We’ve kept you up to date with who the Lions have signed as undrafted free agents, but now it’s time to look at what they could possibly bring to the team and if they have any shot at all at the final roster. There’s always a handful of UDFA who make a final roster each season, so I’m excited to see who you think has the best shot out of this year’s group. There wasn’t a lot of risk taking with the UDFA class of 2018, but the 2019 group has a healthy mix of players who could contribute immediately in 2019 or develop for a future role as early as 2020.
Jonathan Duhart, WR, Old Dominion: Though he seems to have better hands than Lions fifth-round draft pick Travis Fulgham, Duhart lacks the punishing ability as a blocker and explosiveness to create separation of his former and current teammate. With wide receiver pretty much wide open for the Lions, Duhart will get plenty of opportunities to earn a roster spot, but his similarities as a seemingly lesser version of other players on the team make him more likely a practice squad candidate for a more seamless transition if someone goes down.
Nate Becker, TE, Miami (OH): The Lions identified a clear need at tight end and filled the roster with guys who could conceivably make the team. The Redhawks offense wasn’t dynamic in the passing game nor particularly notable in the run game, and Nate Becker wasn’t very productive in either facet. One of his two career touchdowns was completely uncovered (vs. Army), so there’s very little red-zone tape to judge him on. He’d be a pretty big dark horse to make the current roster, but I have a feeling he’s a guy they could keep on the practice squad to develop. He has a bunch of positive flashes as both a blocker and receiver that could be interesting.
Matt Nelson, OT/OG/OC/DE/DT, Iowa: I wouldn’t expect for a minute that Matt Nelson makes the team in 2019. It’s not that he’s bad, it’s just that the team is going to bring him in without a position and hope to develop him into one. His athletic traits are poor as a defensive lineman, but as an offensive lineman there’s a lot to work with. He has fantastic size and a great frame, but the position switch (he played on defense in college) screams practice squad since the chance of any rookie impact is next to nil.
Andre Wilson, WR, Alabama-Birmingham: As mentioned, wide receiver is pretty open. Small and lacking in both speed and explosiveness, Wilson is tough to see having any kind of an impact as an NFL receiver. His college production was limited, but that was in part due to UAB’s anemic offense. Wilson lacks a foundational route tree and was only okay as a returner. Similar to Brandon Powell, it’s hard to see a defined role unless the team is decimated by injuries, making him a practice squad candidate.
Micah St. Andrew, OG, Fresno State: The Lions eschewed addressing the right guard spot or anything involving offensive line depth in the draft, so any undrafted free agent brought in has a shot to make the roster. The Lions have said they wanted to get bigger and more athletic, and St. Andrew has at least half of that down. This was a tough one for me to follow up on because he is basically the polar opposite of what the team has favored in their offensive lineman aside from being big. He is very heavy footed, struggles on any play he’s asked to be a pulling lineman, and he gets completely lost the moment he gets to the second level. If the Lions see something in the former Bulldog, I don’t know what it is, but in a wide open camp battle, he will have plenty of opportunities to change my mind.
Donald Parham, TE, Stetson: Most of the Lions pickups at tight end have fallen into the same mold: Guys who can block, but can also run a decent outlet route tree and catch reasonably well. Parham doesn’t catch reasonably well, he catches the football very well. He also doesn’t run a decent outlet route tree, he runs a limited tree that allows him to use his ridiculous size and catch radius to to threaten the middle of the field. He also can’t block. Stetson is a prized UDFA in that his developmental traits have the potential to be immediately useful, but finding a fit in what they’ve been telegraphing their offense to look like is difficult. It’s possible Parham simply moves to wide receiver which would make him two things: 1. The largest receiver to ever play the position and 2. A really intriguing big slot option.
Ryan Pope, OT, San Diego State: The Lions paid Pope like a prince, so his chances of making the roster aren’t bad at all (He’s getting far more than Mike Ford did last year). Should he see any playing time, well, it’s gonna be a rough one. I have a bad reputation (mostly unfounded) that I value athletic traits over everything in prospects, but, boy oh boy, if you needed an example of where I’m steering clear regardless of the numbers than this is it. Pope has top-of-the-first-round athletic ability, but undraftable tape and a troublesome injury history (few significant injuries, but many small or limiting ones) are why he went undrafted. Think Cornelius Lucas with better athletic ability but worse tape.
Beau Benzschawel, OG, Wisconsin: It’s always fun to look at all the undrafted free agents and how many people are shocked, nay stunned, nay flabbergasted that they went undrafted. And yet, some are truly head scratchers. Beau Benzschawel was one of the best run blockers in this class, and while he has a ton of holes to his game as a pass blocker, he was coming off a year he showed significant strides in that area. Add that to a mediocre, but still passable athletic profile along with a strong resume at an offensive line factory in Wisconsin and it’s curious he went undrafted. He had plenty of suitors, but landed in his best possible spot for competing for a roster spot. Benzschawel’s footwork isn’t great, and was particularly poor in the passing game, but it was never enough for me to see him going undrafted. I’m looking at him as basically an extra Day 3 pick.
