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Detroit Lions 2016 roster review: Steve Longa a dark horse contributor for the future

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Steve Longa never suited up for the Detroit Lions, but the former Rutgers Scarlet Knight was protected from being poached off the team’s practice squad. But why?

Philadelphia Eagles v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Steve Longa

Expectations before 2016

There were none. Steve Longa wasn’t on the Detroit Lions roster when training camp began, having joined the Seattle Seahawks as an undrafted free agent after the 2016 NFL draft. He would later be called up to the active roster to play against Philadelphia only to be cut shortly after and signed back to the practice squad. As an undrafted free agent rookie, expectations weren’t particularly high for the Seahawks when they signed him nor were they when he was signed by the Lions. Longa didn’t wow at the combine, coming in undersized and slow. In fact, the only measurement where he measured above average was weight and even then, only by just a tad. Whether it was speed, agility or explosiveness, he measured in anywhere from below average to the bottom ten percent. His lack of size and athletic ability is only part of why it was a surprise when we found out the team had been paying him an active roster rate while he was on the practice squad. Teams will sometimes do this when they want to keep a player rostered without actually rostering them.

In college, Longa started 36 out of his 37 games for the Scarlet Knights and played both inside and outside linebacker. He was productive, tallying 335 total tackles and seven sacks to go with five forced fumbles. Confident and well spoken, the former Cameroon native declared for the draft with only five classes to go before graduation at Rutgers. With more than a dozen starts at both weak side and middle linebacker, he brings an understanding of multiple positions and special teams. The latter being important since it’s the most likely role he’ll have if he sticks to the Lions roster in the coming years.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 1 games (0 starts) | 0 tackles, 0 assists

Longa spent most of the season on the practice squad, though he had a brief foray onto the active roster against the Philadelphia Eagles. He wouldn't see any real action outside of that and finished the year the same way he started it, on the practice squad. It isn't certain if any other teams showed interest in Steve Longa, but the Detroit Lions would raise his salary to that of an active roster player. It's rare that teams do that unless someone is trying to poach their players.

Outlook for 2017

Contract status: Signed a futures deal with the team in January

While I don't have much in terms of expectations for Longa in the upcoming season, researching why he's on the roster to begin with and why the team tried so hard to keep him has been fascinating. Longa not only didn't measure well, he measured poorly. His tape at Rutgers wasn't noteworthy. Despite impressive tackle numbers, he never looked like someone who would project in the NFL any more than as a career backup and special teams player. So why all the interest?

We often hear players and coaches talk about the love of the game. It was mentioned incessantly when Tom Brady finished his epic march downfield in the Super Bowl. It's mentioned when highly drafted players wash out because they don't care enough. It is also mentioned when players nobody expects to succeed in the league. Steve Longa started playing football his freshman year of high school and played as a two-way athlete at linebacker and running back. A four star recruit before declaring with Rutgers, Longa's love of the game was evident in every interview. It never seemed to waver, even becoming more pronounced when he first signed with the Seahawks. He might never amount to anything more than a backup and special teamer in the NFL, he might not even end up that. Sometimes, though, you take a chance on the guy that gives you his all and is fully devoted to the game of football.

Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker, Josh Bynes, Stefan Charles, Cornelius Lucas