Undrafted Lions CB Adairius Barnes defies the odds

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Corner back Adairius Barnes readies his hands for a reception during drills.

Allen Park – As reporters converged on his locker and the bright lights from the television cameras lit up his face, Detroit Lions cornerback Adairius Barnes basked in the moment.

“It’s what I’ve been waiting for,” Barnes said. “A couple days into camp, I’m watching everybody else do their interviews and I’m laying back and seeing how everything goes. Everybody is here now. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for.”

Barnes is a football survivor.

He wasn’t highly recruited out of high school and ended up at Louisiana Tech, a D-1 school, but not exactly a powerhouse. The Bulldogs have put together three nine-win seasons the past five years, but they’ve never finished ranked in the top 25.

Barnes never earned first- or second-team all-conference honors, he wasn’t invited to the scouting combine and he went undrafted. When he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Lions, no one seriously viewed him as a player who would make the final roster four months down the road.

But here we are, heading into Week 1 of the regular season, and Barnes still has a nameplate on his locker.

“It means absolutely everything to me,” Barnes said. “It’s a childhood dream. Coming in as a free agent, the odds basically against me from the start, having that last chance to show what I’ve got. It means the world to me. “

He’s not kidding about it being a childhood dream. His mother still has the newspaper clipping, back from when he was in second or third grade, when he was asked what he wanted to be when he grew up. His answer, of course, was NFL player.

Last Saturday, with cuts due at 4 p.m., the Lions made Barnes sweat it out.

He expected the dreaded call so many face that day, that it was the end of the line, but the call never came. A veteran knows no news is good news on cut day, but Barnes had no idea what was happening.

Then his mother called. She’d seen the initial reports that Barnes wasn’t on the list cuts. He had made the team, surprisingly beating out veteran Darrin Walls and former third-round draft pick Alex Carter for the job.

But it wasn’t until position coach Tony Oden called, two hours after the deadline, that Barnes’ mind was put at ease, but not until Oden messed with the young player first.

“He was like, ‘You sure you made the team?’” Barnes said.  “It was a little scary and exciting at the same time. He made me think a minute.”

Barnes flew under the radar during camp, but behind the scenes he impressed his coaches and teammates with his work ethic.

On the field, he said his focus was making one play a day. In the preseason finale, against the Buffalo Bills, he made more than one, breaking up three passes, including a deep throw. The performance was an exclamation point on his multi-month job interview.

“I think that put me in the door,” he said.

An outside cornerback all through college, Barnes has begun the process of learning the nickel role in Detroit. That’s where he played against the Bills.

Action happens a little faster on the inside, but the 5-foot-11, 188-pounder is confident he’ll make the adjustment. Teammate Darius Slay sees a good fit.

“He’s got the quickest feet in the room, by far,” Slay said.  “He’s got the best plant and drive on the team. If I had his break, I’d probably have 30 picks.”

It’s obvious, Barnes is still at awe with his situation. Every time he steps on the practice field, he says he looks down at his jersey, at the Lions logo, and thinks, ‘I’m really here.’

That awe won’t last much longer. Very few jobs are safe in the NFL and he’ll have to continue to prove he belongs on a weekly basis. But Barnes has already defied the odds and no one will ever be able to take that away from him.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/justin_rogers

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