The AAF is dead, and it seems unlikely to recover. It will ultimately go down as a huge failure, not only for its collapse before the end of their inaugural season but for their complete unpreparedness for the league’s suspension.
But not all is lost. For eight weeks, AAF players got a chance to showcase their skills for NFL scouts that were undoubtedly monitoring their play, looking for diamonds in the rough and potential depth pieces for the 2019 season.
This offseason, Detroit Lions openly admitted they’ll be scouting the league. And while the Lions will build primarily through the draft at this point in the offseason, there are AAF players they should look into bringing in for camp. With the AAF suspended, player contracts are null and these athletes could be signed to any team at any time.
Here are five AAF players the Lions should consider signing.
TE Bug Howard
TE Bug Howard is the highest-graded player from the Atlanta offense through Week 7! pic.twitter.com/DQLFawNLH5— PFF_AAF (@PFF_AAF) March 30, 2019
A former North Carolina tight end, so what could really go wrong?
Howard went undrafted in 2017, despite following in Eric Ebron’s footsteps in an extremely productive manner. His senior year at North Carolina saw 53 catches for 827 yards and eight touchdowns.
In the AAF, Howard was third among all tight ends with 220 receiving yards. Playing mostly as an in-line tight end, Howard could be a short-yardage option for the Lions offense. He’s built to be a blocker too—at 6-foot-5, 228 pounds—but his form could use some refinement.
LB Shaheed Salmon
The Lions have a pretty big need for off-ball linebacker depth, and while Salmon probably wouldn’t push for playing time right away, he could certainly make a play for a spot on the roster or practice squad.
Salmon saw his role with the Iron slowly increase as the season went on. He barely played in the first five weeks of the season, but in the final three, he was essentially a starter—and a brilliant one at that. In those three games, he picked up 11 tackles, one pass breakup, and PFF credited him with seven run stops.
In Detroit, he could make a play for Jarrad Davis’ backup, and at just 23 years old (later this month), he still has room to grow. The biggest obstacle for Salmon is his steep developmental curve. Coming from Samford University, he’s got plenty of learning to do, but his flash of potential at the end of the AAF year may be enough for someone to give him a chance.
WR Rashad Ross
(UPDATE: Ross has signed with the Carolina Panthers)
Ross is going to find an NFL team. It’s inevitable. The No. 2 all-time leading receiver in the AAF, this wouldn’t be his first foray into the NFL. In fact, back in December of 2016, Ross had a stint on the Lions practice squad that lasted about a week. He’s been on seven other NFL teams since entering the league in 2013.
Though he’s 29 years old, Ross proved to be a men among boys in the AAF. His value for the Lions isn’t just as receiver depth, though. Ross is also a proven kick returner, something the Lions roster is currently lacking. In 2015 with Washington, Ross returned 28 kickoffs for an average of 24.4 yards per return, including a 101-yard touchdown return.
Ross would add crazy speed to a Lions receiving corps that doesn’t really have any. He reportedly ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his Pro Day. He’s worth another shot.
EDGE Damontre Moore
But he has absolutely thrived in the AAF: 9.0 sacks, two forced fumbles, and 18 quarterback hits according to PFF. It’s safe to say Moore was the biggest disrupting force of any AAF defense:
(Hi, Alex Barrett!)
Though not a perfect fit in the Lions defense, Moore could certainly provide some depth behind new addition Trey Flowers, and in a pinch could play on the other side at Devon Kennard’s edge position.
QB Garrett Gilbert
The AAF was filled with some shaky quarterback play, but the Orlando Apollo’s passer was the only one who stood out in a good way.
Garrett Gilbert leads the AAF QBs through Week 7 - he's generated the most yards on deep pass attempts this season at 568! pic.twitter.com/iOKppXEDjr— PFF_AAF (@PFF_AAF) March 28, 2019
Gilbert finished the AAF season completing 157 of 259 passes (60.6%) for 2152 yards (8.3 Y/A), 13 TDs and 3 INTs.
The Lions need some help at the backup quarterback position, and Gilbert is a name they’re a little familiar with. He spent a couple months on the Patriots’ practice squad back in 2014 (while current Lions GM Bob Quinn was there) and after he was waived by the team in 2015, the Lions scooped him up. He ended up being cut by Detroit after training camp, but now that Gilbert has refined his game a little bit, it may be the right time for Detroit to bring him back.