NFL preseason gives a chance for UDFAs and players at the bottom of the roster to make an impression in the league before the final 53-man cut date. Established stars will take a backseat to many players that fans may not know much about. Though many of the players who will capture the attention of fans this month may not ever make an NFL roster, today we meet a roster gem who could play a huge role for the Detroit Lions in 2018.
The Lions picked up defensive end Alex Barrett as an undrafted free agent after the 2017 draft. The San Diego State product measured poorly on his pro day, only posting a RAS score of 0.85, leading to him fall out of the draft. A great college resume which included two all-Mountain West conference honors and a 7.5-sack senior season earned him a chance in Detroit.
Barrett took advantage of the opportunities he was given in preseason, totaling 10 tackles and a sack last summer. The defensive end was an effective rusher playing with the second unit, but he benefited greatly from playing against reserve offensive linemen. He initially made the final 53-man roster and even played 28 snaps (including three at fullback) in Detroit’s two opening games. His rookie season came to a quick end as he was waived by the Lions after failing to make any real impact, but he was retained as a member of the practice squad.
Barrett’s greatest attribute is his burst coming off of the snap as he has the ability to beat his opposition with his first step before they even get out of their stance. He is undersized for a defensive end, though, and does not have the ability to get by offensive tackles if his first step does not beat them. A lack of size and strength also make him a poor run defender as he isn’t strong enough to hold his ground and set the edge.
He most likely will never develop into a three-down defensive lineman but he can excel as a speed rusher on passing downs when he can pin his ears back and not worry about covering the run.
Detroit is in desperate need of capable pass rushers. The Lions do not have much depth on their defensive line at the moment and can not afford to release a player like Barrett. Ezekiel Ansah and Anthony Zettel are the favorites to start at defensive end. Beyond them, the only notable defensive ends on Detroit’s roster are Kerry Hyder, who is coming off of a torn Achilles, and rookie Da’Shawn Hand—who has mostly lined up as a tackle in training camp.
The question regarding his status with the Lions isn’t whether or not he will make the roster but whether or not he will be a regular in the pass rushing rotation. Detroit struggled to create pressure on crucial third downs last season and a lot of their shortcomings can be attributed to the lack of consistent speed rushers coming off of the edge. Barrett showed enough to make the Lions roster as an unproven UDFA last season, and if he has developed as expected, he has a chance to be an important member of the Lions defensive front in 2018.