The tease of an exercise that is the NFL preseason is finally almost over. Most of the Detroit Lions' key players have not suited up at all in the first two preseason games, and every key player will not play in Friday night's preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers.
Most of the Lions' 53-man roster going into the season can be confidently predicted right now. But there are battles for the final few spots, call them Nos. 48-53 or so if we were to rank out the roster 1-53, and the preseason finale is absolutely meaningful to plenty of players. It could be to make a case to be on the Lions' roster (or ultimately be kept around on the practice squad), or to put something good on tape for the other 31 teams to see as roster cutdown day comes on Aug. 29. A win or a loss doesn't matter, but opportunities are on the line.
It may be hard to sit down and keenly watch the Lions' preseason finale on a late-summer Friday night, but these six players will be worth watching.
6. OT Matt Nelson
Nelson is a nice story, having made the transition from college defensive lineman and going undrafted to now entering his fifth season as an NFL offensive lineman. But he's barely NFL caliber, as was clearly seen when he had to start games in 2021, and there's been legit competition (Germain Ifedi) for his role as the Lions' primary backup tackle this preseason.
Nelson has simply been awful this preseason, as one of the lead players fueling concerns about the Lions' offensive line depth. Going against guys who may not make the Panthers' roster, he has to have a rebound performance or he may not even make it all the way to cut down day before the Lions let him go.
5. CB Steven Gilmore
Gilmore showed the resiliency an NFL cornerback has to in the second preseason game, rebounding and making noticeable plays after allowing a big play early.
Even with Emmanuel Moseley now progressing a bit in his return from a torn ACL, it's unlikely he'll be ready to play at full capacity (or at all) at the start of the season. How many cornerbacks the Lions keep on the final 53 is a question, somewhat rooted in what they do with Moseley (PUP list?).
For Gilmore, the key in the preseason finale wil be to show consistency and carry momentum into going and making a final impression for a roster spot. He'll get plenty of playing time to allow for that.