2012 NFL Undrafted Free Agency: 19 Players Ready to Contribute Right Away
Now that all 32 NFL teams have chosen some as-yet-to-be-determined stars and some unhoped-for busts in the 2012 draft, it’s time for those ubiquitous “handfuls of undrafted free agents” that everyone signs to come out of the shadows.
While no one can claim the crystal ball ability to announce the next Arian Foster, a few of these under-the-radar contenders show real promise.
Undrafted free agents generally went undrafted due to one of several concerns:
1) Character issues. Let’s face it; most of these guys never turn it around—yes I mean you, Pacman.
2) Size issues. NFL rosters aren’t exactly full of diminutive over-achievers, but there are more of them out there than one might expect—yes, I mean you, Jeff Saturday.
3) Lack of experience and polish. They came from a smaller school, came to football later or simply haven’t had a chance to get the best or most devoted positional coaching.
Here are a few players who could very well surprise the public by sneaking onto rosters and onto the field.
Linemen of both persuasions often emerge from the UFA ranks. Teams usually draft either skill positions or stars. Teams need a lot of linemen these days and 22-year-old young men often haven’t reached their full growth and body-control potential by the NFL draft.
So, starting with my favorite behemoths of the gridiron…
James Brown: Chicago Bears Offensive Tackle
Brown started 37 games at left tackle for Troy. Proficient at run-blocking and featuring a jump off the gun, Brown will probably end up as a guard in the pros.
He’s got natural athletic gifts and his effort is intense and consistent. Lindy’s Sports Pro Football Draft guide had him as their No. 11 Tackle overall, predicting him as a fourth-round pick. So this could easily be a true value signing, verging on highway robbery if Brown can live up to expectations.
This non-singing (well, I don’t really know if Mr. B. rocks it in the showers) version of James Brown is 6’3 1/2” and 307 lbs. He has great length and quick feet. His arms are 33 1/2" long. That’ll get under some pads.
He’s also got the work ethic and leadership intangibles so needed in the NFL. More than one analyst considers Brown to be the best undrafted offensive lineman.
But apparently some personnel folk considered him to be the proverbial “raw” talent who might need some coaching time to find the field.
He’s also not that tall for an O-lineman. He lost a bunch of fat and needs to replace it with muscle and greater lower-body strength. That’s probably why he went undrafted, though several scouts projected him as a late-round pick.
Considering the Bears’ seemingly perennial difficulties in the “protecting Jay Cutler” category, Brown may well see action sooner rather than later.
Best human interest note: Brown believes that playing football kept him grounded even though he grew up surrounded by crime and poverty (Lindy’s).
Matt Reynolds: Carolina Panthers Offensive Tackle
It’s hard to call a guy who is 6’5” and 310 lbs small, but the name of the game these days on the lines is 6’7” or higher.
Another of Lindy’s fourth-round projections, Reynolds isn’t the quickest cookie in the jar (no, I don’t mean mentally—although the video does give one pause), but manages good pass protection courtesy of some good footwork.
He’s tough, attacking and has the wide body and base to hold his ground. Reynolds is probably big and strong enough to succeed well in rushing schemes. Prior to the start of last season, Reynolds spoke for his squad:
We want to be the nastiest, hardest working, most dominating offensive line in the country.
Now that’s what you want to hear out of an offensive lineman!
Playing in BYU’s wide scheme may have masked his weakness against edge rushers. Lindy’s has it that he is susceptible to the spin (Dwight Freeney clones take note).
He needs to work on off-the-snap quickness and playing with a lower pad level.
As another mid-round candidate, the Panthers should be very happy grabbing Reynolds as an UFA. He could really contribute at RT. Heaven knows, that O-line needs all the depth it can get.
Cam Newton may be huge and fast and tough but, contrary to myth, he is not actually Superman.
Mike Brewster: Jacksonville Jaguars Offensive Line/Center
“It seems like Brewster has been the starting center at Ohio State for 10 years and that is because he has a ton of experience.” —Jon Dove, mockingthedraft.com.
