Detroit Lions: 3 sleepers who could make a big impact in 2021

Detroit Lions linebacker Charles Harris - Mandatory Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier-USA TODAY NETWORK
Detroit Lions linebacker Charles Harris - Mandatory Credit: Kirthmon F. Dozier-USA TODAY NETWORK /

The Detroit Lions are just a week away from participating in their first preseason game of the year. And the exhibition against the Buffalo Bills at Ford Field will be the first opportunity for fans to witness what kind of team the new regime in the Motown will be fielding in 2021.

As we look at the Lions’ current roster, are there some hidden gems that might have an unexpected impact once the regular season kicks off? Here are three names to consider …

Charles Harris, OLB

A former first-round bust, edge rusher Charles Harris joined the Lions this offseason after three lackluster years with the Miami Dolphins and a stint with the Atlanta Falcons in 2020.

The 6.5 total career sacks Harris has recorded over his four-year professional career is a far cry from the 9.0 sacks he recorded in a single season as a junior at Missouri in 2016. (18.0 sacks over his three-year college career).

But a new environment combined with a new defensive coaching staff and a new position to play might be the combination to finally unlock the first-rounder’s true potential. The early reviews are good and Harris could be a real hidden gem found by this new regime in Detroit.

Alim McNeill, DT

The Lions have apparently found themselves a potential day one starter in third-round rookie Alim McNeill. The young defender out of North Carolina State and the 72nd overall selection in the 2021 NFL Draft has reportedly been running with the first-team defense as the starting nose tackle in the base 3-4 formation.

Battling Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow is a terrific way to prepare McNeill for his upcoming regular-season debut. If the 21-year old is able to make this incredible leap in only his first season, he’ll be joining in a recent run by this organization of third-round finds like former wide receiver Kenny Golladay and guard Graham Glasgow, plus current Lions like safety Tracy Walker and guard Jonah Jackson.

Tom Kennedy, WR/KR

Undrafted out of Bryant back in 2019, wide receiver Tom Kennedy has been a staple of the Lions’ practice squad for the past two seasons. The 5-foot-10, 14-pound slot receiver has only ever played in one regular-season game in Detroit, recording a total of 15 snaps.

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But according to recent reports coming out of training camp, Kennedy is getting a lot of looks as a special teams returner. And he could very well be the team’s primary kick returner in the Lions’ preseason matchup against the Bills next week. If so, the longtime practice squad member could finally find his niche replacing Jamal Agnew as the team’s primary kick returner.