Assessing Every Detroit Lions UDFA's Chances of Making Final Roster
The Detroit Lions struck it rich with undrafted free agents, or UDFAs, a year ago. Did they do it again in 2014?
In 2013 Detroit landed starting right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (pictured) and red-zone tight end Joseph Fauria, who caught seven touchdowns as a rookie. It's going to be difficult to top that level of contribution, but the Lions do have some intriguing candidates.
The first step for the UDFAs is to make the final 53-man roster.
Projecting that potential is fuzzy at this point. After all, they've only had one weekend of rookie camp as Lions. It will be a lot easier to ascertain roster likelihood once the veterans return and we get to see them in live action.
Still, there are some indications about the early chances. From signing bonuses to coaching quotes to scouting fits, there are clues to roster viability.
Here's a very early stab at the likelihood of each current (as of May 20) undrafted free agent to survive several rounds of cuts and earn a spot on the final roster.
All workout times and measurements are from NFL Draft Scout unless otherwise indicated.
Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas has the best chance of any UDFA to make the Lions. That much was obvious from his sizable signing bonus, as reported by Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press:
A couple signing bonuses for #Lions UDFAs: OG A.J. Dalton got $2,500, TE Jacob Maxwell got $3k and OT Cornelius Lucas got $20k— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 11, 2014
The Lions invested that much with the expectation that the massive tackle will earn a roster spot.
After all, the team needs a fourth offensive tackle after letting Jason Fox depart via free agency. Detroit did not draft a tackle either.
All Lucas has to do is beat out street free agent J.B. Shugarts, who is now on his fifth roster in 18 months.
At 6'8" and with the longest wingspan of any player at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, Lucas offers lots of potential. As noted in the video above, he's not much of a run-blocking force, but he is a surprisingly natural knee-bender for a man of his height.
It would be a surprise if he does not make the final 53-man roster. In fact, he has a strong opportunity to beat out Corey Hilliard for the third tackle spot.
Odds: 90 percent
- reliably protect the quarterback in passing situations
- catch the ball out of the backfield
- destroy defenders as a lead blocker
The modern NFL fullback must be able to do three things:
Chad Abram proved at Florida State that he can do the last two as well as anyone already in the NFL.
It's how well he performs at the first one, keeping Matthew Stafford safe and sound in the pocket, which will determine his fate.
The former safety can augment his chances if he thrives on special teams. He'll get a chance to steal a roster spot from a reserve linebacker or safety if he makes himself indispensable on coverage units.
There's a chance Abram could win the starting fullback job outright from Jed Collins. While the former Saint knows the offensive system, since new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi comes from New Orleans, the Lions could save some precious salary-cap room by going with the youngster.
It caught many, including Bleacher Report's Matt Miller in the above video, off guard that Abram was not drafted. He will get a chance to prove 31 other teams wrong with the Lions. At minimum, he and his throwback neck roll will make the practice squad.
Odds: 50 percent
The former Missouri quarterback is locked into an offseason competition with holdover Kellen Moore, another former UDFA, for the third quarterback gig.
Franklin is well-built at 6'2" and 230 pounds; he's a mobile, improvisational thrower with a strong arm. His over-the-top delivery makes him seem bigger too.
It's his running ability that gives him his opportunity in Detroit. The Lions haven't had an agile quarterback to emulate opponents with that quality since Drew Stanton departed after the 2011 campaign.
Moore is smaller, weak-armed and largely immobile. Yet he's a much more accurate passer than Franklin and has experience in reading NFL defenses from two preseasons in the league already.
Franklin's fate might very well be out of his control. If Moore impresses, he's likely to keep his role as the third quarterback regardless of the rookie's performance. The Lions have shown little inclination of using Franklin as a gadget player as described in the above video; coach Jim Caldwell had a similar player in Baltimore in Tyrod Taylor but never utilized him.
Odds: 45 percent
William and Mary safety Jerome Couplin has all the makings of a fan favorite. He's an exceptional athlete with outstanding size and length for the position at 6'2" and 215 pounds.
He has a great nickname in "The Osprey" for his incredible closing burst and ability to finish the play like the majestic waterfowl swooping down to pluck an unsuspecting fish from the water. Highlight-reel hits like the one pictured above inspire fans to rally to his cause. Couplin even has the underdog appeal of coming from the FCS level.
Those are all fine and well, but in order to make the Lions, he will have to improve quickly as a football player.
