The Detroit Lions enter the 2023 NFL season in an unfamiliar position — as the odds-on favorites to win the NFC North. General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell have built a solid roster over the past two seasons, but now it’s time for the Lions to deliver.
What depth chart questions remain on the table in Detroit? Here’s how the Lions’ 53-man roster could look after the NFL’s Aug. 29 cutdown deadline.
Detroit Lions 53-Man Roster Projection
- In: Jared Goff, Teddy Bridgewater
- Non-Football Injury (NFI) List: Hendon Hooker
- Out: Adrian Martinez, Nate Sudfeld
Last year, the Lions staged a backup quarterback competition between Tim Boyle and David Blough — only to release both players and sign Sudfeld as Goff’s No. 2.
This year, Sudfeld might be the odd man out after Detroit signed Bridgewater in early August. Bridgewater, who made two starts in relief of Tua Tagovailoa last season but ultimately succumbed to multiple injuries of his own, is a roster lock after collecting $2.55 million in guarantees.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) August 19, 2023
Sudfeld could still find a place on the Lions’ practice squad, but he’s unlikely to make the active roster. Meanwhile, Hooker is still on the NFI list after tearing his ACL in November. Head coach Dan Campbell has repeatedly referred to 2023 as a “redshirt year” for Hooker.
- In: David Montgomery, Jahmyr Gibbs, Craig Reynolds, Jason Cabinda (FB)
- Out: Jermar Jefferson, Devine Ozigbo, Benny Snell
Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift are out, and Montgomery and Gibbs are in. Those two new additions should eat up most of Detroit’s vacated touches as the team’s thunder-and-lightning duo. But there are still plenty of RB snaps to go around.
Reynolds will likely make the Lions’ roster due to his special-teams ability. Justin Jackson’s retirement on Aug. 10 opened a roster spot that any of Jefferson, Ozigbo, or Snell could theoretically grab. Still, Jefferson’s familiarity with the Lions’ system would give him the edge if Detroit opts to keep four RBs and a fullback.
- In: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, Marvin Jones Jr., Dylan Drummond, Antoine Green
- Suspended: Jameson Williams (six games)
- Out: Maurice Alexander, Trinity Benson, Chase Cota, Avery Davis, Jason Moore
Williams’ gambling suspension means the Lions will have an extra roster spot for the first six games of the season. Still, Detroit doesn’t necessarily have the WR depth to keep an abundance of pass catchers, so we’re sticking with six wideouts for now.
In August, the Lions gave Raymond a two-year, $10.5 million extension, signaling his value as a deep threat on offense and returner on special teams. Detroit also shook up its receiving corps by waiving Denzel Mims, whom the team had acquired from the Jets in July.
With Mims gone, Drummond, Green, and Cota are likely competing for two roster spots. Drummond has been the most consistent of the three throughout the summer, while the Lions invested a draft pick on Green. However, Cota offers size (6’4″, 205) and caught a touchdown against the Jaguars on Saturday, so he’s still battling for a role.
- In: Sam LaPorta, Brock Wright, James Mitchell
- Out: Darrell Daniels, Daniel Helm
LaPorta may have a more straightforward path to a starting role than any other 2023 rookie tight end. Wright became the Lions’ starter following the T.J. Hockenson trade, but he still managed just 18 receptions for 216 yards.
Daniels and Helm aren’t legitimate contenders for the Lions’ TE3 role, but one or both could land on the team’s practice squad.
- In: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Penei Sewell, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Matt Nelson, Colby Sorsdal, Kayode Awosika
- Out: Brad Cecil, Obinna Eze, Connor Galvin, Bobby Hart, Germain Ifedi, Alex Mollette, Darrin Paulo, Ryan Swoboda
Detroit is set at four of five OL positions, but right guard is still up in the air. Although Vaitai entered the offseason as the presumptive starter, Glasgow — who rejoined the Lions this year after several seasons in Denver — has been taking first-team reps. If Glasgow starts, Vaitai (who can play both tackle and guard) will become a super-sub.
Nelson should be Detroit’s top swing tackle, while Sorsdal could start at either right or left guard in the near future. The ninth and final roster spot should come down to Awosika and Ifedi. We’re going with Awosika because he’s five years younger and spent last season in the Lions’ system.
- In: Alim McNeill, Isaiah Buggs, Brodric Martin, Levi Onwuzurike, Benito Jones
- Out: Christian Covington, Cory Durden, Chris Smith
After missing all of the 2022 campaign with a back injury, Onwuzurike is back with the Lions and should make the roster. The former second-round pick isn’t a projected starter, but he offers as much upside as anyone on Detroit’s interior.
