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Breaking down the Detroit Lions 2023 UDFA class

Taking a closer look at what the Detroit Lions are getting in their 15-player UDFA class.

Northwestern v Minnesota

In addition to the eight selected players in the 2023 draft, the Detroit Lions have also added another 15 rookies to their roster from the undrafted free agent market. Let’s take a closer look at who the Lions added and break down what these players bring to Detroit’s 90-man roster.

Adrian Martinez, QB, Kansas State

6-foot-2, 221 pounds, 4.54 40 y/d, 9.46 RAS

After starting four seasons at Nebraska, Martinez transferred to Kansas State for his fifth year of eligibility (due to the COVID extension) and had one of his best collegiate years before suffering a knee injury.

Martinez is a dual-threat quarterback with an interesting skill set and loads of experience (47 starts). He was a three-time captain at Nebraska and was named a captain at Kansas State, despite being a transfer. Additionally, in 2022, Martinez was a finalist for the “Academic Heisman” (William V. Campbell Trophy).

As a passer, Martinez is comfortable working in a pocket, has an acceptable arm, with a quick release, and has shown the ability to work through progressions. His accuracy is average but his decision-making is sporadic, which is likely why he went undrafted. As a runner, Martinez has instant acceleration, can pick up yards in chunks when he scrambles, and has an impressive 45 rushing touchdowns on his resume.

Overall, Martinez could develop into a QB3 but is more than likely a scout team quarterback at the next level. He has practice squad-level upside as a rookie.

Mohamed Ibrahim, RB Minnesota

5-foot-8, 203 pounds
Reported contract has $100,000 in guarantees (source)
Pre-draft ranking on Erik’s board: 208 (6th round)
NFL Comparison: Dameon Pierce (Texans)

Ibrahim first caught my attention in the 2021 season opener against Ohio State, when he was carving up their defense for 163 rushing yards and two touchdowns before suffering an Achilles tear that ended his promising season. He recovered from surgery in just under a year, returned to the Gophers in 2022, and ran for 1665 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns.

Ibrahim is undersized but compactly built which helps him finish with power. He has terrific vision and the patience to wait for a hole to open up. His explosion to hit the hole is average, as is his long speed, but if he gets downhill, he is a load to bring down.

Physical, decisive, and productive, Ibrahim should immediately challenge for the Lions third running back role.

Keytaon Thompson, WR, Virginia

6-foot-4, 218 pounds, 5.85 RAS

Did the Lions find their version of Taysom Hill?

Thompson, a former quarterback, is a very unique prospect that appears to be more offensive weapon than wide receiver. At Virginia, they found a lot of creative ways to get the ball to Thompson because of his ability to run with power after the catch. He saw wide receiver routes from the WR-X, as a Big Slot, H-back, bubble screens, end arounds, jet sweeps, they emptied the bag in order to get the ball on his hands. While the Lions could be envisioning him as receiver depth, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Lions shift Thompson to tight end and have him follow the same path as Hill.

Fun fact about Thompson: His first career start at quarterback came in 2017 for Mississippi State, when they faced off against Louisville, in Lamar Jackson’s final collegiate game. Thompson went 11 of 20 for 127 yards, with one interception, 147 rushing yards, and three rushing touchdowns, leading Mississippi State to a 31-27 win. Don’t expect him to play quarterback in the NFL though, as his career completion percentage is just 46.0%.

Chase Cota, WR, Oregon

6-foot-3, 201 pounds, 9.33 RAS
Reported contract has $80,000 in guarantees (source)

At his size, Cota could be a candidate for WR-X depth or as a Big Slot option, where he was frequently used in Eugene. Oregon used him on a lot of screens and crossers over the middle, but he did show some ability to stretch the field as well. Think Quintez Cephus’ positional range but with more athleticism and less power.

Connor Galvin, LT, Baylor

6-foot-6 1/2, 299 pounds, 5.34 RAS

A five-year starter at Baylor (50 starts), Galvin held down the Bears' left tackle spot (3446 snaps) but has a bit of right tackle (93 snaps) and guard (10 snaps) experience. Galvin was the Big 12’s offensive lineman of the year in 2021 and was named one of Baylor’s captains in 2022.

In Baylor’s wide-zone offensive blocking scheme, Galvin was constantly asked to be on the move off his tackle position and demonstrated an ability to consistently find his mark in their concepts. His ability to pull should translate to the NFL and would make him an ideal fit as a guard puller in the Lions’ gap-power/outside-zone scheme.

For the Lions, Galvin's quick feet could allow him to operate at a few different positions, including being a swing tackle or shifting inside to guard—where several analysts projected him to play at the next level.

Ryan Swoboda, RT, UCF

6-foot-9 1/2, 309 pounds, 9.32 RAS

A towering right tackle with an impressive athletic score, Swoboda’s size/length allows him to close distances quickly in blocking schemes, but like most players this tall, he will get caught waist-bending too much. While most of Swoboda’s experience is at right tackle (3-year starter), he saw reps on the left side at the NFLPA bowl and looked comfortable enough to project as a swing tackle in the NFL.

Brad Cecil, IOL, USF

6-foot-3, 294, 5.17 RAS

A five-year starter at center, Cecil has 50 starts under his belt and anchored the center of an offensive line that produced seven 200-plus rushing yard games in 2022. USF has also produced two 1,000-yard rushers during Cecil’s career in South Florida. The road to the Lions' roster at center is a tough one, as Frank Ragnow is a two-time Pro Bowler, Graham Glasgow figures to be in the mix if Ragnow misses time, and Ross Pierschbacher was brought back for depth this offseason. Still, if Cecil performs well in training camp, the path to the practice squad isn’t too far up the depth chart.

