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Projecting the Lions current 53-man roster – Lions Wire

The Detroit Lions have been pretty busy in the first couple of weeks of free agency. Of course, much of the activity has been in the form of bringing back Detroit’s own players from the 2021 season.
In fact, the Lions currently have the most rostered players of any NFL team, at 80 (as of March 25th). That doesn’t leave much room for more additions with nine draft picks, including three of the first 34 in the 2022 NFL draft.
The team will eventually boil down to just 53. Based on who is on the roster right now, this is the projection for who makes the final 53 come September.
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Starter – Jared Goff
Reserves – Tim Boyle, David Blough
No surprise that Goff remains the starter after he finished the 2021 season on a definite upswing. Even if the Lions draft a quarterback, expect Goff to start all 17 games if he’s healthy.
Bringing back both Boyle and Blough is an eyebrow-raiser. Boyle did not play well in limited duty, while Blough didn’t play at all.
About that draft potential…
It’s certainly possible, but understand this coaching staff really likes Goff. A lot more than might be comprehensible to fans who watched Goff prior to the mideseason offensive coaching change. Drafting to make Goff’s job easier is a lot more likely than drafting his eventual successor, though that option cannot be ruled out.
(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)
Starters – Jamaal Williams, Jason Cabinda (FB)
Reserves – D’Andre Swift, Jermar Jefferson, Craig Reynolds
Williams and Swift figure to share the load as the primary ball carriers; the starter designation is nominal. Reynolds assured himself a spot with an impressive 2021 that led to a 2-year contract. Jefferson showed promise as a rookie, too.
Godwin Igwebuike was initially included here for his potential return specialist duties, but there just isn’t room for him on the 53 with the recent influx of LBs. He’s No. 54 on the current roster stack.
It would be very surprising if the Lions spent any draft capital on the position.
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Starters – Amon-Ra St. Brown, DJ Chark
Reserves – Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Tom Kennedy
The first four spots are locked in contractually, with Chark the team’s biggest free agent signing to date. Reynolds and Raymond each came back to Detroit despite opportunities to go elsewhere. St. Brown is coming off a fantastic finish to his rookie season and has No. 1 receiver potential.
The final spot (or two spots) is up for conjecture. Cephus offers size and some potential in returning from an injury. It is generally expected the Lions will use at least one draft pick on a wide receiver, though the level of commitment to that spot is unknown. Holdovers Tom Kennedy, Trinity Benson and Javon McKinley will get chances to compete as well. Give Kennedy the edge from that group for his potential as a return man.
I trimmed from six to five here in order to keep an extra linebacker. Cephus was left on the cutting room floor.
(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
Starter – T.J. Hockenson
Reserves – Garrett Griffin, Brock Wright
Hockenson proved he’s one of the NFL’s most dangerous receiving tight ends, when healthy. After Hockenson, it’s a wide-open race for the other two spots.
Griffin gets the early nod for his experience with the Saints and his ability to play as a fullback if Cabinda should get hurt. Wright showed some promise as an undrafted rookie in 2021, enough that he gets the slight edge over a group that includes Shane Zylstra, Jared Pinkney, Matt Sokol and Hunter Bryant.
The Lions could be in the market for a receiving-oriented tight end in the draft, though likely not any earlier than the fifth round.
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Starters (L-R) – Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell
Reserves – Matt Nelson (T), Evan Brown (C), Ryan McCollum, (C/G), Tommy Kraemer (G/C)
The top eight are set in stone, and it’s one of the best lines in the NFL. A healthy Ragnow in the middle of the starting line gives this group elite potential. The Lions are very pleased with the reserves too, notably Brown and Nelson.
As is the case with running back, it would be both surprising and disappointing for the Lions to use any draft capital on the offensive line.
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Starters – Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers, Charles Harris, Levi Onwuzurike
Reserves – Romeo Okwara, John Penisini, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Bruce Hector
The move to a base 4-man front creates at least one misfit player moving spots. That player is likely Onwuzurike, who struggled as a 5-technique in his rookie year. He’s undersized to play the DT spot but did so in college. McNeill earned all-rookie honors as a nose tackle and is an emerging standout.