He was a four-year starter with a starting streak of 49 straight games.
Mr. Brewster, 6’ 4” and 314 lbs, has been compared to Nick Mangold. Sports Illustrated counted him among the top center draft prospects in 2011.
By 2012, he was reviewed as not being quite strong enough at attack, and he had some trouble with the shotgun snap, something that came up again in the first Jaguars’ practice.
The bottom line is that Mike has great vision and field awareness and apparently “plays well with others” as evidenced by his reputation as a good teammate.
For a guy like this to fall all the way out of the draft probably means that the Jags snapped up a good bargain here.
And heaven knows their O-line needs all the help it can get.
Jeremiah Warren: New England Patriots Offensive Guard/Center
At 6’3” and 324 lbs, Warren is the proverbial “fire plug.” Well, the really big version of it anyway—with really long arms.
He is an excellent interior lineman and run blocker. The biggest knock is that he doesn’t have enough explosion off the ball and needs to learn to keep his feet moving.
Some thought that the Patriots might actually draft this South Florida product, so they must have been thrilled to pick him up on “the morning after.”
Bill Belichick is partial to linemen who are former wrestlers, and Warren fits right in.
Since the Pats did not end up drafting a center, Warren may be one of several potential reserves at that position. He could easily compete immediately for a backup O-line job.
Markus Zusevics: New England Patriots Offensive Tackle/Guard
Are we seeing a pattern here?
Ranked 22nd on nfldraftscout.com out of their review of 92 offensive tackles, it’s not terribly surprising that Zusevics (Zoohz-uh-vicks for you Pats fans) wasn’t drafted.
At almost 6’6” and with 33” long arms, the former Iowa Hawkeye certainly has a potential NFL physique, if he can put on muscle weight.
Markus has a lot of positive talents including overall solid technique, toughness and the ability to move along the line smoothly and with good body control.
Zusevics started for two years at right tackle and might have been taken at this position, but tore his pectoral muscle at the Combine.
Emerging from O-lineman U should help his "street cred" in the NFL.
Sounds like a perfect Bill Belichick pick and project.
"Pumped up tight end?" Now is that nice?
Tydreke Powell: Minnesota Vikings Defensive Tackle
Naturally, the other side of the ball has some large gentlemen, too. Starting with the North Carolina big boys, it's sometimes hard to notice Tydreke Powell.
Playing alongside Quinton Coples is a mixed blessing. It’s hard to tell whether Powell was a gap force who unselfishly allowed his teammate the lion’s share of the tackles—or whether he doesn’t have what it takes.
At 6’ 2 1/4” and 311 lbs, he sure could take up some space—but it that enough?
He must be doing something right, since became a full-time starter as a junior. Powell went on to start all 13 games and serve as a team captain his senior year.
He can also broad jump eight feet and has a vertical leap of almost 29”. That seems like a rather prodigious athletic achievement for someone who weighs 311 lbs.
This young man also never seems to get hurt, which is also an achievement for someone this size. However, he may be depending upon athletic talent over work, since his conditioning is in question. His only other flaw (as if that first one weren’t lethal) is that he pops out of his bend too quickly if pushed.
The Vikings need to do some succession-building on that interior line, and Powell may be a great candidate. If he puts in the work.
Nevertheless, considering the age of the current starters and sheer physical gifts, Tydreke could see action as a legitimate reserve immediately.
Brandon Lindsey: Pittsburgh Steelers Linebacker
It’s somewhat surprising that Lindsey wasn’t drafted, but Pittsburgh is probably thrilled to get him at the bargain basement UFA price.
This “Panther” LB/DE will hit the field immediately on special teams and will be in contention to be part of “the next wave” of great Steelers linebackers as James Harrison and Lamar Woodley, uh, mature.
For more in-depth info on Mr. Lindsey see Video and Scouting Analysis.
Moving on to the rest of the defensive UFA’s with promise…
JoJo Nicolas: New York Giants Defensive Back
One of the seemingly endless players caught up in the Nevin Shapiro University of Miami booster scandal, Nicolas’ draft stock probably took a beating over what appear to be night club visits and “bowling for dollars.”
