Every year there is an emerging undrafted free agent that the Detroit Lions fans fall in love with. They are guys that fans say are “sure fire Pro Bowlers,” guys that fans have an instant love affair with. Often times they never quite pan out. Sometimes they earn a place on the practice squad.
But every now and then, we see those players who excel in camp and the preseason before eventually snagging a spot on the 53-man roster by Week 1.
The Lions have had some recent hidden gems in the days following the draft that turned into something of substance for them. Here is a look at the last 2 years.
- 2016 (View the complete list of UDFAs signed last season here)
- CB Adairius Barnes
- TE Cole Wick
- WR Jace Billingsley*
- DB Charles Washington*
- RB Zach Zenner
- S Isaiah Johnson*
- TE Casey Pierce*
*Denotes player signed by the team as their own undrafted free agents that went on to sign to practice squad going into the season
Who could be this year’s Cole Wick or Zach Zenner for the Lions? Here are three names to consider as training camp gets under way in Allen Park.
1OT Storm Norton
The Lions revamped their offensive line this offseason but was hit with some bad news with the injury to Taylor Decker who, as of now, is expected to rejoin the team sometime between October and November after having surgery on his shoulder in June.
While at Toledo, Storm Norton was a pivotal piece in paving the way for his teammate, RB Kareem Hunt (who was drafted in the 3rd round by the Kansas City Chiefs). The Rockets boasted the 7th-best offense in the nation (517.8 YPG).
With his NFL frame at 6-8 and 310 pounds, he could serve as a rotational figure of sorts up front.
2DE Alex Barrett
One weakness from 2016 that was addressed in the later rounds and heavily with UDFA is the depth on the defensive front. Alex Barrett brings physicality and athleticism to the end position.
The former San Diego State Aztec was chosen as a first-team All-Mountain West selection for the second straight season, becoming the very first Aztec lineman to earn the honors multiple times. He was also named SDSU’s defensive lineman of the year for the third straight season.
Brent Sobleski of BleacherReport had this to say about Barrett:
“As a 5-technique, Barrett played out of position. He excelled with his first-step quickness, but he could be overwhelmed at times. He should benefit greatly by switching to rush or even base end in Teryl Austin’s four-man front. “
Like Norton on the offensive side, don’t be surprised if Barrett becomes part of a rotation in the trenches on defense for the Lions.
3WR Noel Thomas
Noel Thomas set the Huskies record for receptions in a year with 100 catches last season, despite the lack of competent quarterback play. He also ranks 4th for grabs in his career and 8th on the all-time Huskies list for yards by a receiver.
Thomas has big hands, quick footwork, and phenomenal body control. His combine speed of 4.63 likely hurt his draft status but his pro day speed of 4.42 is more comparative to game tape.
Noel will be fighting for a spot with a number of wide receivers in camp over the next month or so. Among them include the aforementioned Jace Billingsley as well as offseason signings, former Texans and Michigan State WR Keshawn Martin, and former Packers wideout and Wisconsin weapon, Jared Abbrederis.
It is always a long shot to enter the NFL via undrafted free agency. We will all have our favorites just like in years past. Guys like receivers Matt Willis and Patrick Edwards, and safeties Jerome Couplin and Caleb Campbell go down in history and will forever be known as the “Training Camp Champs” when they don’t make the cut.