5 Undrafted Detroit Lions Who Could Prove to Be Gems
Finding legit NFL talent in the ranks of the undrafted free-agent pool is something the Detroit Lions did well a year ago. Two undrafted free agents (UFDA) in right tackle LaAdrian Waddle (pictured) and tight end Joseph Fauria were significant contributors as rookies.
While this is fairly atypical for Detroit, where it's hard to find any other UDFAs from the Martin Mayhew regime anywhere, it's something the rest of the league relies upon.
According to Pro Football Talk, in 2012 a full 37 percent of the UDFA class wound up on NFL rosters. In addition, 17 percent of the entire NFL player pool that season consisted of UDFAs.
For a team with significant salary-cap issues like the Lions, hitting on more of the cheap labor in undrafted players is almost a necessity.
Fortunately, general manager Martin Mayhew has some promising aspirants in the den. Here are five who could wind up making real contributions in Detroit over the next couple of seasons.
Former Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas really stands out in a crowd. At 6'8" and with arms measuring more than 36" long, he's a big man amongst big men.
He's also a pretty solid prospect. If not for a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him during the heart of workout season, he could have been drafted as high as the fourth round.
The Lions pounced on the big Wildcat, making him the top priority UDFA. How much did they covet him?
RT @RavensInsider Kansas State offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas got a $20,000 signing bonus from the Lions, according to a league source— Pride Of Detroit (@PrideOfDetroit) May 11, 2014
That's about 10 times the normal signing bonus, and it's more than the team paid either Waddle or Fauria last season.
Lucas, who goes by the intriguing moniker @larry_lovestein on Twitter, has a very strong chance of being the team's fourth offensive tackle as a rookie. He could even win the swing tackle gig, a move that would save money by allowing the team to part ways with more expensive veteran Corey Hilliard.
The third tackle role appears to be Lucas' for the taking in 2015, when Hilliard will be a free agent. With good health and continued development, the rookie should wind up having a long career in Detroit.
One of the keys for an UDFA to make a roster is to have definite value at one attribute. Chad Abram has that one legit NFL skill already, as noted in the predraft video.
He can step right in as a special teams ace.
The fullback does have some other value to offer the Lions as well. His ability to catch out of the backfield and pick up blitzing defenders is NFL-caliber.
Detroit is reincorporating the fullback into the offense with new coordinator Joe Lombardi. Because the team hasn't used one in recent years, the depth chart is wide open.
While free-agent import Jed Collins, who played under Lombardi in New Orleans, has the upper hand, Abram stands an excellent chance to stick as the backup. His only competition is veteran Montell Owens, who missed all but a few snaps of 2013 with two separate knee injuries.
Don't be surprised if Abram carves out a role as a coverage-unit stud and works his way into a few offensive sets as a rookie.
For tight end Jordan Thompson, the path to contributing in Detroit must first come as a member of the practice squad.
The Ohio University product is not going to beat out first-round pick Eric Ebron or returning starter Brandon Pettigrew for a roster spot. He's also not going to bump last year's UDFA wunderkind Fauria, who figures to play extensively as a red-zone target.
Yet Thompson has enough talent to stick around on the practice for a year. What really helps his cause is the former Bobcats' fairly unique attribute of being a long snapper.
As noted by Michael Rothstein of ESPN, Thompson could be groomed for a year to take over for venerable veteran Don Muhlbach as the long snapper.
Even though he's technically a 2013 UDFA and not a product of the recent draft season, he stands a better chance of making a dent in Detroit than Jacob Maxwell, the UDFA tight end from Louisiana-Lafayette. The Lions did sign Thompson for three years, indicating some level of higher interest:
Not surprisingly, #Lions TE Jordan Thompson's 3-yr deal ($420K in '14; $510K in '15; $600K in '16) has no bonuses or guaranteed money.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) May 1, 2014
Long snapping is not exactly a sexy role, but good ones can have very long and distinguished careers. Don Muhlbach has been with the Lions since 2004. Thompson could be the next in line.
Jerome Couplin III
When the news first came out that the Lions signed former William and Mary safety Jerome Couplin, many fans got immediately excited, despite scant game film available to examine.
First, he has a great nickname: "The Osprey."
He earned that moniker for his freakish athletic gifts, which also captivated fans who were looking for some sizzle at safety. His workout numbers, courtesy of NFL Draft Scout, were eye-popping:
- 41.5" vertical jump
- 11'2" broad jump
- 6.94 three-cone drill
- 4.55 40-yard dash
His willing attitude and obvious potential have quickly endeared him to the veteran defensive backs on the team. Couplin told Justin Rogers of MLive:
The veterans are helping me out a lot. They're getting me straight. When I'm doing well, they're supporting me, patting me on the back. When I mess up, make a mistake, they want me to do well. They correct me, tell me I should be doing this and that.
Rogers notes that The Osprey is "a long shot to make the Lions' 53-man roster," but that is to be expected. His skills need refinement before Couplin sheds the "better athlete than football player" label.
He should spend 2014 on Detroit's practice squad. With good coaching and continued hard work, he could be in the mix to make the 53-man roster in 2015.
One of the more interesting facts about the Detroit Lions is that they have not drafted a quarterback since taking Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick in 2009.
That has left a considerable hole behind Stafford and the veteran backups (Shaun Hill and now Dan Orlovsky) for a young developmental project.
Kellen Moore, an UDFA from 2012, has held down that role for the last two years. His unimpressive athleticism and weak arm don't offer much NFL potential beyond what he has already achieved.
Enter James Franklin, the former Missouri gunslinger. While he lacks Moore's accuracy and precision in the pocket, his superior arms and legs present the Lions with a lot more long-term potential.
Franklin's ability to emulate scrambling quarterbacks in practices could prove invaluable, as the Lions have not had anyone like that on the roster in recent years. His improvisational ability and fearless chutzpah to attack down the field also intrigue as a divergent skill package to Stafford's more traditional game.
Coach Jim Caldwell kept a similar type of prospect as his primary backup in Baltimore in Tyrod Taylor. Franklin definitely has the potential to be Taylor's equal; he's capable of ascending to the primary backup role in a year or two with mastery of the offensive system and improved accuracy.