Nflproscout.com ranked JoJo as the 22nd free safety out of 70 prospects. One scout was less than impressed, essentially calling Nicolas a long shot.
But Sports Illustrated took a more optimistic view:
Developing safety with a complete game. Effectively reads or diagnoses the action, takes good angles to the play and is efficient. Remains disciplined with assignments, works well with teammates and consistently plays heads-up football. Displays a burst of speed getting outside the flanks, solid range in center field and next-level ball skills in coverage. Effective defending the run and wraps up when tackling. Plays tough yet smart football.
His niche will probably be on kick coverage, but the Giants are always looking for new special teamers to bring along, so Nicolas has a real shot of seeing action if he has a good camp.
One hopes good things come his way, since this very young man lost his infant son nine months ago.
In an interview with hurricanesports.com, Nicolas was asked to complete the sentence: “I have…”
He said, “I have no time to waste.”
Chase Minnifield: Washington Redskins Cornerback
This young man has some of the best post-draft buzz around. He had 13 college interceptions, and has been compared to Asante Samuel.
Washington didn’t have to travel too far to see the UVA product in action, so perhaps they knew something other teams missed.
What they didn’t miss are the three injuries suffered in the past year (knee, ankle and hamstring).
The Redskins did draft a corner in the seventh round (Jonathon Bernstein from Iowa), so Minnifield will have work to do even after allaying the hovering injury questions.
But if he can stay healthy, this young man has second/third-round ability and a very high ceiling. Don’t tell DeAngelo Hall.
Now, if one were being rumored to be the future replacement for a Pro Bowl Corner, one might choose to be just a touch quieter. Or not.
Leonard Johnson: Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cornerback
At 5’10” (and not a bulky 5’10” at that), Johnson is on the razor edge of size when it comes to the NFL. But don’t tell him that. Leonard plays tough and physical on every down.
And he’s pretty happy these days, since he was not only signed by his hometown Bucs, he also ended up practicing on the field with the drafted players as opposed to the tryout field.
This must be the NFL rookie camp equivalent of “sitting at the grownups' table.”
Good for him. Johnson has a shot since he can play both man and zone with good lateral movement, although sometimes he struggles in transitions.
Nfl.com projected him as a third rounder, so the Bucs are still “winning” their way through the offseason re-shaping of their franchise.
Donnie Fletcher: New York Jets Cornerback
What is this? Darrelle Revis holdout insurance? Probably not, but this former Boston College DB is not a bad corner.
Fletcher had a great Pro Day and was a Senior Bowl player, but was not invited to the combine:
Fletcher, who entered his senior season highly regarded by scouts but was shockingly not included among the 36 cornerbacks invited to the Combine, silenced doubters of his straight-line speed with times ranging from 4.38-4.44 in two attempts at the 40-yard dash. Don’t be surprised if this former BC Eagle winds up competing to be one of the first players drafted who wasn't invited to the Combine. Fletcher is currently rated by NFLDraftScout.com as a possible sixth round pick. - Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com
He didn’t get drafted, but is a value signing to help those always-critical Jets fans have more faith in their front office.
Okay, probably not. But the kid could be a legit player.
Moving over to offense…
Deangelo Peterson: St. Louis Rams Tight End
Like many TEs, Peterson started life as a WR—until he grew. He’s 6’ 4”, 235 lbs and had 18 receptions last year at LSU.
Not really big enough to block at the pro level, Peterson must prove to be what the Rams need: A ball catcher.
Probably signed because he has good speed for a TE, Peterson needs to improve his play-making in the clutch if he’s going to succeed. He also must work on his route-running and his hands can be inconsistent.
On the other hand, he can frequently create mismatches with linebackers. Those mismatches and his speed are what make him worth watching.
If he makes Sam Bradford happy in camp, he’ll be on the field. If he doesn’t, he won’t.
Yes, it really is that simple.
