5 Dark-Horse Candidates to Make the Detroit Lions' Final 53-Man Roster
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According to urbandictionary.com, a dark horse is "someone somewhat unknown who exceeds expectations of all others in an event." This certainly applies to NFL training camps. Teams are full of unknowns who are hungry for success
The Detroit Lions are no different.
In fact, with so many holes in their roster, they might have more dark-horse candidates than usual.
They've added a number of players who don't have much of a resume but who could have a big impact this season if they make the final roster.
Here are the Lions' biggest dark-horse candidates to do just that.
Tyrell Johnson could provide valuable depth at safety for Detroit.
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Joseph Fauria, TE
There's been tons written about Fauria this offseason. His potential has sparked much debate about whether he'll make the Lions' final roster and, if so, what that means for the rest of the tight ends.
The hype has been there, so he's not a typical dark horse. Still, he's an undrafted free agent, so he faces a stiff challenge. He'll have to put on quite a show to earn a spot.
LaAdrian Waddle, OT
This undrafted free agent out of Texas Tech has gotten less hype than Fauria, but his sheer size has caused people to take notice. At 6'6" and 321 pounds, he's got the type of body teams want in a left tackle.
That gives him a great chance to stick with Detroit. The only question is where. More than likely he will find himself on the practice squad. However, there is a small chance that he could make the final 53-man roster.
Tyrell Johnson, S
The Lions have always needed better depth at safety. That's been proven year after year, but they actually did something about it this offseason.
The addition of Glover Quin was huge, but don't overlook Johnson. He's a five-year veteran, he's fast and big-bodied, exactly the type of player the Lions are looking for. So far his career has been slowed by injury, but he did make 15 starts for the Minnesota Vikings in 2009, according to detroitnews.com.
The Lions need depth, but also veteran leadership. Johnson fits both of those needs, and his unheralded presence makes him a good dark-horse candidate.
5. Thad Lewis, QB
Lewis could unseat Kellen Moore for Lions' No. 3 QB.
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Last year, because of injury, he started the Browns' season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
That's the extent of his NFL experience.
That could be enough if he impresses the Lions during training camp. Compared to their current third-string QB, Kellen Moore, Lewis looks like a grizzled veteran.
Moore hasn't sniffed the field on game day, and he's done little to stand out when given the opportunity in preseason games.
That's why Lewis should not be overlooked. He really impressed in his one start for the Browns. Not much was expected against the heavily favored Steelers, but Lewis didn't back down.
He completed 22 of 32 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. The Browns lost the game, but Lewis did well for himself.
He's raw, but he has a strong arm and isn't afraid to tuck and run when it's needed.
The Lions have already invested a year in Moore, so he might have the edge. However, in terms of NFL talent, Lewis is every bit the equal of Moore, so it really shouldn't be a surprise if the Lions keep him.
4. Kris Durham, WR
Lions' fans got a brief glimpse of what Durham can do last season.
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Kris Durham spent the majority of 2012 on the Lions' practice squad. However, when injuries depleted their receiving corps, guess who got the call?
Durham was elevated to the active roster on December 4—just in time to make the start against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau.
He responded with four receptions, 54 yards and a highlight-reel, one-handed catch.
None of that has anything to do with him making the roster.
The fact is that he's a fringe guy, and that's what makes him a dark horse.
The Lions have a lot of small receivers who are speedy but don't exactly fit on the outside. Durham is one of the exceptions. He's long, has great hands and can stretch the field.
Those characteristics might serve him well as the Lions try to cut their current number of receivers in half. It makes more sense for the Lions to keep someone like Durham than, say, Mike Thomas.
Detroit has several other, younger players who can do what Thomas does, and they're cheaper. Durham's price tag is small, and he fits a niche.
That's why I refer to Durham as el caballo negro (I took a year of Spanish in college and figured I'd put it to some use).
3. Rodney Austin, OG
Austin is big, versatile and nimble on his feet.
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The Lions saw something in Rodney Austin last season, and they stashed the versatile 300-pounder out of Elon on their practice squad.
So far, he's shown a definite return on their investment, as he's improved considerably during OTAs.
What makes him a dark horse is his ability to play guard and center. He's taken snaps in the middle both this year and last, even though guard is his primary position.
Austin even worked on route-running and pass-catching with receivers coach Shawn Jefferson last season, according to Justin Rogers of Mlive.com. During drills, he showed good agility and soft hands.
That versatility will certainly give him an edge.
One should also consider his competition. The Lions are loaded with veterans at guard, but they need to stock for the future. Leroy Harris and Jake Scott are not part of the Lions' future. Neither is Dylan Gandy.
Even Bill Nagy is looking to be on the fringe because he can't stay healthy.
Austin is young and has shown consistent improvement. The Lions would be smart to keep him around.
2. Ron Bartell, CB
Bartell's hard-hitting style is evident on this play from last year.
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In 2011 he missed all but one game with a broken neck, and then in 2012, he broke his shoulder blade in Week 1.
He returned to start five games for Oakland, but, according to nbcsports.com, he didn't play particularly well.
That's not surprising, as no one on the Raiders defense played well last season.
The Lions scooped him up, and he played in their season finale against the Chicago Bears. He also impressed during their minicamp this offseason.
Given his age and recent injury history, Bartell might be considered a long shot, but the Lions are short on quality veterans at cornerback. Chris Houston is the only one, but he needs some help given the Lions' abundance of young talent at the position.
Bartell could add valuable depth on the field but also provide valuable leadership in the locker room and in practice. The Lions need to develop new leadership, and Bartell fits the bill.
1. Havard Rugland, K
Despite all the hype, Havard Rugland is a dark horse to make the final roster.
Perhaps no one faces stiffer competition or more questions about his ability on game days.
The Lions signed future Hall of Famer David Akers to replace Jason Hanson, who retired this offseason. Akers is recovering from a groin injury that was blamed for his poor showing in San Francisco last season.
If healthy, he's a near lock to make the final roster.
On the other hand, Rugland, the YouTube sensation, has a cannon for a leg and, so far, has proven to be very accurate. Training camp will ultimately prove whether he can replicate that accuracy in live action.
If he does, the Lions will have a difficult decision to make.
Akers might be the safe choice, but is he the best one at this point in his career? Injuries have already impacted his production, and who's to say he can recover and remain consistent for a whole year?
Rugland is potentially the Lions' long-term solution at the position, but it might be simply the wrong time for the Lions to take a chance on his inexperience. They're looking to make a serious push back to the playoffs, and Akers is a logical choice.
Rugland has a chance, but it's a slim one at best.