Lions depth chart: Breaking down each position on the 53-man roster

Lions depth chart: Breaking down each position on the 53-man roster

Now that the Detroit Lions have established what looks like the full 53-man roster for the 2022 regular season, it’s time to see what exactly the team has at each position group.

Of course, the roster could change again–and quickly. It’s a living organism more than a static body. This is the active roster as of 8 a.m. on Thursday, September 1st and before the day’s transaction list has been processed.

This is the projected Lions depth chart and how the pieces all fit together.

Quarterbacks

(AP Photo/Duane Burleson)

Starter: Jared Goff

Reserve: Nate Sudfeld

Going with two QBs instead of three was a smart choice by Lions head coach Dan Campbell. So was bringing in Sudfeld in place of David Blough. Sudfeld brings a different dynamic to practices and a more veteran presence to in-game duty if called upon.

Running backs

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Starter: D’Andre Swift

Reserves: Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds

The Lions, for now anyway, are carrying just three RBs. Swift is the lead back but both Williams and Reynolds figure to get considerable action. All offer different running styles and skills with one common denominator: they’re all good receivers out of the backfield.

Tight end

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Starter: T.J. Hockenson

Reserves: Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, James Mitchell

Keeping four tight ends is unusual, but so are the circumstances in Detroit. Zylstra and Wright figure to share some of the fullback responsibilities normally handled by Jason Cabinda, who is on the reserve/PUP list for at least the first four weeks. Mitchell, a fifth-round rookie, is still getting back to full speed from a knee injury that wiped out most of his 2021 at Virginia Tech.

Wide receivers

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Starters: DJ Chark, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds

Reserves: Kalif Raymond, Quintez Cephus

The Lions got a lot faster on the outside by adding Chark, who has looked very good throughout training camp. St. Brown and Reynolds are both versatile and reliable, seeming to have nice chemistry with Goff. Raymond brings speed and physicality in an undersized package. Cephus is a little small for the role but wears the mantle of possession receiver effectively.

Considering first-round rookie Jameson Williams projects to return midseason off the reserve/NFI list, likely into a major role right away, the Lions have themselves a solid, diverse WR corps. Compared to a year ago, when Cephus started Week 1, it’s a massive upgrade.

Offensive line

Starters (L-R): Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Penei Sewell

Reserves: Matt Nelson (T), Evan Brown (C), Tommy Kraemer (IOL), Logan Stenberg (IOL)

All five starters are above-average talents at their positions, and the prospect of having the quintet healthy and playing together represents the best part of the Lions roster. They were never on the field together in 2021 thanks to injuries, unfortunately. Decker and Vaitai are each coming off their best NFL seasons overall.

Brown proved a capable starting center last year in Ragnow’s absence and the move to more outside-zone run blocking suits him well. The biggest question is Nelson as the swing tackle; he’s been fine as an extra blocker but has really struggled when playing in place of Decker or Sewell even in practices. Stenberg is a feel-good story for making the team with a fantastic finish to the preseason, forcing the Lions to keep a ninth OL.

Defensive line

Starters: Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers, Charles Harris

Reserves: Austin Bryant (DE), Isaiah Buggs (DT), Julian Okwara (DE), John Cominsky, Benito Jones (DT), Demetrius Taylor (DT), Levi Onwuzurike (DT)

Hutchinson went straight from being the No. 2 overall pick into the starting lineup and continues to look more than ready to roll. He should help Harris, who played well in his first year in Detroit despite little help from the other side. Brockers is the greybeard veteran and still has his craftiness, though we did not see much of him this summer in full-speed status. McNeill is a popular candidate for breakout player and has branched beyond just being a nose tackle.

The Lions kept 11 lineman in part because two of the top projected reserves, Okwara and Onwuzurike, might not be ready for Week 1 due to ongoing injury issues. That opened the door for Bryant’s rapid ascension this summer; for my money he was Detroit’s most impressive player in training camp. Cominsky can play every spot but nose tackle and impressed since being claimed off waivers. Newcomer Jones and undrafted rookie Taylor offer similar skills as interior disruptors, while Buggs is more of an anchor-type of presence.

Expect at least two of these players to be inactive each week.

Linebackers

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Starters: Alex Anzalone, Malcolm Rodriguez

Reserves: Derrick Barnes, Chris Board, Josh Woods

It’s still debatable who will start between Rodriguez, an impressive sixth-round rookie, and Barnes. Both are nice fits in the “heavy” LB role in coordinator Aaron Glenn’s attack-oriented base 4-2 defense. Both figure to play a lot with Anzalone, who is healthy and playing with more confidence in his second summer in Detroit. Board has speed to burn as a coverage specialist-type, and both he and Woods will be fixtures on all special teams units.

Cornerbacks

(AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

Starters: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Hughes

Reserves: Chase Lucas, Will Harris, Bobby Price

The outside starting spots are set with the same duo that began 2021 in those roles, Okudah and Oruwariye. Okudah won the starting job over Harris in a camp battle and has shown no signs of the Achilles injury that wiped him out after less than a game.

The slot position is less certain. Hughes did not play much in the slot in camp and when he did it wasn’t pretty. Harris has the ability to play any position in the secondary but is at his best outside. Lucas, the seventh-round rookie, can only play inside, but he and the athletically gifted Price are more valuable on special teams than defense.

Safeties

(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Starters: Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliott

Reserves: Kerby Joseph, Ifeatu Melifonwu, JuJu Hughes

Walker is the leader of the back seven and played like it all summer. Nobody else here has taken a regular season snap for Detroit at safety.

Elliott has flashed ball skills and closing speed since coming over from the Ravens as a free agent. Durability is his primary concern; Elliott has missed at least 10 games in three of his four NFL seasons. Third-round rookie Joseph did not look ready for primetime in the preseason but does have range and coverage instincts. Melifonwu is transitioning from CB to S and has missed time with an injury, slowing the process. Ideally the second-year DB will be the “heavy” slot and replace a CB inside against flexed-out TEs, but that has yet to manifest due to injuries. Hughes earned his spot with hard-hitting opportunism all summer after coming over from the Rams.

Specialists

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Punter: Jack Fox

Kicker: Austin Seibert

Long Snapper: Scott Daly

Punt return: Kalif Raymond

Kick Return: Raymond (?)

Daly quickly proved to be a worthy replacement for Lions legend Don Muhlbach at long snapper. Fox is a Pro Bowl-caliber punter. Seibert’s big leg won the kicking competition this summer, but his status is somewhat tenuous until he proves himself in games that count.

The Lions cut primary kick returner Godwin Igwebuike unexpectedly, and that thrusts Raymond into the primary return role for both punts and kicks. This is a spot where the Lions could call upon a practice squad call-up like Maurice Alexander or Justin Jackson on a week-by-week basis.

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