Doug Baldwin pained other teams with his rise from UDFA obscurity to NFL rookie relevance.
In my previous article I took a look at nine of my highest-rated NFL undrafted free agents and attempted to illuminate what the possible reasons were for their ultimate draft-day demises. Today's piece takes a crack at five UDFAs buried on the waiver wire; names our readers may not even be familiar with let alone with which teams they have signed.
There are different reasons that certain players, who do not hear their names called in the draft, come out more famous than others. It can be their prominence on a Bowl Championship Subdivision bowl-winning team, name recognition from carrying a draftable grade earlier in the process or even up through Day 3 or being on the short list of fits at a certain position and/or within a specific scheme.
Contrastingly, there are various possible explanations for why other post-draft signees carry little to no fanfare during the evaluation, draft and even signing periods. It can be due to a lower level of play resulting in less national exposure, substandard production due to injury or marginalization or even the perception that a prospect lacks the physical tools to project much upside to the next level.
Seattle Seahawks 2011 rookie slot receiver Doug Baldwin is an excellent recent example of a fairly obscure UDFA signing who paid instant dividends with his performance. Following only one year of starter-production at Stanford University, when he failed to eclipse 60 receptions-900 receiving yards-10 touchdowns, Baldwin was not even invited to the combine as a smaller (5'10" 190 lbs.) weaker wideout prospect.
He finished the NFL regular season with 51 catches for 792 yards, averaging 15.5 yards per and four scores.
Not all UDFA hidden treasure, let alone rookies of any procurement origin, will produce so well in their first year. And there is plenty to be gained with a signing like this that percolates on the practice squad, or is even nabbed off of one, and must develop for several years before ripening into cost-effective functionality.
Perhaps one of the five names unearthed in this slide will make a Baldwin-type freshman impact in 2012 or be someone that hits in several years that our community looks back on then and scratches its collective head.
Alex Tanney, QB, Division III Monmouth College (Illinois), 6'3", 225 lbs., DOB: 11/11/1987
2011 stats: 393 attempts, 281 completions, 71.5 completion percentage, 3,867 passing yards, 38 touchdown passes, 8 interceptions, 181.99 passer rating
Combine/pro day results: 4.96 40 time, 29" vertical, 8'7" broad jump, 4.45 short shuttle, 7.13 three-cone
NFL ceiling comparison: Jon Kitna
No game video (incredibly accurate trick-passing video)
Tanney features prototypical NFL size, passing skill and pocket presence for the quarterback position. He is not real mobile and a lack of foot-quickness could thwart his transition from the NCAA Division III ranks to an NFL camp.
He originally gained modest headway at the inaugural Players All-Star Classic game this past February when he showed his aforementioned physical tools along with fair consistency in an always-challenging environment for a quarterback against other pro-bound talent.
Renowned National Football Post scouting director Wes Bunting (@WesBunting) penned these comments in his February 3 wrap-up from the Classic's week of practices:
"Tanney didn't have a jaw-dropping week by any stretch. But he displayed good athleticism from under center and when asked to move around in the pocket. He looked natural when flushed and threw the ball well on the move. He gets a bit erratic with his footwork at times when trying to set his feet quickly into throws. However, when he does transfer his weight, he can really spin the football. At worst, the guy looks like an intriguing priority free agent with a good amount of upside to his game and could end up warranting a draft pick late on Day 3."
I like him best of all the non-FBS prospects because, when watching him on tape (too long to link here), he actually shows repeatable mechanics with his drops, footwork and throws, which I think will translate to the NFL once he readjusts under center and to the change in speed.
The top three Football Championship Subdivision passing prospects (formerly known as Division I-AA)—B.J. Coleman, Aaron Corp and Patrick Witt—were all over the place to me either physically when throwing from the pocket, making decisions with the football or both.
Interestingly, after originally signing with the Steelers following the draft, the presence of another undrafted QB favorite of mine (Darron Thomas) in Pittsburgh's camp resulted in him accepting an offer to go to camp with the Bills, with whom he feels like he has a better chance to make the roster or practice squad.
Hayes has RB2 potential once he gets his feet on the ground.
Michael Hayes, RB, University of Houston, 5'8.5", 200 lbs., DOB: 6/18/1990
UDFA status: Signed with the San Diego Chargers
2011 stats: 138 attempts, 727 rushing yards, 5.3 rushing average, 11 rushing touchdowns, 44 receptions, 483 receiving yards, 11.0 receiving average, 4 receiving touchdowns, 1 fumble
Combine/pro day results: 4.56 40 time, 23 bench reps, 35" vertical, 9'9" broad jump, 4.25 short shuttle, 7.10 three-cone
NFL ceiling comparison: Justin Forsett
Built like Barry Sanders, unfortunately Hayes does not have the pure running and creation ability that Sanders so famously displayed throughout his NFL career. He just is not fast enough to be a routine home run threat.
Hayes does combine excellent explosion right after takeoff, either off a one-cut rushing the ball or as an adept receiver out of the backfield, along with elite balance. His low center of gravity and powerful legs, what he does have most in common with Sanders, allow him to bounce off of high contact, chips and glancing blows and often maintain his feet.
Along with his aforementioned ability to catch the ball as a back, Hayes actually possesses enough receiving skill, something that was developed in the University of Houston's wide open spread attack, to align as a wideout and run patterns.
