As exciting as the beginning of the offseason was this year, we’re in a drought of football
news right now. We’re well past the draft, and eagerly awaiting Hard Knocks, with no trades
likely to be made. So we amuse ourselves with speculation, and attempt to make the coach’s
decisions for them. Here’s my predictions for what the 53 man roster will look like when
everything has shaken out.
Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, and David Blough
No surprises here. The Lions carried three QBs throughout last year, and it makes sense that
they’d do that here. They value Boyle for his athletic prowess and deep ball ability, and Blough
for his leadership and football IQ.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Boyle’s the incumbent backup, but based on how the Lions
were swapping the two between the second and third team offenses, it wouldn’t be a surprise to
see Blough make a push for QB2.
Running Back/Fullback (5):
D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, and Jason Cabinda
Swift and Williams are essentially locks, as is Cabinda – Dan Campbell’s “superback”.
Igwebuike gets the nod due to his special teams role, after serving as the kick returner last
season. The problem is his ball security – he’s a fumble machine. His spot is not secure in the
slightest. Finally, Jermar Jeffferson showed some athletic flashes last season, but was limited to a
small role by injuries and a crowded RB room. I’m seeing a breakout for him this season.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Craig Reynolds, preseason hero and backup legend, has the
faith of the coaching staff – see his performance against Arizona last season. He could easily
leapfrog Jefferson for a RB3 role. He might also carve out some touches on special teams in
place of Igwebuike.
Wide Receiver (6):
DJ Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson
(Jameson Williams on PUP)
The assumption here is that Williams, recovering from an ACL tear, won’t be ready to start the
season. However, his work ethic is reputable enough that he might find himself on the active
roster to start the season. Benson’s slot is most likely his, whenever he feels fit to return. Until he
does, the Lions will roll out packages with Chark and Reynolds outside and St. Brown – last
year’s breakout rookie – in the slot.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: WR5 and WR6. As much as he’s been limited by injuries, and
Matt Patricia, in years past, Cephus has some amazing contested catch skills and has carved out a
role as a big body receiver. However, Benson has excelled in minicamp, and the staff is on record
for how much they love him. Plus, don’t count out Tom Kennedy – he’s got versatility and has
helped run out several of Dan Campbell’s trick plays.
Tight End (3):
TJ Hockenson, James Mitchell, and Brock Wright
Not much to say here. Mitchell is kind of a wild card, due to his recent injury, but he’s a draftee
from this year, so he gets a nod. Wright served as TE2 last year, and while he’s shown some
strong pass game ability as of late, he’s an inconsistent blocker.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: TE3. Shane Zylstra and Garrett Griffin offer some competition
for Wright. I don’t think either will start the season on the active roster, but if the play across the
group is weak, I don’t think the Lions will wait long to shake things up.
Offensive Tackle (3):
Penei Sewell, Taylor Decker, and Matt Nelson
Sewell and Decker are here to stay as part of the heralded starting o-line that every Lions fan has
been waiting more than a year to see. Nelson is good insurance at the position, and plays great
when added to the field for a 6-man package.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Penei Sewell vs everybody. He’s a beast. Remember the Aaron
Interior O-Line (5):
Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Evan Brown, and Logan Stenberg
Here’s my hot take: Stenberg finds a place on the active roster. He’s got the grit and furious
playing style that Campbell loves to preach. Elsewhere, Brown is above-average Ragnow
insurance – 66.8 PFF grade with only one sack allowed in 2021. Jackson, Ragnow, and Vaitai
form the rest of the starting unit.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Stenberg, despite being my sleeper pick, is not secure in the
slightest. His play style is similar to Tommy Kraemer, who has two advantages – experience and
versatility (he can play both right and left tackle). I still like Stenberg, but a good camp from
Kraemer could really put the kibosh on my predictions.
Interior D-Line (4):
Michael Brockers, Alim McNeil, Levi Onwuzurike, and Jashon Cornell
Alim McNeil is the nose of the future for this team. He is developing WAY faster than the third
round pick spent on him in last year’s draft says he should. He’s going to line up next to
Brockers, who’s looking for a bounceback. Onwuzurike and Cornell are the question marks.
