The Detroit Lions had what most experts agree is a fantastic 2021 NFL Draft, but the cherry on top of that can often be the undrafted free agency class.
In the past, the Lions have seen plenty of players stick around after being invited to get a tryout with the team, and in 2021 given some of the team’s unique needs, that can once again be the case. With training camp and the preseason on the horizon, it’s never a bad time to take a fresh look at who might be the next big thing to stick around the roster and impress the fans.
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Which players from the undrafted free agency class could have the best chance of sticking around? Here’s a look at an updated version of this year’s list.
Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest
Surratt has shown burst and quickness during the pre-draft process to along with his impressive 6-3 frame. Surratt put up 1,582 yards and 15 scores and was one of the top undrafred free agent wideouts on the market. Like others, hard to imagine why Surratt went undrafted other than the fact that the wideout class was insanely deep this season. With 6-3 size and a need for physicality, the Lions could keep Surratt around if he shows the kind of playmaking he did in 2019. Opting out may have hurt Surratt, but it may have helped the Lions. Had he played in 2020, he may have been a day two pick at wide receiver given some of the physical skills which are beyond hard to ignore.
Drake Jackson, C, Kentucky
Do the Lions have space for another center with the dominating Frank Ragnow around? Probably not, but Jackson was probably also too good for the team to pass up as well given how good he grades out as a blocker up front. Jackson has been one of the best centers in college football for the last few seasons, so it’s possible he could be a player who is a missing link for the roster in terms of depth. Getting Jackson into the mix with fellow former Wildcat Logan Stenberg could be huge for chemistry as well. Watch out for Jackson making a case for himself during training camp this year.
Javon McKinley, WR, Notre Dame
McKinley might not have the best career stats with the Irish with only just over 900 receiving yards, but he’s the kind of player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time for his quarterback on tape. McKinley looks like a great route runner who is big enough to make an impact on opposing defensive backs against the run and also in the passing game. McKinley won’t jump off the tape like some prospects, but it would be easy to see him being dependable enough to stick around for the Lions. He’s quicker than given credit for and a solid red zone target. Overall, there’s a lot to like for a team with a clear need at wideout.
D’Angelo Amos, CB/S, Virginia/James Madison
All of a sudden, cornerback is looking like a loaded spot on the roster for the Lions with some free agency moves and the addition of Ifeatu Melifonwu in the draft. Amos, however, could end up making his mark on special teams for the Lions and could end up as more of a safety in the NFL. In his career with James Madison, he broke off 5 touchdowns in the return game. Detroit let Jamal Agnew walk in free agency, so Amos could be given a look to be his replacement on returns. The James Madison tape is full of special teams impact plays, from blocked kicks to kick returns. This time of year, teams are looking for players that make all kinds of marks, so keep an eye on Amos for a special teams role if he can find a fit on defense.
Tavante Beckett, LB, Marshall
With the Detroit selection of Derrick Barnes earlier in the draft, it’s clear the team is putting a premium on toughness and tackling at the linebacker position. That’s just what the doctor ordered for a group that has been amongst the worst in the NFL the last few seasons. Beckett was the best tackler in Conference USA and has some intriguing tape which shows him as a prospect with burst and good pursuit and instincts. The Lions need depth at linebacker, so it should be seen as a good thing for Beckett that he was one of their choices. That could give him a great shot to stick on the outside.