Undrafted free agents aren’t heralded as saviors of a franchise, but the role they play for a football team can be important. At the very least, they occupy a spot on the practice squad, taking reps and honing their craft. In some cases, they make the active roster. In rare situations, they even land themselves a notable role.
Everything is earned, and for the Detroit Lions, there are plenty of undrafted rookies looking to earn their spot.
The Lions did not get many contributions from their UDFA class last year, with Hunter Bryant being the lone one to make the initial 53-man roster. However, the Lions did get an All-Pro season from punter Jack Fox, a 2019 UDFA that the Lions only signed in December of that year. Elsewhere in the NFL, James Robinson ran for over 1,000 yards as an undrafted rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Erik Schlitt broke down the Detroit Lions 2021 UDFA class back in May, an article well worth a read after the conclusion of minicamp. With a lot of new names to the team, knowing which players are in contention for which positions can be helpful with training camp fast approaching. There have been a few roster changes since that article was published, however: Rakeem Boyd is out as part of the Michael Warren signing, while Evan Heim joins the team as a undrafted offensive lineman from Minnesota State.
A new coaching staff and a relatively weak roster means that any number of these UDFAs could make the initial roster, despite the uphill battle ahead of them.
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which UDFA has the best chance of making the roster?
My answer: I think that the UDFA with the best chance of making the roster is tight end Brock Wright.
I think that one of Jonathan Adams, Javon McKinley, or Sage Surratt will make the initial roster. However, all three are in competition with each other, and I can’t pinpoint a frontrunner of that group. McKinley and Surratt each got a deal with $100,000 guaranteed, while Adams got $90,000, indicating that the team values the trio quite highly. A similar situation arises along the interior of the offensive line. Heim, Drake Jackson, and Tommy Kraemer could each make a case for a roster spot given the lack of depth, but the three are close. I might give Jackson the edge, but he is also pigeonholed at center, hurting his value.
D’Angelo Amos has two things working in his favor: a weaker safety group and return experience. However, he has not stood out in either regard thus far, but that could change once practices get more physical. He is worth keeping an eye on. If he wins the starting returning spot, that could mean an immediate impact from him.
I think Brock Wright has the best chance to make the roster due to a combination of opportunity and skill. Opportunity-wise, there is an open competition for the third tight end spot with no clear favorite. I speculated about who could be the TE3 back in May, and Charlie Taumoepeau was my pick, but Brock Wright could very well win the job for a similar reason: he can play fullback.
The Lions waived Nick Bawden at the start of June, and that leaves just Jason Cabinda at fullback, and even he isn’t a natural fullback. There is the possibility that the Lions opt for no fullback this year, but it is likely that they experiment with some other players at the position this training camp. Without pads, OTAs and mini-camp have resulted in very few looks at fullback, so the position battle remains a mystery.
Wright is one of the few tight ends on the roster with experience at fullback, having played there occasionally at Notre Dame. Wright had only seven receptions in college, but his proficiency as a blocker will be his best asset. He could have some untapped potential as a receiver, having notched a few good catches in mini-camp. Also working in Wright’s favor is his elite athleticism:
Brock Wright is a TE prospect in the 2021 draft class. He scored a 9.21 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 74 out of 929 TE from 1987 to 2021. https://t.co/Pvz5L4aRUI #RAS #Lions UDFAhttps://t.co/16dy5ikF3p pic.twitter.com/285TPnvnNh— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) May 1, 2021
He received $50,000 guaranteed as part of his contract, showing some interest from the team; by comparison, fellow UDFA tight end Jake Hausmann got no guaranteed money. His biggest competition for a roster spot is Alizé Mack, who has the edge in terms experience, coaching familiarity, and receiving ability. Wright will have to impress to beat the odds, but he has the skillset to do so.
Which undrafted rookie do you think will make the roster?