At this stage of the season, NFL teams can have up to 90 players on their roster, and at this time the Detroit Lions have 86, leaving them with four open spots to fill with unrestricted or undrafted free agents.
Here are the top 10 available free agents that could fill an immediate role on the roster.
Duke Johnson, RB
After reportedly releasing Kerryon Johnson, the Lions could be in the market for a third-down back and Duke Johnson is one of the best in the league. Duke is a prototypical NFL third-down back as he is an efficient pass blocker and an elite receiver, but he also comes with the added bonus of being able to contribute between the tackles. The real question is, do the Lions think they need another back, or do they feel comfortable with D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, and rookie Jermar Johnson?
Trey Burton, TE
Despite signing Darren Fells yesterday, Burton is a legit TE2 candidate who can contribute in the passing game and is an underrated blocker. He’s just 29 years old and is coming off a solid season in Indianapolis, after a rough final year in Chicago—but we kinda know who to blame for that. Would he be willing to come in and compete with Fells for the TE2 role? It’s worth a phone call at a minimum.
Trai Turner, RG
After dominating at right guard in Carolina and being selected to five Pro Bowls, Turner was traded to the Chargers last season and had a disastrous 2020. Once considered one of the elite guards in the game, his nine games in LA were so challenging he still remains an option in free agency. Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn liked him enough to start him in LA last season, and he’d be worth a flier in Detroit. Worst case, they get a backup at right guard, best case, he supplants Hal Vaitai and regains his Pro Bowl form.
Melvin Ingram, EDGE
At 32 years old, Ingram could be looking for an opportunity to join a contender, but he spent the last four years playing under Lynn in LA and the Lions could provide him an opportunity to challenge to start. Injuries have been an issue recently—he only played seven games in 2020—and his 72.3 grade from PFF was the lowest in the last five years, but he’s still got enough in the tank to help the Lions on the edge.
Brian Poole, NB
Last November, Poole was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, but if he’s healthy, he is arguably the best nickel corner option available— he finished last season with a 77.1 grade from PFF after a breakout season the year prior.
Nickell Robey-Coleman, NB
Robey-Coleman had a difficult year in Philadelphia last season, but the three years prior, he registered PFF grades of 74.5, 79.8, and 80.5 playing under Aubrey Pleasant (Lions defensive backs coach) on the Rams roster. The Lions lack depth at nickel and it’d be worth a shot to see if Pleasant could help bring back his production.
D.J. Hayden, NB
A former Lion, Hayden spent the last three seasons playing nickelback in Jacksonville under defensive coordinator Todd Wash, who is now the Lions defensive line coach. Like Robey-Coleman, his 2020 season was forgettable (only played in five games and registered a 40.4 grade from PFF) but the two seasons prior were highly successful (76.9, 74.8 PFF grades). He’s another flier candidate.
Malik Hooker, FS
Hooker has never played an entire NFL season (missing 14 games in 2020, three in 2019, two in 2018, and nine in 2017) but when he is on the field he can be a special player at free safety. There is no doubt the talent is there but it’s hard to trust him as a player who will be contributing game-in and game-out. He visited Miami Tuesday, so if the Lions are interested, they can’t wait too much longer.
Tre Boston, FS/SS
Boston’s best year as a professional was in 2017 while playing as a free safety for Lynn in LA. His PFF grade that season was 80.6, and he’s only had one season below 73.9—last season in Carolina, where he received a 53.8 grade from PFF playing in a strong safety role. In Detroit’s two-safety look, Boston could return back to his natural role in the deep half of the field, and Tracy Walker is capable of living at the linebacker when the Lions need to lean on that look.
Kenny Vaccaro, SS
Vaccaro is more of a traditional strong safety and he is familiar with Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, as he was his position coach in New Orleans during the 2016 and 2017 seasons. Vaccaro isn’t as clean a fit as Hooker or Boston, but if the Lions are looking for a player to challenge what Will Harris does well, he’s the guy.