Lions could hit big on undrafted free agents
Allen Park — The Lions won’t formally announce their undrafted free agent signings until next week, prior to the team’s three-day rookie minicamp that weekend. And while some of these players might flip their commitment, or wind up being rookie tryouts, here are some brief bios of the players who have been connected to the Lions following the draft.
■Storm Norton, OL, Toledo: A two-time, first-team all-MAC selection while playing left tackle for one of the nation’s most prolific offenses, Norton has plenty of experience run blocking and pass protecting. Toledo’s line has been one of the best at preventing sacks the past two years and running back Kareem Hunt, a third-round pick, averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Norton is massive, listed at 6-foot-8, 311 pounds.
■Alex Barrett, DE, San Diego State: A two-time All-Mountain West selection, and three-time San Diego State defensive lineman of the year, Barrett led the school with 7.5 sacks as a senior. Undersized at 6-3, 255 pounds, he also lacks any elite athletic traits, running a slower than average 40 and posting mediocre vertical and broad jumps. But the Lions clearly see something because they gave him $36,000 in guarantees to sign, the most of any UDFA.
■Michael Rector, WR, Stanford: Rector offers good size, plus-athleticism, but underwhelming college production. The 6-foot, 193 pounder showed well at the Combine, running a 4.42-second 40 with an above-average 36.5-inch vertical leap. As a senior, he caught 32 balls for 367 yards and three touchdowns, while also dabbling as a kick returner. There are some noted issues with dropped passes and Rector was suspended two weeks for disciplinary reasons in 2015.
■Tion Green, RB, Cincinnati: The Lions didn’t draft a running back, but found a bruiser afterward. Green is 6-foot and a sturdy 230 pounds. He’s not a big-play threat, but he can grind out the short yards between the tackles while also playing a key role on multiple special teams units. He ran for more than 1,400 yards with 10 touchdowns over the past two seasons.
■Brandon Barnes, TE, Alabama State: The Lions found a tight end in the draft in Michael Roberts, but given last season’s injury woes, depth is never a bad thing. Barnes has a nice 6-5, 255-pound frame with good overall athleticism. He’s raw, both as a blocker and a pass-catcher, but has traits worth developing through the offseason and potentially as a member of the team’s practice squad.
■Noel Thomas, WR, UConn: On paper, Thomas doesn’t have many appealing traits. He has short arms, ran one of the slower 40 times among receivers and isn’t particularly strong or explosive. But he was productive. No matter the conference, it’s not easy catching 100 balls in a collegiate season, but he pulled down exactly that number for 1,179 yards for the Huskies last year. The highlights also show he has the propensity for highlight-reel catches. Thomas is the type that gets the most out of his physical gifts.
■Leo Koloamatangi, OL, Hawaii: A high-character, versatile lineman, Koloamatangi was on the Wuerffel Trophy watch list, an award given to the player who best combines exemplary community service with athletic and academic achievement. On the field, he has played all five offensive line positions and has starting experience at center and guard, making him a valuable camp lineman. According to Pro Football Focus, he surrendered just one sack and six quarterback hurries last season.
■Des Lawrence, DB, North Carolina: Lawrence offers decent height and length, but he’s skinny, weighing under 190 pounds at his Pro Day. He has three years of starting experience, but in 38 games, only came away with three interceptions. He does get his hands on some throws, though, breaking up 22 over the past two years.
■Josh Thornton, CB, Southern Utah: A former teammate of Lions safety Miles Killebrew, the 5-10, 182-pound Thornton is a speedy slot corner who ran a 4.42-second 40 at his Pro Day. He finished last season with three interceptions and eight pass breakups. Thornton hails from the “Muck City” area of Florida that has produced NFL talent, including Anquan Boldin and Janoris Jenkins.
■Robert Tonyan Jr., TE, Indiana State: A college receiver, Tonyan has been aggressively adding weight to his 6-5 frame as he attempts the conversion to tight end. His blocking skills are going to be non-existent to start, but he has the speed and leaping ability to be a matchup F-type tight end who operates primarily out of the slot. As a senior for the Sycamores, he caught 56 balls for 699 yards and 10 scores.
■Jeremiah Valoaga, DE, UNLV: The first thing that pops out with Valoaga are the red flags. He was dismissed from the program in November for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He also had academic issues and an ankle injury that cost him long stretches. On the field, the 6-6, 276-pound edge defender has the necessary bulk and has flashed some pass-rush ability.
■Nick James, DT, Mississippi State: A big boy, James checked in at 6-4, 328 pounds at his Pro Day in March. He showed some surprising burst with his 10-yard split while running the 40 and backed it with 29 reps in the bench press. In 25 games, including 15 starts, the past two seasons, he recorded 45 tackles (6.5 for a loss), two sacks and a forced fumble. James was suspended for the season-opener last year after he was arrested for public intoxication in August.
■De’Quan Hampton, WR, Southern Cal: A junior college All-American, Hampton transferred to USC in 2015 and struggled to get targets in the Trojans offense. He did finish his college career with a bang, hauling in two touchdowns against crosstown rival UCLA. Hampton is potential personified with a 6-3, 223-pound frame. His 41.5-inch vertical at his Pro Day only adds to the intrigue. That would have been second-best for a receiver at the Combine.
■Dontez Ford, WR, Pittsburgh: A big-play receiver who embraces and attempts to run through contact, Ford averaged nearly 20 yards per reception in 2015. A broken collar bone limited the 6-1, 212-pounder to eight games last season. On an interesting side note, he was given the school’s Selfless Spirit Award for intervening in a home break-in and scaring off an intruder.
■Cameron Young, G, Weber State: A four-year starter, Young has good size for the guard position, checking in at 6-3, 312 pounds. He also showed decent strength at the school’s Pro Day, putting up the 225-pound bar 31 times. He earned second-team All-Big Sky honors each of the past two seasons.
■Maurice Swain Jr., DT, Auburn: Another junior-college transfer, Swain came to Auburn from Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2015. The 6-5, 325-pounder served in a backup role for the Tigers, tallying 22 tackles and four batted passes in 26 games. The Lions have had mixed success with defensive tackles from the school in recent years with former draft picks Nick Fairley and Gabe Wright.