Monday, April 2, 2018

2018 Pre-Draft Roster Review

Time to review the roster as it sits today.

The coaching hires (and firings) have come and gone, so has the start of free agency when most of the action takes place. Now we can better see just where the Lions are at. With 72 players under contract (or tendered, or tagged) the Detroit Lions are sitting on $10,067,577 in salary cap space. They currently have 6 draft picks in the upcoming draft and they usually sign around 10 guys who go undrafted immediately after the draft ends. That means they have room for one or two more "vet" players they could sign in free agency over the next few weeks. Still, the roster is pretty much shaped up into what they will have in their OTAs and off season programs so let's take a look at it one position group at a time.

I shall preface this with a few thoughts though... the coaching staff and front office tend to favor players who are versatile over players who are not... and the front office (and not the coaching staff) have the salary cap to contend with so some guys just won't be going anywhere while others could. 53 jobs are up for grabs and the competition to work one of those spots is fierce. But, at the same time, teams need a modicum of depth so if an injury happens they have someone, who may not be quite as good at it, who can take over. Teams are also dealing with a set number of roster spots, so a few assumptions have to be made.

Let's start off the quarterback. The Lions have under contract their starter, who is lock to make the 2018 team, in Matthew Stafford. They also have carried only one other QB on the roster these past couple years and tried to stash the 3rd on their practice squad. That didn't work out so well in 2017 as Brad Kaaya was signed off their squad and is no longer under the teams' control. Their 2nd string QB (Stafford's backup) could be either Jake Rudock (last year's backup) or Alex Torgerson, who they signed right after the 2017 season ended to a future/reserve contract. It's also possible they could select another QB in the upcoming draft to compete with these two. It's possible they keep 3 on the roster so they don't lose their practice squad QB to another team. It's also possible they will gamble and only keep 2 again. They want that 3rd QB to help with film study so if there isn't on the 53 roster their must be one on the practice squad. My 2018 Roster Estimate at QB is: Matthew Stafford (lock) and both Rudock and Torgerson make the roster. The 4th camp arm might be an undrafted player they sign after the draft is over or an unsigned vet to a vet minimum deal.

At Tight End they ended Eric Ebron's contract and signed two veterans to go with their 4th round pick in last year's draft Michael Roberts. Roberts started the year in the dog house having some issues being late to meetings and so on, but nothing a better alarm clock won't cure. Luke Willson had a $900,000 signing bonus and $500,000 of his 2018 salary is guaranteed and he's about to be paid $100,000 for attending the workouts that start in a week... so $1.5 million of his $2.5 million contract is guaranteed. That makes him a lock. Roberts is in his 2nd year of his rookie deal, as a 4th round draft pick he's also a lock. Levine Toilolo signed with $400,000 in a signing bonus and is also about to make $100,000 in workout bonuses, so a third of his $1.5 million contract is guaranteed as well. That doesn't make him a lock, but it does make him hard to get off the roster if you are Brandon Barnes, Hakeem Valles, a draft pick or an undrafted player (the first two being signed to contracts right after the 2017 season ended). My 2018 Roster Estimate at TE is: 3 make the roster, Roberts and Willson are locks and Toilolo won't be outplayed enough to move him. Up until Toilolo was signed I figured the Lions were looking to the draft for their 3rd, but no longer.

At Running Back they are returning the entire 2017 corp and then added LaGarrette Blount in free agency. Blount had a $1 million signing bonus and was the 11th ranked RB in yards per attempt last year, he is a lock. Speaking of ranking in the yards-per-attempt category, I find that stat to be the most meaningful as far as rushing goes. There are 32 teams with 32 QBs and 32 OLs and 32 coaching staffs... just about every variable or combination of such is in that group of 32... and with teams having from 3 to 6 running backs, well, rushing yards per attempt would be the only stat that you can use to see how your players stacked up (and that includes your coaching staff, your OL, your QB, and all the pieces that go into making a run game work). You'd think the Lions would have a runner in the top 32 (before Blount was signed)... nope... the top 50?... nope... the top 100? well, yeah, at 99 Jamal Agnew, the corner back, managed to rank there. The Lions were so bad at running that not only don't they have a runner in the top 100, but you have to go to 155 to find the first one on the roster that is in fact a running back... Tion Green. The OL coach was fired... and the OL is being worked on and hopefully will be healthier, but the RBs themselves are not safe either... not a single one of them. Oh sure, they can do this or do that, but most of them would find it hard to make the roster of another team and actually be a starter. Here is how they ranked in 2017:

99 Jamal Agnew
108 Golden Tate
155 Tion Green
201 Theo Riddick
202 Matthew Stafford
206 Ameer Abdullah
241 Dwayne Washington
257 Zach Zenner

The Lions will keep 4 or 5 running backs, probably five but I'm going to say four for now. Blount is the lock. Riddick is also a decent receiver and gets yards after the catch, he has the next best chance to make the roster. Ameer did some good stuff before his Lisfranc injury, if he can come back full speed from that this year he probably has the next best chance... and by virtue of being better then the rest of the roster, Tion Green has a shot. I fully and completely expect the Lions to draft a running back in the 2018 draft, day 2 (2nd or 3rd round). My 2018 Roster Estimate at RB is: Blount, Riddick, Draft Pick, and Green. There is no salary cap reason to keep the others, and there is no production reason to keep them either. Zenner, Washington, Abdullah and whoever else the Lions sign after the draft will compete against Tion Green for that one roster spot, unless they keep five... then those two roster spots.

