Detroit Lions roster analysis: Who’s in, who’s out and what’s next for the 53-man squad


ALLEN PARK -- The Detroit Lions announced one of the most unusual 53-man rosters in the league on Tuesday, opting to go with no kickers at all. But that wasn’t the only surprise. Here’s a breakdown of who’s in, who’s out and what’s next for this squad in the coming days.

Related: Lions announce 53-man roster

Quarterback (3)

In: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough

Out: None

Breakdown: The Lions carried all three quarterbacks, although Tim Boyle’s move to injured reserve is imminent. He broke his thumb in the preseason finale and is expected to miss six to eight weeks according to NFL Network. But the Lions have to wait until after setting their initial roster to move him to IR, or they would lose Boyle for the season. With that, David Blough -- who outplayed Boyle throughout much of the offseason anyway -- will roll into Week 1 as the backup to Jared Goff.

Running back (5)

In: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Godwin Igwebuike, Jason Cabinda (FB)

Out: Dedrick Mills, Craig Reynolds

Breakdown: D’Andre Swift is back from a promising rookie season where he led all Lions players in yards from scrimmage, and the new staff wants to ride him hard in that new-look offense. But a nagging groin injury has concerned coaches about Swift’s availability for the opener in 12 days. So they’ve elected to go deep at the position, carrying Jamaal Williams and Jermar Jefferson as expected, along with Godwin Igwebuike. And what a story Igwebuike is.

Dan Campbell called Igwebuike just a couple weeks before the start of camp to tell him he’d be moving from safety to running back. That’s a dramatic position change, and the Lions gave him very little time to prepare his mind and body for it. Igwebuike struggled during the early days of camp too, including fumbling twice during one practice. That’s usually a death knell for a bubble player -- hell, Igwebuike might not have even been on the bubble at that time -- but he simply got better every single week. Then he ran for a touchdown in Pittsburgh, and added another in the finale against Indianapolis with an impressive second effort at the goal line. The uncertainty with the Swift injury cracked a door, and Igwebuike barrelled through it onto the 53.

Receiver (6)

In: Tyrell Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, Tom Kennedy

Out: Breshad Perriman, Victor Bolden, Damion Ratley, Geronimo Allison, Sage Surratt, Javon McKinley

Breakdown: The Lions’ efforts to replace Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola and essentially every other notable receiver didn’t exactly go to plan this summer. So they’ve shaken things up in a pretty serious way heading into the regular season. They cut Breshad Perriman, a projected starter who was a dud in camp, then traded for Denver wideout Trinity Benson on Tuesday afternoon. Benson went undrafted out of East Central University (Okla.) in 2019, then spent the last two years on the Broncos’ practice squad. But he drew a lot of acclaim this summer, then caught eight passes for 80 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason. At 6-foot and 180 pounds, Benson is expected to provide some depth behind Tyrell Williams and Kalif Raymond on the outside, as well as backup Raymond at return man.

The trade for Benson seemed like it might kill Tom Kennedy’s roster chances, since teams usually carry only four or five players at the position, and tight end T.J. Hockenson might lead this team in receiving anyway. But the Lions elected to hang onto Kennedy too, rewarding him for having one of the most productive training camps of any player in Allen Park. But how exactly he fits into the rotation remains very much to be seen. He’s at the back end of a unit that’s carrying an extra player. So if Brad Holmes needs an extra roster spot for an upcoming transaction, he might look here first.

Tight end (2)

In: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells

Out: Brock Wright, Alize Mack

Breakdown: Hockenson was a Pro Bowler last year, and if training camp is any indication, he’s headed for an even bigger year in 2021. He was featured prominently in the passing game throughout the summer and has already become Jared Goff’s favorite target. Darren Fells is pretty good too, a strong blocker who is a capable, rangy target in the passing game. That’s a pretty good 1-2 punch. But no one -- and I do mean no one -- stepped up in the battle for the No. 3 job, and so the Lions are forgoing a No. 3 tight end entirely.

Offensive line (8)

In: LT Taylor Decker, LG Jonah Jackson, C Frank Ragnow, RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, RT Penei Sewell, G/T Matt Nelson, G Logan Stenberg, C/G Evan Brown

Out: G/T Tyrell Crosby, T Dan Skipper, OT Darrin Paulo, G Tommy Kraemer, G Evan Heim

Breakdown: Tyrell Crosby’s release on Monday was a shocker, given his starting experience for an offensive line that is critically low on quality depth players. The top group has a chance to be really good if Penei Sewell can figure his stuff out at right tackle, but the backups were a disaster in camp and throughout the preseason. So cutting down Crosby, who started 11 games last year, was a surprise. Matt Nelson was the only backup tackle to make the team behind Sewell and Taylor Decker, which seems like an untenable situation. Expect the Lions to be active here on the waiver wire.

