Alabama's Undrafted Free Agents Have Good Chance to Make Final Cut
Former Tide wideout Marquis Maze.
Standout players who don't get drafted often get great opportunities as undrafted free agents, but a simple invite to training camp is far from a guarantee to make the final 53-man roster.
According to NFL.com, seven former Alabama Crimson Tide players have signed deals as free agents with five different teams. Some of these players participated in the NFL Combine, while others did not get invitations.
A similar situation occurred in 2010 after the Tide beat Texas for the BCS title.
Each team cuts over 20 players each year before the end of training camp, most of them being undrafted free agents.
So what are the odds of these seven players making a final NFL roster?
Wide Receiver Darius Hanks
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Darius Hanks is in a particularly good situation right now.
The Washington Redskins are in the process of revamping their franchise with a new face, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Robert Griffin III, but he will be needing targets.
The 'Skins released their leading receiver from 2011, Jabar Gaffney. That is going to leave a lot of room for new players to make names for themselves behind veteran receiver Santana Moss, who is not getting any younger at 32 years old.
What really makes Hanks' odds look good is the fact that the Redskins did not draft a single wide receiver this year, despite having had nine total picks.
Even better news is that the only other undrafted free agent wide receiver invited to training camp by the 'Skins is 6'0", 160-pound Kelvin Bolden from Southern Mississippi.
Hanks' willingness to make catches in traffic through the middle and ability to hang onto the ball after a brutal hit will likely land him a spot.
Linebacker Jerrell Harris
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There are plenty of Alabama fans who double as Atlanta fans as well, so they are glad to see another Alabama face join the ranks of Julio Jones, John Parker Wilson and Mike Johnson.
Harris' path looks quite clear, though Atlanta already has a great defense that gave up only 333.6 yards per game in the 2011 regular season, good for 12th in the league.
However, that same defense racked up over 100 penalties. After a career under Nick Saban, who stresses discipline on defense, Jerrell Harris is a player who does not commit penalties.
Two of the Falcons' linebackers racked up over 110 tackles, with the next closest being Mike Peterson with 24, while the defensive secondary racked up hundreds of combined tackles, displaying a clear need for a good outside linebacker.
Harris may owe his good chances to Jones, who the Falcons gave up a lot of 2012 draft picks to get. With only six total picks and no first- and fourth-round picks, they had no room to draft a linebacker despite having a significant need.
Cornerback Phelon Jones
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Phelon Jones played almost exclusively as a backup or in nickel and dime formations. Fortunately for him, Alabama's defense uses nickel packages a lot.
Though he only had four tackles last season and only one interception, his ability with limited playing time on a defense that shoved opponents off the field in record time was enough to impress the 'Skins.
Jones does not have blazing speed, as displayed at his pro day, but he came in with excellent measurements at just a hair under 5'11" and 199 pounds.
The Redskins had a need at cornerback, and they drafted two, both in the seventh round. And teams aren't afraid to cut seventh round picks at the end of training camp, so this could help Jones.
However, the 'Skins also picked up Virginia cornerback Chase Minnifield as an undrafted free agent.
Minnifield, as a corner in a respectable conference, had some very impressive stats in 2011: Three interceptions with one touchdown, 50 tackles, seven tackles for losses, 1.5 sacks, eight passes broken up and one blocked kick.
The Redskins' three other new cornerbacks all have an edge over Jones at the moment, but that is mainly due to the playing time they received in college.
Wide Receiver Marquis Maze
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Marquis Maze was thought by many to be a mid- to late-round quality player. Instead, he went undrafted.
He had a solid NFL combine where he turned in a respectable 4.51 second 40-yard dash, but his size at 5'8" and 186 lbs. (with a bit too much extra weight around the middle) created some caution among NFL teams.
Maze has outstanding potential as a return man and almost as good potential as a slot receiver.
However, the Steelers drafted Florida running back/slot receiver/return man Chris Rainey, who has comparable size to Maze but turned in much better combine numbers.
It's most likely that Rainey will be used more as a receiver out of the backfield in a fashion similar to that of Darren Sproles in New Orleans.
One thing that Maze has going for him is that the Steelers will have a lot more opportunities for young receivers, as they released Hines Ward, a 14-year veteran of the team.
Offensive Guard Alfred McCullough
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Alfred McCullough's chances would have looked a lot better had he landed with a team that has a weak interior offensive line, such as the Denver Broncos. Instead, the Ravens picked him up for training camp.
Baltimore ranked 12th in the NFL regular season with only 33 sacks given up, and their interior line had only five negative rushes up the middle.
McCullough's chance with the Ravens likely would not have been possible had their starting left guard, Ben Grubbs, not left for New Orleans after the Ravens went through great lengths to keep him.
That doesn't mean McCullough has a good chance to become the starter, because he doesn't. It does mean that there will be a greater need for depth, and McCullough's versatility on the line makes him a shoe-in as a backup.
Center William Vlachos
Since the 2009 championship season, I have expected William Vlachos to become a mid-round pick or higher. I was wrong.
His measurables with his short height and short arms caused him to fail the "eyeball test," but him not getting a combine invite nearly killed his draft stock.
The main reason Vlachos went undrafted was the same that Ohio State center Michael Brewster suffered: A poor Senior Bowl week.
Both players were expected to be drafted in the mid to (possibly) late rounds before the Senior Bowl week.
Vlachos doesn't have much of a chance of unseating incumbent starting center Eugene Amano, but the team's two backup centers, Fernando Velasco and Kevin Matthews, were both previously brought in as undrafted free agents.
What makes the situation for Vlachos even better is the fact that Velasco is currently the team's primary backup center as well as the primary backup at both the left and right guard positions. The Titans are looking to move him away from the backup center position, which is why they signed Vlachos.
Matthews, the third string center, spent 14 weeks on the practice squad during his rookie season in 2010 and barely made the active roster.
Out of pure necessity, the Titans are almost certain to keep Vlachos even if they don't cut Williams.
Linebacker Alex Watkins
Alex Watkins played backup to Jerrell Harris this season, who also went undrafted. The fact that Watkins got a deal as a free agent is a big surprise.
He was productive enough as a backup and special teams contributor, accruing 17 tackles, two for losses, and a single sack.
Watkins' future with the Titans, should he make the team, looks to be playing strictly strongside linebacker. That means his chances of starting are slim to none, as future Pro Bowler Akeem Ayers has that position on lockdown.
Ayers' backup, Patrick Bailey, is a quality player as well who is used almost exclusively on special teams.
The Titans have seven linebackers (the ideal number for a 4-3 defense) but lack depth elsewhere, especially at guard and center. Because of this it would be very difficult for the team to find room for Watkins.
He needs to really blow them away in training camp as "pretty good" won't be enough.