10 Thoughts on Final Detroit Lions Roster

Matthew Stafford leads an interesting Detroit Lions roster into 2016. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Stafford leads an interesting Detroit Lions roster into 2016. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /
Matthew Stafford leads an interesting Detroit Lions roster into 2016. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Matthew Stafford leads an interesting Detroit Lions roster into 2016. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

The Detroit Lions finalized the 53-man roster and fleshed out most of the practice squad over the last 48 hours. New GM Bob Quinn made several surprising moves and intriguing decisions, all of which happened while I was on vacation.

Here are my final ten cents on the Detroit Lions roster.

Four wideouts is a dangerous gamble

The Lions kept just Anquan Boldin, Marvin Jones, Andre Roberts and Golden Tate. That’s the smallest wideout corps in the league. These four were clearly the best options and it’s a versatile and experienced group.

Yet with just four wideouts on the 53-man Detroit Lions roster, Bob Quinn is playing a dangerous game. What if Tate gets dinged up and has to leave the opener in Indianapolis for a few drives? What happens when the offense goes four wides for a drive in terms of fatigue? I don’t necessarily think any of the cuts deserved to make the final roster, but carrying only four wideouts doesn’t seem prudent.

Bob Quinn got running back right

Not that there were a lot of options, but the running back committee of Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Dwayne Washington and Zach Zenner, with Michael Burton as the fullback, is the correct choice. Washington proved he belonged behind Abdullah, with Riddick an invaluable receiver. Zenner got better on special teams and definitely showed more as a runner than George Winn, too.

This is not a lineup that scares other teams besides Riddick as a receiving threat, but it’s the best combination the Detroit Lions have. Cutting Stevan Ridley proved sage, as the vet couldn’t make a very thin Colts roster either.

Jake Rudock belongs on the practice squad

Simmer down, Michigan fans…

Rudock is a sixth-round rookie who parlayed exactly six good games his senior season into a budding NFL career. Think back 11 months and there were many in the maize and blue nation still calling for Rudock to get benched after a humdrum effort against a bad Maryland team.

After that he progressed rapidly, and I really liked what I saw from Rudock in person at Shrine Game practices. His preseason work was uneven, though fairly promising (keep in mind I didn’t see the finale against Buffalo’s scrubs). I saw very little indication Rudock is anywhere close to ready to step in if the unthinkable happens to Matthew Stafford, currently the second-most durable QB in the NFL.

Is Rudock better than Dan Orlovsky? On the field it’s debatable. In the film room and on the sideline huddles with Jim Bob Cooter and Stafford, the rookie isn’t in the same ballpark as the veteran. That’s the role for the backup QB in Detroit. Rudock will get plenty of reps with the practice squad as he matures into the NFL game. The plan all along has been to have Rudock take over as the No. 2 in 2017 and nothing forced any deviation from that plan.

Adairius Barnes over Alex Carter

An undrafted rookie beats out a third-round pick from the prior season. Heck yes he did! This is more about Carter failing miserably than any sustained strong play from Barnes. Carter lacks instincts and doesn’t tackle well, his draft pedigree be damned. Barnes was much better on special teams and showed he knew when and where to be in Teryl Austin’s coverage schemes. He might not have the strength or closing speed, but Barnes was better than Carter.

The fact the coaches recognized this and the GM agreed is a very good sign going forward. These Lions are a meritocracy. It also shows the importance of the fourth preseason contest, where Barnes shined…

Caraun Reid shouldn’t be a surprise

I know many fans were taken aback by Caraun Reid’s release. The 2015 fifth-round pick started 13 games last year, after all.

The plain hard fact here is Reid did not deserve to make it in 2016. The affable Princeton product played his way off the roster. After his quick first step he had nothing; Reid spent the entire preseason simply dancing with opposing blockers. Kerry Hyder emphatically outplayed Reid all summer. Vet Stefan Charles and rookie Anthony Zettel offer more versatility, though you could make a solid argument Reid was better than Charles in preseason.

