Now that the 2023 NFL Draft grades are far in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to look at something even more subjective and debatable: undrafted rookie class rankings! Last week, the Detroit Lions signed 15 undrafted free agents (UDFAs), confirming the 14 reported signings prior to the announcement with the addition of Marshall cornerback Steven Gilmore.
Thor Nystrom over at Fantasy Pros has been ranking UDFA classes for years, and 2023 was no exception. Nystrom is a big fan of the Lions’ set of players, ranking Detroit’s UDFA class fourth among all NFL teams. While this is just one person’s opinion, it’s worth noting that this is perhaps even more impressive than Detroit’s draft, considering everyone goes into the UDFA signing period on even ground—whereas the Lions obviously had more draft capital than most NFL teams to take talented players during the draft selection period.
Per Nystrom’s rankings, the Lions were able to acquire five prospects he ranked in the top 300 of this class. UAB cornerback Starling Thomas V—one of the standouts from rookie minicamp—was Nystrom’s 146th ranked prospect, the equivalent of a fifth-round grade. Other top UDFA prospects, per Nystrom, were running back Mohamed Ibrahim (176th overall), safety Brandon Joseph (212), offensive tackle Ryan Swoboda (263), and offensive tackle Connor Galvin (295).
One reason the Lions may have been able to garner what looks like to be an impressive UDFA class is their coaching staff and improved reputation among the league. Take, for example, Ibrahim, who told the Detroit Free Press recently why he signed with the Lions over the Cardinals, Chargers and Ravens (he’s a Baltimore native, too)—who all had given him offers.
“I loved the mentality that they have here,” Ibrahim said. “Tough, physical, kind of fits my style of play. So I felt like it was a perfect fit for me. (RBs) Coach (Scottie) Montgomery, he really hones in on the details and that’s the part that I love. I love little stuff about football.”
Note: It’s worth noting, too, that the Lions gave Ibrahim a reported $100,000 guaranteed, a very significant deal.
While UDFAs tend to be overvalued by the public, as a large majority of them will not end up on a 53-man roster, the Lions have had some success in finding gems under general manager Brad Holmes. In 2021, the Lions signed AJ Parker, Jerry Jacobs, Brock Wright and Tommy Kraemer—all of whom ended up playing significant roles over the next two seasons. The 2022 class was significantly less impactful, but a few players still remain on the roster, including running back Greg Bell (who suffered an early training camp injury), tight end Derrick Deese Jr., and offensive tackle Obinna Eze.
To learn more about the individual in the Lions’ UDFA class, check out Erik Schlitt’s breakdown of each player here.