Lions' 53-man roster projection goes deep in the secondary

Darius Slay will help lead the Lions' secondary, which is considered the team's most talented position group. AP Photo/Paul Sancya

The Detroit Lions must cut their roster to 53 by 4 p.m. ET on Saturday. Here's a final 53-man roster projection.

QUARTERBACK (3): Matthew Stafford, Jake Rudock, Brad Kaaya

The trade of Laken Tomlinson opened up a roster spot and that could go to Kaaya, a rookie from Miami who is the clear No. 3 quarterback on the depth chart. If not him, it could go to another offensive lineman, defensive lineman or possibly punter Kasey Redfern, depending on Sam Martin's injury.

RUNNING BACK (4): Ameer Abdullah, Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington

This has seemed set for a while, with each back having a role. Abdullah is the starter. Riddick is the pass-catcher/third-down back. Zenner is the backup and potential goal-line back. Washington might be the kick returner and has too much potential to be cut. Tion Green could be headed to the practice squad.

WIDE RECEIVER (5): Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, Kenny Golladay, TJ Jones, Jace Billingsley

Almost went with a surprise here -- Noel Thomas as the fifth receiver -- but Billingsley has done enough during camp to earn a roster spot. Jared Abbrederis is still a possibility, too, depending how the returner gigs shake out. That fifth receiver spot, and even TJ Jones’ place, seem a bit up in the air and there could be a surprise here. But based on what I’ve seen and heard, this seems right.

TIGHT END (4): Eric Ebron, Darren Fells, Michael Roberts, Cole Wick

If the Lions want to run two-tight end sets, it’s good to have four on the roster. The Lions cutting Tim Wright earlier in the week signifies one of three things: The team is comfortable with Wick; it is going to surprise by keeping Khari Lee or Robert Tonyan; or it’ll go with three tight ends a year after surprisingly going with only four receivers despite running a lot of three-receiver sets. Wick can block and catch, so he’s a valuable piece with Ebron’s injury history and Roberts’ status as a rookie.

OFFENSIVE LINE (8): Rick Wagner, Greg Robinson, Cornelius Lucas, Corey Robinson, T.J. Lang, Travis Swanson, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl

Taylor Decker is headed to the PUP list. Cyrus Kouandjio was already cut. Tomlinson was traded. Nick Becton and Storm Norton have not done enough to merit roster consideration. Corey Robinson ends up as a surprise inclusion on the 53-man roster after spending all preseason on the PUP list. The Lions could choose to place him on the PUP list as well, especially if there are questions about his return date and if they have to keep two punters in the short-term because of Sam Martin’s injury.

DEFENSIVE LINE (9): Ezekiel Ansah, Cornelius Washington, Anthony Zettel, Jeremiah Valoaga, Alex Barrett, Haloti Ngata, A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter.

This is a tough one, and Thursday night’s game might be the difference in who the Lions keep among the trio of Valoaga, Barrett and Pat O’Connor. The Lions have potential built-in changes when Armonty Bryant (four games) and Khyri Thornton (six games) return from suspension if they don’t like what they see. Other than the starters and Spence, it’s a pretty questionable group.

LINEBACKER (6): Jarrad Davis, Tahir Whitehead, Paul Worrilow, Antwione Williams, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Steve Longa

This is kind of how it has trended the past couple of weeks. There’s a chance the Lions could keep five linebackers (with Longa being the cut) or replace Longa with Nick Bellore. But Longa has had a good camp, showed some instincts at linebacker and is younger than Bellore. So he gets the job.

SECONDARY (11): Darius Slay, Nevin Lawson, Teez Tabor, Jamal Agnew, Johnson Bademosi, Quandre Diggs, D.J. Hayden, Glover Quin, Tavon Wilson, Miles Killebrew, Don Carey

A couple of things about this feels weird. First, the Lions keeping 11 defensive backs, but it is by far the team’s deepest position and there’s something to keeping the most talented guys on your squad. The second is the last safety spot with Carey. He’s a special-teams dynamo, but Charles Washington has had a really strong camp and Alex Carter has flashed in his conversion from cornerback to safety. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Washington make the team either as a fifth safety or in place of Carey -- but Carey’s special-teams prowess wins the gig.

SPECIALISTS (3): K Matt Prater, P Sam Martin, LS Don Muhlbach

Martin hasn't punted yet this preseason and hasn't even been spotted out at a practice. Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he expected him to come off the NFI list at some point during training camp. That didn't happen. So monitor what happens to Kasey Redfern. It's possible the Lions keep him -- meaning they do the rare keep four specialists option -- or they hope he clears waivers and potentially add him to the practice squad for Week 1 in case Martin isn't ready. Came very close to adding Redfern to the roster.