Against the odds, the 2021 Detroit Lions got significant contributions from their undrafted free agents. Can the Lions find repeat success in 2022?
Only two undrafted rookies made the initial 53-man roster last September, but they more than proved their worth come season’s end. AJ Parker was surprisingly effective as the starting nickel corner. Jerry Jacobs was phenomenal in the secondary as injuries forced him into a starting role, although an injury would knock himself out in Week 14. For players once viewed as mere depth and special teams pieces, the Lions got excellent value from these two corners.
Although they weren’t on the initial roster, the Lions had a few more undrafted rookies that contributed as the season progressed. Tight end Brock Wright became the de facto TE2 following the release of Darren Fells. He wasn’t spectacular, but for a rookie tight end with few expectations, he held his own. He’ll be in the running for a backup spot again this season.
Elsewhere, Riley Patterson settled into the starting kicking spot following a string of injuries and poor play ahead of him. Although his leg wasn’t truly tested, going 13-for-14 likely gives him the leg up in the 2022 edition of this kicking competition. Even guard Tommy Kraemer saw some action last season, and he could challenge Logan Stenberg for the top backup guard position.
Expectations should always be tempered for undrafted rookies, but it’s fun to speculate about which player or players could be the next breakout players for the Lions. The Lions have a wide assortment of undrafted rookies, and with many position battles set to wage come training camp, there’s a chance a few of them sneak onto the roster.
Erik Schlitt wrote a fantastic piece breaking down every undrafted free agent, and it is well worth the read—as we learned last year, some of these guys could become regulars!
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Which undrafted rookies will make the final roster?
My answer: I think Kalil Pimpleton, Obinna Eze, and Demetrius Taylor are strong candidates to make the final roster.
The Lions have drastically improved their wide receiver group this offseason, so it could be difficult for Pimpleton to make the roster. However, Pimpleton benefits from a fairly weak slot group behind Amon-Ra St. Brown. Kalif Raymond can play in the slot, but he played nearly 300 more snaps out wide last year. That could certainly change this year, but he’s not a sure-fire slot option. Elsewhere, Tom Kennedy has more career passing yards than receiving yards, so he’s far from a roster lock. Pimpleton has stood out in minicamp so far. Coupled with Jameson Williams possibly starting the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, and Quintez Cephus and Trinity Benson being on the roster bubble, an impressive summer from Pimpleton could boost his roster chances.
Eze has a good chance to make the roster for two reasons. Firstly, the Lions’ tackle depth is lacking. Matt Nelson has been the swing tackle of choice, but he has looked overwhelmed in his starts. The only other tackle on the roster is Dan Skipper, and while he had an impressive 2021 preseason before getting hurt, he has never been more than a bottom-of-the-roster type of player. The other reason why Eze could earn a spot is due to talent. Among the Lions’ undrafted signings, Eze was perhaps the top-graded prospect. Eze needs seasoning, but his traits could make him a coveted name on the waiver wire if the Lions try to stash him on the practice squad. Considering his sizeable contract for an undrafted player, it seems that the Lions like him a lot.
Although the Lions have revamped their defensive line this offseason, there is still room for Taylor to squeeze his way onto the roster. Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, and Michael Brockers are locks along the interior defensive line, but there are some questions beyond that. John Penisini is the backup nose tackle, but is it worth keeping a backup without much pass rushing potential from a former regime? As for Jashon Cornell and Bruce Hector, neither player has made much of an impact throughout their careers. Even with Josh Paschal having the ability to play inside, there should still be room for Taylor to make the team if he impresses enough in training camp and preseason.
Will this trio of free agents make the final roster? Will another name join the 53 instead? We’ll have to wait until training camp to answer these questions.