Levi Onwuzurike (LDT #91) absolutely displaying that explosive quickness off the snap, that Brad Holmes drafted him for, on that crucial 4th & 1 stop which Campbell and Reeves-Maybin cleaned up. pic.twitter.com/9PWB8FhRCk
— Al Karsten (@bigalfredosauce) August 12, 2023
Martin spent his collegiate years at North Alabama and Western Kentucky, so he might need some development time before he’s ready for a full complement of NFL snaps. Covington hasn’t made much of an impact over the summer, and Jones is four years younger and 45 pounds bigger.
- In: Aidan Hutchinson, John Cominsky, Charles Harris, Josh Paschal, Romeo Okwara, James Houston
- Out: Julian Okwara
Hutchinson, Cominsky, and Paschal have all shown the ability to slide inside on passing downs, which should give the Lions additional lineup versatility in obvious passing situations.
Hutchinson was a down-ballot Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate last season, and Detroit expects him to take a significant leap forward as he enters his second NFL campaign. Houston, another 2002 rookie, managed eight sacks last year despite not suiting up until Week 11.
Paschal didn’t do much during his rookie campaign, but his second-round draft pedigree should keep him safe. Meanwhile, Harris and Romeo Okwara accepted pay cuts this offseason, meaning they should remain on the roster barring a drastic change of plans in Detroit.
- In: Alex Anzalone, Jack Campbell, Malcolm Rodriguez, Derrick Barnes, Jalen Reeves-Maybin
- Out: Trevor Nowaske, Anthony Pittman
Linebacker might be the most stacked position on the Lions’ roster. Anzalone re-signed for $6 million annually over the offseason, while Detroit used the No. 18 pick on Campbell in April’s draft.
Jack Campbell broke this up with one ass cheek and three toes pic.twitter.com/4xlCLM0M9s
— Colton Pouncy (@colton_pouncy) August 12, 2023
Anzalone and Campbell should start in nickel packages, but Barnes has also been incredibly impressive throughout the summer — so much so that he could push Rodriguez (last year’s Hard Knocks star) into a reserve role, even in base formations.
Campbell earned the fifth-highest PFF grade of any linebacker during the first week of the preseason, while Rodriguez managed the same feat on Saturday. The Lions are overflowing with LB depth, which will likely force Pittman — who played nearly 80% of Detroit’s special-teams snaps a year ago — off the roster.
- In: Cameron Sutton, Jerry Jacobs, Brian Branch, Will Harris, Chase Lucas, Starling Thomas V
- PUP: Emmanuel Moseley
- Out: Khalil Dorsey, Colby Richardson, Steven Gilmore
Sutton is the Lions’ new CB1 after inking a three-year deal over the offseason. But Moseley, Detroit’s other free agent corner addition, is still on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list as he recovers from a torn ACL.
Asked about Moseley’s status last week, Dan Campbell said, “It’s going to be a while.” Moseley’s temporary absence should mean Jacobs starts at outside corner opposite Sutton.
C.J. Gardner-Johnson was initially thought to be the Lions’ starting nickel corner, but he’s now expected to play primarily safety. Instead, Branch is playing the slot in his first NFL campaign, while Harris should back him up inside.
Gilmore, the brother of Cowboys CB Stephon Gilmore, posted an interception and a PBU against the Jaguars this past Thursday. Depending on how a few injury situations shake out on Detroit’s safety depth chart, Gilmore could still end up making the roster.
- In: C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Kerby Joseph, Tracy Walker III, Ifeatu Melifonwu
- Out: Brady Breeze, Brandon Joseph, Scott Nelson, Saivion Smith
Gardner-Johnson has moved into the Lions’ starting lineup at safety opposite Joseph, leaving Walker as an overqualified backup. Walker started three games for Detroit last season before suffering a torn Achilles.
If the Lions keep only four safeties, Melifonwu — a third-round pick in 2021 — should be viewed as the favorite over Smith. But Detroit’s staff obviously likes Smith, who’s bounced around the NFL since going undrafted in 2019. He started at safety after being promoted from the practice squad in October, only to suffer a season-ending injury after just two snaps.
Both Melifonwu and Smith got banged up against Jacksonville, and Campbell said they’re in danger of missing the Lions’ preseason finale. Detroit could theoretically stash both players on IR and keep another defensive back like Gilmore on the roster.
- In: Riley Patterson (K), Jack Fox (P), Scott Daly (LS)
- Out: Parker Romo (K)
The Lions released Michael Badgley in July, leaving Patterson and Romo to compete for placekicker duties. Detroit actually gave up something for Patterson this offseason (even if it was only a conditional 2026 seventh-rounder), so we’re sticking with him over Romo for now. Patterson handled all the kicks in the Lions’ second preseason game.