On the inside, Logan Stenberg’s injury is minor (Grade 1 MCL sprain) and he is expected to be the top backup at guard. Evan Brown is the emergency center if, God forbid, anything happens to Frank Ragnow.

Defensive line (12)

In: EDGE Trey Flowers, EDGE Romeo Okwara, DL Michael Brockers, DT Alim McNeill, DL Da’Shawn Hand, DT Nick Williams, DT Levi Onwuzurike, DT Kevin Strong, DT John Penisini, EDGE Julian Okwara, EDGE Austin Bryant, EDGE Charles Harris

Suspended: DT Jashon Cornell

Out: DT Bruce Hector, DT Miles Brown, DT Michael Barnett

Breakdown: The Lions went from having one of the worst defensive lines in the league under Matt Patricia to, dare I say, developing some impressive depth over the last few months. Their initial roster reflects that. They intend to use a lot of three-man fronts, yet still rolled with Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, Kevin Strong and John Penisini on the interior. That’s a lot of meat. Of course, it could also mean Hand is headed for injured reserve in the next day or two while he tends to a groin injury that is more serious than the club initially believed.

On the outside, Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara will start at the new outside linebacker spots, while Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant and Charles Harris will supplement them off the edge. Bryant was especially impressive late in camp and the preseason. He still has to learn to finish off plays, but his motor and disruptiveness is something the Lions haven’t had coming off their bench in a long time. This defensive front provides Detroit with a lot of flexibility, with so many bodies and many of them versatile.

Linebacker (5)

In: Jamie Collins, Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Anthony Pittman

Out: Jahlani Tavai, Tavante Beckett, Rashod Berry

Breakdown: Not much new going on here. Jamie Collins and Alex Anzalone are the starters, while rookie Derrick Barnes enjoyed an impressive summer off the bench. But the Lions have managed Barnes’ workload closely, and he probably won’t play a lot right away barring injury. And if injuries do hit the position, Detroit could be in some trouble. Behind Barnes, there ain’t much by way of actual linebackering. Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Anthony Pittman figure to contribute mostly on special teams.

Secondary (10)

In: CB Jeff Okudah, CB Amani Oruwariye, CB Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB A.J. Parker, CB Jerry Jacobs, S/CB Bobby Price, S Tracy Walker, S Will Harris, S Dean Marlowe, S C.J. Moore

Out: CB Mike Ford, CB Corn Elder, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Jalen Elliott, S Alijah Holder

Breakdown: Nowhere is the rebuild more apparent than right here. The Lions cut veterans like Mike Ford, Corn Elder and Nickell Robey-Coleman to make way for a slew of young defensive backs like A.J. Parker (UDFA), Jerry Jacobs (UDFA) and Bobby Price (second-year UDFA with zero career games). Jeff Okudah (second year) will start on the outside, with Amani Oruwariye (third year) on the other side of the field and Parker (first year) in the slot. There are six corners on this team, and none is older than 25. That’s about as young as any unit gets in the league.

At safety, depth is a concern. Tracy Walker has the talent to lead the position group, but was bad last year. Will Harris is a former third-round pick, but has never looked like it heading into Year 3. Dean Marlowe has some starting experience, but is mostly a career reserve for a reason. C.J. Moore will contribute exclusively on special teams.

The secondary showed substantial progress this offseason, but the inexperience and lack of depth mean there will be some bumps along the way as well.

Specialists (2)

In: P Jack Fox, LS Scott Daly

Out: K Zane Gonzalez, K Randy Bullock

Breakdown: That’s right. After years and years of “death and taxes” jokes because so much stayed the same with Detroit’s special teams, the club has turned the unit so far upside-down that there literally isn’t a kicker on the team. The Lions signed Randy Bullock to replace Matt Prater, but Bullock struggled throughout the summer. So the club signed Zane Gonzalez in the middle of camp to compete for the job, but cut him too. An addition is looming at the position, but man does this make you wonder why the new regime wouldn’t pony up for another year of Prater.

All of that is in addition to the recent cut of Don Muhlbach, the most-tenured player in Detroit by more than a decade. He appeared in more games for the franchise than everyone not named Jason Hanson. But his performances had dipped in recent years, and Brad Holmes decided to go with Scott Daly instead.

Hey, at least they still have Jack Fox.