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Jeremiah Valoaga shines in Detroit Lions’ mock game, eyes roster spot

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On Friday, Jeremiah Valoaga came off the PUP list for the Detroit Lions. On Saturday, he was their most productive player on defense.

NCAA Football: UNLV at Nevada Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions played a mock game at Ford Field during their annual Family Day event, where they got to showcase the team and new facilities in a structured scrimmage. It was a ton of fun to watch, but an unexpected thing happened during the game. Normally it’s an undrafted receiver or running back that captures everyone’s attention, the circumstances of the game being favorable to those positions, but this year it was one of the least well known prospects on the team: undrafted free agent rookie Jeremiah Valoaga.

We spotlighted him as a prospect back in March, noting that the most confounding thing about him was that he never finished a single college season due to academic reasons, injury, and dismissal. He’s an enigma.

When the team’s mock game commenced, however, it was clear from the very beginning that this was going to be his show. The team used him on more snaps than anyone on the team—I don’t have this verified, but as much as they used him it’s almost assuredly true—and he was making due with them.

Valoaga went against Detroit’s top talents at tackle and routinely won. The first time I saw Rick Wagner get beat in camp was by Jeremiah Valoaga. Greg Robinson, who was finally starting to play well, was also beaten by Valoaga. He would have one terrible rep against Cyrus Kouandjio where the free agent acquisition threw him to the ground like a rag doll, but Valoaga got the best of Kouandjio later, forcing Cyrus to get flagged for holding.

Vaolaga would finish the day strong by forcing yet another sack/hold—neither were called as the rules were a bit loose. No one was more productive during the mock game than Jeremiah Valoaga, and it wasn’t really close.

So, who is he?

Athletically, Valoaga didn’t test very well at first glance. If you didn’t know he was dealing with an injury at the time, you would probably see his abysmal 40 time and completely write him off. As it is, we saw in the mock game that there’s no chance he’s one of the slowest DE of the past 18 seasons; it’s far closer to the contrary. Valoaga’s explosiveness, agility, power, and speed were all apparent when the talented end abused the Lions offensive lines.

His Relative Athletic Score isn’t very impressive, but it’s notable that if his speed scores were even just a little below average, instead of terrible like they were, his overall score would have been above average. If the injury that kept him on PUP for so long is the one that he was dealing with in college, then it’s more than possible teams were passing on a slow player who isn’t really slow. In fact, at his size, you wouldn’t expect agility drills of the level Valoaga was putting up, nor would you expect that from a 5.21 40 type player, so the flags were already kind of there.

Jeremiah Valoaga started the day as an unknown asset. A player written about so sparingly that the top results for his name on Google were the PoD article I wrote about his visit, the sources used in that article, and his player card at DetroitLions.com. He did not, however, finish the day as an unknown.

He scored two sure sacks on the day, one against the Lions starting RT and the other against a presumed starter at LT. He had a third sack later in the game that wasn’t called, though I didn’t see who it was against. He drew a holding penalty against another tackle who could potentially win the LT starting gig in Kouandjio. That’d be a pretty productive day of rushing the passer for anyone, let alone an undrafted player—the type of player this team hasn’t kept in a long time. He’s opened eyes. He’s gone from unknown commodity to potential 53-man roster keeper quicker than anyone I can recall in recent memory.

We know the team wanted him on their squad badly, given their early and sustained interest during the draft process. Now, we’ve caught a glimpse as to why.