It’s clear that the Detroit Lions are going to look a lot different from 2021 and beyond. From a mega-star swap between quarterbacks Matthew Stafford and Jared Goff to letting Matt Patricia walk back to New England after a 13-29-1 tenure as head coach — the prideful franchise in “The Motor City” is looking for a new direction.
Guys like WR Kenny Golladay (New York Giants), WR Marvin Jones (Jacksonville Jaguars), and RB Kerryon Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) are headed out to new adventures, and the roster as a whole will look completely different come 2021 kickoff time than it did just a year ago.
While the annual NFL Draft and ensuing undrafted free agency bonanza can sometimes be crapshoots, it’s becoming more common for the “overlooked” fringe players to wind up being key rotation or even star-like athletes for teams. In 2020, nearly 500 players on rosters originally went undrafted, with 33 new UFA’s from the Class of 2020 making Week 1 rosters. Some notable names? Kicker Rodrigo Blankenship to Indianapolis and running back James Robinson to Jacksonville certainly come to mind.
Is there anyone from Detroit’s UFA Class of 2021 who could win a roster spot?
Kentucky C Drake Jackson WILL make Lions 2021 roster
Lions brass brought in a lot of undrafted talent this offseason, including former Last Chance U star Rakeem Boyd (Arkansas, RB) and a trio of wideouts in Arkansas State’s Jonathan Adams, Wake Forest’s Sage Surratt, and Notre Dame’s Javon McKinley.
But it’s Kentucky’s long-time starting center, Drake Jackson, that has the best chance to make the Lions roster this upcoming season — and beyond.
Sure, the offensive line — and particularly center — isn’t the sexiest position on the football field. But it’s the point of attack for any offensive scheme, the first person to touch the football, and the first person responsible that everything runs smoothly and on time.
Jackson was durable, dependable, and effective while in Lexington, often neutralizing opposing SEC defensive linemen and linebackers with ease. The Kentucky native was heavily recruited out of Woodford County, and after redshirting in 2016, he went on to start 45 of the next 48 games for the Wildcats.
In 2020, he was an honorable mention All-American and Second Team All-SEC while being a team captain — giving up zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and just three hurries through the season, earning an 86.4 rating through Pro Football Focus.
And as PFF’s Zach Tantillo (h/t Heavy) adds, Jackson doesn’t just pass protect well. He run protects well, too.
“Jackson was the crucial part of a dominant Kentucky offensive line. Since 2018, Jackson has been on the field for exactly 1,000 pass-blocking snaps and has surrendered just one sack. The Kentucky product is also an elite run-blocker, having earned the fourth-highest run-blocking grade among centers in 2020 (85.4).”
The Athletic’s draft analyst Dane Brugler also tabbed Jackson as a fifth-rounder with some positive notes:
“Overall, Jackson lacks position versatility and will have his troubles vs. length and power, but his movement skills, hand strength and feel for the game are on an NFL level,” Brugler writes. “He projects as a center-only prospect who will push for playing time in a zone scheme.”
Detroit already has a star at the center position in Frank Ragnow with backup Evan Brown in the fold (as well as first-round draft selection Penei Sewell out of Oregon), but Ragnow has played left guard for a time and Brown has floated along with four different teams in his early career.
Jackson is going to get his chance. Count on it.
Other considerable Detroit UFA for 2021:
- RB Rakeem Boyd, Arkansas
RB Dedrick Mills, Nebraska
WR Jonathan Adams, Arkansas State
WR Sage Surratt, Wake Forest
WR Javon McKinley, Notre Dame
TE Jake Hausmann, Ohio State
TE Brock Wright, Notre Dame
OL Tommy Kraemer, Notre Dame
LB Tavante Beckett, Marshall
SS/FS D’Angelo Amos, Virginia
CB Jerry Jacobs, Arkansas
CB A.J. Parker, Kansas State