The Detroit Lions have added 20-plus new faces to the roster via free agency and the draft over the last few months with more to come via the undrafted free agents. That’s in line with the roughly 33 percent turnover NFL rosters typically see on a year-to-year basis.
New faces mean new competition for roster spots, playing time and starting jobs. With OTAs only two weeks away – and our first opportunity to see where players are initially fitting into spots – let’s take a look at five positions to watch closely this offseason:
**LEFT GUARD AND CENTER COMBO
Candidates: Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Kenny Wiggins, Wesley Johnson, Leo Koloamatangi
Twentyman: Both Ragnow and Glasgow have position versatility and experience playing both center and guard. Ragnow played more center than guard at Arkansas, but just go watch his tape against Alabama playing right guard, and you’ll quickly see he’s quite capable at guard as well.
The veteran Wiggins and Dahl will throw their hats into the competition at left guard, but I believe that Glasgow or Ragnow, whoever isn’t playing center, gets first crack at winning the job.
My guess would be Ragnow at center and Glasgow at left guard, but we'll just have to wait and see.
STARTING DE OPPOSITE ZIGGY ANSAH
Candidates: Kerry Hyder Jr., Anthony Zettel, Cornelius Washington, Da’Shawn Hand, Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett, Cam Johnson
Twentyman: This will be an interesting one because head coach Matt Patricia and defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni have a number of different options, skillsets and body types based on the different fronts they want to play.
Hyder is coming off an Achilles injury, but if there’s anything we’ve learned over the last two years about Hyder, it's that he can prove doubters wrong. That’s a major injury to come back from, but it certainly shouldn’t surprise anyone if he returns to the eight-sack form we saw just a couple years ago.
Zettel showed flashes last season (6.5 sacks), and he’s a player that can have a lot of success opposite a healthy Ansah, because he’s so athletic and his motor never stops. He's had two years to perfect his pass rush, and this could be a big third season for him.
Washington is a powerful edge setter. He's not so much a pure pass rusher, but based off what Patricia and GM Bob Quinn have said about some of the two-gap schemes they want to incorporate on defense, there certainly could be a role for Washington's skillset.
Hand is a bit of a wild card. It’s likely that he shifts inside, but he does have position versatility, and could surprise some people early on with his athleticism.
The Lions have options here, but Ansah staying healthy is key.
Candidates: Kerryon Johnson, LeGarrette Blount, Theo Riddick, Ameer Abdullah, Zach Zenner, Tion Green, Dwayne Washington
Twentyman: The Lions will likely use the running back by committee approach, but to what extent?
“This isn’t a one-back league,” Quinn said during the draft. “We carry four to five. Last year we carried five running backs on our roster, so that’s one position where we have great depth, so that’s great for us.
"You know, injuries do happen at the running back position every year, right? So, we have five, six – we have seven right now on the roster, so we feel good about each and every one of them.”
That being said, it would be a little surprising if Johnson and Blount didn’t get the bulk of the carries with Riddick and Abdullah playing more of a traditional third-down role.
Abdullah and Zenner provide good depth behind Johnson, Blount and Riddick, with Green and Washington trying to fit themselves into the top five with a good offseason and training camp.
STARTING OUTSIDE CB OPPOSITE DARIUS SLAY
Candidates: Nevin Lawson, DeShawn Shead, Teez Tabor, Raysean Pringle
Twentyman: This might be the most interesting competition of them all. Lawson is the returning incumbent, but Shead played well in that role in Seattle, and Tabor wasn’t a second-round pick last year for nothing.
All three players bring a little something different to the table, so it will be interesting to see who emerges as the favorite on the outside based on the way Patricia and Pasqualoni want those outside corners to play in their scheme.
The early rotation here will be important to chart.
STARTING TIGHT END
Candidates: Michael Roberts, Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo, Brandon Barnes, Hakeem Valles
Twentyman: There’s a little bit of uncertainly related to the tight end position in Detroit. Roberts was a fourth-round draft pick last year, but wasn’t used much in the passing game. It usually takes a year for tight ends to get their feet under them, but going from four catches as a rookie to a starter with a significant role in year two is a big leap. Is he ready for it?
Willson was mostly a backup in Seattle. He's extremely athletic, and has a lot of experience under his belt, but can he step into a No. 1 role?
Toilolo has played in 79 games (57 starts), but has caught more than 20 passes just once over his five-year career.
With the weapons the Lions have on the outside in Marvin Jones Jr., Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay and TJ Jones, how many two tight-end sets will we see? Will one guy emerge as the starter in those three-receiver and one back sets, or will it be more tight end by committee based on personnel and play call?