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Detroit Lions roster preview: Can Obinna Eze earn a spot on the 53-man roster?

The Detroit Lions invested in Obinna Eze as a rookie but will it pay off in 2023?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Our Detroit Lions roster preview series has worked its way through the 2022 drafted rookies, and next, we’ll take a closer look at a few undrafted rookies, including TCU offensive tackle Obinna Eze.

Eze was one of the most coveted undrafted players in his draft class, and while we saw flashes of his upside during training camp, the majority of Eze’s rookie season was mostly spent behind closed doors.

Previous roster previews: Aidan Hutchinson, Jameson Williams, Josh Paschal, Kerby Joseph, James Mitchell, Malcolm Rodriguez, James Houston, and Chase Lucas

Obinna Eze

Expectations heading into 2022

Despite being a 37-game starter at TCU, Eze (6-foot-7, 321 pounds) was still relatively raw at football, but he possesses rare length (36 1/8-inch arm length and 7-foot-1 3/4-inch wingspan) and has a serious upside if he can complete his developmental arc.

“Overall, Eze is a massive obstacle to work around in pass-protection with rare length to end reps quickly once latched and deliver some knockback power in the run game, but he is a rigid mover without the necessary lateral quickness and body control to play on an island or sustain blocks consistently,” Bleacher Report’s Brandon Thorn (one of the most respected offensive line analysts in the business) said. “This makes him worth a flier in the undrafted market as a long-term, stash-and-develop option because of his size, strength and physicality.”

The Lions believed so highly in his potential that they gave him $170,000 in contractual guarantees to sign in Detroit, making him their highest-paid undrafted player in the 2022 cycle.

Once in training camp, Eze was working with the second and third teams at left and right tackle. At times, his length and strength showed up, but far too often, he was caught overthinking or oversetting plays, which led to missed assignments. Despite the inconsistency, Eze remained in the mix for the OT4 role all camp.

“Yeah, listen, Obi (has a) ton of length, pretty good athlete,” coach Dan Campbell said during training camp. “He’s got to learn to be a pro as far as it pertains to practicing. This stuff gets hard man, it’s hard when you’re that big, that long, it’s not always easy to bend for two hours, two and a half hours. Those are the little things he’s got to work on, is staying in the fundamentals of it when he starts getting tired. But we like his ability and he’s a good dude. He’s pretty smart. But he’s just got to – man, he’s got to get in NFL football shape and grind through it. If he does that, he’s got a future here.”

Unfortunately, Eze was never able to shore up those deficiencies and was a cut-day release as the Lions opted to keep only three offensive tackles. But true to his word, Campbell was quick to sign Eze to Detroit’s practice squad as part of the initial wave of additions.

Actual role in 2022

3 preseason games: 76 snaps (42 at left tackle, 29 at right tackle, 5 special teams)
PFF overall preseason grade: 50.3
PFF Pass Block grade: 71.2
PFF Run Block grade: 26.7

Eze played in three preseason games, repping at right tackle in the first, then switching back to his natural left side in the other two. Eze clearly looked more comfortable on the left side, but until he expands his versatility—which is required for reserves—he is destined to remain on the practice squad.

It was difficult to gauge if Eze was developing his skill set during the season because, due to NFL rules, the media was limited to only seeing him practice in warmups and walkthroughs (half-speed) only.

Eze would remain on the practice squad until late December when an injury during practice landed him on the practice squad injured reserve—where he finished the season. Eze never played in a regular season game during his rookie season. Following the season, he signed a futures deal with the Lions and returned to the team for the 2023 offseason.

Outlook for 2023

After a season’s worth of experience working in an NFL program, the Lions likely have a clearer picture of what Eze is capable of which we may have seen glimpses of during OTAs and minicamp.

When spring camp opened up, Eze predictably was with the reserves, but was alternating between left tackle and left guard, no longer taking reps on the right side. It’s unclear if the Lions have taken him out of the rotation on the right side completely, but since it never seemed like a natural position for him, helping him expand his game on the left side makes sense.

To his credit, Eze was still repping with the second and third teams in the spring, but without any pads on, it’s still unclear the progress Eze made.

Training camp will once again be a critical juncture for Eze and his future. Like last season, Eze will likely be staring down a trio of Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, and Matt Nelson ahead of him on the depth chart. But unlike last season when he was battling with basically only Dan Skipper for an OT4 role, this fall he will be facing off against former first-rounder Germain Ifedi, Max Pircher (who is in this third year in the league’s international program) as well as UDFAs Ryan Swoboda and Connor Galvin.

Can Eze beat out Ifedi—the two are the early frontrunners—for the OT4 role? And even if he does, will he make the 53-man roster, as the Lions have a habit of only keeping three offensive tackles? Is Nelson in striking distance?

For Eze, his best chance of making the roster is to heed the advice from Campbell in his opening speech from HBO’s “Hard Knocks”:

“Don’t count, man,” Campbell told his team. “Don’t start doing the count game. ‘There’s 53 (spots), where do I fit?’ Don’t even worry about it. Don’t even look at it, man. You just put your head down and go to work.”

The talent has always been there. We just won’t know how far Eze progressed along his learning curve until the pads come on in the fall.

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