ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have to cut down the roster to 53 players by 4 p.m. Saturday. Here's how it could look:
Stafford is the team’s unquestioned starter. The backup quarterback situation has been muddled throughout training camp. The Lions still have a question here as Savage was at practice Monday for the first time since being placed in concussion protocol after a hit against New England in the preseason opener. With Savage out, the Lions turned to David Fales and Josh Johnson – both of whom had flashes of being able to handle the job. But Savage was the clear No. 2 before he got hurt and barring something unexpected in the preseason finale would seem to hold on to the job now.
The two Johnsons, Anderson and Bawden, seem close to locks in varying degrees. Matt Patricia loves fullbacks and Bawden has shown capability as a blocker and pass-catcher. Plus, in a pinch, he could play quarterback (only in the direst of emergencies).
The receivers haven’t distinguished themselves beyond the top three, which leads to a jumble for GM Bob Quinn and Patricia to sort through as they make their decisions. It would not be surprising to see Detroit keep six receivers but a combination of injuries at other positions and needing depth at others knocked this number down to five. Lacy felt comfortable as the team’s No. 4 receiver. For the last spot, I went with the draft pick who has been inconsistent but has shown potential. He’s likely not active on game days much anyway, and I went with him over Brandon Powell, who was the rookie stash receiver last season. But these spots could have any number of permutations.
The Lions can easily go with four tight ends here -- rookie Isaac Nauta is on the roster bubble -- and in the end he was my toughest cut. The production just wasn’t there during training camp and the club could afford to be deeper at other positions where special teams come into play. Nauta is a likely practice squad candidate if he doesn’t make the 53-man roster.
Tyrell Crosby returned to the Lions this week and with it, gave Detroit some stability at offensive tackle from a numbers perspective. The Lions can have Crosby as their swing tackle and use Kenny Wiggins in a pinch as tackle No. 4. The uncertainty over Ragnow’s ankle injury might lead the Lions to keep nine on the offensive line to start the season since Graham Glasgow would move to center in that scenario. This means keeping both Aboushi and Benzschawel, although it wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit stick with Luke Bowanko here as well. Be wary of this group as a whole, though, as the Lions could make a waiver claim move here to solidify the back-end depth.
This is the deepest area of the team and where some of the hardest cuts will come. The top six seem to be locked in, but after that -- any combination of Loewen, Kevin Strong, Fred Jones and even P.J. Johnson would not be surprises on the initial 53-man roster. Loewen has made plays all camp and is one of the more aggressive players Detroit has.
The only reason Austin Bryant isn’t on here (or with the defensive linemen) is the expectation he will end up on injured reserve since he hasn’t practiced much since being drafted out of Clemson. If the Lions deem him healthy enough, though, he’s on the roster -- perhaps in place of Loewen or the ninth offensive lineman. Longa’s activation off PUP was a surprise, but he’s a veteran guy with high-level special teams ability. He can also handle some linebacker in a pinch, giving Detroit depth with Jarrad Davis’ injury. Longa’s activation, in this projection, knocked Eric Lee off the roster because the Lions have more depth in that swing spot than they do behind Jahlani Tavai. Plus, Longa offers more on special teams. The Lions keep Dooley here, in part, because of Davis’ injury and after the surprising release of running back Zach Zenner. It gives them another linebacker. But that is no guarantee by any means. The Lions could also choose to keep another cornerback (perhaps Mike Ford or Dee Virgin) considering Rashaan Melvin hasn’t practiced all week or possibly Andrew Donnal on the offensive line if Crosby isn’t quite ready yet. Positional health, plus the final preseason game, could factor in here.
The Lions should have concerns with their cornerback depth, which means they are likely to keep Tabor despite being injured for most of training camp. Still, it’s a difficult decision for Quinn because to keep him he has to lose a talented player somewhere else. While that could be at safety -- one of Detroit’s deepest positions -- ultimately I pulled from the receiver room to make room for Tabor.
The kicker, punter and long-snapper are secure. Washington is counted here because while he’s listed as a safety, that is his main role -- akin to Matthew Slater with the Patriots. Washington works specifically on special teams drills in practice and is the team’s top gunner.