Patrick Edwards: Detroit Lions Wide Receiver
A team that has Calvin Johnson drawing double and triple coverage and Matthew Stafford throwing the ball is like hitting the lotto for a wide receiver.
Quick, who is the third WR for Detroit? See? There’s an opening behind Johnson and Nate Burleson.
Of course, that’s probably why Detroit drafted Ryan Broyles in the second round.
Okay, but Edwards made 89 receptions for 1,752 yards and 20 touchdowns in his senior season. Twenty.
However, this University of Houston product is only 5’9”, so unless he’s the second coming of Steve Smith (Carolina version), Edwards may really only be around for returns. He averaged 14 yards per punt return in college.
So he should at least make special teams immediately.
But the most significant fact about Edwards is that he broke his leg very badly in 2008, had a steel rod put in and came back to play well enough to make the NFL.
There is a video, but...ewwwww.
So, toughness isn’t an issue. At. All
David Douglas: New York Giants Wide Receiver
This is a “the rich get richer” scenario. With Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, the Champs are hardly hurting for ball catchers even without Mario Manningham.
But David Douglas had an extremely impressive (and really fast) Pro Day. His 40-yard dash was 4.45, he benched a whole bunch of 225s and he can jump 37 1/2 inches.
At 6 foot and a shade over 200 lbs, Douglas looks like he has a lot of developing to do. If he weren’t so fast, he wouldn’t make the field for a while. But he is.
He has one other thing going for him. According to Sports Illustrated, Douglas “does a lot of little things well.”
And that can get you on a roster. Especially a special teams roster.
As Ryan Finley of the Arizona Star put it: “Regardless of how he looks, he can play.”
Second round pick Reuben Randle is the more polished product, but Douglas will at least make it to preseason. Then we’ll see him show us his stuff.
Just like Victor Cruz did two years ago. And how did that turn out?
Jeff Fuller: Miami Dolphins Wide Receiver
The “once and future” teammate of new first-round quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Fuller’s chances of seeing the field quadrupled when he landed with the Dolphins.
Sports Illustrated ranked Fuller as a fourth-round pick, so this could be a jackpot for Miami.
Fuller is an Anquan Boldin-type who fights off defenders and fights for the ball. He has the makings of a possession guy if he can work on his routes and soften up his hands.
The latter is easier said than done, but his established rhythm with fellow Aggie Tannehill will get him on the grass just as soon as Tannehill gets there.
And that’s the question isn’t it?
Chris Polk: Philadelphia Eagles Running Back
On the one hand, Polk’s name came up more often than any other UFAs in the “most likely to succeed” category.
On the other hand, does Philly really want someone other than LeSean McCoy toting the rock?
Well, yeah, they do. Occasionally.
Which might be perfect for a very talented runner with a degenerative shoulder problem.
Without that, Polk would probably have been a late first-round or early second-round pick. Basically, he has everything you want in a franchise back—except long-term durability.
He runs inside. He runs outside. He’s patient with good footwork. He even blocks. And he rushed for almost 1500 yards last year.
But his most outstanding talent is breaking tackles. When his spin and stiff arm can’t get him free, he plows into people (Lindy’s Sports Pro Football Draft guide).
It’s heartbreaking that this talented player may not have a long enough career to reach a pay-off second contract.
But ‘Iggles fans will see Polk early and often and will (hopefully) enjoy watching him while they can.
Do Philly fans actually enjoy things?
Tauren Poole: Carolina Panthers Running Back
After blowing everyone’s socks off at the East-West game, it was surprising for Poole to go undrafted.
Particularly since some draft pundits projected him in the fourth or fifth round. A subpar senior season may have outweighed his post-collegiate showing.
He’s the type of back who will be expected to be the “third-down change-up guy.”
Which would be great as long as he learns how to pass protect. He is actually a decent blocker so that is definitely possible.
The Tennessee Volunteer could also use a little work on his patience. Hey, he’s young. He has pretty good hands and pretty good vision. And excellent instincts.
Teams must have been concerned about his overall athleticism (ranked basically as “average” by Lindy’s) and strength because, despite his All-Star performance, he isn’t a return man.
