Gone are the years when fans were ardently waiting for the Detroit Lions’ final cuts. The businessman like approach to building the roster by Martin Mayhew and company has really left little intrigue surrounding the unveiling of the final roster. The talent on the team has improved so much that it was easy to tell who was and wasn’t going to make this team as undrafted rookie free agents have more or less been unable to compete with the versatile, veteran players acquired by the Lions in the last two seasons.
Probably the biggest surprise was the release of Nathan Vasher, who played well the end of the 2010 season, but it wasn’t a total shocker as he was outplayed by the younger Brandon McDonald. McDonald has three years experience with the Browns, Cardinals and Lions. The Nick Harris release was becoming evident as he was unable to differentiate himself from rookie Ryan Donahue.
The following is a list of the final 53 man roster with an analysis of each position.
Quarter Back: Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton
Nothing new here, the top three QBs from 2010 are back. If Stafford proves durable, the Lions will have as deep a QB corps as exists in the NFL. Hill and Stanton has both proved to be serviceable NFL quarterbacks.
Running Backs: Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, Jerome Harrison, Aaron Brown
Analysis: Unfortunately, there is not much versatility in this position, as the Mikel Leshoure injury left the Lions scrambling. Best, Brown and Harrison are all similar players and Morris has injury concerns. Expect to see lot of short dumps and screens to this group as the Lions will try to make use of their speed. Give Mayhew credit, he kept the four best running backs on the roster regardless of their similarities.
Wide Receiver: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Maurice Stoval, Rashied Davis, Stefan Logan
There appears to be a big improvement in the depth of the wide receivers as the addition of Stovall and Davis provided veteran talent that will contribute on special teams. Johnson is due for an explosive season and Burleson looked very good teaming with Stafford in the preseason. Young is a wild card who could introduce a whole new dynamic to the Lions offense. Logan is back as the return man and change of pace on offense.
Tight Ends: Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller
A very talented unit that should really help out Stafford. Scheffler is a dangerous offensive weapon, Heller is an excellent blocker and Pettigrew is both.
Offensive Line: Jeff Backus, Gosder Cherillus, Rob Sims, Stephen Peterman, Dominick Raiola, Dylan Gandy, Corey Hilliard, Jason Fox
A completely intact offensive line with no new faces. The starters aren’t tremendous, but the depth has improved. They’re need to protect Stafford can’t be stressed enough. Backus and Raiola are both back for their eleventh seasons. They both are lightning rods who, while not Pro-Bowlers, don’t deserve as much criticism as they receive. While Sims was an excellent pick-up who solidified the left guard spot, Peterman struggled last season at right guard. Cherillus has slowly improved during his career, but Hilliard could make a strong push to replace him as the starter at right tackle. Fox might be the heir apparent at left tackle and Gandy is a versatile backup.
Defensive Line: Ndamukong Suh, Kyle Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams, Sammy Hill, Lawerence Jackson, Andre Fluellen, Willie Young, Nick Fairley
Even with the loss of Turk McBride and injury to Nick Fairley, the Lions offensive line is amazingly impressive. Suh might be the favorite for the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Avril looks like a future Pro Bowler, Vanden Bosch and Williams are valuable leaders, and Hill, Fluellen and Jackson give the Lions outstanding depth. The loss of McBride might be the Lions’ gain as it guarantees more reps for Willie Young, who continues to look impressive. If Fairley comes back healthy, this could be one of the best defensive line units the Lions have ever had.
Linebackers: Deandre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Justin Durant, Bobby Carpenter, Ashlee Palmer, Isaiah Ekejiuba, Doug Hogue.
With three new faces, the linebackers may go through some growing pains but the potential is there. When healthy, Levy proved to be a big play linebacker. He’ll be replaced by Tulloch in the middle, who has the reputation for being a tackling machine. The injury-prone Durant rounds out the starters. Solid depth in Carpenter and Palmer, who both started late in the 2010 season, mean any injury is not detrimental. Ekejiuba gives special teams depth and Hogue survived the cuts as a 5th round pick.
Cornerbacks: Chris Houston, Eric Wright, Alphonso Smith, Aaron Berry, Brandon McDonald
Little was done to upgrade the cornerbacks. Houston and Smith were granted second life in Detroit. While not spectacular, they were upgrades over the cornerbacks run out by the Lions in previous years. Wright looks to do the same with the Lions this year. Aaron Berry was very impressive out of camp, but was unable to stay healthy. If he continues to develop, he might be the Lions best corner down the road. McDonald was retained and could see sinificant playing time if Berry and Smith can’t stay healthy.
Safeties: Louis Delmas, Amari Spievey, Erik Coleman, John Wendling
Delmas is possibly the only member of the Lions’ secondary with a chance to be special. He’s a hard hitter who has to avoid getting dinged up. Spievey improved substantially over the 2010 season and John Wendling is a key special teamer who was a Pro-Bowl Alternate. Erik Coleman provides a veteran presence.
Special Teams: Jason Hanson (K), Phil Donahue (P), Don Muhlbach (LS)
Once again the ageless Hanson is back. This year he survived some competition from Dave Rayner, but ultimately won out and Rayner was quickly snatched up by the Cowboys. Donahue is the only undrafted rookie to make the team, hopefully we won’t be seeing too much of him except for as a holder on extra points. Muhlbach is quietly entering his eight season as a Lion, and other than a botched snap on a game tying extra point in 2004, he’s been unknown. That’s a good thing.
UPDATE: There appears to be at least one open roster spot as the Lions have just released Aaron Brown. They have also reportedly made a claim for an unknown player.