53-man Roster Projection: Defense 1.0

The Lions have a few months to dwindle their roster down to 53 players from the 90 it currently sits at, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a stab at it right now. Yesterday we took a look at the offensive side, now let’s turn our focus to the defense.

The team made some major changes this offseason to all levels of the defense, and for good reason. The team allowed over 6,400 yards (31st), 423 points (26th), and allowed a first down for every day of the year (365, “good” for 31st). That’s not great.

They moved bodies and added some pieces, but who makes the cut?

Defensive Ends (2):

IN: Trey Flowers, Romeo Okwara

OUT: Jonathan Wynn

Analysis: Since Patricia’s defense is so multiple, the Lions do not have many “true” positional players on the roster. You could probably put Da’Shawn Hand here as well but he’ll most likely provide interior pass rush. Austin Bryant will also likely see snaps here but will mostly be spending time in the JACK role.

Wynn could be a solid depth piece but the new additions push him out of the bubble.

Defensive Tackles (5):

IN: Danny Shelton, Nick Williams, Da’Shawn Hand, John Atkins, Kevin Strong

OUT: John Penisini (PS), Jashon Cornell (PS), Olive Sagapolu, Frank Herron

Analysis: Shelton, Williams, and Hand are your top defensive lineman that you’ll see every week. Atkins and Strong performed… not abysmal last year when they were forced to step in and play. The team loves Atkins and Strong has a decent ceiling so it’s not hard to see both of them making the roster. Penisini and Cornell should benefit from a year on the PS.

Middle Linebackers (3):

IN: Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, Reggie Ragland

OUT: Jason Cabinda (PS)

Analysis: The linebackers are a mess to figure out. They currently have 13 on the roster and I could see any variation of 9 of them making the cut. The truth is, this positional group will be decided by camp battles. With an in-person training camp up in the air, it’s hard to see them taking risks on under-the-radar guys in tight competitions.

The middle seems the most certain as Davis and Tavai will see the majority of the snaps with Ragland finding some playing time switching between the strong side and the middle.

Outside Linebackers (5):

IN: Jamie Collins, Christian Jones, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Jalen Reeves-Maybin

OUT: Miles Killebrew, Anthony Pittman, Elijah Lee, Christian Sam

Analysis: I really wanted to put Killebrew on the roster, but Reeves-Maybin has better special teams value, and that’s what you’re going for with the last linebacker spot. Collins will play all over the field. Okwara and Bryant seem the most poised to fill in the void left by Devon Kennard. Jones should see some snaps at all 3 linebacker spots.

Outside Cornerbacks (4):

IN: Desmond Trufant, Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford

OUT: Dee Virgin, Tony McRae, Michael Jackson (PS)

Analysis: I could see the Lions keeping 5 outside guys due to special teams value but at this time I only see 4. Mike Ford has shown that he is capable of rising to the challenge when called upon and I have been a fan of his since he stepped into a starting role as an undrafted rookie. The guy has heart and is a tough competitor… everything that Patricia loves in a player. McRae has familiarity with new ST coach Bayden Coombs so it will be tough to beat him out. Dee Virgin is likely to challenge him as well. In the end, I give Ford the nod.

Slot Cornerbacks (2):

IN: Justin Coleman, Darryl Roberts

OUT: Jamal Agnew

Analysis: The one-time all-pro finds his way off of the roster due to the numbers game. His effectiveness as a return man has diminished and he hasn’t been reliable on defense. He should find a job somewhere else, though.

Safeties (5):

IN: Tracy Walker, Duron Harmon, Will Harris, C.J. Moore, Jayron Kearse

OUT: Bobby Price (PS), Jalen Elliott (PS), Jeremiah Dinson

Analysis: I don’t believe any of the players behind Kearse seriously challenge him for a spot and his special teams value is too high. C.J. Moore did some nice work in limited playing time (mostly on ST) so he’s safe as well. The ultimate question is whether or not the depth they have a safety is strong enough to withstand injuries, and I’m not so sure they do. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if they added another body before the season rolls around.