If Reid wasn’t getting pressure on the opposing QB, he served no purpose in Austin’s defense. He didn’t sniff the QB, not even in camp against guys the Lions should have been embarrassed to issue uniforms. Sorry, Chop…

The biggest hole is the secondary

Darius Slay is fine as the No. 1 cornerback, even though he didn’t play well in the preseason. Glover Quin is one of the best free safeties in the league. Quandre Diggs is a quality slot corner, though he also had some preseason struggles.

Nevin Lawson will start opposite Slay, but he’s optimally a fourth corner. I say that as one of Lawson’s biggest fans. Johnson Bademosi is a special teams monster who should never see the field on defense, yet he’s the fourth corner. The aforementioned Barnes is No. 5. And corner is the strength of the secondary depth.

Rafael Bush was abysmal in coverage all preseason and consistently takes poor, late angles in run support. Tavon Wilson deserves the starting role at strong safety, but he seems physically unable to change direction once he’s moving and doesn’t have the range to cover deeper than about 10 yards down the field. Miles Killebrew is more of a linebacker than safety in his rookie campaign. Don Carey is, well, Don Carey. Ewww.

Who is Thurston Armbrister?

Thus far the only player on the 53-man Detroit Lions roster plucked from waivers is linebacker Thurston Armbrister. The second-year pro from Miami FL didn’t make the Jaguars after playing in all 16 games as an undrafted rookie.

I won’t claim much knowledge on Armbrister’s brief Jacksonville tenure. So I asked someone who covers the team. Here’s his response:

That correlates with what I saw in his college career, an impressive physical specimen but not necessarily a very good football player. With the injuries to Jon Bostic and Josh Bynes, he’s a necessity on special teams. My question is, why not the more proven Jayson Dimanche for that role?

Corey Robinson is currently No. 53

Should the Lions make another roster move, the most likely candidate to go is offensive tackle Corey Robinson. I’m happy he made the team. In fact I thought he was better than Cornelius Lucas over the course of the summer.

Robinson almost certainly made it only because Michael Ola wasn’t healthy. And with rookie Joe Dahl showing the ability to play right tackle in a pinch, being the last lineman is a perilous perch. Don’t be surprised if Robinson isn’t on the Detroit Lions roster by this time next week.

Tight end is a black hole

As long as Eric Ebron is ready to go versus Indy, and every indication is he will start the opener next Sunday, the top spot on the depth chart is fine. Ebron is poised for a breakout campaign as a receiver.

After him, well…

Orson Charles earned his spot by reliably catching short passes and underneath routes. He can’t block and doesn’t have the speed or litheness to do much more than that. Cole Wick doesn’t make one other NFL roster, period. Wick is a nice story but just not an NFL tight end right now.

Brandon Pettigrew is on PUP and might wind up missing the entire season as he recovers from his second torn ACL. Andrew Quarless will help in the blocking department once he’s back from suspension in Week 3, but those first two games could be ugly.

Boldin can function as a flex tight end, but that takes away from his wideout duties…which makes the decision to keep just four wideouts all the more curious.

This is a young team

Thanks to some handy research by The Philly Voice, we know the Detroit Lions roster is the 18th oldest in the NFL. While that might not seem very young, it’s a pretty dramatic youth movement for a team that has been one of the oldest for several years.

When you factor out the defensive line, where Haloti Ngata and Wallace Gilberry raise the average age and Ezekiel Ansah is older than most fourth-year pros, the roster skews even younger. The only players with 10-plus years of experience:

  • Anquan Boldin
  • Haloti Ngata
  • Matt Prater
  • Don Muhlbach
  • Dan Orlovksy

Muhlbach and Prater are specialists, where age doesn’t matter much. Orlovsky is a backup the team hopes never sees the field.

I don’t know exactly how to interpret what the youth movement means for the on-field product yet, but it reinforces the meritocracy concept.