Allen Park — The preseason is in the books. Not that it matters, but the Detroit Lions went winless in the exhibition slate following a 27-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts Friday night.
Now, the team’s brass must shift its focus to the challenge of shaping a 53-man roster ahead of the regular season. That means a final weekend to evaluate the game film and debate the 20% of the spots that were up for grabs entering the home stretch.
The decisions will be a collaborative process, between coach Dan Campbell, his coordinators, general manager Brad Holmes and the team’s scouting staff. They’ll spend the weekend analyzing their options and finalize things sometime ahead of Tuesday’s 4 p.m. deadline.
Below is our final projection for how we believe things we’ll shake out. Note: Players marked with an asterisk (*) are projected to make up the team’s 16-man practice squad.
► In: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
► Out: None
► Thoughts: I’m not sure the backup job was ever as close as it seemed when you consider the fact Boyle took reps ahead of Blough in each of the three preseason games. Sure, Blough performed better through the first two contests, but he was also playing against defenders lower on the oppositions’ depth charts.
But the situation may have sorted itself out through unfortunate circumstances after Boyle suffered a thumb injury in the preseason finale. Even without that, I had the Lions keeping all three QBs.
That said, with the ability for teams to return unlimited players from injured reserve after only three games on the list, if Boyle’s injury requires extra time to heal, as feared, it will create an opening the Lions can use to keep someone at another position.
Running back (5)
► In: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, Jason Cabinda
► Out: Dedrick Mills*, Craig Reynolds*
► Thoughts: The Lions might initially keep just three running backs (plus Cabinda at fullback), utilizing a player landing on injured reserve to squeeze in a fourth a day later.
All three options at the back end of the roster flashed some playmaking potential during the preseason, but it was Igwebuike who typically entered games first, routinely contributed on special teams and was singled out by coach Dan Campbell during his postgame comments Friday night.
“He was battling for a job and I think he certainly is waving a massive flag out there like, ‘Look at me.,'” Campbell said. “I get it. I thought he really stepped up and did some good things.”
That’s enough for us to read between the lines and slide the converted safety on the 53-man roster. Still, Mills and Reynolds would make for excellent practice squad additions, particularly with Swift having some durability concerns.
Wide receiver (5)
► In: Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, Tom Kennedy
► Out: Breshad Perriman, Geronimo Allison, Victor Bolden*, Javon McKinley*, Damion Ratley, Sage Surratt*
► Thoughts: Perriman is shaping up to be an early mistake for general manager Brad Holmes, who committed $2 million in guaranteed money to the former first-round receiver.
Like much of his career, durability issues proved problematic for Perriman, and when he was on the field, both at practice and in the preseason games, he struggled to live up to expectations. Two dropped passes against the Colts sealed his fate, in our eyes.
Perriman’s blown opportunity is Kennedy’s gain. Admittedly, it’s not an ideal fit because of his lack of positional flexibility and limited special teams ability, but sometimes you’ve got to reward guys for busting their butts and producing with their opportunities. He did that with eight catches in the first two preseason games before ceding opportunities for others to be evaluated against the Colts.
For the practice squad, we like Bolden, McKinley and Surratt, although Ratley could fit, as well. Bolden had such a strong early portion of the offseason, but his hands betrayed him the last couple weeks of camp with a number of dropped throws. Still, he can be a valuable asset on the scout team.
Tight end (2)
► In: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells
► Out: Brock Wright*, Alize Mack*
► Thoughts: Just two tight ends? Yep, that’s where we’ve landed after Mack couldn’t maximize his opportunities this offseason. Needing depth elsewhere, the Lions can get away with the tandem of Hockenson and Fells, one, because they’re both capable of handling large workloads, and two, because Cabinda offers some positional flexibility to line up in some tight end alignments in a pinch.
Mack and Wright should clear waivers and make it to the practice squad where they can develop without taking up a valuable roster spot.
