Every Team's Best Undrafted Free Agent with Potential to Make the Roster
The 2012 NFL draft is not over.
There will be no more productions at Radio City Music Hall, nor live pick announcements complete with commentary from a panel of analysts. There will be no fanfare, chanting from a hall filled with super fans, no Mel Kiper, no Mike Mayock.
However, when you really look at the NFL draft from a numbers standpoint, only half of the draft was really in the books when the announcer called out this year's lucky recipient of the Mr. Irrelevant title.
The NFL draft used to be a lot more than just seven rounds. Nowadays, in lieu of continuing the pick order, a free-for-all began on the third day well before Mr. Irrelevant's name was called out. Every team signs between eight and 20 more rookie free agents to fill out their camp roster. Every team envisions finding the next Wes Welker.
Let's take a look at some of my favorite UDFA signings thus far.
New England Patriots: OT Markus Zusevics, Iowa
Zusevics sustained an injury that kept him from partaking in the bulk of your typical pre-draft workouts and All-Star outings. However, when he played at Iowa, he was very fun to watch. He boasts all the mobility one could ask for and showed some feistiness as well. I thought his primary problem was in his hand technique. He keeps his hands up (good) but does not shoot them well or punch his targets, showing an odd stiffness that should be coached out by the venerable Dante Scarnecchia.
Miami Dolphins: RB Jonas Gray, Notre Dame
This was my favorite undrafted free agent get in the division. Gray was on all of my pre-draft watch lists because prior to blowing out his knee in 2011, he was looking like a genuine NFL prospect as he gained 6.9 yards per carry with 12 touchdowns in Notre Dame's offense. The Irish backfield was crowded as they decided how to divide up carries between Gray and the more electric Cierre Wood, but it was Gray that made a more impressive mark as the season wore on.
Buffalo Bills: QB Aaron Corp, Richmond
Corp may not end up a star in this league, but he should end up on the Buffalo Bills' 53-man roster when all is said and done, and that is a feat for an undrafted free agent. Corp transferred out of Southern Cal after a fractured fibula opened the gates for Matt Barkley to shine as a freshman starter at the quarterback position. I have never had strong feelings about Corp making it in the NFL despite his high recruiting status, but he is the safest bet in the Bills' undrafted haul to actually make the roster.
New York Jets: QB G.J. Kinne, Tulsa
Kinne was extremely productive at Tulsa, finishing the year with 31 total touchdowns in the Conference USA. Though he may only stand about 6'1" in height, he was the Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year and went on to win MVP honors at the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl. After Greg McElroy famously mouthed off to the press about the state of the Jets' locker room, the Jets are probably ready to move on, and Kinne should be the beneficiary of McElroy's mistake.
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Vontaze Burfict, Arizona State
Like it or not, Burfict tends to grab the headlines. Cincinnati is the one team in the league that seems to consistently collect players with character foibles that scare most other teams off. They drafted Orson Charles despite some questionable decision making on his part leading up to the draft, and now they signed Vontaze Burfict as an undrafted free agent. Believe it or not, this may be good for Vontaze. He needs to go to a place where he feels he has a completely clean slate, and Cincinnati's reputation for giving troubled players a second chance. The benefit of the doubt may be just the thing he needs in order to get out of his own head and get his focus back on football.
Cleveland Browns: CB Josh Cooper, Oklahoma State
The Browns drafted Brandon Weeden at No. 22 overall in order to take the reins from Colt McCoy sooner rather than later. Having conducted an interview with Weeden myself, I know exactly how much he respects Cooper as a receiver. Cooper himself may not be destined to make an impact at the NFL level—or even to make the final 53-man roster. However, he will have instant chemistry with Weeden in training camp and that could bring out the desired competitiveness from guys like Travis Benjamin, Josh Cribbs and Jordan Norwood. There has to be very little doubt in that Cleveland locker room about who is their starting quarterback.
Pittsburgh Steelers: WR Marquis Maze, Alabama
With Antonio Brown figuring to take a bigger receiver load now that Hines Ward is officially retired, both the punt and kick return jobs may be open for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Though fifth-round pick Chris Rainey would seem the favorite for taking over these duties due to his world-class speed, I believe Maze is a better punt returner and could ultimately win that job away from Rainey, and possibly other jobs as well. Rainey is not a consistent football player, and the work ethic Maze learned under Nick Saban in Alabama may give him an edge.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Nick Provo, Syracuse
The Ravens have plenty of production at the tight end position from standouts Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, but their third tight end has been set to be Davon Drew. Provo could make a push to be that last tight end on the roster as he presents a savvy pass-catching option with good body control and run-after-the-catch ability.
