T Max Pircher, C Alex Mollette
Breakdown: The top six are set in stone, outside of who will start at that right guard spot. I went with Halapoulivaati Vaitai based on his run-blocking power that vital chemistry with Penei Sewell. Graham Glasgow is a proven starter in this league, too, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him take the job and give the Lions more versatility in case of emergency. But it’s a healthy Vaitai that wins the job in my eyes to open the year. Those final three spots go to rookie Colby Sorsdal, veteran Matt Nelson and returning guard Kayode Awosika. Sorsdal has done enough to merit the 53-man spot. And Nelson looked to clinch his role in the final week of training camp. Awosika has familiarity with the offense and has taken enough of a step forward to merit an opening-day chance on the roster. It’s important to remember that every team needs help with offensive line depth. And that with either Glasgow or Vaitai off the bench, the Lions are arguably in one of the better positions in the league in that department, too.
Defensive line (11)
In: DL Alim McNeill, DL Isaiah Buggs, DL Brodric Martin, DL Levi Onwuzurike, DL Benito Jones, EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, EDGE Charles Harris, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Romeo Okwara, EDGE Josh Paschal, EDGE James Houston
Out: DL Christian Covington, DL Cory Durden, DL Chris Smith, EDGE Julian Okwara
Breakdown: Let’s take a moment and marvel at that depth on the defensive edges, with recent third-rounder Julian Okwara on the wrong side of these roster projections. The younger Okwara had some impressive moments in the preseason. But his game is too one-dimensional, while his pass-rushing chops fall short of what fellow work in progress edge defender James Houston adds to the mix.
Levi Onwuzurike clinched his spot by continuing to stack days and do more throughout training camp, putting the bows on the previous month with a strong final week. The former second-round pick tasted some first-team reps in the physical intrasquad scrimmage, then was one of the better defensive players on the field in the preseason finale. Onwuzurike had an early pressure and showed his versatility with the perfect read on the tight end screen to get Ian Thomas down for a loss of 4 yards. And interior defender Benito Jones is one of the beneficiaries of Jason Cabinda falling off the roster. Jones was a rotation player last year around these parts. And he’s nice insurance for raw third-round rookie interior defender Brodric Martin.
In: Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jack Campbell, Malcolm Rodriguez, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman
Out: Trevor Nowaske
Breakdown: Not much of a surprise. Anthony Pittman and Jalen Reeves-Maybin should be the team’s top two special teamers this season. Reeves-Maybin even looks ready to handle linebacker reps in case of injury, so they both make it through. First-round Jack Campbell started and ate some snaps in the preseason finale, fueling the thinking that Derrick Barnes will get the start next to Alex Anzalone to open the season in Kansas City. Second-year pro and fan favorite Malcolm Rodriguez has done enough to see a handful of reps each game. But he will see more work on special teams, not to mention specialist work as a throwback, hard-nosed, run-stopping option. The battle for reps in this room was among the most interesting to watch entering training camp. And the intrigue has only grown through the past month-plus of action.
In: CB Cam Sutton, CB Jerry Jacobs, CB Starling Thomas, CB Steven Gilmore, CB Chase Lucas, DB Brian Branch, DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DB Will Harris, S Kerby Joseph, S Tracy Walker
Out: CB Khalil Dorsey, CB Colby Richardson, DB Ifeatu Melifonwu, S Brady Breeze, S Brandon Joseph, S Scott Nelson
Injured: CB Emmanuel Moseley
Breakdown: The Emmanuel Moseley injury opened the door for two undrafted rookies and Chase Lucas to sneak onto the roster. Detroit’s defense is deeper and more versatile than ever at safety and at slot corner. But there are concerns at CB2 opposite Cam Sutton, with Moseley’s status lending more questions than answers. Starling Thomas feels like a lock to make it, with his impressive body of work. And Steven Gilmore has shown a knack for making plays and knowing where to be. He barely came off the field in the preseason finale, adding his second interception in as many weeks, returning this one for a touchdown in Carolina.
Chase Lucas made one heck of an interception in the preseason finale, too, diving in front of the pass from Andy Dalton in the end zone. I had him on the right side of the bubble before that. But that pick clinched his spot in these projections, with a savvy read against a veteran quarterback with no room to breathe.
The Lions are so much deeper in the secondary. But I have my concerns on the outside without Moseley. It’ll be Jerry Jacobs out of the gates in that CB2 spot, no doubt. But depth on the outside could come in handy with Patrick Mahomes waiting as Moseley tries to work back from that ACL injury. Maybe the Lions are comfortable with what they have and want to keep another quarterback or Cabinda. But Lucas knows this staff and team well, and he’s continued to grow on special teams, which will help his case. That said, Gilmore and Thomas feel like they won jobs in camp and could actually bring something to the field if needed.
In: P Jack Fox, K Riley Patterson, LS Scott Daly
Out: K Parker Romo
Breakdown: Riley Patterson gets the nod based on Parker Romo feeling so far out of the picture. But this beat writer is much lower on Patterson as a primary NFL kicker than most, it seems, and that was before Friday night’s showing. Patterson was short from 53 yards and missed an extra point in the preseason finale. And while that’s not the end of the world. It’s a continuation of his deficiencies in game-like situations. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Lions stay active on the waiver wire concerning kickers early in the regular season. Patterson is money from anything less than 50 yards. But it’s not very dependable after that. It’s not the end of the world. And Patterson looks like someone set to make most of his attempts from inside of 50 yards. This is the NFL, though, where the bar should be a little higher for a starting-level kicker.