Following the 2012 NFL draft and the immediate subsequent feeding frenzy in undrafted free agency, there continues to be pertinent buzz surrounding the latter class of players. Rookie minicamps lead into organized team activities (aka OTAs), training camps and finally the official preseason as the summer deepens.
What is the status of a few previously unsigned college free agents that were invited and/or are participating in multiple rookie minicamps? Names like quarterbacks Darron Thomas and Alex Tanney, as well as interior defensive lineman Randy Colling are several worth noting.
Which of the undrafted prospects have combined to make a strong enough initial impression along with a cooperative depth chart to forge enhanced early projections to make a final roster in the fall? Will we see Chris Polk and Hebron Fangupo in NFL uniforms come this fall's regular season?
And I will check in on a few other names from the undrafted free-agent bin; players I liked enough to regard as draftable, or at the very least priority free agents, and what some of the early returns have been since their signings.
What puzzled me and a few other draft analysts when Darron Thomas went undrafted, and subsequently unsigned in post-draft free agency, continues to percolate. He has seemingly gone through the Pittsburgh Steelers' and Cleveland Browns' rookie minicamps and failed to sufficiently impress.
The workout calendar now shows him to be in action with the Arizona Cardinals but there is also a rumor that he could be dealing with the Buffalo Bills (Update 3 about one-third of the way down the page at BuffaloBillsDraft.com).
While Thomas' procurement story reaches new intrigue heights, as the Bills would be the fourth organization he has dealt with in the three weeks since the draft, he still remains a worthwhile football operations upside play.
An interesting connection to Thomas as a UDFA quarterback, along with the Steelers and Bills, is fellow undrafted passer Alex Tanney from Division III Monmouth College in Illinois. Tanney, one of the most prolific college quarterbacks of all time across all levels, originally committed to the Steelers as a tryout but changed his mind when the Bills came calling with the same offer, according to Michael David Smith at Pro Football Talk.
Thomas' rumored consideration in Buffalo notwithstanding, Tanney already faces long odds with the Bills, as they have veterans Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tyler Thigpen and Vince Young under contract. Undrafted from the University of Richmond, Aaron Corp was also brought in at some point to compete. Here is a nice local piece on Tanney's experience during the tryout process.
There is also former Division II Gannon University defensive lineman Randy Colling to consider. I have an e-mail in to his agent, Phil Easton, to find out if anything definitive transpired after he attended both the New York Jets' and Giants' rookie minicamps.
Despite the obvious adjustment to the competition level, Colling seems like a no-brainer to be developed into someone's interior defensive line rotation due in part to a nice size/explosion component that projects to him being a playmaker in the opponent's backfield.
Strong first impressions
Chris Polk rode into the Philadelphia Eagles' rookie workouts on a wave of regard that he was missed in the draft after being improperly downgraded for health/durability concerns related to a shoulder condition.
Early reports from Philly's camp, as documented here by fellow Bleacher Report writer Sigmund Bloom, were very positive indeed for Polk. But this is not to indicate that he is being handed a backup role with the Eagles. It sounds like an interesting battle for the No. 3 spot on the halfback chart is already underway with fellow rookie, and seventh-rounder, Bryce Brown.
Loni Fangupo is the nose tackle load from Brigham Young University that the Houston Texans wisely scooped up after the draft. He was one of the very few true natural nose defenders in the class, and, given the lack of depth and crucial importance of the position in Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, he should be unimpeded to a roster spot if he works hard, keeps his nose clean and stays healthy.
Other undrafted free agent names
Antonio Fenelus, CB, University of Wisconsin, signed with the Indianapolis Colts:
Despite being a diminutive 5'8" and 185 pounds, Fenelus scored plus marks across the board with his physical metrics between the combine and his pro day, and he plays with good awareness, strength and tenacity in both zone- and man-coverage assignments.
Per ESPN, his role as a starter during rookie minicamp (all the way at the bottom under May 7 notes) could indicate that he has the inside track heading into full-squad training camp for a roster spot. Fenelus' skill set translates to a sub-package inside corner on defense and a gunner/cover man with special teams.
Adrian Hamilton, OLB, Prairie View A&M University, signed with the Dallas Cowboys:
After breaking Robert Mathis' longstanding Southwestern Athletic Conference record with 20.5 sacks, it was a bit of a surprise to me that Hamilton went undrafted, given that he has solid athletic ability and pass-rush instincts along with how much emphasis is placed on procuring sack artists.
Consider that Bruce Irvin, and all of his warts and incompleteness as an NFL prospect, went 15th overall to the Seahawks. Hamilton going completely undrafted provides one of the better player comparisons to illustrate what is wrong with the process. It would not surprise me if Hamilton finishes his NFL career with more sacks than Irvin.
Two different sources reference how strong of an impression Hamilton made, both right away and overall, during the Cowboys' rookie camp. And while Dallas' starting outside linebacker spots are firmly nailed down right now with DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, look for Hamilton to develop into an effective passing-downs defender early in his career.
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