Waddle overcomes 'undrafted' stigma

Published Aug. 23, 2013 11:18 a.m. ET

Detroit Lions rookie offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle was a little surprised he didn't get picked in the NFL Draft.

After watching him for several weeks, Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is even more surprised.

"Frankly, it kind of bewilders me how he didn't get drafted," Stafford said. "You look at him and he looks the part. You watch him play and he plays the part. He's a talented kid."

Waddle has quickly overcome that "undrafted" stigma and emerged as a wildcard candidate with the Lions reshuffling their offensive line this year. He even got some first-team reps Thursday night at right tackle, where a starter to replace Gosder Cherilus has yet to be announced.

Jason Fox is the favorite after getting the start in a 40-9 preseason victory over New England. Corey Hilliard is another contender.

But don't rule out Waddle, who has been the surprise of training camp and continues to come on strong with just over two weeks to go before the regular-season opener.

"He's got great size, gives great effort, improves every day," coach Jim Schwartz said.

So how was Waddle, who is 6-foot-6, 321 pounds, not one of the 254 players drafted back in April?

It appears he was overlooked largely because of the offensive scheme he played in at Texas Tech. The Red Raiders' spread offense typically required the linemen to set up with wide splits, rarely with their hand in the ground and to move backwards off the snap.

"We did things different," said Waddle, who started 38 straight games to finish his career. "Our pass sets were not NFL style by any means.

"Essentially we did a backpedal instead of a kick-slide. If you were critiquing it, I could understand from a NFL perspective, it's definitely not what you would want your offensive line to do."

Waddle is making the adjustment to a new technique after getting coached up throughout the offseason by Jeremiah Washburn, the Lions' offensive line coach.

"I wouldn't make too much of his college background because there are a lot of guys playing a lot of different schemes," Schwartz said. "He's been here long enough and he's been coached on what he needs to do and he's done well at it. What he did in college really has no effect on where he is now."

Waddle was disappointed but not crushed when his name didn't get called in the NFL Draft. That's because the Lions were one of seven or eight teams who had already showed interested in signing him as an undrafted free agent.

"Initially, of course, there was disappointment," Waddle said. "But I was getting phone calls toward the end of the draft. If I didn't get drafted, I knew I had a plan set up for where I was going to go.

"Yeah, it sucked at the moment but I'm past that now. That's in the rear-view mirror. I don't really think it's as big of a deal as people are making it."

More important now is that long reach - 36-inch arms - has become a tremendous asset and the reason he could turn into a steal for the Lions over the long run.

"It keeps guys away from me, lets me punch people first, I can touch them before they can touch me," Waddle said of the reach. "It's definitely a great weapon to have."

Waddle looked at the Lions' roster and realized it offered one of the best opportunities for him. Jeff Backus had retired. Cherilus signed a free-agent contract with Indianapolis.

Detroit chose to address other needs in the draft than offensive tackle. And the top returning candidates were all unproven.

"I had actually taken a visit here (before the draft)," Waddle said. "So I'd been around before. I saw they needed some depth at tackle. I knew if I came in and performed well, I had a chance to make the roster."

He was right, but his role could develop a little faster than even he might have expected.

--- Kellen Moore, another undrafted player coming out of Boise State a year ago, made a strong statement in his bid to convince the Lions to keep three quarterbacks on the 53-man roster again.

With second-team QB Shaun Hill sitting out against the Patriots, Moore completed 9-of-12 passes for 150 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of a whopping 156.2, more than twice that of New England's Tom Brady Thursday night.

"Kellen has been very good in camp," Schwartz said. "He's moved the offense, he's made good decisions and he's thrown the ball very well. I think you're just seeing an extension of that. We have been seeing that from him all training camp."

--- Joique Bell continues to solidify his role as the No. 2 running back behind Reggie Bush. Bell rushed for 52 yards on five carries and caught two passes for 49 yards.

"I told Joique, his break tackle (rating) on Madden (video game) has to be 100," receiver Nate Burleson said. "He has tremendous balance. Joique came into this offseason with a chip on his shoulder. He wants to prove that he's a premier back. When he gets opportunities, he's going to take advantage."

--- Rookie tight end Michael Williams, a seventh-round draft pick from Alabama, will undergo surgery for a broken hand next week and could start the season on the injured list, the Detroit Free Press reported.

-- The Lions announced Friday that they released five players - receiver Chaz Schilens, cornerbacks Ross Weaver (Michigan State) and Domonique Johnson, offensive guard Derek Hardman and defensive tackle John Drew - to trim their roster to 84.

 NFL rosters must be down to 75 by Tuesday at 4 p.m. and to 53 by Aug. 31 at 6 p.m.