Report Card Grades for the Detroit Lions' Undrafted Free-Agent Signings
Everybody wants to grade the draft, but some of the best players in NFL history never had their names called on draft day.
Each year, teams hope to find that "diamond in the rough" who can make a significant impact without costing a draft pick, and because scouts are generally good at what they do, it rarely happens.
But nonetheless, the Detroit Lions have signed 11 players to contracts since the end of the draft, and invited a handful more to rookie minicamps. Most of them are little-known players from small schools, but those are the most-often overlooked talents.
So are there any future Hall of Famers in the Lions new crop of UDFAs?
Why don't we first talk about whether any of them make it through training camp, shall we?
Unsigned Minicamp Invites
The biggest newsmaker in this bunch is Richmond quarterback John Laub, who has grabbed headlines with his dubious background.
In case you haven't heard, John Laub is Matt Millen's cousin (h/t Detroit Free Press). That knowledge is enough to make any Lions fan cringe, but let's be fair here: Millen was a decent football player. He won four Super Bowls as a linebacker, and his incompetence in front office work has nothing to do with his distant relative's ability to play quarterback.
That being said, where UDFAs have an overall chance of almost zero when it comes to making the roster, rookie minicamp invites are somehow even lower on the proverbial totem pole.
That means Laub has about as much chance of making the Lions' 2013 roster as his cousin has of building the Lions' 2013 roster.
The same can be said of fellow camp invites Trevor Marrongelli (C, Kansas), Andre Snipes-Booker (WR/KR, Marshall) and Travis Tarpley (WR/KR Delaware State). It's worth noting, however, that these three players all play positions expected to represent major needs for the Lions this year and next.
Skyler Allen, C, Ohio
The top overall pick in the 2013 draft was an offensive lineman from the MAC. So why not a priority free agent?
Skyler Allen is a guy who, while not the most heavyset guy at the center position, basically made his living at Ohio bowling people over. In 2012, he recorded 77 pancake blocks, something the Lions haven't seen an awful lot of from their interior linemen.
Of course, steamrolling NFL linemen won't be as easy as manhandling MAC-caliber competition, but the Lions know two things: Allen is a good drive blocker, and they need a replacement for Dominic Raiola sooner rather than later. Allen seems like a decent choice to kick the tires on.
Michael Brooks, DT, East Carolina
At present, neither Corey Williams nor Sammie Hill are Detroit Lions. Hill has already joined the Tennessee Titans, while Williams remains a free agent.
That leaves Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh as starters, with new signee C.J. Mosley as a backup option. This seems strange for a team that previously kept depth four or five players deep at both defensive end or defensive tackle.
That means Michael Brooks of East Carolina may just have a fighting chance at the roster. Brooks was a strong producer at East Carolina, but missed time due to injury. If he's healthy, he has just as much chance at being the Lions' fourth tackle as, say, Jimmy Saddler-McQueen.
That said, if Brooks doesn't wow somebody in early OTAs, expect the Lions to look for an answer to their depth issue in free agency. A fourth DT is too important to the Lions defense for Detroit to risk giving an unproven UDFA that responsibility.
Alex Carder, QB, Western Michigan
The successful undrafted quarterback is incredibly rare to find. The most important position on the football field is also exhaustively researched and scouted, so teams are pretty good at figuring out who will and won't be successful at the college level.
That being said, while the Lions aren't in the market for a starting quarterback, they are certainly looking for the next backup generation.
There is some precedent for this, of course. The Lions' current quarterback situation consists of a No. 1 overall pick in Matthew Stafford and two undrafted players in Shaun Hill and Kellen Moore.
Hill is 33 and in the final year of his current contract, and Moore didn't do much to impress last season. With a decent performance by Carder, Moore could easily be on the bubble, and since he was carried on the roster last season, he is ineligible for the practice squad.
Alex Carder threw for over 8,800 yards with a better than 2-1 TD-INT ratio at Western Michigan, and while he may be little more than a camp arm, the Lions are certainly not so entrenched with their players at quarterback as to not give him a shot. As it is, Moore basically won the third spot by default in 2012. Now he has competition.
Alex Elkins, LB, Oklahoma State:
Oklahoma State's leading tackler from 2012 is a bit short on experience, as someone who only started playing football at a junior college, but he showed enough production at a Big 12 school to be worth a look.
Elkins is an intriguing case. The Lions do need depth at linebacker, but they have three late-round draft picks from the last two seasons and 2012 training camp All-Star Carmen Messina to fill in. That's to say nothing of veteran Ashlee Palmer.
Elkins played rangy, instinctive football at Oklahoma State, and was among the most disruptive forces on that defense for the two years he played there. He's just inexperienced, which means he fits relatively well with the Lions' draft: heavy on talent, light on experience.
Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA
This is a steal. It's absolutely one of the best signings the Lions made, and it may turn out to be the best UDFA signing Martin Mayhew has ever made.
Joseph Fauria (nephew of former NFL tight end Christian) was not only a draftable prospect, but could have gone in the fifth round or higher.
At 6'7", Fauria is a huge tight end who plays with more fluidity and leverage than he looks like he would. He compares very closely to Gavin Escobar, who was taken in the second round by Dallas.
Their games are similar, but the element Fauria lacks in his game is the speed to threaten down the field. Still, Fauria should be considered a legitimate threat to challenge Michael Williams for a roster spot. Their draft positions and overall talent level are approximately the same.
Fauria is a better receiver and red-zone target, but Williams is a better blocker. Keep an eye on this as one of the closer training camp position battles.
Austin Holtz, T, Ball State
The departures of Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus, for as much as fans decried their level of play, have left the Lions with very serious questions in terms of both starters and depth.
Austin Holtz is yet another MAC lineman who may, if nothing else, provide the Lions with the depth they need to get through training camp without wearing down their top guys.
Then again, let's give Holtz some credit. He was a first-team All-MAC tackle in 2012, which doesn't sound like much until you realize the other 2012 All-MAC tackle was No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher.
Steven Miller, RB, Appalachian State
It seems the Lions will have a 5'7" running back on their roster once again, but this time it won't be Stefan Logan.
Steven Miller, fresh off a 1,400-yard season for Appalachian State, was one of the Lions' pre-draft visits, and they were more than happy to bring him on board after he went undrafted.
Undersized skill players with flash and quickness seem to have been a focus for the Lions lately, especially late in the 2013 draft. With Stefan Logan out of the picture in Detroit, the race for the next kick return specialist has begun.
It seems, however, that the Lions are attempting to fill that need, while also bringing in a potential backup plan for Reggie Bush, who has a history of injuries in his career.
In past years, the Lions have been more effective by a wide margin when they have a speed option at running back. Bush provides that, but so did Jahvid Best. The last thing the Lions want is to cripple their offense again by losing their speed out of the backfield.
Miller, and more likely sixth-round draft pick Theo Riddick, can provide that, though neither has nearly the physical ability Bush does.
Jon Morgan, LB, Albany
Toss another player into the linebacker logjam.
Morgan seems like a poor fit for the Lions, given his size (or lack thereof). Weighing in at only 220 pounds, Morgan doesn't seem to fit with the Lions' recent trend of getting bigger and stronger.
Morgan is athletic and rangy, however. Though he missed much of 2012 with injury, he notched 106 tackles in 2011. Still, tackles are a misleading statistic. While there's no harm in giving Morgan a look, he would have to play much bigger than he is to even get a shot at the practice squad.
Martavius Neloms, CB, Kentucky
Martavius Neloms was among the first players to sign with the Lions when the draft concluded, and it's no wonder why.
Neloms is a big, physical cornerback/safety hybrid who is a sure tackler. He seems like the kind of player the Lions would like to convert to safety, Amari Spievey-style.
The Lions do need to build up their depth at safety, especially with Louis Delmas' uncertain health.
Neloms seems like a decent target for the practice squad, same as Ricardo Silva once was, though there is more talent on the roster now than there was when Silva cracked the roster.
LaAdrian Waddle, T, Texas Tech
It seems frankly unfair that a 330-pound man's last name is "Waddle," but I suppose you play the cards you're dealt.
Despite finishing his college career with 38 consecutive starts at left tackle for Texas Tech, LaAdrian Waddle's massive frame is more likely to fit at guard at this level. The Lions have had success with big-bodied linemen in the past, and Waddle has more (and higher-quality) experience than most at this point.
I can't say for sure what Waddle's long-term potential is, but the Lions are still painfully short on interior offensive linemen. Maybe Waddle helps with that; maybe he's just a camp body. But with his size and experience, he's a favorite of mine to at least stick around on the practice squad.
Cody Wilson, WR, Central Michigan
There's no real penalty to signing undrafted free agents. It's just kind of an exploratory phase.
Scouts find guys that weren't selected in the draft and determine who might be worth a look, and then teams extend contracts. Expectations are set at zero, so there's no way to lose out on a player when there are no expectations for him.
That's why I won't grade this pickup too low, because whatever, it's fine. The Lions finally signed enough slot receivers to fill an entire wide receiving corps, but they're just checking out Cody Wilson. They've invested nothing into him, and they'll get nothing out of him.
The only way Wilson makes any impact is if he shows high ability as a returner. Otherwise, the 5'10" MAC receiver will be gone in the first round of cuts, if not sooner.