It’s been a busy few days for the Lions of Detroit. The organization created its initial 53-man roster, claimed Benito Jones waived concessions from Dolphins, signed quarterback Nate Sudfeld, and then ceded quarterbacks David Blough and Jermar Jefferson in the corresponding moves, while also creating a 13-man preliminary coaching squad.
The NFL has made some changes to the new rules out of the season, including making some tweaks to how teams use their coaching staff. Most notably, the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to maintain their expanded 16-player coaching squad on a permanent basis. Another relay rule allows teams the ability to raise coaching team players to the active roster on game days. Players last season were only allowed to upgrade twice per season, but in 2022, players are allowed three raises per day.
As we saw last season, these heights can play an important role in game management, and based on history, it’s likely that many of the players on this list will see some regular season action sometime this year.
So let’s take an inventory of the players that are on the team.
Justin Jackson, right-back
Lions added Jackson after rookie Greg Bell fell through a season-ending injury and slowly worked his way up to a more relaxed position on the roster. As camp progressed, Jackson showed off his skills as a sprinter—leading the team in quick yards pre-season—in passing game, and in special teams, even with kick-backs at Pittsburgh. This well-balanced skill set, combined with ability to be productive, makes him a reliable fourth choice in the backroom running.
Tom Kennedy, and
A pre-season darling, Kennedy stepped up and joined the second team after Quintess-Severus was injured in the middle of training camp, and took charge of the first two games of his pre-season. His lack of special teams contributions likely kept him off the 53-man roster, but Kennedy has proven capable of working out of the hole and as a WR-Y player, making him an ideal player on the coaching staff. Should the Lions need an injury-hit substitute in play, Kennedy gives them a reliable option to go up.
Maurice Alexander, and
After leading the USFL in the kick-back and average yards, the Lions brought in the Alexander to help boost competition on special teams. He’s featured as a return in pre-season – especially Game 2 – but he still needs to expand his game on attack and other stages for special teams if he wants to land a job on the active roster. However, as a natural comeback man, he gives Alexander the Black a bullish option if they need a boost.
Garrett Griffin, back TE/H
Griffin has been working with the Lions’ top units while linebacker Jason Cabinda is out due to injury, which is why it came as a surprise when he was released in the first wave of cuts. He’s a consistent blocker and a potential H back height option could be while Cabinda misses at least the first four weeks of the season after being placed on the Reserve/PUP roster.
Derek Desi Jr., TE
A rookie rookie, Deese is a tight end built with a H-back scope, and Lions saw enough potential in him at San Jose State to award him a UDFA contract with $100,000 warranties. In training camp, he’s shown he still has ways to go before he’s ready to watch the NFL pitch during the regular season, but any time coach Dan Campbell is investing in a tight end, it’s worth noting. Deese wasn’t far from where Brock Wright was at this time last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him follow a similar career path.
Dan Skipper, OT
Skipper might be the Lions’ third best offensive tackle during the run-up, but it lacks the extent of Matt Nelson and that’s probably what cost him OT3’s place on the list. Skipper has been with the Lions, time and time again, switching between the coaching staff and the active roster for the past three seasons, so they know what they have in him as a player.
Obinna Eze, OT
Eze has had his fair share of struggles in training camp, but partly because he’s so new to football, and part because he’s been going from left to right. When Eze lines up on the left tackle you can see his natural abilities, but it takes time for him to acclimate to the right side, with minimal experience (starting one game) there in college. Eze is a pretty big project for the future, but with muscle memory gain on the right side, it could evolve into a swinging intervention in the future.
Bruce Hector, D.L.
Like the Skipper, the Hector is a reliable veteran in the trenches of the Lions. With six defensive tackles currently on the roster, the path to a gaming height isn’t clear for Hector, but he’s spent the whole of last season as a protected player on the coaching staff, illustrating how the team views his value.
James Houston, Edge
Full of potential, it didn’t take long for the coaches to realize they needed to cut things down in Houston, and they relied heavily on his best trait: his fast passing skills. During camp, Houston demonstrated the potential that led to his sixth-round selection for the Lions, but it was also clear that he needed to add some career strength and develop his overall skill set. The upside is definitely there for Houston to develop into a situational passing specialist, and the coaching staff is the perfect place to hone those skills.
Anthony Bateman, LB
One of the surprise cuts by the Lions, a special team player and multi-functional quarterback, Pittman missed the LB5 spot, losing the roster battle to another special team gun, Josh Woods. If Woods struggles, a lineback injury occurs, or the Lions feel they need more depth in the specials, Pittman’s name should be at the top of the list.
Jared Davis, LB
The Lions’ previous first-round pick is an NFL ride, but the coaches love him, and Davis will certainly provide the team with veteran leadership, even from the coaching staff. At this point in his career, Davis’ struggles as a stacked full-back have been meticulously documented, but his ability to transcend dash remains a unique trait that could help him see the field this season.
AJ Parker, note
A nickel starting corner last year, Parker’s physical nature and compact frame didn’t always work in unison. The Lions require their defensive backs to be in the openings physically, and while Parker is ready to throw himself into the fight, he has had a hard time holding up physically, and missed several games last season because of that. He added 10 pounds of muscle this off season and looked solid in preparation for the season – except for Game 1 – but Mike Hughes was better and won the starting role. However, there’s enough potential out there that Parker definitely makes it a priority for employees to stay on the coaching team.
Sivion Smith, CB
Smith loves hitting and showing up in his running defense and on special teams, but his covering skills need some polishing. For now, Smith’s best asset is his ability to contribute to special teams, and it remains an option to lift in case of injury or if one of them struggles.
The Lions have filled 13 of the 16 slots available in the training squad, and David Plouffe and Germar Jefferson – who were ceded on Wednesday – look like logical options for two of those openings. Both players made the Lions’ initial roster of 53 players and the Lions could use more depth in their midfield and running back lineup, respectively.
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