Indianapolis Colts: CB Micah Pellerin, Hampton
Hampton has a reputation for putting out some surprising NFL contributors, and Pellerin should be the next among them. I saw the player live in East-West Shrine practices and he stood out as a smooth athlete with great frame and some ability to move and stay in the receiver's hip pocket. I believe he should make Indianapolis' final 53-man roster.
Jacksonville Jaguars: OC Mike Brewster, Ohio State
Between Brewster and Hawaii's John Estes, the Jaguars have an impressive eye for diamond-in-the-rough centers that show ultraquick hands and the ability to pass protect. Brewster may have his hands full beating Estes for a roster spot, but the guaranteed winner in that battle is the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Houston Texans: WR Dwight Jones, North Carolina
His off-the-field issues must be relatively severe for him to have fallen completely out of the draft, but his talent on the field is damn near undeniable. He possesses a combination of rare size and acceleration, which he uses to be extremely dangerous on deeper routes as well as after the catch on shorter routes. He increased his production in 2011 despite suffering a clear quarterback downgrade from T.J. Yates to Bryn Renner. Speaking of Yates, the two will be teammates again and Yates may be charged with showing Jones how things are done in professional football. This signing carries the potential for a huge reward.
Tennessee Titans: WR D.J. Woods, Cincinnati
Some may argue Woods will have a tough time making the final 53-man roster, but I see a lengthy, angular player with good body control that can run very fast and be a threat at the next level. I believe Woods could compete for the fifth spot at the position, possibly inducing the Titans to keep a sixth player.
Denver Broncos: S Duke Ihenacho, San Jose State
Duke first stood out to me years ago as I was scouting Chris Owens and Jarron Gilbert off that fantastic San Jose State defense. Ihenacho was all over the place as a rover/safety—he has some ball hawk in him. The key to unlocking his potential is allowing him to play some underneath positions in nickel or dime packages, using his instincts to find the ball. He should make the Broncos' roster and may even be a starter one day.
San Diego Chargers: LB Josh Linam, Central Florida
Linam is a player that popped out at me at East-West Shrine Game practices. He had a nose for the football and looked extremely physical on the outside. I went back and looked at him on tape more, and while he was hardly perfect, what I saw was worthy of an NFL roster.
Kansas City Chiefs: CB Neiko Thorpe, Auburn
Thorpe is not the most popular player to come out of Auburn as many fans blame him for the poor job the War Eagle secondary did in 2011. While Thorpe had his obvious gaffes, it is well to note he played a position that was very new to him and many of the problems were a matter of getting more experience as a safety. It would be easy to dismiss his mistakes as those coming from a player who is not intelligent enough for the position, but the reality isn't that easy. I saw a player that was very instinctive in his coverage assignments, an extremely gifted athlete that was communicative with his teammates and a potential playmaker.
Oakland Raiders: TE Derek Carrier, Beloit
Carrier is a ridiculously athletic player that dominated his level of competition. He had the attention of many big-name schools coming out of high school, but it was important to him to be allowed to play football and basketball simultaneously, which led him to tiny Beloit College. He should be interesting to watch at the next level.
Dallas Cowboys: OT Jeff Adams, Columbia
I will be very interested in seeing how Adams pans out for the Dallas Cowboys. He is athletic in the extreme, but a little underdeveloped in the weight room. He showed at the East-West Shrine practices he could play with a much higher level of competition than he was used to at Columbia. He caught my eye and quickly became one of my favorite players at the Shrine Game.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE Chase Ford, Miami (FL)
Speaking of favorite players to watch at East-West Shrine practice, Ford came out of absolutely nowhere to dominate practices as a tight end. I watched Dennis Pitta in person at Shrine practices a few years back and became a huge proponent of his. I also saw Andrew Quarless live in Shrine practice. I saw Julius Thomas and Virgil Green take part in Shrine practices.
Chase Ford dominated in ways that none of them were able to during the week of All-Star practices and then followed through by making a hugely impressive play during the game itself. A look at his junior college tape at Kilgore prior to transferring to The U shows this was a tragically underdeveloped and underused player at Miami, which is sadly becoming well known for putting out such players.
New York Giants: S Janzen Jackson, McNeese State
Prior to being forced to transfer to McNeese due to off-field issues, Jackson was a player that stood out in the Tennessee secondary even along side Eric Berry. This is the definition of a high-reward, low-risk stab in the dark that could benefit a team in the long run. If Janzen matures as a person, he could not only make the Giants team, he could find himself starting one day.
