Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have to make roster cuts by 4 p.m. Saturday, paring down their 80-man roster to 53. After watching two weeks of practices, but without the benefit of preseason games, here’s how we see things shaking out.
► In: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel, David Blough
► Out: None
► Analysis: The Lions have invested a year into Blough’s development, and with the way he’s performed this training camp, there’s no reason to risk putting him on waivers. He’s earned his spot and has the look of a long-term backup in this league.
Without question, the backup job is Daniel’s this year, but keeping Blough will give the Lions the option of going with the more cost-efficient youngster in 2021 if he continues to make positive strides.
RUNNING BACKS (5)
► In: Kerryon Johnson, D’Andre Swift, Ty Johnson, Jason Huntley, Jason Cabinda
► Out: Bo Scarbrough, Jonathan Williams, Wes Hills
► Injured reserve: Nick Bawden
► Analysis: Scarbrough is a tough cut, probably the most difficult one I made across the entire roster, but his inability to stay on the field throughout the entirety of camp is unnecessary risk the Lions can’t afford this year. Assuming he clears waivers, which he should, the team can always put him on the practice squad.
Williams, on the other hand, gave back all his early camp momentum. He did little of consequence with his opportunities the final week practice was open to the media.
That leaves 215-pound Ty Johnson — known for his speed more than his power — as the roster’s third-down back. That’s not ideal and could lead to an early-season swap out if the results aren’t there.
More: An early projection of what the Lions’ 53-man roster might look like
WIDE RECEIVERS (6)
► In: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Marvin Hall, Quintez Cephus, Jamal Agnew
► Out: Chris Lacy, Tom Kennedy, Victor Bolden
► Analysis: It doesn’t look like the injury sidelining Amendola this week is too serious. He warmed up wearing a helmet during Wednesday’s practice at Ford Field and should be good to go for Week 1. Still, even if he’s not, Hall and Agnew look more than capable of stepping in and playing significant slot snaps in the regular season after a pair of outstanding camps.
Given the team’s emerging depth, the Lions won’t have to lean on the rookie Cephus maybe as much as originally envisioned. It’s never a bad thing to allow a first-year player to ease into their transition.
TIGHT ENDS (3)
► In: T.J. Hockenson, Jesse James, Isaac Nauta
► Out: Hunter Bryant, Matt Sokol
► Analysis: Banged up to start camp, Nauta opened the door for his job to be swiped by another young challenger. Bryant was making a compelling run at the role, but suffered a leg injury that’s sidelined him the past week and derailed his momentum.
Sokol’s well-rounded game make him a nice fit for the practice squad. In the case of a late-week injury, or positive COVID test, he can be comfortably plugged into a variety of roles.
OFFENSIVE LINE (9)
► In: Taylor Decker, Joe Dahl, Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tyrell Crosby, Kenny Wiggins, Logan Stenberg, Beau Benzschawel
► Out: Oday Aboushi, Dan Skipper, Matt Nelson
► Analysis: The top eight spots are close to being set in stone, and with this year’s expanded practice squads and the rules that go along with that, it’s conceivable Detroit only carries eight offensive linemen on the active roster.
That said, as camp progressed, it felt as if Benzschawel emerged as the most reliable backup center on the roster, well ahead of Stenberg, who is in need of more development before he could be trusted in the role on a Sunday.
Aboushi is a tough cut. He’s well-liked by the coaches and his teammates, but after drafting two interior lineman this year, the versatility of Benzschawel and Wiggins is the deciding factor.
DEFENSIVE LINE (7)
► In: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara, Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, Julian Okwara, John Penisini
► Out: Frank Herron, Kevin Strong, Olive Sagapolu, Will Clarke, Albert Huggins
► Injured reserve: Jashon Cornell
► PUP: Austin Bryant
► Analysis: Continued concerns about Hand’s durability give me pause. Shelton isn’t a guy you want to be running out there 50-60 snaps each week and Penisini, a sixth-round draft pick, hasn’t shown many flashes in his first camp.
Don’t be surprised to see the Lions keep two interior lineman on the practice squad to cover their bases.
At defensive end, we know Flowers and Romeo Okwara can handle huge workloads, with the linebackers and Julian Okwara picking up the remaining snaps on the edge.
► In: Jarrad Davis, Jamie Collins, Jahlani Tavai, Christian Jones, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Reggie Ragland, Miles Killebrew
► Out: Elijah Lee, Anthony Pittman
► Analysis: Lee is a good player, capable of helping both as depth and on special teams, but Ragland came on strong as camp progressed, solidifying his spot. Reeves-Maybin and Killebrew were among the league leaders in special-teams tackles a year ago. That skill is transferable, regardless of the fact the Lions will be running different kick coverage schemes this year.
More than anything with this group, it will be interesting to see how the playing time is split up. Davis, Tavai, Jones and Collins are all versatile players, capable of lining up either on the line or off the ball.
DEFENSIVE BACKS (10)
► In: Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Justin Coleman, Tony McRae, Darryl Roberts, Tracy Walker, Duron Harmon, Will Harris, C.J. Moore
► Out: Bobby Price, Jalen Elliott, Dee Virgin, Mike Ford
► Suspended: Jayron Kearse
► Analysis: The two spots still in play are between free-agent additions McRae and Roberts and returning incumbents Ford and Virgin.
The easier of those two decisions is McRae over Virgin as the backup nickel. Despite a rough showing in the scrimmage last weekend, McRae has got his hands on far more passes throughout camp and has the advantage of working in Detroit’s new special teams system the last few seasons as a member of the Bengals.
As for Ford and Roberts, it’s a coin flip. Both are currently working through injuries, further clouding the situation. But when the Lions have had injuries at the top of the depth chart, Roberts has taken more of the first-team reps, providing insight into the team’s thinking.
► In: Matt Prater, Don Muhlbach, Jack Fox
► Out: Arryn Siposs, Steve Wirtel
► Analysis: Last week, Lions special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs called the punter competition a neck-to-neck race. Obviously, he’s seen far more reps than the couple dozen media have watched, but during those we’ve had access to, Fox has shown more power and consistency.
As for the long snapper race, it’s probably closer than imagined. Wirtel is giving Muhlbach a run for his money, but it would be a tough sell on the public-relations front to give the 17-year veteran the boot.