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Extraordinary Stories from Around the NFL 2021: DeAndre Carter, Wayne Gallman, and the Detroit Lions

By: David Connors @DConBlitz



Introduction

2021 is quickly coming to a close, and this is a great time to look back at some fascinating stories around the NFL. This season has been riddled with tough breaks. Some teams like the Ravens have been destroyed by injuries, other teams have been hit hard with COVID-19 cases. Plus Urban Meyer was a thing this year. Nevertheless, the NFL is not short of incredible stories of triumph. Whether it’s a player's long journey to a starting role or another player's journey across the country, the league is not short of players rising above the hurdles to continue their dreams as NFL players. Here are a couple of my favorite stories across the NFL in 2021.


DeAndre Carter: From Substitute Teacher to Difference Maker


The Washington Football Team came into 2021 as a team looking to make a jump from mediocrity to a legitimate playoff contender. They finished the 2020 season 5-2 and stumbled into the playoffs as the NFC East winners with a 7-9 record. They faced off with the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champions, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, in the first round and gave them a real fight for 4 straight quarters.


Even though they came up short; there was real hype for this team in the offseason. They signed journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, and speedster, Curtis Samuel to bolster the below-average offense to go with one of the best defenses in the league. Almost completely unnoticed at the bottom of the ESPN article, Washington Football Team 2021 free-agent Signings article is the addition of WR DeAndre Carter with the phrase “it’s not as if DeAndre Carter will be expected to help much from scrimmage.”


Carter first came into the NFL in 2015 as a UDFA for the Baltimore Ravens out of Sacramento State. He caught some eyes winning 2014 All-FCS 1st team honors. Unfortunately, Carter did make the final roster. He was picked up by the Oakland Raiders after they traded Bryce Butler to the Dallas Cowboys and placed him on their practice squad. The Raiders let him go, and he signed a Futures contract with the Patriots. After being let go by them before the start of the 2016 season, Carter left the NFL to be a substitute Middle School teacher for Martin Luther King Middle School in Hayward, California. Although teaching was never the plan for Carter, the opportunity helped him grow. He said in an interview that he never planned to teach, but was not opposed to going back after his NFL career. Carter embraced the opportunity to grow, telling reporters, “I learned a lot about myself during that time.”


In 2017, Carter got another chance to play in the NFL signing to the Eagles preseason team. He managed to make the final roster and recorded his first NFL catch. They waived him in November and the Texans picked him up. He remained with them for the rest of that season through Nov of 2020 as a special team specialist. He had 32 receptions for 365 yards in that 3-year span. At the beginning of the 2021 preseason, Washington brought in the seasoned veteran to primarily compete for a spot on their special teams. They did not realize at the time, they were signing their most impactful offensive free agent of this season. Washington lost WR’s Curtis Samuel and Dyami Brown early, thrusting Carter into a role as the team's other option on the outside opposite of Terry McLaurin. On Halloween, Carter caught his first NFL touchdown against the Denver Broncos to score the team's only touchdown of that game. Carter went on to find paydirt for 3 straight weeks. He has 24 receptions for 296 yards, quietly asserting himself as one of the few productive members of the team’s offense.


He may not be in fantasy teams’ lineups week in and week out, but DeAndre's perseverance is an inspiration. Playing year after year for a league minimum contract, this former middle school substitute teacher never gave up on his dream of being an NFL player.


Wayne Gallman, Frequent Flyer Miles

Holy buckets, Wayne Gallman has had a crazy 2021. On January 3rd, Wayne Gallman wrapped up his final game with the New York Giants. He finished the season as the teams leading rusher but was not re-signed at the end of the season. Wayne Gallman was picked by the San Francisco 49ers to serve as depth for the RB room. He did play a snap for the 49ers before he was claimed by the Atlanta Falcons. After going from New York City to San Francisco to Atlanta, Gallman saw his first NFL action with the Falcons getting 29 touches for 125 yards from scrimmage. To ensure that Gallman played football at each end of the United States, Minnesota Vikings claimed Gallman to serve as their emergency back as their backfield dealt with injuries/Covid-19. Gallman is the perfect emergency back to bring in if you need someone in a pinch. He has been praised for his work ethic by Kyle Shanahan and Arthur Smith. There may not be a trait that jumps off the page for Gallman, he is solid as a runner; pass catcher, and pass blocker. Gallman is a man who started his 2021 in New York City, moved across the country to San Francisco, moved back to the East (Atlanta), and finally is currently in the Midwest (Minnesota). Hope he travels light.


