What the Lions vs. Falcons snap counts tell us about position battles

Pride of Detroit

Preseason snap counts can be very telling as to how the current depth chart is set up. It’s not only about what players get the most looks, but the order in which the players come into the game.

Of course, teams will often try to keep their good players safe and limit their participation rates, too. And sometimes they’ll give a high workload to rookie to get their feet wet.

In other words, we have to be careful not to read too much into preseason snap counts, but at the same time use them for clues as to where the roster currently stands.

Let’s break down the Detroit Lions’ preseason Week 1 snap counts against the Atlanta Falcons.

Offense

Quarterbacks

David Blough: 42 snaps (53% of snaps)
Tim Boyle: 27 (34%)
Jared Goff: 10 (13%)

While David Blough received the majority of snaps at quarterback, it was Tim Boyle who came in with the second-team offense. That is telling, because the team has been rotating back and forth every day. With Boyle practicing with the twos in Wednesday’s practice, Blough was up in the rotation.

However, Boyle did not play particularly well in the preseason opener, so this position battle should still be considered very close.

Running backs

Jermar Jefferson: 29 (37%) — 10 special teams snaps (37%)
Godwin Igwebuike: 19 (24%)
Craig Reynolds: 11 (14%) — 9 (33%)
Justin Jackson: 10 *13%) — 6 (22%)
D’Andre Swift: 6 (8%)
Jamaal Williams: 4 (5%)

Again, order here appears to be more important than amount of snaps. Reynolds was first in after the starters and got a brief amount of time, suggesting he is still firmly RB3. Then for the meat of the game, it was Jermar Jefferson ahead of Godwin Igwebuike. That could simply be the Lions coaches wanting to see more of the second-year player, since they know what Igwebuike is capable of already. But it’s also worth pointing out Igwebuike didn’t take a single special teams rep, despite being considered the team’s top kick returner option.

Tight ends

Brock Wright: 29 (37%) — 10 (37%)
Devin Funchess: 21 (27%) — 3 (11%)
Shane Zylstra: 18 (23%) — 11 (41%)
Derrick Deese: 18 (23%)
Nolan Givan: 14 (18%) — 4 (15%)
Garrett Griffin: 13 (16%) — 7 (26%)
T.J. Hockenson — Did not play
Jason Cabinda — DNP
James Mitchell — DNP

With Hockenson out, the Lions smartly played the rest of their tight end crew at an almost-even rate. The Lions are in the midst of trying to figure out their depth behind Hockenson.

Unfortunately, the Lions decided to play it safe with rookie fifth-round pick James Mitchell, who is slowly acclimating following a torn ACL last year, but the Lions did get solid looks from everyone else.

With Cabinda still sidelined, Griffin and Givan split fullback duties for the night, while it was Funchess who displayed the most among the group as a receiver, hauling in four catches—two of which earned first downs and a third that found the end zone.

Wide receivers

Tom Kennedy: 43 (54%)
Trinity Benson: 40 (51%) — 7 (26%)
Kalil Pimpleton: 37 (47%) — 2 (7%)
Maurice Alexander: 32 (41%) — 4 (15%)
Kalif Raymond: 22 (28%)
Amon-Ra St. Brown: 10 (13%)
DJ Chark: 10 (13%)
Josh Reynolds: 9 (11%)
Quintez Cephus: DNP
Josh Johnson: DNP

Sure, Tom Kennedy got the most playing time on Friday night, but he made the absolute most of his opportunities, too. Compare that to Benson, Pimpleton and Alexander, who all saw at least 40 percent of offensive snaps, yet they combined to produce just seven catches for 51 yards. Kennedy was also in there with the second-team offense, so it’s time to really start considering him as a potential 53-man roster candidate—especially when Dan Campbell says he’s not at all surprised by a 104-yard performance in a half-game.

“That’s Tom Kennedy. He’s just dependable, that’s all he is just dependable. He’s just very dependable, that’s all he is.”

It’s also worth noting the special teams contributions from this unit. Benson returned three kickoffs for a return average of 25.0. Pimpleton took one for 30 yards, while Alexander took one for 22 yards. Alexander had the lone punt return of the night for 10 yards.

Offensive tackles

Kendall Lamm: 42 (53%) — 2 (7%)
Dan Skipper: 40 (51%) — 7 (26%)
Obinna Eze: 29 (37%) — 2 (7%)
Matt Nelson: 27 (34%) — 3 (11%)
Taylor Decker: 10 (13%)
Penei Sewell: 10 (13%)

Here’s the order of the Lions’ OTs in this game:

  • Decker/Sewell
  • Skipper/Nelson
  • Lamm/Skipper
  • Lamm/Eze

Nelson wasn’t particularly good in this game, and the fact that Dan Skipper is getting reps on both sides of the ball suggests he could be more in the mix for OT3/4 than previously believed.

