In what will be an ongoing series, I will be taking a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster and examine where things stand, who has the best shot at making the final 53-man roster, and whether or not we improved in this area. Next up, offensive tackle.
Current players on contract: Riley Reiff, LaAdrian Waddle, Corey Hilliard, Michael Williams, Cornelius Lucas, J.B. Shugarts, A.J. Dalton
Going into last year’s draft, the offensive tackle position was thought to be the weakest position for the Lions. Reiff had only played as a hybrid tackle/tight end his rookie year, and there was some uncertainty whether he could start at left tackle following Jeff Backus’ retirement.
Everything panned out for the Lions though, and Reiff had a pretty solid year starting all 16 games at left tackle.
Reiff shouldn’t have any problems retaining his job as the starting left tackle.
Chances of making final roster: 100% (starting left tackle)
LaAdrian Waddle was a pleasant surprise for the Lions last year. It’s not often that you see an undrafted free agent making an impact for the Lions as a rookie, but last year may have been the most impactful rookie class since Martin Mayhew took over as general manager.
Waddle took over for Corey Hilliard at the right tackle position midway through the season last year and started eight games. Waddle didn’t give up a single sack in 2013 and was given a +5.5 grade from Pro Football Focus on only 553 snaps.
The right tackle position will be Waddle’s to lose during training camp.
Chances of making final roster: 100% (starting right tackle)
Corey Hilliard has been a reliable backup tackle for the Lions over the years, and this will be his sixth consecutive year with the team. Hilliard started at right tackle for the first half of last year but ended up losing his job to Waddle after week seven.
Despite Waddle being the favorite to win the starting RT job, Hilliard isn’t going down without a fight. During OTAs last month, both players received an equal amount of first-team snaps at the position.
Chances of making final roster: 90% (top backup)
Michael Williams was drafted in the seventh-round last year as a tight end. He had an unfortunate end to his rookie year after breaking his hand during the preseason.
Recently, the Lions have decided it was in their best interest to move Williams to offensive tackle. The move doesn’t come as much of a surprise as Williams is much more polished as a blocker than a pass catcher, not to mention the overcrowded talent at the tight end position.
Chances of making final roster: 70% (new position, but likely stays as depth)
Cornelius Lucas is a BEAST. If you haven’t read up on this guy yet, I suggest you do.
Lucas is a 6-foot-9 undrafted prospect out of Kansas State, and probably has one of the best shots at making the team out of all of the UDFAs. He will need to work on his technique and footwork if he wants to make the regular season roster, but at the very least he is a favorite to land on the practice squad.
Chances of making final roster: 40% (raw prospect with huge upside)
Shugarts came into the league as an undrafted free agent in 2012 and has played for several teams since then, none of which kept him on their regular season roster.
Don’t expect the Lions to break that trend.
Chances of making final roster: 0% (camp body)
A.J. Dalton is an undrafted free agent out of Robert Morris that started his last 30 games at left tackle for the Colonials.
Dalton is a long-shot to make the team, and is just filling the roster at this point.
Did They Improve?
I’d call it a push.
Expect to see the same starting tackles as last year including Hilliard as the top backup tackle. It will be interesting to see how Michael Williams transitions to the offensive tackle position, and remember to keep an eye out for Cornelius Lucas and how he develops.