Washington Redskins: RB Lennon Creer, La-Lafayette
Creer is another player that stood out at Shrine practices, so much so that scouts pulled him up to participate in the Senior Bowl. He shows a rare combination of size, strength and speed that reminded me a little of Ronnie Brown.
Chicago Bears: LB Adrien Cole, La Tech
Cole is a typical bruising, bowling ball-shaped run-stopper as an inside linebacker. While he would have a difficult time playing on passing downs, he is a guy you can count on to come on the field during typical run downs and clog the lanes, find the football and make an impact.
Detroit Lions: WR Patrick Edwards, Houston
With a bad injury history well behind him, Edwards' future may be brighter than some people believe. He set records at Houston for production, and he is quick as a water bug. You could find him on the Lions' final 53-man roster.
Green Bay Packers: WR Dale Moss, South Dakota State
Moss has unique athleticism and size for the position, and these showed up in his pro day numbers. He is another basketball conversion. I saw him live at Shrine practices and someone had to actually inform me he was a basketball convert that was very new to the sport because all I saw was a smooth player that had good ability to adjust on the football and was just trying to learn more right along with all the other receivers there.
Minnesota Vikings: OL Quinton Saulsberry, Mississippi State
Saulsberry has had a very long starting career at Mississippi State. Watching him go through offensive line drills at the combine, he looked like a journeyman professional that took some time to participate in drills along side a bunch of young kids. He caught my eye with his matchup against Michael Brockers of LSU. The two had a good battle, but I felt Saulsberry got the better of Brockers that day. It will be interesting to see if he makes the Vikings' roster.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: QB Dan Persa, Northwestern
Persa has been invited for a workout with the Buccaneers and has not officially signed an undrafted free-agent contract, but the Buccaneers may quickly decide to get him under contract when he shows them the kind of athleticism and will he brings to the table as a potential third quarterback. This is a guy that I felt in many ways showed up some much higher-rated quarterbacks during East-West Shrine practices. The Buccaneers are not exactly three deep at the position with Brett Ratliff holding up the rare, so Persa or Zach Collaros could easily make the team.
Atlanta Falcons: DT Micanor Regis, Miami (FL)
I am surprised Regis remained undrafted. He really stood out on tape for his ability to use brute strength in order to push around offensive linemen, get off blocks and make plays on the football. I felt he stood out during East-West Shrine practices, as well.
Carolina Panthers: RB Tauren Poole, Tennessee
Being able to evaluate a position well can cut both ways at times. You may be able to snag a guy like Poole, who shows consistent ability to gain yards with superior vision and timing, but at the same time you are likely to already have talented players at the position for the exact same reason you were able to identify Poole. Nonetheless, I believe this is a good undrafted free-agent signing.
New Orleans Saints: RB Travaris Cadet, Appalachian State
There were several teams after Cadet, who transferred to Appalachian State from Toledo after playing a small role as a receiver with the latter in 2007. Cadet had an impressive season and followed up with a good workout. He could be a guy to keep an eye on for making the final roster.
Arizona Cardinals: S Blake Gideon, Texas
Texas had a fantastic defense in 2011, and the strength of that defense lies in the secondary. Players in the defensive backfield flew to the football as fast as any secondary I saw in 2011, even those in the SEC. They were this year's version of the 2010 Nebraska defense. There is something to be said for taking a stab at one of the leaders and most prominent players in that kind of secondary, even if his pro-day measurables are not entirely ideal.
San Francisco 49ers: WR Chris Owusu, Stanford
I find it significant that Jim Harbaugh wanted to make sure he could snag his own Chris Owusu onto his team, knowing his history with concussions. I believe Owusu was one of the most underrated receivers in the draft. His concussion history may be scary, but a leading neurologist has cleared him for play and does not believe he is at significant risk for further concussions. Counterintuitive as it may seem, the fact that all of his concussions were on extremely hard hits shows he has not been suffering concussions because he is prone to them, but rather because he is unlucky.
St. Louis Rams: TE DeAngelo Peterson, LSU
Though Peterson took a while to develop at LSU and was ultimately an underachiever, he could have a brighter future as a professional. He was once an extremely gifted, highly recruited player. Sometimes those guys can resurface once they make it to the pros.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Jermaine Kearse, Washington
This signing may look on the outset like a team just keeping a local favorite home and giving him a shot to make it in the big leagues. That may ultimately be what this signing is, but I see it potentially as more than that. Kearse was a deep threat with Jake Locker throwing the ball because of his ability to break off his routes and track the football over his shoulder. I felt he helped Locker play well in certain situations at Washington and I wouldn't be surprised if he made the Seahawks' roster.