Harris returns as the team’s top pass rusher. He and Brockers project as the top ends, though a healthy Romeo Okwara will have something to say about that. Julian Okwara fills the pass-rush specialist role. Penisini backs up McNeill.
The final spots are up for battle, with Bryant and Hector given tenuous nods. Hector is the only other lineman above 280 pounds currently on the roster. Rashod Berry, Eric Banks, Jessie Lemonier, Jashon Cornell are all in the mix as well.
Then there’s the draft. EDGE is universally regarded as a primary draft need, someone who can push Harris and the Okwara’s one spot each down the depth chart. Expect another addition at DT too, though it’s difficult to ascertain the team’s prioritization at that spot. Read as: at least two of the guys currently on the 53-man roster projection won’t be in the post-draft edition.
(AP Photo/Bart Young)
Starters – Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes
Reserves – Chris Board, Josh Woods, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Jarrad Davis
The move to a 4-man front, in defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s world, means just two linebackers will be on the field for the vast majority of reps and schemes. They’ll play just one LB more than they play three, based on usage models from the Saints and similar schemes.
This makes the current roaster overload at the position difficult to sort out. Signing Davis brings the LB count to nine, a number that also includes a freshly signed Board. In fact, the Lions have signed five of the six listed above this very offseason, with Barnes–last year’s rookie–the one exception.
Expect Barnes to man one of the starting roles. Anzalone, Davis, Board and Hamilton figure to divvy up the playing time with him. Woods has high value on special teams.
Anthony Pittman, Curtis Bolton and Tavante Beckett are currently on the outside looking in, subject to the offseason. All are capable of rising up and claiming a spot, notably on special teams. It’s also eminently possible the team elects to keep just five LBs on the 53-man roster, too.
Given how much emphasis the Lions have placed on signing so many of these players this offseason, it is easy to conclude they’re not in the market to draft any LBs of consequence. But it’s a very strong off-ball LB draft class and tapping into it still makes a lot of sense.
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Starters – Amani Oruwariye, Jerry Jacobs, Jeff Okudah (slot)
Reserves – Mike Hughes, Ifeatu Melifonwu, AJ Parker
The only starting spot that appears secure is Oruwariye on the outside. He’s coming off a strong season and offers playmaking ability.
Jacobs and Okudah are each returning from season-ending injuries. Okudah is much further along in progress due to his Achilles injury happening in September, versus Jacobs tearing knee ligaments in December. Jacobs played much better than expected as an undrafted rookie and his style of play is a great fit for Glenn’s defense.
What happens with Okudah is a big question for the offseason. His most fitting role appears to be the slot, but he’ll need to prove himself quickly on the inside. Parker and Melifonwu can both play inside too, with Melifonwu–last year’s third-round pick–capable of winning a starting spot outside too.
Signing former first-rounder Hughes shores up the concerns over experienced depth.
If Jacobs isn’t ready to start the season, Mark Gilbert is the next man up from the current outsiders. A Day 2 or Day 3 draft pick would not be a surprise given the injury histories of so many players here.

Starters – Tracy Walker, Will Harris
Reserves – Brady Breeze, C.J. Moore
The status quo from 2021 remains, minus Dean Marlowe. Walker’s return is invaluable in that context; Detroit’s safety play was largely terrible last season and Marlowe was clearly a cut above Harris, Breeze and Moore.
Choosing between a fifth safety, a ninth DL and a sixth LB is an ever-changing battle. Adding another safety means dumping someone like Jarrad Davis or Austin Bryant. When the Lions add another safety in the draft, perhaps as early as the No. 2 overall pick, that calculus changes and the fifth safety wins out. But that hasn’t happened yet and, to be blunt, there aren’t five NFL-caliber safeties currently in Detroit. Expect that to change in the draft or moving forward in free agency.
David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports
Punter – Jack Fox
Long snapper – Scott Daly
Kicker – Riley Patterson
Fox and Daly are locked in. Patterson finished his rookie campaign nicely for Detroit, though the Lions do have three kickers on the roster. Aldrick Rosas and Austin Seibert will provide competition, with Seibert returning from injury to try and reclaim the position he earned last year.
Drafting a specialist would likely result in a riot, something the Lions appear to understand at this point.
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