It’s been a busy few days for the Detroit Lions. The organization built its initial 53-man roster, claimed nose tackle Benito Jones waived the Dolphins’ waiver, signed quarterback Nate Sudfeld, and then waived quarterbacks David Blough and Jermar Jefferson in a corresponding move, while An initial 13-man practice team was also established.
The NFL made some new changes to the rules this offseason, including some tweaks to how teams use practice squads. Most notably, the NFL and NFLPA agreed to permanently retain the expanded 16-man practice team. Another carry-over rule allows teams to promote practice squad players to the active roster on game day. Players were only allowed to be promoted twice per season last season, but in 2022 players are allowed to be promoted three times on matchdays.
As we saw last season, these boosts can play a big role in matchday management, and based on history, several players on this roster will likely see some regular-season action sometime this year.
So let’s take a look at who’s on the team.
Justin Jackson, RB
After rookie Greg Bell went down with a season-ending injury, the Lions added Jackson, who slowly moved into a more comfortable spot on the roster. As training camp went on, Jackson showed his skills as a runner in the passing game as well as in special teams and even in Pittsburgh’s return — he led the team in the rush in the preseason. This balanced skill set, combined with production capacity, makes him a solid fourth option in the running back space.
Tom Kennedy, WR
A preseason darling, Kennedy stepped up to join the second team after Quintez Cephus was injured midway through training camp and took over the first two games of the preseason. His lack of contribution to special teams may have kept him out of the 53-man roster, but Kennedy has proven he has the ability to work on openings and WR-Y, making him an ideal practice team player. If the Lions need an injury substitution on game day, Kennedy gives them a solid option for improvement.
Morris Alexander, WR
After leading the USFL in return yards and average, the Lions brought in Alexander to help strengthen the special teams competition. He flashed as a returner in the preseason — especially in Game 2 — but he still needs to expand his game in other phases of offense and special teams if he wants to find a job on the active roster . Still, as a natural returning player, Alexander would give the Lions an upside option if they needed a boost.
Garrett Griffin, TE/H-back
Griffin is working with the Lions’ top team while guard Jason Cabinda is out with an injury, which is why it was a surprise when he was released in the first wave of cuts. He’s a solid blocker and could be a possible H-back elevation option, while Cabinda has missed at least the first 4 weeks of the season after being placed on the Reserve/PUP roster.
Derek Deese Jr., TE
A top-up rookie, Deese is an inside tight end in the H-back range, and the Lions saw enough potential in him at San Jose State to give him a guaranteed $100,000 UDFA contract. In training camp, he showed that he still has a long way to go before he sees the NFL in action during the regular season, but any time coach Dan Campbell invests in tight ends, it’s worth noting. Deese didn’t get as far as Brock Wright this time last season, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see him embark on a similar career.
Captain Dan, OT
The captain may have been the Lions’ third-best offensive tackle during the preseason, but he lacks Matt Nelson’s range, which may be the reason for his OT3 spot on the roster. The captain has been with the Lions for the past three seasons, going back and forth between the training class and the active roster on and off, so they know what they have in him as a player.
Obina Eze, OT
Eze also struggled quite a bit in training camp, partly because he’s new to football and partly because he’s transitioning from left tackle to right tackle. You can see Eze’s innate ability when he’s at left tackle, but he needs time to get used to the right side and has very little experience in college (one game to start). Eze is a very future-proof project, but as he gains muscle memory on the right side, he can develop into a swing tackle of the future.
Bruce Hector, DL
Like the captain, Hector is a solid veteran option in the Lions’ trenches. With six defensive tackles currently on the roster, the road to matchday improvement is less clear for Hector, but he spent the entirety of last season in the training squad as a protected player season, which speaks to how the team sees his value.
James Houston, EDGE
Coaches full of potential quickly realized they needed to downsize for Houston, and they relied heavily on his best attribute: his passing and rushing skills. Throughout training camp, Houston showed the potential to make him a sixth-round pick for the Lions, but it was clear he needed to add some functional strength and develop his overall skillset. Houston definitely has the edge to develop into a situational passing specialist, and the practice class is the perfect place to hone those skills.
Anthony Pittman, LB
One of the Lions’ surprise promotions, Pittman was a special-teams ace and versatile linebacker, but he missed the LB5 spot, losing to another special-teams weapon, Joe, in the roster battle. Sh Woods. If Woods is struggling, a linebacker is injured, or the Lions feel they need to add depth to a special team, Pittman’s name should be at the top of the list.
Jarrad Davis, LB
The Lions’ former first-round pick has had an NFL journey, but coaches love him, and Davis is sure to provide the team with seasoned leadership, even from the practice squad. Davis’ struggles at chip linebacker have been thoroughly documented at this stage of his career, but his passing ability remains a unique trait that could help him see the field this season.
AJ Parker, NB
Last year’s starting Nickel angle, Parker’s physicality and diminutive frame didn’t always align. The Lions require their defensive backs to be physical, and while Parker is willing to get into the fight, he struggled to stay physically fit and missed a few games last season as a result. He added 10 pounds of muscle in the offseason and looked solid in the preseason — save for Game 1 — but Mike Hughes was better and earned the starting spot. Still, there’s plenty of potential there, and Parker is certainly a priority for the staff on the squad.
Saivion Smith, CB
Smith loves to hit the ball, which is reflected in his running defense and special teams, but his reporting skills need some polishing. Right now, Smith’s best asset is his ability to contribute to special teams, and he’s still an improvement option if injured or someone struggles.
The Lions have filled just 13 of the 16 available seats on the practice squad, and David Bluff and Jamal Jefferson, who were cut on Wednesday, seem like logical choices for two of those vacancies. Both players made it to the Lions’ original 53-man roster, and the Lions could use more depth in practice teams at quarterback and running back, respectively.