The Detroit Lions, The Little Team that Can Bite Knee Caps

The Detroit Lions came into 2021 in rebuild mode. They traded away their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Allowed players like Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Jarred Davis to leave. And even released Desmond Trufant who was just signed the previous offseason. The team brought in New Orleans Saints Assistant Head Coach and Tight End Coach Dan Campbell to a 6-year contract. The team knew this was night going to an overnight rebuild. Nevertheless, Dan Campbell’s energy was undeniable from his first press conference. His may have seemed cliche, talking about embodying Detroit’s “never quit attitude” and when you get knocked down, you get back (all while biting a kneecap or two on your way back up), nevertheless, his energy made players want to be their best. Teddy Bridgewater spoke to the media about his time with Campbell in New Orleans. The Broncos quarterback said, “Dan, he’s awesome. His energy is contagious and I’m pretty sure those players in Detroit love playing for him.” Later on in that same interview he said, “whenever he stood in front of the team and talked, you’re ready to just storm out of that meeting and punch a guy in the face for no reason.”


Lions fans, I do not mean to offend anyone by saying this, but this team has very few superstars. There have been games where this team is forced to start a quarterback who during his 3 years at UConn, threw 1 TD and 13 INT’s. The talent level on the Detroit Lions at the surface looks far below league average. That’s what made this team great! They played every game with a chip on their shoulder. They made their opponents earn wins against them and even had some big games. The Baltimore Ravens, who spent much of this season on top of the AFC Conference standings, needed a record-breaking Field Goal from Justin Tucker to stumble away with a win. And From week 9 on, the Lions have seemed to even turn another corner. They made playoff hopes for the Pittsburgh Steelers much more out of reach with a tie in week 9, then the next two weeks, they lost to the Browns and Bears by only 5 accumulative points, however, the next week back in Detroit, the Lions finally got a notch in the win column.


In one of the least-watched games of that week according to SportsNaut.com, Detroit had an emotional win. For those of us who watched this game, you were in for a treat. This was a fun back and forth game that came down to the final play. With 1:50 left in the 4th quarter, Kirk Cousins found Justin Jefferson in the Endzone to give the Vikings what seemed like a game-sealing 4 point lead, but the Lions just did not give up. Jared Goff led the team down the field, including a beautiful 36-yard pass to his former Rams teammate, Josh Reynolds. On 4th down with time expiring, Amon-Ra St. brown got underneath the Bears corner on a curl route for pay dirt. The team celebrated this victory as they had just won the Super Bowl! Jared Goff lept into Dan Campbell's arms, players hugged, and tears were even shed.


The Lions had so much fun playing spoilers to the Vikings season, they decided to keep the party going. A few weeks later the Lions hosted one of the NFC's best teams this season, the Arizona Cardinals, who were still hoping to reclaim the top spot in the NFC, although this game was not a 4th quarter comeback win. The Detroit Lions dominated the Cardinals for 4 straight quarters! They had an impressive 17-0 lead going into halftime. This win over the Cardinals not only knocked them further away from the top of the NFC, but they also lost the top spot in their own division.


Dan Campbell told these players from day 1, “I'm not carrying your toilet paper around. I'm not gonna wipe your butt. You're gonna wipe your own butt. You handle it and I'll treat you like men until you prove otherwise." He challenged these players to be their best. Quite frankly Dan Campbell was a real-life Ted Lasso. He was a little cliche, but his energy made everyone better. And when it came time for this Richmond team to beat Manchester City, they stepped up and sent them home second in their division.


With a team that does not have a roster full of superstars, there are bound to be players who seemingly come out of nowhere and step up. The Lions are no exception to this.


Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR

St. Brown is a rookie WR out of USC. According to the NFL.com scouting report, St. Brown did not possess the vertical speed or size to be an outside threat. A good route runner who can get separation in the slot. A good complementary WR. The final note of the report says, “St. Brown graded with a 6.21, which is at the top of the range labeled, a good backup who could become starter”. St, Brown has emerged as the Lions number 1 target in the air these last few weeks. Anyone who plays fantasy football knows Amon-Ra is averaging 11.5 targets, 9 receptions, and 85 yards over the last 4 weeks. He has also scored 3 out of 4 weeks. You are probably playing in your championship game if you have been playing him. St. Brown is a player that the Lions can plan to utilize as they go into the next steps of this rebuilding process.


Craig Reynolds, RB

With Jamal Williams and D’Andre Swift missing from the roster, the Lions had to turn to Craig Reynolds to carry the rock against the Denver Broncos. Reynolds was a UDFA for the Washington Football Team out of Kutztown (a Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference School) in 2019. He spent 2020 bouncing around from a couple of practice squads. Reynolds was asked to take his first NFL snaps against a very good Broncos defense. Reynold did not turn any head but still had a solid 11 carries for 83 yards. The following week, Reynolds was instrumental in the Lions knocking off the Arizona Cardinals, running the ball 26 times for 112 yards. The former Kutztown Golden Bear had officially left his mark in the NFL.


Many More…

Even with all the negative headlines surrounding the NFL, there is never a lack of stories of inspiration, perseverance, or even just insanity. These are some of the ones that have caught my eye, however, there are plenty more out there. The Miami Dolphins are trying to become the first team to start 1-7 and make a playoff berth. The Chargers and the Rams are trying to be the first teams to host a Super Bowl. The drama all sports give us is what makes us crazy enough to sit down and watch adults play games on tv. I cannot wait to see what stories still are out there to emerge as the regular season winds down and playoffs startup.


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