At Wide Receiver they are returning most of the 2017 corp as well. Golden Tate III and Marvin Jones are locks to make the roster. Kenny Golladay is as well, through virtue of his size, draft pick status, and rookie production. That leaves two spots for TJ Jones (who is set to make $1,907,000 but it is not guaranteed so he's really got to prove he is worth that much, as so far, he has not done that), Jace Billingsley, Andy Jones, Bradley Marquez, and Dontez Ford. Those 5 guys will find themselves also competing against the Lions draft pick I expect them to make at WR, and perhaps other undrafted players and veteran signings in free agency after the draft. I also expect the draft pick will be some kind of special teams ace, either gunner or punt returner, so he'll most likely be the 4th lock. That leaves all of them fighting for one spot (barring injury... knock on wood). My 2018 Roster Estimate at WR is: Tate III, Marvin Jones, Golladay, draft pick, and TJ Jones (unless anyone else comes mildly close to his ability, then they are in and he is out).

Last but not least on the offense we have the Offensive Line players. The Lions will keep 9 or 10, most likely 9, so here we go. The locks to make the team are; LT Taylor Decker, C/G Graham Glasgow, RG TJ Lang, and RT Rick Wagner. Vet pickup Kenny Wiggins has the inside track on the 5th and final starting spot on the OL, but it is not guaranteed. The other 4ish spots have no less then 7 guys fighting for those jobs and there will likely be a draft pick added to that fight. Depending on when drafted, the draft pick would also become a lock. Last year's 5th round draft pick Joe Dahl has a small inside bonus for his draft status, and a couple of the backup tackles did half way decent in relief last year so the race is really going to be something. Versatility might be key, as will draft status (they didn't draft them if they didn't like them) and salary cap... so my 2018 Roster estimate at OL is: Decker, Dahl, Glasgow, Lang, Wagner, Draft Pick, Wiggins, Cleary, and Mahalik. The last 3 will face stiff competition from Koloamatangl, Wesley Johnson, Corey Robinson, and Dan skipper.

We all know who the special teams players to make the roster are; Martin, Prater and Muhlbach are here for another year, so it's off to the defensive side we go.

The Lions have spent draft picks on guard, wide receiver, and running back (see above)... so we need to mix in three more with the next 4 corps. At cornerback the Lions have their locks in Darius Slay (production), Nevin Lawson (contract), Teez Tabor (draft status), Jamal Agnew (returner), and DeShawn Shead (contract and free agent status). That leaves 3 guys hoping for an injury as I don't think there will be an open roster spot for another. Charles Washington, Desmond Lawrence, and Adairius Barnes will be joined by some undrafted players so that some may make the practice squad. Obviously my 2018 estimated CB corp is: Slay, Lawson, Tabor, Agnew, and Shead. I don't anticipate a draft pick being used on a cornerback this year, unless he can play safety as well.

Speaking of corners who can play safety, the 2015 6th round pick Quandre Diggs is one my locks at Safety, since he can also play corner. My other locks at Safety are Glover Quin (production), Killebrew (draft status and production), and Tavon Wilson (past production and contract). That leaves one roster spot open for the draft pick I assume they will select and Stefan McClure and Rolan Milligan. Needless to say, the draft pick would likely make the roster over the other two barring injury and off field stuff. My 2018 Safety corp is: Diggs, Quin, Killebrew, Wilson, and a draft pick.

Now Linebackers have 8 guys signed for what should be 6 spots. The Locks are Christian Jones (free agent status and contract), Devon Kennard (free agent status and contract), Jarrad JD Davis (draft status and production), Jaleen Reeves-Davis (draft status and ceiling), and you guessed it - Nick Bellore (can play full back and LB and special teams). That leaves one spot for Steve Longa, Brandon Chubb, and Jonathan Freeny. I don't expect a draft pick for this group any longer with the vet pickups in free agency. So my 2018 estimated LB corp is: Davis, Kennard, Jones, Bellore, Reeves-Maybin, and Longa (sorry Freeny, but Longa on special teams takes your spot).

At Defensive End the lock is Ziggy Ansah. I would say Hyder as well but less then half of all athlete's can come back from the injury he had last year so I'm not able to say he's a lock, or even if he'll make the roster. Zettel could be a lock due to his being a 6th round pick in 2016, but he has to show at least more then the rest. Cam Johnson, Jeremiah Valoaga, and Alex Barrett may or may not ever develop. I have never understood the Cornelius Washington signing and saw nothing that should suggest he automatically has a roster spot. I'd almost bet anything that a DE will be drafted in the first two days of the draft this year, and that means the pick will be a lock. Just about anyone who shows something could make the final roster, so it's all up for grabs really. The Lions usually keep 5, though 4 and a DT who can switch back and forth, or even an OLB who can switch back and forth, are possible. My 2018 estimated DE corp at this time is: Ziggy Ansah, a high Draft Pick, Kerry Hyder (50/50 he can do it), Anthony Zettel (draft status), and and and... ah... oh heck, Jeremiah Valoaga (cool name).

At Defensive Tackle the Lions will probably keep 5 and the locks are A'Shawn Robinson (draft status), Akeem Spence (a little of the production and free agent status), Jeremiah Ledbetter (draft status and ceiling), and Sylvester Williams (contract this year in free agency... ala $2 million signing bonus). That leaves one spot open for Toby Johnson and Christian Ringo and an early Draft Pick that I assume will also, like the DE, be in the first two days of the draft... which would make him the final lock and roster spot barring injury or some kind of super human effort by the last two. My 2018 estimated DT corp then is: Robinson, Spence, Ledbetter, Williams and a Draft pick.

The link to my estimated depth chart (and salary cap chart) is to the upper right. My next blog entries should all be on the 2018 draft. Obviously I'm looking for the Lions to pick:


Not everyone agrees with these but that's the way I see it, for the reasons given above.

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