He and his agent were extremely smart in signing with the Chargers, where there is currently a complete lack of an established No. 2 RB behind bell cow Ryan Mathews, who has suffered from both injury and fumbling issues despite immense physical talent as a former first-round pick.
Pro Football Focus's Mike Clay (@PFF_MikeClay) recently pointed out on Twitter that San Diego could easily be in the market for a cheap veteran RB2. But whether it is his for the taking or he must compete and bide his time, Hayes is a guy with the skill set to develop into a useful NFL running back.
Ryan Davis, DE, Bethune-Cookman University, 6'2.5", 260 lbs., DOB: 2/24/1989
UDFA status: Signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars
2011 stats: 65 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 quarterback hurries, 12.5 sacks, 8 forced fumbles
Combine/pro day results: 4.84 40 time, 21 bench reps, 33" vertical, 9'9" broad jump, 4.44 short shuttle, 7.45 three-cone
NFL ceiling comparison: Wallace Gilberry
Although he did not quite make the cut for my previous piece, Davis is a player that I had a draftable grade on (fifth round) and whom I considered a priority free agent when he slipped through.
Davis is another perimeter defenisve prospect along the lines of more talented and highly-touted FBS players Whitney Mercilus, Vinny Curry and Jake Bequette—the closing speed of Mercilus, the motor of Curry and the violence of Bequette.
He lacks elite burst and speed but should be a threat around the edge versus right tackles. He also already features an excellent speed to power rush move that is reminiscent of Courtney Upshaw in certain takes.
Despite the ability to play the run in college due to natural block-shedding skills, tenacity and short-area explosion, I do wonder how he will hold up in the NFL at the point of attack. This is especially a concern as a 4-3 defensive end.
I was a little surprised that he and his representation chose to sign with a 43-primary team in Jacksonville. His slightly tweener size and kamikaze style of play lends itself better to 3-4 outside linebacker. A concerted effort to make strength weight gains early in his career into the 275-lb. range could be in the offing.
Randy Colling, NT, Division II Gannon University (PA), 6'4", 320 lbs., DOB: 5/10/1990
2011 stats: 88 total tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 9 sacks
Combine/pro day results: 5.34 40 time, 38 bench reps, 28.5" vertical, 8'7" broad jump, 5.03 short shuttle, 7.97 three-cone
NFL ceiling comparison: Terrance Knighton
Colling is a massive, playmaking interior defensive lineman. The lower NCAA Division II ranks notwithstanding, I do not believe I have ever witnessed from a statistical perspective, an interior player average eight total tackles per game.
Despite looking forward to a huge adjustment with regard to his competition level, the upside with Colling is that his body still has some professional maturing yet to occur. With his frame, he may be able to add 20 to 30 pounds of good weight while retaining or even improving his naturally good explosion.
Even before the potential size increase, Colling is able to occupy so much space with his length and mass and do a lot of damage up front. It will be interesting to see if teams only work him at the nose or if he will also see some snaps at five-technique defensive end. Green Bay, for one, likes its ends as big as any defense in the league.
I saw some decent tape on this kid earlier in the process but was unable to locate it online in preparation for this article. His sheer size and quickness stood out, almost freakishly so at his level, and it must now be determined if he can compete with athletes closer to his caliber of size and strength.
I like this player up front as an interior prospect. I had a seventh-round grade on Colling and certainly considered him a PFA (priority free agent) when his name was not called last Saturday in the draft.
Thomas will enjoy familiarity with Harbaugh and the 49ers.
Michael Thomas, DB, Stanford University, 5'10", 185 lbs., DOB: unknown
UDFA status: Signed with the San Francisco 49ers
2011 stats: 66 total tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 8 pass deflections, 5 pass breakups, 3 interceptions
Combine/pro day results: 4.51 40 time, 14 bench reps, 38" vertical, 10'4" broad jump, 3.99 short shuttle, 7.03 three-cone
NFL ceiling comparison: William Gay
A year ago Jim Harbaugh signed a priority free agent (my grade) from his old stomping ground, Stanford University, in the player of tight end Konrad Reuland. And it was a likely steal, as I contend that Reuland has a quality future No. 2 TE profile.
Harbaugh may well have done it again with another former Cardinal player in this go-around with Michael Thomas. For as much draft and evaluation coverage/publicity that this program received this year due to Luck and three other projected first-rounders (Coby Fleener and Jonathan Martin ended up falling to the second), after watching him on tape, I never understood why Thomas received so little publicity.
At the size of an average cornerback in the NFL, he likely fell off draft boards because he is just too small to project full-time to free safety. But what I think the industry missed is a terrific slot corner profile in the mold of DeQuan Menzie (University of Alabama), a 2012 draft pick with some similar traits.
Despite his lack of size, Thomas plays with apparent abandon for the well-being of his body, aggressively filling against the run and existing well in the box on looks that I saw.
And while his deep speed is lacking somewhat, combining his tenacious play style with elite short-area quickness and explosion, which are present on film and by test, there are the makings of a versatile sub-package player that can align in the slot or deeper in the backfield, as well as be an asset on special teams.
As always, I look forward to your comments below and you may follow me on Twitter at @JeffRoemer.