Guards/centers

Evan Brown: 40 (51%) — 3 (11%)
Logan Stenberg: 40 (51%) — 3 (11%)
Tommy Kraemer: 40 (51%) — 2 (7%)
Ryan McCollum: 29 (37%) — 5 (19%)
Kevin Jarvis: 29 (37%) — 3 (11%)
Darrin Paulo: 29 (37%) — 2 (7%)
Halapoulivaati Vaitai: 10 (13%)
Jonah Jackson: 10 (13%)
Frank Ragnow: 10 (13%)

And here’s the order and lineups of the interior OL throughout the game:

  • Jackson – Ragnow – Vaitai
  • Stenberg – Brown – Kraemer
  • Paulo – McCollum – Jarvis

The order is definitely more telling here, as Stenberg/Brown/Kraemer appear to be atop the depth chart here among the reserves, and the third stringers didn’t get much playing time at all.

Defense

EDGE:

Austin Bryant: 25 (45%) — 3 (11%)
Eric Banks: 25 (45%) — 3 (11%)
James Houston: 17 (30%) — 8 (30%)
Charles Harris: 13 (23%)
Aidan Hutchinson: 11 (20%)
Julian Okwara: DNP

If that seems like a low percentage of edge defender, it’s because guys like Anthony Pittman and even Jarrad Davis saw time on the edge. Ultimately, there’s nothing too telling about these snaps, although that is a smaller load than I thought they would give rookie James Houston.

DT:

Bruce Hector: 34 (61%) — 3 (11%)
Jashon Cornell: 24 (43%) — 3 (11%)
John Cominsky: 24 (43%) — 3 (11%)
Isaiah Buggs: 20 (36%) — 3 (11%)
Demetrius Taylor: 11 (20%) — 3 (11%)
Michael Brockers: 8 (14%)
Alim McNeill: 8 (14%)
Levi Onwuzurike: DNP

Of the group, it’s clear Demetrius Taylor has the longest route to go, as he only saw time near the very end of the game. But while Cornell got 24 defensive snaps, he did not log a single tackle, whereas Hector had three and Cominksy had two—and QB hit.

Linebackers

Jarrad Davis: 26 (46%) — 11 (41%)
Anthony Pittman: 22 (39%) — 9 (33%)
Chris Board: 21 (38%) — 10 (37%)
Malcolm Rodriguez: 21 (38%) — 8 (30%)
Derrick Barnes: 19 (34%)
Shaun Dion Hamilton: 15 (27%) — 9 (33%)
Josh Woods: 14 (25%) — 10 (37%)
Alex Anzalone: DNP

The Lions got a good, long look at Jarrad Davis, and saw just about every version of him we know. They saw the good (PBU, QB hit) and the bad (overpursue). Meanwhile, the starting linebacker duo was Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez—a clear sign that this team wants to get those two young linebackers a ton of reps and against good competition.

Amongst the group, Shaun Dion Hamilton and Josh Woods are playing catch up, as both didn’t see time until late in the second half.

Scratching Anzalone—who hasn’t been dealing with an apparent injury—seems to indicate his roster spot is more than safe.

Cornerbacks

Mark Gilbert: 22 (39%) — 16 (59%)
Mike Hughes: 21 (38%) — 3 (11%)
Saivion Smith: 19 (34%) — 13 (48%)
Jeff Okudah: 18 (32%)
Bobby Price: 18 (32%) — 11 (41%)
Amani Oruwariye: 13 (23%)
AJ Parker: 10 (18%) — 6 (22%)
Chase Lucas: 7 (12%) — 6 (22%)
Will Harris: 7 (12%) — 1 (4%)

After just a couple of series for the starters, the Lions turned to Bobby Price and Mark Gilbert. The rest of the time was split pretty evenly among the reserves.

However, the nickel position is particularly interesting. Despite repping more and more with the outside cornerbacks, Mike Hughes played mostly nickel on Friday and took the majority of reps. That left very little time for rookie Chase Lucas, who nearly had a game-ending pick in his small amount of playing time. I certainly expected to see him on the field more, and I assume his participation rate will increase as the preseason rolls on.

Safety

Kerby Joseph: 43 (77%) — 12 (44%)
JuJu Hughes: 43 (77%) — 9 (33%)
DeShon Elliott: 13 (23%)
Tracy Walker: 13 (23%)
Brady Breeze: 0 (0%) — 1 (4%)
C.J. Moore: DNP
Ifeatu Melifonwu: DNP

Breeze suffered an injury on the opening kickoff, and with C.J. Moore and Ifeatu Melifonwu sidelined, the Lions simply ran with just two units the entire night: the starters and the backups. The positive spin there is that third-round rookie Kerby Joseph sure got a lot of playing time.

Special teams

Riley Patterson: 7 (26%)
Scott Daly: 6 (22%)
Jack Fox: 6 (22%)
Austin Seibert: 4 (15)

Here’s your kicker scorecard:

Patterson: 4 kickoffs (3 touchbacks), 28-yard FG, 27-yard FG, XP
Seibert: 2 kickoffs (1 touchback), 46-yard FG, XP

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