Don’t shoot the messenger here, but it’s obvious from watching game film why Couplin went undrafted despite being an athletic marvel.
I got to watch coach’s tape of his games against Villanova from 2013 and Lafayette from 2012. What I saw was disheartening for fanboys.
Couplin sorely lacks instincts and anticipation, especially in coverage. His football eyes are slow, and even after he sees what he needs to do, he doesn't always attack immediately, as if he doesn't quite trust what he's seeing.
Body control is also an issue. There were three plays in the Lafayette game where he closed on the ball very hard but was out of control and couldn’t finish the play because of it. He’s either going too slow or too fast; there’s very little medium. Most of his tackles were of the clean-up variety, not anything he initiated. He’s quite good at that, though.
He looked better in coverage against Villanova, including a very athletic breakup on a well-thrown ball. He also was late to react and get to the sideline on two other throws—plays he needed to make.
Couplin is trying to make it at a crowded safety spot. He will have to beat out veterans Isa Abdul-Quddus and DeJon Gomes for the fourth or fifth safety spot.
Having seen and scouted both Abdul-Quddus and Gomes, I think it's hard to see Couplin beating out either of them if the coaches are looking for 2014 contribution. That changes if they are taking a longer view, or if Couplin can quickly assert himself on special teams.
He'd make a great practice-squad player, with the chance to emerge as the third safety in 2015. That's when both Gomes and Abdul-Quddus will be free agents and Don Carey, the current No. 3 safety, can be cut without much negative salary-cap ramifications.
Odds: 15 percent
Bullard has one major feather in his cap in his quest to make the Lions: versatility.
The Tennessee offensive lineman has the ability to play every position except left tackle along the front line. He primarily played left guard in Knoxville, and that's another feather in his potential Lions cap, as veteran incumbent Rob Sims is in the final year of his contract.
Here's an excerpt from his scouting report at Draft Insider:
Powerful small-area blocker with an underrated game. Quick off the snap, explosive at the point and holds his ground, not giving up an inch to opponents. Stays square. Powerful and turns defenders from the action or engulfs them altogether. Blocks with a nasty attitude and works to finish plays.
If that reminds you of Larry Warford, you're not alone.
Alas, Bullard is not nearly as agile as the Lions' stud right guard. He's competing for a backup interior role against Rodney Austin and a couple of other UDFAs, who are all behind third-round pick Travis Swanson.
Bullard stands the best chance of any to make it, and his power gives him a fair chance to beat out Austin. At worst, he's likely to wind up on the practice squad.
Odds: 10 percent
Oklahoma defensive back Gabe Lynn is a classic cornerback/safety tweener. In fact, he switched back and forth between the two positions in his Sooners career.
He has the build of a long corner at 6'0" and 199 pounds, but his pedestrian 4.57 40-yard dash speed and stiff hips will prevent him from playing outside in the NFL. He's not much of a hitter and lacks the bulk that teams look for in a safety.
He blossomed as a senior, picking off four passes while also racking up 57 tackles. Maybe Lynn is a late-bloomer whose development as a football player can compensate for his lack of athletic prowess.
That must be Detroit's hope. He's worth a look, but the hill he must climb to make the roster is pretty steep.
Odds: 2 percent
Old Dominion offensive lineman D.J. Morrell has size on his side. At 6'6" and 325 pounds, the Monarchs right tackle stands out in a crowd, even though Bleacher Report's expansive photo database doesn't feature one solitary image of him. He may or may not be in the above photo of the Monarchs taking the field last fall.
He doesn't even have a YouTube highlight video, a seeming requisite for every college prospect.
His workout numbers, as reported by Gil Brandt of NFL.com, are not very inspiring:
Morrell ran the 40-yard dash in 5.68 seconds (against the wind) and 5.40 seconds (with the wind). He had a 23 1/2-inch vertical jump and an 8-foot broad jump. He did the short shuttle in 4.90 seconds and the three-cone drill in 8.20 seconds. Morrell — who has 31 3/4-inch arms — did 27 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press.
Two things jump out from Brandt's notes:
- The jumping numbers are indicative of an almost complete lack of explosiveness.
- His arms are really short for his height. Really short.
Those items don't inspire much confidence that he can make the jump from the FCS level to the NFL.
Odds: 0.5 percent
The above video is one of the most impressive workouts you're likely to see in some time. Nebraska cornerback Mohammed Seisay put on quite an athletic demonstration at his pro day.
That's all well and good, but can he play football?