Ray Smith, DT, Boston College: Though he possesses the physical traits to be a disruptive interior pass rusher, I saw very little of that at BC. Given the Lions tendencies under new head coach Matt Patricia, I guess we shouldn’t be surprised to see an interior rusher who is more of a facilitator than a penetrator. Smith could find a role as a reserve lineman behind A’Shawn Robinson, but given that his biggest issues were whenever he was asked to work outside I’m not sure I see much of a role in the scheme outside of a run defending 3-technique in 4-man front packages.
Tre Lamar, LB, Clemson: This is a guy that many thought would be drafted late, but he’s also one whose athletic limitations are going to be a limiting factor. Unlike Lions second-round pick Jahlani Tavai, Lamar doesn’t have the tools to be able to move much further than the middle of a defense, lacking in both explosiveness to provide value on the edge as a run setter or pass rusher and the speed to be able to provide anything in coverage. He’s similar to Steve Longa in that he’s a technically sound but likely restricted to special teams or a role player in run packages—if he makes the team. Football intelligence is good enough to make him a possible practice squadder.
Malik Carney, DE, North Carolina: An elite run stuffer at North Carolina, Carney has some athletic traits that would make him fun to project as a pass rusher that simply didn’t show up much in college. While none of the UDFA are locks to make the roster, Carney has a pretty decent shot given the relative lack of depth at the position and his pure schematic fit and developmental traits. He’s a guy to watch in the preseason in the same way Jeremiah Valoaga and Alex Barnes were.
Josh Miller, CB, Ball State: The cornerback position has largely been decided for the first four spots (Darius Slay, Rashaan Melvin, Justin Coleman, and Jamal Agnew) while the team’s selection of Amari Oruwariye likely locks up a fifth slot. It won’t be an easy roster to crack and Miller is mostly an unknown. Due to injury, he didn’t participate in any of the normal pre-draft workups and didn’t provide any measurements aside from the bench. A devoted film-room junkie, this is a guy I think the staff will like even though it’s likely a while before he sees any significant field time.
The Tryout Guys
These are guys who were invited to minicamp and have an outside chance of being signed to compete. Note that most minicamp tryouts are never signed, but there’s usually one or two who get a callback later.
Alex Bookser, OG, Pittsburgh: Character concerns stemming from a DUI arrest where he led police on a high speed chase in 2017 a big part of why he went undrafted. On the field, he’s a limited athlete who may find work in a power scheme if he can clean up his many technical flaws.
Tatum Slack, CB, Buffalo: Slack is short but not small. He was a tough one to get a read on, but after watching a couple games it’s not hard to see what they like. If you’re a fan of Quandre Diggs, you’re probably going to have him as a favorite among the UDFA if he gets signed in camp. Not big, not fast, but he hits.
Jalen McClendon, QB, Baylor: The Lions haven’t had a dual threat quarterback worth his salt in what seems like forever. It’s hard to see McClendon getting a shot with the Lions at the quarterback position, but maybe they’re looking for something else.
Parker Hesse, DE, Iowa: Hesse has a couple of other teams looking at him and has a decent shot of getting signed. A solid run defender, he’s sure to endear himself to Patricia’s staff.
Tanner Mangum, QB, Brigham Young: Another quarterback in camp? Lions have normally had the QB position locked down long before rookie minicamps, but they’ve got two incoming and two more already signed to veteran contracts. Will be fun! Mangum is overaged and is whatever the opposite of a dual threat quarterback, with a good but inaccurate arm.
Kyrion Parker, WR, Central Missouri: Receivers always get to show out the best in minicamp, so don’t rule any of them out. Parker has an interesting story, with a health condition limiting his early football career. He averaged more than 20 yards per catch last season, though, and, from what I understand, can block.
Anthony Pittman, LB, Wayne State: Pittman is local but is primarily a developmental prospect who will need a year or so to get up to an acceptable NFL body type.
Jared Ruth, WR, Mount Union: Mount Union doesn’t exactly have a ton of tape to look over. With 24 touchdowns the past two seasons, Ruth was a machine getting points, so that’s a trait to look at.
Kevin Strong Jr., DL, UTSA: My adopted former hometown of San Antonio has been churning out prospects at an increasing rate, so I’m always keeping track. A classic case of a guy with one trick—but it’s a good trick—the Lions may hope to develop Strong’s bull rush into more than just a good trick.
Luke Idoni, LS, Central Michigan: He’s a guy who can snap the ball farther than most. Very small for an NFL long snapper and he’d be facing off against Don Muhlbach if he were signed.
Juwon Young, LB, Marshall: Juwon Young is a guy who fits Matt Patricia’s prototype at linebacker, so it’s not surprising he’s getting a look.