The next 30 hours or so will be agonizing for the Detroit Lions, their players, and the personnel staff. After only a few weeks of practice, the team will have to make some impossibly tough decisions on who gets to play football in Honolulu Blue this year and who doesn’t.
The coaching staff has already said that they’ll likely cut a player that they may have kept had this been a normal year, had these players had a chance to prove themselves in minicamp, OTAs, and the preseason. But with none of those opportunities, the Lions—just like every other team in the NFL—is working off a shortened scouting report.
“To be honest with you, I hate it,” head coach Matt Patricia said of cutdown day. “It’s the worst. You invest in these guys, they invest so much in you, and we’re trying to come together as a team and we’re building and we’re competing and you love these guys that you’re coaching every single day. That tough reality of what this weekend is, it’s brutal.”
We’re all eager to see Detroit Lions football in just over a week, but it’s always important to remind yourself when talking about Lions cuts that this is about people losing their job—and potentially missing out on their NFL dreams. We should talk about this more delicately than we talk about other NFL topics, because this is a painful weekend for so many.
With that in mind, here are my predictions for the Lions’ “final” 53-man roster.
For all of camp, I went back and forth on keeping a third quarterback. Personally, I think operating with two makes most sense in roster construction, but Blough has looked significantly improved this training camp, and I don’t think the Lions want to risk losing him—even if they have the benefit of no preseason tape for other teams to see this year. Last year’s quarterback shuffle eventually caught up to Detroit—they don’t want that to happen again.
Running back (5)
Our own Kyle Yost made a good point on Friday morning about the Lions’ desire for a power back—they brought in D’Onta Foreman for a tryout earlier in the week. However, I just don’t think they have the guy they want on this roster. Scarbrough has injury issues and has barely been on the practice field this summer. Meanwhile, Williams didn’t make a good enough impression while much of the depth chart was injured. It’s possible they add someone and then Huntley or Ty Johnson gets the boot, but right now it’s hard to justify keeping a big back with all the other talent they have.
Tight end (3)
My bold prediction here is that Matt Sokol made enough plays in camp—and he made a lot—to get the slight edge over second-year tight end Isaac Nauta. Admittedly, having a year under his belt may be enough to give Nauta the edge, but I don’t buy his fullback versatility (he didn’t rep there at all in camp) and he just didn’t show up much after finally returning from injury late in camp.
Hunter Bryant could’ve made this a more interesting decision, but I think there’s a good chance he gets waived/injured and the Lions try to stash him on IR if he clears waivers.
Wide Receiver (6)
This one is pretty straight forward for me. Six may seem like a lot of receivers to keep, but I expect all of them to make an impact this year. The top four are set, Marvin Hall brings a deep-ball threat that no one else on this team can replicate, and Jamal Agnew proved in training camp that he’s far and away the best punt returner—not to mention he looked pretty damn comfortable at wide receiver. He’d make a nice injury replacement for Amendola, if need be.
Offensive tackles (3)
Considering some of the Lions’ interior offensive linemen can kick out to tackle in a pinch, I don’t think keeping a fourth tackle is worth it for Detroit. The top three are locked in.
As I pointed out on Thursday, a new rule that allows teams to carry 48 players on their gameday active roster, as long as eight are offensive linemen, will incentivize teams to carry more big guys this year. Beau Benzschawel is the biggest beneficiary there. Last year, they seemed to be anticipating letting Graham Glasgow walk by training Benzschawel at center. Now is his time to assume that backup role, and I think the Lions would be wise to keep him available on gamedays in case of injury. That way the Lions don’t have to put someone who hasn’t been regularly snapping or repping at center in the middle of the offensive line.
The only other tough choice here was Kenny Wiggins or Oday Aboushi. I just get a sense the team likes Wiggins more.
Defensive line (7)
The opt out of John Atkins and the season-ending injury to Jashon Cornell really made these choices easy. Kevin Wilkins, Will Clarke and Albert Huggins just did not have enough time to make a serious impression during training camp, and the Lions already made their intentions with Olive Sagapolu well known when they cut him earlier in camp. This is a pretty straightforward one for me.
It’s entirely possible the Lions go a little leaner at linebacker and only keep six (they kept six in 2019 plus whatever you consider Miles Killebrew to be. I’m listing him as a safety this year.) However, this is a deeper unit in 2020. I think the Lions have plans to use Ragland this season, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin continues to make his case as a key member of special teams. I think the Lions, essentially, have to keep all seven of these players.
This is probably the toughest position to weed through. Do the Lions want someone who can bring solid depth to cornerback, or would they rather have an extra special teams player? Given their roster construction in the past, I think they lean special teams this year. Roberts is my last guy out, and it’s a tough financial decision, as well. Detroit will eat $1 million in cap space if they make this move, but as a veteran, Roberts’ base salary (another $1 million) would’ve been guaranteed if he was on the roster by Week 1.
This would leave the Lions a bit thin at cornerback, and they kept seven last year, but they only kept five in 2018, so it’s not unheard of.
With how much special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs gushed over C.J. Moore, I think he’s an easy in. Meanwhile, Miles Killebrew is my last guy in. He’s a team rep for the NFLPA, he’s a special teams ace, and he’s a leader in the locker room. Expect undrafted rookies Bobby Price and/or Jalen Elliott to make the practice squad.
This is all based more on reps than actual performance in camp. Jack Fox typically went first in practice, and his most common long snapper to work with was Don Muhlbach. However, it’s worth noting that at the Ford Field practice this week, Fox and Siposs evenly split time with Muhlbach, suggesting this punting battle is truly as close as can be.
But I’m not hesitating putting in Muhlbach over Wirtel. Muhlbach brings peace of mind to the long snapping position, and that is really all that matters.