After an impressive return in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions depth chart has the potential to have a very different look to it when the 2021 NFL season begins. Let’s look at the full Lions’ depth chart and which positions could be areas to watch in training camp.
Detroit Lions Depth Chart
Following free agency and the 2021 NFL Draft, how does the Lions’ depth chart shape up?
Quarterback: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, David Blough
Running Back: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Jermar Jefferson, Dedrick Mills, Michael Warren
Tight End: T.J. Hockenson, Darren Fells, Hunter Bryant, Alize Mack, Brock Wright, Charlie Taumoepeau, Hunter Thedford, Jake Hausmann
Offensive Tackle: Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper, Darrin Paulo
Offensive Guard: Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Tommy Kraemer, Logan Stenberg, Evan Brown, Evan Heim
Center: Frank Ragnow, Drake Jackson
EDGE: Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant, Reggie Gilbert
Linebacker: Jamie Collins Sr., Jahlani Tavai, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alex Anzalone, Derrick Barnes, Anthony Pittman, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Robert McCray, Tavante Beckett
Cornerback: Jeff Okudah, Quinton Dunbar, Amani Oruwariye, Corn Elder, Ifeatu Melifonwu, Mike Ford, Jerry Jacobs, A.J. Parker, Alijah Holder, Alex Brown
Safety: Will Harris, Tracy Walker, C.J. Moore, Dean Marlowe, Godwin Igwebuike, Bobby Price, Jalen Elliott, D’Angelo Amos
Kicker: Randy Bullock, Matthew Wright
Punter: Jack Fox
Long Snapper: Don Muhlbach, Scott Daly
Detroit Lions Depth Chart Analysis | Offense
The Lions’ offense has seen some major changes in the past few months. Who are the current starters on the roster, and which players could challenge them in training camp?
The trade of Matthew Stafford is the end of what has been a frustrating era for the Lions. Stafford was clearly talented enough to lead the team on a playoff run, but things never materialized. Now, they turn the keys to the offense over to Jared Goff, whose career in Los Angeles was mixed, to say the least. The former No. 1 overall selection has struggled the last two seasons, with a touchdown rate below four in both seasons.
Behind Goff, the Lions have little in the way of proven depth. Tim Boyle has thrown four passes in his career, while David Blough has five starts in the NFL and has thrown just 184 passes.
When the Lions finally handed over the backfield to D’Andre Swift, he showed why he was one of the class’s best backs. The former Georgia Bulldog played in 13 games (four starts) and rushed 114 times for 521 yards and 8 touchdowns. Additionally, he caught 46 passes for 357 yards and 2 scores.
The significant additions are on the coaching staff with RB coach Duce Staley and OC Anthony Lynn. From 2018 to 2020, with Lynn as head coach, the Chargers RBs were third or higher in the NFL in target share. This should pair perfectly with Swift’s skill set.
With Adrian Peterson hitting free agency, the Lions looked to add to their RB depth chart. They signed former Packers RB Jamaal Williams to a two-year, $7.5 million deal. Williams rushed for at least 460 yards in each of his four years in Green Bay, averaging 4.0 yards per carry. He’s also caught at least 30 passes in each of the last two seasons.
The Lions added an intriguing piece to the roster in the form of Jermar Jefferson. The former Oregon State running back had 2,923 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns on 514 attempts. He also contributed in the passing game as a freshman but did not build on that in the following two seasons.
With Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones gone, the Lions’ WR depth chart looks significantly different. With the loss of their two leading receivers, Detroit added some receivers of their own in free agency.
The first of which was adding a familiar name in Breshad Perriman. The son of former Lions standout receiver Brett Perriman, Breshad may be the WR1 when the season begins. Across 2019 and 2020, he recorded 66 receptions for 1,150 yards and 9 touchdowns with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets.
Tyrell Williams also signed with the Lions during the offseason. He spent the past two seasons with the Las Vegas Raiders, hauling in 42 catches for 651 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2019 before spending last season on injured reserve.
An under-the-radar player for the Lions is Quintez Cephus. Although he did not receive much playing time last year, Cephus was a talented rookie coming out of Wisconsin who fell in the draft due to an off-field issue. He amassed 93 receptions for 1,496 yards and 13 touchdowns in his time at Wisconsin. He’s not a burner but is a physical and aggressive receiver who runs solid routes and could develop chemistry early with Goff.
The additions of Amon-Ra St. Brown in Round 4 and Jonathan Adams Jr., Sage Surratt, and Javon McKinley as undrafted free agents give the Lions competition at the position. All four of those receivers have the opportunity to earn playing time this season.
It will not shock me at all if T.J. Hockenson sees a Travis Kelce or George Kittle-type target share this season. With over 334 targets (59.5%) now up for grabs, Hockenson is primed to join the elite ranks.
Despite having both Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods, Goff threw to his tight ends often, thanks in part to the Rams’ devotion to 12 personnel. In 2019, Goff targeted tight ends 156 times (fourth-most) and 126 in 2020 (12th-most). Given the reduction in talent on the perimeter, Hockenson could easily see over 120 targets since the Lions will be playing much of the season from behind.
The addition of Darren Fells gives the Lions a veteran backup to Hockenson. In the last two seasons, Fells has 55 receptions for 653 yards and 11 touchdowns. His time in Houston was by far the most productive of his career, and he provides a solid safety blanket if Hockenson is unable to take to the field at any point.
Taylor Decker started all 16 games for the Lions last year and serves as one of Detroit’s cornerstones on their depth chart. Signed to a four-year deal before the 2020 campaign, Decker allowed only 26 pressures on 1,066 offensive snaps.
The addition of Penei Sewell is massive for the Lions. In Sewell and Decker, the Lions have one of the strongest OT pairings in the league. Switching sides on the line is not easy, but even if Sewell struggles out of the gate, his role at RT should remain unchallenged this season.
Tyrell Crosby was an 11-game starter for the Lions last season at right tackle but likely now shifts into a reserve role. Crosby has played over 1,000 snaps over his three years in the NFL and allowed 5 sacks and 14 pressures last season.
A third-round pick in 2020, Jonah Jackson stepped in from Day 1 as the starting right guard before moving to the left side due to injuries up front. Jackson started all 16 games and played 962 offensive snaps, allowing the sixth-fewest pressures in the NFL (34).
Halapoulivaati Vaitai has struggled since signing with the Lions. He moved from tackle to right guard and made 10 starts last year. He accounts for a $10.4 million cap hit in 2021. Vaitai is an intriguing player in camp, as he could start at guard or be used as a utility reserve offensive lineman. Furthermore, he could be the next man up at tackle if Decker or Sewell gets injured.
Tommy Kraemer could yet challenge for a starting role at guard. The route to that starting role will be made easier if Vaitai has to step in and cover at tackle. Kraemer will likely compete with Crosby to be the primary backup at guard.
Named second-team All-Pro in 2020, Frank Ragnow conceded 0 sacks and just 1 quarterback hit on 609 pass-block reps.
The Lions signed Drake Jackson as a UDFA, and he very easily could be the backup to Ragnow. Jackson may even see snaps at guard in training camp as he looks to prove he can be a utility interior offensive line backup.