I instituted the Randy Phillips UDFA Camp Stud Award in 2011 to honor that UDFA rookie who, despite the odds, overachieved so epically that he had to be awarded a position on the practice squad. The "Randy" is named for Randy Phillips, a strong safety who made veteran Erik Coleman look silly during the Lions' 2010 training camp.
Phillip's performance won the favor of Lions fans, but the coaching staff decided to go with Coleman. Phillips would spend the season on the practice squad while Coleman embarrassed the team in 2010.
The idea for the Randy Award occurred to me during the 2011 Lions training camp when another relatively unknown UDFA safety made a splash in training camp and preseason games—Ricardo Silva. Like Phillips before him, all that Silva did was make splash plays, but he was destined for the practice squad.
The Randy Award was born and Silva would be the first recipient.
In 2012, the Randy race wasn't even close. Wide receiver Patrick Edwards was the lone UDFA standout on a Lions team returning 21 of 22 starters. Edwards had won his all-expenses paid trip to the practice squad as a reliable target.
Edwards remains on the Lions' 53-player roster but questions persist regarding his effectiveness during games.
In 2013, the Detroit Lions signed a record 11 undrafted free-agent rookies following the NFL draft. I'd like to think that another Lions 2013 acquisition—senior personnel executive Brian Xanders in January—had a hand in evaluating talent that went undrafted.
Of the 11 UDFAs signed this year, four would make not only a serious run at a spot on the practice squad but would challenge for prominent roles on the final 53-player roster.
All things considered, this was an outstanding UDFA class.
Third Runner-Up: Kicker Havard Rugland
"Kickalicious" gave veteran and former All-Pro kicker David Akers a great run during training camp competition. A newcomer to American football, Rugland became an instant sensation that transcended his viral trick-shot video that still trends on YouTube.
Inconsistency was an issue for the raw talent who was cut by the Lions. Since leaving Detroit, Rugland has had tryouts with other NFL teams. He auditioned for the Packers most recently and the Browns are up next.
Popular with fans, players and coaches, I think that I speak for all who wish him well in his quest for NFL fame.
Second Runner-Up: Running Back Steven Miller
Lions fans had high hopes that Miller would provide an upgrade to the departed Stefan Logan. The Appalachian State phenom had the wheels that kept him in the mix for return specialist duties, but the crowded RB group was responsible for squeezing Miller off the 53-player roster.
A strong performance in the Lions' final preseason game (75 yards on 15 carries) was convincing enough to land Miller a spot on the practice squad. In seasons past, Miller would have had a legitimate chance of winning the Randy.
Beating out Rugland, who finished a distant second place in the fan voting, was made possible by his winning a position on the practice squad.
First Runner-Up: Offensive Tackle LaAdrian Waddle
Waddle left Texas Tech as a man-mountain. Literally, because his weight and conditioning were anything but NFL-ready. Between the NFL draft and the start of training camp, Waddle trimmed down, toned up and grew into a beast of an athlete who has won the confidence of the coaching staff along with the grudging respect of fans and analysts league-wide.
He wasn't even an afterthought in the running for the Randy.
Waddle has my vote as the most improved player in training camp. In athleticism and technique, no other player comes close to the sudden rise in value that makes Waddle a standout talent who has yet to achieve his potential. He's picked up the playbook and his assignments with surprising ease.
The Winner of the 2013 Randy: Tight End Joseph Fauria
This is a no-brainer, isn't it? Fauria won over 70 percent of the fan's vote for good reason: He's an impact player with a bright future.
Fauria comes from an NFL pedigree. His uncle, Christian Fauria, was a 13-year NFL tight end who won two Super Bowl rings in New England.
In September 2012, Fauria was a consensus preseason top-30 NFL draft prospect. His draft stock plummeted on a UCLA team that had serious QB issues and an offensive scheme that placed more emphasis on TE run blocking than receiving. He was labeled as a red-zone target only.
Fauria's lack of run-blocking skills were eclipsed only by his lack of run-blocking motivation. The NFL showed its displeasure by passing on him 254 times during the draft.
Signing him to a UDFA contract was a masterstroke by the Lions' front office (Xanders?). During the offseason, Fauria became aware. Aware of the opportunity afforded by the impending free-agency status of TE Tony Scheffler. Aware that if he could build his upper body he might be a better run blocker. Aware that if he could be coached up in run blocking, he had a shot at a starting role.
Fauria attacked the weights, sleds and defenders with a chip on his shoulder. Skirmishes with teammates were commonplace. He ran decent routes, had great range and good hands.
Fauria was more than a red-zone target. He was quickly becoming a full-spectrum NFL tight end.
Fauria's run blocking started to get rave reviews. So much so that Scheffler's run blocking improved if for no other reason than to thwart the assault that the pretentious UDFA rookie was making on his job.
Like LaAdrian Waddle, observers were asking, "Who is this guy?"
Final Thoughts on the 2013 Randy
Congratulations to all of the Randy finalists! Two actually making the 53-player roster gives Lions fans reason for hope that future UDFA signings will be similarly successful.
Congrats to TE Joseph Fauria for putting in the hard work to beat long-shot odds and be the proud recipient of the Randy Phillips UDFA Camp Stud Award!