Unfortunately, that's a difficult question to answer, because he seldom saw the field for the Cornhuskers. He spent most of his senior season as Nebraska's fourth corner, playing only a handful of snaps each game.
He registered just eight tackles and one pass breakup in 2013, finishing his underwhelming career with 15 total tackles. He did pick off two passes as a freshman at Memphis in 2010 before transferring to Lincoln.
It's hard to see a guy who couldn't make a dent in the Big Ten sticking around very long in the NFL. It's even harder when the Lions already have a host of young corners who are further along the development line.
Odds: 0.15 percent. So you're saying there's a chance!
Lions fans probably know a little about Patrick Edwards, who has lingered on the bottom of the roster and practice squad. He even caught three passes in the opener against Arizona last year.
He is an undersized guy who lacks great speed—a straight-line outside threat in a slot receiver's body. He's a long shot to return to the Lions in 2014.
Yet Edwards is the easiest player to whom Andrew Peacock compares. The Appalachian State wideout is bulkier but still short at just 5'9". He's even slower than Edwards, too; Peacock trudged to a 4.72 40-yard dash time at his pro day, even slower than Edwards' 4.57.
A slow, undersized possession receiver from the FCS level who plays the same exact spot as the team's sixth-round pick T.J. Jones, Peacock might as well be a minority party candidate challenging Vladimir Putin in Russia.
There is quite a crowd at tight end in Detroit. With Brandon Pettigrew and Joseph Fauria returning from last year, as well as 2013 seventh-round pick Michael Williams now healthy, the depth chart is full.
That's not even counting first-round pick Eric Ebron, who figures to play as a hybrid tight end/wide receiver.
Into that fray steps Louisiana-Lafayette's Jacob Maxwell, No. 49 in the picture above from rookie minicamp.
The National Football Post had this to say about him:
The 6-foot-4, 249-pounder ran the 40-yard dash in 4.68 seconds at his campus Pro Day workout and had a 38.5-inch vertical leap with a 10-7 broad jump.
He caught 12 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns last season.
I asked former Ragin' Cajuns player Emory Hunt for a quick synopsis on Maxwell:
@JeffRisdon - He's a terrific blocker with decent hands.. Think Spaeth — Emory Hunt (@FBallGameplan) May 10, 2014
"Spaeth" refers to Matt Spaeth, who has been a reserve tight end for the Steelers and Bears for the last seven seasons. He has 50 career receptions, and it's worth noting he's three inches taller than Maxwell.
Maxwell's impressive athletic metrics give him a chance to linger on the roster deep into the preseason, but it's unlikely he can overtake anyone ahead of him.
Late edit: It was reported on Wednesday that Williams has moved to offensive tackle, which gives Maxwell a clearer path to at least making the practice squad.
Odds: 5 percent
Robert Morris offensive lineman A.J. Dalton has his own documentary that chronicles his journey through the NFL scouting process.
That's pretty cool, and the video is well-done and highly informative.
Even so, it's a long way from Robert Morris to the NFL. Dalton is so obscure to the scouting community that I could not find a single scouting report on his actual skills, unearthing only basic biographical info.
I don't like to offer analysis on a player I've never seen play a single snap, but that's the case here. As much as I want to believe in the video and root for Dalton, he's gunning for a practice-squad spot in Detroit, nothing more.
Odds: 0.5 percent
Linebacker Justin Jackson has one advantage in making the Lions. He comes from Wake Forest, where Lions coach Jim Caldwell was the head coach many years ago.
He also has a lot of fast-twitch muscle, and it shows when watching him play for the Demon Deacons.
Here is his draft profile at Blogger So Dear, a Wake Forest site:
The outside linebacker finished his Wake Forest career with 196 total tackles, 20.5 tackles for loss, and 7 sacks. At his pro day he had impressive combine numbers including 27 bench press reps of 225 pounds, a 39 inch vertical jump, and a 10' 9" broad jump. He did not run the 40 yard dash due to a hamstring injury.
On tape he plays a similar style to Carolina Panthers standout Luke Kuechly. He's very fast to close on the ball and reliably gets the man down upon arrival. He's not nearly as instinctive as Kuechly and doesn't appear as strong or quite as rangy either.
The depth chart behind the top four linebackers (Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy, Kyle Van Noy, Tahir Whitehead) is wide open in Detroit. Jackson has a shot to make it if he can excel on special teams and show he has the strength to handle the increased power of the NFL.
Odds: 8.5 percent