Whether the Panthers really needed another rusher is debatable, but he should get a shot in preseason to prove that the Shrine game wasn’t a fluke.
That way, if he doesn’t stick with the Panthers, another team can pick him up to use immediately.
There is a significant likelihood that we haven’t seen the last of Tauren Poole.
Joe Martinek: New York Giants Running Back
There’s a job opening. Sort of.
But you have to get in line behind Virginia Tech’s David Wilson, who has the money and the fame. So far.
Director of College Scouting Marc Ross summed up his opinion of Martinek:
He’s just a gritty, hard-nosed football player. He’s played fullback, he’s played running back, done whatever they asked. Can really catch the ball. A guy you can throw in at any position there in the backfield and he’ll not miss a beat.
Sounds like a Giant to me.
As a local hero (all-time leading rusher in New Jersey state high school history) and definite "Jack of All Trades," Martinek will get on the field.
We’ll see what he does with the shot.
The Uh-Oh Pick: Cincinnati Bengals Linebacker Vontaze Burfict
Burfict makes this list because the scouting consensus demands that he be here on the basis of talent.
He absolutely would not be present on the basis of intangibles.
How many incredibly talented players who get out of shape and turn into divas does it take for the NFL to stop taking the leap? Apparently one more if you are the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Tigers are gambling on the hope that not getting drafted will turn this kid’s head around. If you say so.
Even before the getting fat part, The Sporting News’ Matt Hayes called Burfict “the meanest man in college football.” Great.
The only good part is that he now won’t be a spoiled brat with millions of dollars.
Burfict has a famous brutality that may not fit as well in what must become the new NFL, but has without doubt made him famous.
Whether this makes up for a personality that argued with coaches and punched a teammate remains to be seen.
But he’ll get on the field for sure.
Feel Good Undrafted Free-Agent Signings
New Orleans Saints offensive lineman Aderious Simmons’ story is one of those “against all odds” sagas that NFL fans love.
After playing basketball in high school, Simmons and his family ended up in a FEMA trailer parked in Mississippi after Katrina. Trying to help support his family, it was a while before Simmons even took the SAT.
Amazingly, the Miami Hurricanes called him down for a tryout, but the fact that he had never even worn pads launched him on a cross-country odyssey that included numerous stops at community colleges before being spotted by an Arizona State scout in Torrance, California.
New Orleans isn’t the same place that he left and most of the people he knew are elsewhere, but Simmons is still home again.
The former Sun Devils giant, 6’7” Simmons sports more traditional NFL size than the previous linemen listed. Although he was hampered by an ankle injury in 2011 that may have hurt his draft stock, Simmons clearly has the mental toughness to claw his way onto his hometown team.
At 5’11”, Chicago Bears linebacker (for now) Adrien Cole has his work cut out for him. But hard work doesn’t seem to be an issue for the former Louisiana Tech backer.
He may be short, but he’s almost six feet of concrete on legs and he can tackle.
Dan Kadar of mockingthedraft.com notes that Cole had 121 tackles last year and called him “a powerful player.”
He needs to have one heck of a training camp to have a shot, but this is the kind of guy you want on your team.
After the Poinsettia Bowl, Cole and teammate Quinton Patton gave away their bowl-game gift cards and watches to two youngsters at a Make-A-Wish holiday party.
Louisiana Tech reports that a bowl representative could not recall any player ever doing that in the history of the event.
Tampa Bay’s new head coach Greg Schiano may have no professional head coaching experience, but he has proven that he has a heart.
Unfortunately, the gesture is purely symbolic and doesn’t carry any of the financial compensation that LeGrand could surely use, but Schiano said he wanted to extend the contract to “recognize [Eric’s] character, spirit and perseverance."
To say the least. LeGrand resumed classes via video conference and will graduate with his class after returning to school in 2011.
He has been able to stand with a metal frame and hopes to become a broadcaster. In Florida, perhaps?
Junior Seau's death was the opposite of a feel-good event, but perhaps we can all change now.