Bad draft day could end up good for Lucas

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The true waiting began in the fourth round and started with a phone call from the Detroit Lions' headquarters to offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas.

It was then, on the first round of the final day of the 2014 draft, when Lucas first heard from an NFL team about potentially being drafted. Then the long, hard, frustrating day that began with the Kansas State lineman thinking he might be selected to not hearing his name at all wrapped through four rounds and many, many hours.

“Very disappointing,” Lucas said Sunday. “Work for something for so long and it doesn’t go how you want it to.”

It may not have worked out as planned for the 6-foot-8, 328-pound Lucas, but it worked out well for Detroit. The first impression the team made mattered at the end, when a few other teams called and six or seven of them offered Lucas undrafted free agent contracts.

He considered them briefly and then 15 minutes later chose to go with the team that first reached out – the Lions.

“I just feel like they genuinely had a great interest in me,” Lucas said. “It wasn’t some kind of last-minute deal that they were trying to sign.”

Lucas ended up in this position due to a stress fracture in his foot that was discovered during the pre-draft process at the NFL combine. It kept him from being able to appropriately train and adequately work out for teams, who wondered about his health.

This took a player who could have been drafted if healthy and turned him into a priority free agent. This, too, worked out well for Detroit.

As teams continually passed on Lucas, he studied the depth chart of every team in the league. In doing that, he likely saw an advantageous situation with the Lions. While the starters – Riley Reiff at left tackle and LaAdrian Waddle at right tackle – may be set, there was not much depth there. The veteran Corey Hilliard can back up either position, but if the Lions were to keep four tackles, all he would have to do is beat out J.B. Shugarts for a spot on the team.

Waddle’s story from last season – undrafted free agent to starting at right tackle midway through his rookie season due to injury – had been told to Lucas many times since he arrived in Detroit. The message is likely similar: It’s happened once, even with a large chunk of this coaching staff and front office. So it can happen again.

Lucas, who said he is still easing his way back into practicing, understands that.

“I actually watched him on film in college and stuff like that,” Lucas said. “Once I got here, I heard his story over and over and again and I would love to have the same story and possible do even better.”

Even though he didn’t practice much during rookie minicamp, Detroit’s coaching staff already has an expectation of what he’ll be able to do when he’s healthy – and teaching that type of frame is one thing that is impossible.

“We know that, obviously, he’s got a great upside because of his length and size,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “He’s a smart guy. He’s a willing worker and he’s really one of those guys that over the years you’re going to see some development and positive development.”