Neither have seen much play under the Campbell-Holmes regime – Onwuzurike due to injury
and Cornell due to suspension over the PED policy. However, from what we can glean from the
coaching staff’s comments, these two are well-liked. Expect to see them in September.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Bruce Hector: top-tier practice squad or 53-man fill in? We’ll
see come August, but he’s got some skills. We might not see them until serious injury, though.
(NOTE: The Lions signed Pittsburgh DL Isaiah Buggs today, which may invalidate these
predictions. He’ll be factored in during the next set of predictions after training camp.)
Edge Rushers (4):
Aidan Hutchinson, Charles Harris, Josh Paschal, James Houston (Romeo Okwara on PUP)
With the senior Okwara on the PUP list, this group is headlined by double H – Harris and Hutch.
This is the duo we’ll see until Romeo is back, and maybe even after, too. After spending a
second round pick on Paschal, he’ll be here to stay as well.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: James Houston had the highest PFF pass rush grade in the draft
this year (Hutchinson was second). He’s not showing it so far though, leading to a competition
against Jarrad Davis. Both have played stand-up rusher and linebacker in camp so far, and even
though Davis was a signee this spring, I doubt he’ll be on the active roster when Okwara comes
back. This one (very narrowly) goes to Houston.
Alex Anzalone, Chris Board, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, and Julian Okwara
Julian Okwara lines up at EDGE just as frequently as LB, so it doesn’t really matter where I put
him – but he’s virtually a lock, as good two-way insurance. Anzalone and Board will probably be
the starting duo week one, while hopefully Barnes and Rodriguez are the duo of the future.
Rodriguez has earned glowing reviews from this coaching staff, praising his intellect and play.
His size might limit him, but if the season goes south, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the
lineup sooner rather than later.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Shuan Dion Hamilton and Anthony Pittman are sleeper picks
here. Hamilton could beat out Rodriguez based on how camp goes, but I feel like this group is
Amani Oruwariye, Jeff Okudah, Will Harris, Jerry Jacobs, Mike Hughes, AJ Parker, and Chase Lucas
This is the most intriguing position group right now – specifically because Okudah’s injury
complicates who’s going to start as CB1 and CB2. Even if he’s healthy, the Lions may want to be
cautious and may start either Jerry Jacobs or Will Harris – the
safety-turned-cornerback-turned-“cafety”. AJ Parker, one of last year’s UDFA breakouts and
Mike Hughes are currently locked in a battle to start at the nickel spot. Oruwariye and Parker
will join a newly repaired Okudah as the starters, but the depth at this group is handy in case of
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Outside of Parker and Hughes, be sure to keep an eye on Chase
Lucas. The seventh round pick is a fast learner, and has quickly separated himself from the third
team reps he’s been given. He’s going to be trying to outrun the 53-man cutoff all season,
Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliot, Kerby Joseph, CJ Moore, and Ifeatu Melifonwu
Let’s break this group down one by one. Walker just received a handsome extension, and is a
starter on day one. DeShon Elliot is on a one year prove-it deal with some high potential, but he’s
got a list of injuries as long as one of his torn muscles. Kerby Joseph – possibly my favorite draft
pick – is a developmental ballhawk, and a safety of the future. I’d love to see him find some reps
this season. CJ Moore probably won’t plan on receiving many snaps outside of special teams (his area of expertise), but he’s good insurance. Finally, Melifonwu was getting reps at both CB and safety during camp. His versatility is going to come in handy.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Brady Breeze and JuJu Hughes are currently on the outside
looking in – but both could surpass Moore if they find a way to bring a little more to the table.
Plus, both have amazing names.
Special Teams (3):
Scott Daly, Jack Fox, and Riley Patterson
Daly is a lock, with no competition. Same with Fox, an All-Pro punter and former Special Teams
player of both the week and the month. Probably not great that a top-5 player on this team is a
punter, but the Lions will take wins where they can get them.
Training Camp Battle to Watch: Riley Patterson finished the year as the kicker, going 13 for 14.
He was good, but there are definitely questions about his distance ability. His competition is
Austin Seibert, who faces similar questions. This one really could go either way.