Offensive line (9)
► In: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson, Evan Brown, Logan Stenberg
► Out: Dan Skipper, Darrin Paulo*, Tommy Kraemer*, Evan Heim*
► Thoughts: There’s no mystery to Detroit’s starting lineup, but there’s still some uncertainty about the depth. Sure, Crosby is your swing tackle, and Brown is primed to be the emergency plan at center if Ragnow were to suffer an injury. Beyond that, I lean Nelson and Stenberg to flesh things out.
Nelson was locked in a competitive roster battle with Skipper, but an injury that required the latter to be carted off Friday night might have made the decision for the team. Stenberg also didn’t finish the game, which is concerning. If it’s a long-term issue, Kraemer could sneak on to the roster. The Lions liked the development they saw from the undrafted rookie.
Defensive line (6)
► In: Michael Brockers, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, Kevin Strong
► Suspended: Jashon Cornell
► Out: John Penisini*, Miles Brown, Bruce Hector*
► Thoughts: Figuring out what the Lions will do at the back end of this group is difficult to discern.
First, will Hand end up on injured reserve? Maybe. He’s dealing with a groin injury that Campbell described earlier this week as more serious than originally believed. If he needs some extra time to heal up, it could open the door to squeeze one more guy on the roster and continue the evaluation process into the regular season.
To start, we’re rolling with Strong as the final guy in the door, over Penisini and Hector. Penisini missed a lot of time with an injury this camp, limiting his opportunities to prove himself to the new coaching staff. In his absence, both Strong and Hector shined.
What put Strong over the top was his performance in the finale, which included one sack, nearly a second, and a tackle for loss. It’s tough to ignore that kind of output.
► In: Jamie Collins, Alex Anzalone, Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Charles Harris, Derrick Barnes, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman
► Out: Jahlani Tavai, Tavante Beckett*
► Thoughts: We envision the Lions holding on to all five of their edge-rushing outside linebackers. Some might have thought Harris and Bryant were on the bubble, but even if that was the case, both showed enough against the Colts to secure their spots.
On the inside, Collins and Anzalone are locked in as the starters, while Barnes was so good during the preseason that coordinator Aaron Glenn is going to have to find snaps for the rookie.
Reeves-Maybin didn’t exactly push to be reintegrated into the defensive rotation this offseason, but his special team prowess makes him a valuable asset.
That leaves one spot that boils down to Pittman and Tavai. It won’t be an easy cut, even if he wasn’t this regime’s draft pick, but Tavai was far too inconsistent through camp and the preseason to maintain a spot on this roster. Pittman has his flaws, but he’s looked more instinctive than the former second-round pick.
Defensive backs (10)
► In: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford, A.J. Parker, Corn Elder, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Tracy Walker, Will Harris, Dean Marlowe, C.J. Moore
► Out: Nickell Robey-Coleman, Jalen Elliott*, Bobby Price*, Jerry Jacobs*, Alijah Holder
► Thoughts: Since our previous projection, Parker has rocketed past Jacobs on the depth chart. In fact, there’s a good chance Parker will be the starting nickelback after flourishing with his opportunities this offseason.
The backup nickel spot is between Elder and Robey-Coleman, who was a late offseason addition. Elder missed time with a hamstring strain, but in his preseason debut, he recorded an interception and a third-down PBU. It’s tough to toss aside that kind of production, even if Robey-Coleman has the familiarity advantage with the front office and coaching staff.
At safety, Moore is an easy choice for the fourth due to his consistently excellent contributions on special teams. Elliott made a strong push with his camp, but he’s one of the last couple guys out.
► In: Jack Fox, Randy Bullock, Scott Daly
► Out: Zane Gonzalez
► Thoughts: Let’s be up front, there wasn’t a clear winner for the kicking job. Bullock gets the nod because there’s $750,000 in sunk guarantees with his contract. That said, there was enough inconsistencies throughout training camp, particularly from 45 yards and beyond, that the Lions should continue to explore other options that may hit the market this time of year.