Here are the 5 surefire no-brainers, the building blocks of the team:
And here are 24 starters, backups or role players who are guaranteed a spot:
QB - Shaun Hill
RB - Kevin Smith
FB - Jerome Felton
WRs - Nate Burleson and Bryant Johnson
TEs - Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler
LT - Jeff Backus, Jason Fox
LG - Rob Sims
C - Dominic Raiola
RG - Stephen Peterman
RT - Gosder Cherilus
DEs - Kyle Vandenbosch, Cliff Avril
DTs - Corey Williams
OLBs - Julian Peterson, Zach Follett
MLB - DeAndre Levy
CBs - Chris Houstin, Jonathan Wade, Dre Bly
S - Amari Spievy (he was moved from CB to S)
K - Jason Hanson
P - Nick Harris
Long snapper - Don Muhlbach
In total, that's 31.
The next 22 guys might be the difference between a 3-13 record and 7-9. A little bit of depth can go a long way.
So let's start at the top. One of the recurring questions this offseason has been what to do with former second round pick Drew Stanton. Clearly, he's not worth developing into a future starter. And clearly Shaun Hill is Stafford's backup. So one train of thought is to release Stanton, keep only 2 quarterbacks, and hope Stafford stays healthy. If he gets hurt, then quickly sign a free agent, hopefully Stanton, who knows the offense.
This is risky because if dropped, Stanton might find a spot on another team. Unlikely, but possible. And then the Lions would be stuck picking up someone like Mark Brunnel or Akili Smith. Or, gulp, JaMarcus Russell. We'll come back to Stanton later on. For now, he's more of a luxury than a necessity and only makes the team if there's a roster spot wide open.
Next let's look at the backfield. Best and Felton are in, and presumably Kevin Smith will make the cut, although plenty of fans (including me) would like to see him waived goodbye. The primary competition for the #3 spot in the backfield is between Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, and DeDe Dorsey.
Morris is the veteran and the best power runner, but he's also the slowest guy by far. Brown is a speedster who lacks instincts or awareness on the field, but he's an added bonus as a return specialist. And Dorsey is considered the longshot, although he's had by far the best preseason. My guess is they keep 2 of the 3, and unfortunately I think they cut Dorsey. But if Smith doesn't recover quickly from his never-ending injury, they might have to retain all 5 running backs.
At receiver, Burleson and the two Johnsons are in. Bryant has actually had a solid preseason. The competition is for 2 more spots and there are 5 contenders: Dennis Northcutt, Derrick Williams, Tim Toone, Mike Moore, and Brian Clark.
Clark actually seems the safest bet to make the team, because he's highly involved on special teams. Williams was a third-round pick last year and the Lions don't want to give up on him yet, although they should. Between Toone and Northcutt, it's a debate between upside and reliability. Toone could be an explosive return man, which could negate the need to keep Aaron Brown. But Northcutt is a proven slot receiver with proven hands. My heart tells me it's Toone; my brain says Northcutt. Gotta go with my heart. Mike Moore is the odd man out.
As far as tight ends, Will Heller is likely to beat out Dan Grankowski as the #3 guy, behind Pettigrew and Scheffler. Heller is the better blocker and the better receiver.
At offensive tackle, Detroit has four spots available and five candidates. Backus gets one spot. Fox is his backup. Cherilus will at least make the team, though he's not sure to start at RT. He doesn't deserve to make the team, but he's a former first round pick and too much of an investment. The other right tackle will either be 11 year veteran Jon Jansen or four-year pro Corey Hilliard. Jansen is better at right tackle, but Hilliard provdes more upside plus he can play on the left side. Jansen could start from week 1; Hilliard might need to ease into things. But I will predict that Jansen, because of his injury history, will be the one released. And he'll quickly find a job elsewhere.