Cory Durden, DT, NC State

6-foot-4, 290 pounds, 4.95 RAS
Reported contract has $40,000 in guarantees (source)

Durden was probably miscast as a 0-technique nose tackle at NC State, and projects to be an IDL capable of playing all along the interior in the NFL. Durden showed the ability to operate in the Wolfpack’s 2-gapping front, regularly holding his ground, locating the ball, and working toward it. While his anchor worked well at the college level, there are some concerns about his ability to hold his ground in the NFL, which has led to him being best projected to an even front where he can play the 1- and/or 3-technique. Expect him to be used in a similar fashion to Isaiah Buggs.

Chris Smith, DT, Notre Dame

6-foot 1, 302 pounds, 8,46 RAS

Smith, a Detroit native and Harvard graduate, is an undersized defensive tackle whose game is based in power (37 reps of 225 pounds). His explosion rate (bench press + vertical jump + broad jump) was a 77.08, the highest score of any of the interior defensive tackles in this class—only five IDL registered a score over 70 in this cycle. With experience at the 0 and 1-technique nose tackle spots, as well as the 3-technique, Smith’s skill set and projected use in the NFL are similar to Durden's (player listed above).

Zach Morton, EDGE, Akron

6-foot-5, 261 pounds, 9.32 RAS

Morton, a Cass Tech (Detroit) high school graduate, has impressive size and athleticism, which surely caught the Lions' attention at Detroit’s local pro day. After not finding the field at Syracuse, Morton transferred to Akron and immediately won a starting job in 2021. Unfortunately, a coaching change in 2022 asked him to stand up as a pass-rushing linebacker more often and he became part of a rotation. To his credit, his pass-rushing stats increased after the scheme change, illustrating his adaptability.

Still a bit of a ball of clay, Morton has a very fast first step and the athletic profile you want in a pass rusher. Look for him to be a stash-and-develop type of player as he gains experience.

Isaac Darkangelo, Off-the-ball LB, Illinois

6-foot-0 1/2, 227 pounds, 7.16 RAS

Darkangelo, a Detroit Catholic Central graduate, began his career at Northern Michigan before transferring to Illinois as a true junior, working his way into a starting role and a 2022 All-Big Ten Honorable Mention honor. Darkangelo is a downhill attacker on defense and a five-phase starter on special teams.

Darkangelo’s chase and pursuit skills translate to both defense and special teams, where he will give off some Malcolm Rodriguez vibes at the WILL. He’ll have a chance at a backend depth spot because of his special teams range, potentially earning a role similar to the one Josh Woods had last season.

Trevor Nowaske, MIKE/SAM, Saginaw Valley State

6-foot-2 1/2, 237 pounds, 9.86 RAS

Saginaw Valley State film isn’t easy to come by but when you find it, Nowaske stands out with his versatility and strength. Nowaske has the look of a traditional MIKE and did see a lot of reps there, but he also lined up at SAM, as a stand-up pass rusher, and even in the slot for both zone and man coverage. His RAS profile is impressive but he’s more than just an athlete. His tackling is solid and when he grabs onto the ball carrier, he finishes with power. His zone coverage is instinctual, and he looked comfortable covering both backs and tight ends.

Bottom line for a small school player is that you want them to dominate the competition, and he did. Lots of Anthony Pittman vibes with Nowaske.

Starling Thomas V, CB/NB, UAB

5-foot-10, 190 pounds, 6.63 RAS
Pre-draft ranking on Erik’s board: 185 (6th round)

A legit speedster, Thomas won state track titles in the 100, 200, and 400-meter races in high school, as well as a laser timed 4.38 40-yard dash at UABs pro day. His speed shows up on the football field too, both when covering quick receivers in the slot, carrying receivers deep when playing on the outside, and as a punt returner/gunner on special teams.

A legit inside/outside corner, Thomas is feisty, strong, and instinctive, while also operating in multiple defensive schemes (experience in man, zone, and off-ball). His size could be an issue on the outside, and he can get a bit too grabbing at the top of routes, but his positional range, speed, and special teams contributions give him a sneaky back-end chance at the 53-man roster.

Steven Gilmore, CB, Marshall

5-foot-9, 174 pounds, 6,25 RAS

The younger brother of All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore, Steven Gilmore is a 41-game starter at Marshall, possesses a nose for the football—nine career interceptions and 34 pass breakups—and is a willing tackler in run support. He’s undersized, but very durable, never missing a college game due to injury. Gilmore’s experience is based as an outside corner, but with his frame and run support prowess, a move inside to nickel could be in his future in the NFL.

Brandon Joseph, FS, Notre Dame

6-foot-0 1/2, 202 pounds, 6.47 RAS
Pre-draft ranking on Erik’s board: 191 (6th round)

A three-year starter (two at Northwestern, one at Notre Dame) at free safety, Joseph looks comfortable playing at single-high, two-high, in the slot, and in the box. He has good vision and instincts for the ball (10 career interceptions, 17 Pass breakups) but his tackling and run support needs improvement, which likely makes him a deep safety-only early in his career. For a reserve, that role is fine considering he has fixable issues, as long as he proves a capable contributor on special teams.

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