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Starling Thomas Lions

Why Starling Thomas V Can Make Lions Roster As UDFA

  • Jack McKessy
  • June 15, 2023
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The Detroit Lions had a great offseason that included bolstering their roster by bringing in some key free agents and drafting some total studs in the 2023 NFL Draft. However, one of their more intriguing new additions is undrafted free agent cornerback Starling Thomas V, who could have a good chance to crack the 53-man roster after training camp.

One of the biggest surprises of the Lions’ draft class this year was the lack of a young new cornerback to join the roster. While Detroit did sign some of the biggest names available in free agency to add to their secondary—cornerbacks Emmanuel Moseley and Cameron Sutton and safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson—they also traded away former third overall pick Jeff Okudah in the offseason. Moseley, Sutton, and Gardner-Johnson are three great additions to the secondary, but the 2023 draft class was stacked with cornerbacks that could help add talented depth and youth to a secondary that was missing it.

Instead, the only pick the Lions made to add to their defensive secondary was former Alabama safety Brian Branch. Granted, one of Branch’s greatest strengths is his versatility. He’s able to play from a variety of different alignments in the defensive backfield, and it’s possible that the Lions envision using him similarly to how the Bengals utilized versatile defensive back Dax Hill in his rookie season. Still, Detroit’s decision to not add another true cornerback to their roster in the draft felt like a missed opportunity.

It made a lot of sense when, after the draft, the Lions signed Thomas to give him a chance to make the roster as an undrafted free agent. A true cornerback out of UAB, Thomas has plenty of experience playing on the outside, even if his 5-foot-10 stature might eventually lead to a slide into the slot at the NFL level. He’s an athletic player with all of the speed necessary to cover receivers downfield, even despite tearing an ACL twice in college. Thomas also has the quickness to track opponents in and out of breaks, aided by his strong ability to read routes, good footwork, and impressive physicality that doesn’t betray his smaller size.

Only a month and a half has passed since Thomas signed with the Lions, but he’s already been turning heads inside the building. The UAB product was one of the notable standouts during the Lions’ rookie minicamp one month ago, dominating some of the special teams drills early. More recently, head coach Dan Campbell recognized Thomas for his outstanding improvement in the offseason so far.

Sutton, a fellow newcomer and cornerback in Detroit, said he and Thomas have started to establish a strong personal connection with the veteran taking the UDFA rookie under his wing. Sutton also said he was especially impressed with how “hungry” Thomas is to get to work and continue learning.

During last week’s OTAs, Thomas got the chance to play with the second-team defense and made some impressive plays in coverage against guys like Marvin Jones Jr. and Jameson Williams.

The road to a roster spot is always longer and more challenging for guys that went undrafted, but so far, Thomas has looked more than up to that challenge. He’s already turning heads and making strong connections with veterans in Detroit, so it may only be a matter of time before we see him contributing to the Lions’ secondary and special teams.

Written By

Jack McKessy