At guard, Sims and Peterman are the starters, and Rameriz is a backup at either spot. And at center, Raiola is backed up by Dylan Gandy. They could choose to retain Noah Franklin or Dan Gerberry, but they'll likely stick with 3 guards and 2 centers. If needed, Gandy can play either guard position.
On to the defense. The D-line will consist of starters VandenBosch, Suh, Williams and Avril. The backups will be Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson at the DE spots, and Samie Hill, Andre Fluellen, and Landon Cohen at DT. In total, they'll keep 9 defensive lineman.
Jason Hunter was in good shape to make the team as a DE, but he was waived in mid-August and has since joined the Broncos, where he might become a starting OLB. Jared DeVries was placed on IR and will miss his second straight season. Turk McBride is the odd man out.
At the linebacker spots, Peterson and Levy are certain starters, and Zach Follet probably gets the other spot, though he's being pushed by Landon Johnson. Jordan Dizon was pretty close to securing his spot on the team, but then a knee injury ended his season and possibly his career. Vinny Ciurciu is Levy's immediate backup and barring a terrible game in the preseason finale, he should be on the team. Which presumably leaves just 1 linebacker spot, to be filled by either Caleb Campbell, Ashlee Palmer, or Isaiah Ekejiuba. The fans will want Campbell, who was drafted from Army and would be the first U.S. Soldier to play in the NFL. But the management might lean towards Ekejiuba, who is supposedly the better player on special teams. But for the sake of publicity, Detroit should and probably will retain Campbell. But I actually think they'll both make the team.
With rookie Amari Spievy being moved to safety last week, the cornerback positions get a little more interesting. The starters will be Houston and Wade, most likely, and Dre Bly will certainly make the team. Eric King is likely #4 on the depth chart. That leaves one spot open for a cornerback. The options are Aaron Berry, Jack Williams, Paul Pratt, and Dante Wesley.
If you've never heard of any of those clowns, don't worry, neither have I. When you're the #5 cornerback on the league's worst secondary, there's probably not much to say. But just think - we could have signed Pacman Jones.
From what I've read, Berry is the best cover guy and Pratt is the best special teams guy. Who knows. My guess is Berry but I would like to see them just keep 4 corners.
Spievey and Delmas will probably be the starting safeties week 1, which is exciting considering Spievey was drafting as a hard-hiting CB who stinks in coverage. Now we have two hard-hitting safeties who can't cover. Randy Phillips will be the #3 safety. And the final spot is a battle between Ko Simpson, Marvin White, C.C. Brown, and Jonathan Hefney whom I've never heard of. My money is on Marvin White.
Okay, so let's recap. Here are the final 53.
QBs - Matt Stafford, Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton
RBs - Jahvid Best, Kevin Smith, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown
FB - Jerome Felton
WRs - Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Bryant Johnson, Derrick Williams, Tim Toone
TEs - Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller
LTs - Jeff Backus, Jason Fox
LG - Rob Sims
C - Dominic Raiola, Dylan Gandy
RG - Stephen Peterman, Manny Rameriz
RT - Gosder Cherilus, Corey Hilliard
RE - Kyle VandenBosch, Lawrence Jackson
RDT - Corey Williams, Sammie Hill, Andre Fluellen
LDT - Ndamukong Suh, Landon Cohen
LE - Cliff Avril, Willie Young
RLB - Julian Peterson, Caleb Campbell
MLB - DeAndre Levy, Vinny Ciurciu, Isaiah Ekejiuba
LLB - Zach Follett, Landon Johnson
RCB - Jonathan Wade, Dre Bly
LCB - Chris Houston, Eric King, Aaron Berry
SS - Amari Spievey, Marvin White
WS - Louis Delmas, Randy Phillips
Special teams (3)
K - Jason Hanson
P - Nick Harris
LS - Don Muhlbach
So there you have it. The official Detroit Lions 2010 roster.
Biggest strengths: defensive line, offensive skill positions
Biggest weaknesses: linebackers, cornerbacks, safeties, offensive line
Overall team ranking: About a 73 out of 100