The Detroit Lions did a healthy remodel of their cornerback room this offseason, swapping in Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley and the multi-faceted C.J. Gardner-Johnson and parting ways with Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and Mike Hughes.
Starling Thomas has been on the radar as an undrafted rookie who could make the Lions roster virtually since the moment he was signed. A three-year starter at UAB, he registered 23 pass breakups over the last two (15 last season, fourth in FBS). He didn’t grab a ton of interceptions, but he clearly has good ball skills.
Thomas is on the smaller side (5-foot-11, 194 pounds), but a label as a "feisty, fast-paced competitor" (via Pro Football Network) has held up so far in Lions' training camp. It may be an upset if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.
Not to be overlooked, Thomas' fellow undrafted rookie cornerback Steven Gilmore has impressed the Lions' coaching staff too. The brother of former NFL Defensive Player of the Year and current Cowboys' cornerback Stephon Gilmore, he might find a way to stick around too.
Starling Thomas and Steven Gilmore channeling familiar UDFA energy at Lions training camp
Via Nolan Bianchi of The Detroit News (subscription required), Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn talked about another UDFA success story when talking about Thomas.
"Starling, he is physical, he can run, he’s highly competitive, he’s raw,” Glenn said. “Those same things I’ve told you about Jerry when he was here (as a rookie). And I got to do a really good job of understanding those traits that we need as an undrafted free agent, to be able to compete to be a part of this team.”"- Aaron Glenn
"Jerry" is of course Jerry Jacobs, who was an undrafted rookie out of Arkansas in 2021, made the team out of training camp and has been one of the team's best cornerbacks when healthy ever since (a torn ACL late in his rookie season delayed his 2022 debut).
Thomas has channeled Jacobs' trash talk too, getting into a couple practice scraps with Jameson Williams on the same day this past week.
Head coach Dan Campbell lauded Gilmore this past week.
"We liked his (Gilmore's) tape too when he was coming out and he has some awareness about him, he has some instincts, he has ball skills, pretty good movement skills,” “I think for him, it’s going to be — some of it, along with (skill) development, is the physical development. He’s not a real big guy. He has to get a little bit of mass on him, get a little bit stronger.”- Dan Campbell
“But we see growth out of him. No different than Starling, those guys. I mean, none of those guys…we are disappointed in. We see development. We’re excited about him.”"
Thomas is indeed on the lighter side (170 pounds), prompting Campbell's "get a little bit of mass on him" comment. While his odds to make the 53-man roster out camp feel slim, he would be a nice candidate for the practice.
Jacobs wound up being quite a find for the Lions. Thomas or Gilmore, or maybe even both, could be on the same track.