The exhibition season is over. Now, the folks in the front office of the Detroit Lions really begin earning their paychecks.
After Thursday’s 27-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Lions finished the pre-season with a 2-2 record. Not shiny, not ultra-impressive, but remember that records hold zero impact on the regular season. It’s the battle for roster spots that takes precedence.
Keep in mind, there is only one big “cut-day” this season, as all teams must have their 53-man rosters submitted by 4 pm on September 2nd.
In: Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock
Out: Brad Kaaya
Kaaya closed out the preseason with a strong performance, finishing 12-20 for 182 yards and two touchdowns, but is destined for a spot on the practice squad for seasoning. Stafford is the hands-down number one quarterback, and just got a big shiny raise to prove it. Rudock spent his first season as a pro on Detroit’s practice squad and certainly paid his dues. Although the numbers don’t show great success in the pre-season, he had his moments and showed maturity in his time on the field this month.
In: Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington
Out: Matt Asiata, Tion Green
Not much question here. Abdullah, who missed the majority of last season with an injury, might be on the verge of a breakout season. Given his health and the current state of the team’s offensive line, there is an actual reason to be excited about the run game. Riddick, one of the best pass-catching running backs in the league, is also a shoo-in for a roster spot. As for Zenner and Washington, this is more of a situation where neither was out-done by Asiata or Green to this point (although Green did have a touchdown through the air against Buffalo). It’s a safe bet that both Asiata and Green are not immediate threats to make the final roster, although Green could be a practice squad candidate.
In: Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley
Out: Jared Abbrederis, Michael Rector, Dontez Ford, Dez Stewart, Noel Thomas
The top three spots here are absolute locks. The race for the fourth and fifth spots, not so much. Jones, who was cut from the team before the 2016 season began, has had a solid pre-season. The word “impressive” would probably be a stretch, but he’s been solid. I’ll pencil him in as the fourth wide out, with Billingsley winning a close race with Abbrederis for the final receiver spot. An undrafted free agent out of the 2016 class, Billingsley spent last season on the practice squad. He muffed both a kickoff and a punt in the preseason finale, and only finished the game with two catches for two yards. Abbrederis was equally as underwhelming in the game though, catching just one pass for 16 yards, and abruptly fumbling. Both do have the ability to return kicks and punts, and although Abbrederis is more experienced at the NFL level, I feel like the team will reward Billingsley for his dues paid on the practice squad last season.
In: Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Michael Roberts
Out: Robert Tonyan, Khari Lee, Scott Orndoff, Cole Wick
Ebron will be ready for the regular season and will take a step forward in his progression once the season begins. Say it again, and perhaps you really start to believe it. Fells, one of the best blocking tight ends in the league, will make an immediate impact in that department. And finally, Roberts could be the red-zone threat the Lions have been missing at the tight end position since “Big” Joe Fauria. These all add up to the Lions only keeping three tight ends on the final roster, putting an end to the Cole Wick story. Sadly, there isn’t enough room on the team for him.
In: Greg Robinson, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson, T.J. Lang, Rick Wagner, Joe Dahl, Cornelius Lucas, Leo Koloamatangi, Brandon Thomas
Out: Storm Norton, Nick Becton, Connor Bozick
The first five names listed above make up your 2017 Detroit Lions starting offensive line, from left to right. Taylor Decker is hurt and out for the foreseeable future. Corey Robinson is also hurt. Cyrus Kouandjio has already been cut, and former first round pick Laken Tomlinson has been traded for a fifth round pick. These moves have thinned out the options for the Lions, but have also made the decisions a bit easier. Thomas likely moves in after the trade, and Koloamatangi’s versatility gives him an edge. The real gamble here is giving Greg Robinson the responsibility of left tackle duties. Let’s hope he re-finds his confidence and ability, and runs with the job. When Decker and Corey Robinson return, the offensive line will look much different. But for now, these are the nine that stick out the most.
In: Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Valoaga, Ego Ferguson, Alex Barrett
Out: Jeremiah Ledbetter, Pat O’Connor, Caushaud Lyons, Georgio Newberry
Another area full of adversity for the Lions. Armonty Bryant and Khyri Thornton are suspended, and Kerry Hyder and Jordan Hill are out for the year. Everyone on the list up to Spence are locks in my opinion. If the team keeps five defensive ends (which is likely due to youth and inexperience), Valoaga is likely number five. Of course, O’Connor could mess this blueprint up a bit and snag the fifth spot, but I don’t see it. Ledbetter is another intriguing option on the interior portion of the defensive line, but Ego Ferguson’s experience in the NFL is the only reason I chose him to land the spot.
In: Jarrad Davis, Antwione Williams, Tahir Whitehead, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Paul Worrilow, Steve Longa
Out: Nick Bellore, Thurston Armbrister
Brandon Copeland is out for the year, which opens the door for Steve Longa, who is the only real question mark at the position for me at this point. Five linebackers may have been a legitimate thought for the team before Copeland’s injury, but now it seems likely that they will carry six, and Longa is the man for the sixth spot. If he does indeed survive cut day, he will also likely contribute on special teams.
In: Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs, D.J. Hayden, Teez Tabor, Johnson Bademosi, Jamal Agnew
Out: Adairius Barnes, Josh Thornton, Tramain Jacobs
In names alone, the first four are locks. Tabor got off to a shaky start in the preseason but has improved some. He’s in. Badesomi has experience and an ability to get to the ball, he’s in. Agnew’s speed is impressive, and also has the potential to contribute in the return department. He’s in. None of Barnes, Thornton, or Jacobs did enough (or really very much at all) this off-season. The cornerback battle is an easy call.
In: Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Don Carey, Miles Killebrew, Charles Washington
Out: Rolan Milligan, Alex Carter
Glover Quin is an iron man, having played in all 16 regular season games in every season since 2010. Him, Wilson, and Carey are all locks. Killebrew is a close outsider as far as locks are concerned, but his hard-hitting mentality earns him a spot. Charles Robinson, an undrafted free agent who spent last season on the practice squad, is a likely candidate for special teams. He’ll also play the role of backup to Quin should the unthinkable happen.
Kicker: Matt Prater
Punter: Sam Martin
Long Snapper: Don Muhlback
Odd man out: Kasey Redfern
No discussion necessary here, unless Martin is unable to play Week 1. If that is the case, Redfern would keep his seat warm.