Detroit Lions first string projections

When scanning over the Detroit Lions 2016 roster, you will find plenty of new faces. You will also notice the absence of a few mainstays as well, most notably Calvin Johnson, Joique Bell, and Jason Jones.

Despite the losses, Detroit returns a healthy majority of their starters from a year ago. GM Bob Quinn has done and continues to do a great job of bringing in depth and competition for every position group. The biggest camp battles are at SS, C, SLB, DT, LT, and the slot receiver position.

Offensive Week 1 Starters 

  • QB: Matthew Stafford
  • RB: Ameer Abdullah
  • FB: Michael Burton
  • WR1: Golden Tate
  • WR2: Marvin Jones
  • WR3: Anquan Boldin
  • TE: Eric Ebron
  • LT: Taylor Decker
  • LG: Laken Tomlinson
  • C: Travis Swanson
  • RG: Larry Warford
  • RT: Riley Reiff

Offensive Tackle

There are only two realistic candidates but which side they will end up on is the real question. Many draft pundits did not see rookie lineman Taylor Decker as a pure left tackle. Presumably, Quinn and the scouts felt otherwise as they immediately plugged him in as Matthew Stafford‘s blind side protector. Riley Reiff has transferred to the right for the foreseeable future and will be a free agent after this year. The Lions will need to determine quickly if they struck gold in Decker on the left side.

Center 

You could easily argue that incumbent center Travis Swanson was the weakest link on a wretched offensive line last year. The third-round selection of former Michigan center Graham Glasgow would validate that claim. Although the Lions spent a high pick on a replacement, center is not the easiest position to come in right away and succeed. There are plenty of line calls and protection schemes that must be made pre-snap (essentially the leader of the line). Building those skills and cultivating adequate continuity must be developed over time. The conservative Jim Caldwell will not put Glasgow in a precarious situation unless he is forced to.

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Wide receiver

It is cut and dry who the top two receivers are in the Lions offense, but is a bit of a mystery after that. The favorite to win the third spot is no doubt Anquan Boldin,  but the ageing vet has some youth and untapped potential foaming at the mouth behind him. T.J. Jones had glimpses of promise a year ago and if he can once again shine in preseason, he will find a way to contribute.

Defensive Week 1 Starters

  • DE: Ezekiel Ansah
  • DT: Haloti Ngata
  • DT: Tyrunn Walker
  • DE: Devin Taylor
  • WLB: DeAndre Levy
  • MLB: Tahir Whitehead
  • SLB: Josh Bynes
  • CB1: Darius Slay
  • CB2: Nevin Lawson
  • CB3: Quandre Diggs
  • SS: Rafael Bush
  • FS: Glover Quin

Defensive Tackle

In what most would consider a weakness not all too long ago, this position now appears to be the one with the most depth. The return of Haloti Ngata solidified half of the DT equation, but the other position is up for grabs. Tryunn Walker was the starter a year ago but comes off a serious injury and will compete with a couple new up-and-coming youngsters. Second-round pick A’Shawn Robinson, Caruan Reid, and free agent acquisition Stefan Charles all will receive playing time, but the start will go to the veteran.

Strong-side Linebacker

Kyle Van Noy has been receiving first-string snaps, but the live preseason action will determine if he is up to the challenge. His small sample size has not been encouraging but it is now or never for the former second-round pick and the Lions are doing their due diligence. Josh Bynes was one of the most underrated contributors a season ago and my money would be on him to continue his solid play and leave DC Teryl Austin no choice but to play the best player available.

Strong Safety

Perhaps the most fierce competition will be for the vacancy left by Isa Abdul-Quddus and James Ihedigbo. It’s a four-headed monster between newcomers Rafael Bush, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew and returning dark horse Isaiah Johnson. Bush seems to be the most versatile and experienced giving him a slight advantage, though injuries have been his biggest downfall to date. Despite the lofty expectations for the walking hammer Killebrew, his small-school experience and dearth of instincts could create a liability while on the field in his developing stages. The real wild-card will be if Johnson can continue to receive playing time as the third safety. Not many fans have given him a fair chance at earning the starting spot.

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