Wide receiver Chris Owusu, a Stanford product and former player under coach Jim Harbaugh, was impressive throughout the San Francisco 49ers rookie minicamp. Looking like a first-rounder, he ran fluid routes and showed off top-end speed—even beating A.J. Jenkins, the team's top pick in this year's NFL draft, in a race of 20-yard figure eights.
But Owusu wasn't a first-round selection. Or even a middle- to late-round selection. In fact, Owusu wasn't even selected at all. A history of concussions—three in thirteen months—and inconsistent hands caused teams to shy away from the dynamic playmaker. Now he must go the undrafted route to prove his worth in the league.
Owusu is not alone, however, as other undrafted prospects battle for a spot on their team's respective rosters. Here are nine others who will shine when training camp begins.
Mel Kiper, who rated Brown as the No. 54 overall prospect heading into the draft, was shaking his head—though his hair never moved—when the lineman fell completely out of the draft.
Brown played tackle in college but projects as a guard in the NFL. Tape reveals a player who is solid in pass-protection and a mauler in the run game. The Bears, with their balanced attack through the air and on the ground, may have struck gold with this addition.
DE/OLB Derrick Shelby, Miami Dolphins
A bit undersized (6'3", 265 pounds) for defensive end and a bit limited athletically for outside linebacker, Shelby lacks a "natural position" but consistently produces on the field. Has played end and tackle and has rushed from a two-point stance in college, so the versatility is there. He is explosive, relentless in pursuit and comes up big in the clutch.
The Dolphins need another pass-rusher—not named Cameron Wake—and Shelby is aiming to be that guy.
QB Austin Davis, St. Louis Rams
I've been high on this guy for a while, and his on-field production and throwing session in Indianapolis further validate those beliefs. Davis owns every passing record at Southern Miss—the same school that produced Brett Favre—despite beginning his career as a walk-on. Going the undrafted route gives him another chip on the shoulder to prove the critics wrong. Again.
The transition from a spread offense will be bumpy at times, but he has the physical tools and intangibles to succeed at the next level. Davis possesses surprising arm strength, can make plays outside the pocket and is a natural leader—all musts at the quarterback position.
RB Brandon Bolden, New England Patriots
Chris Polk is the easy choice as far as undrafted running backs go, but Bolden will be the biggest surprise.
With the departure of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and no clear resident atop the depth chart, Bolden will get a chance to establish himself in training camp. At 5'11" and 225 pounds, he's a big back—quicker than fast—and an elite athlete who runs with plenty of power. His ability in the passing game will make the offense that much more dangerous.
OT Matt Reynolds, Carolina Panthers
The Panthers followed up a good draft by landing Reynolds, an undrafted tackle from BYU. After an outstanding junior year, Reynolds was viewed as a fringe first-round talent but returned to school for his final year of eligibility—where a nagging shoulder injury caused his stock to unfairly drop.
A four-year starter and three-time All-Mountain West Conference First Teamer, Reynolds has plenty of game experience and is ready to contribute immediately. He has good size, moves well and goes the extra mile to protect his quarterback, with or without a helmet on.
LB Jerry Franklin, Denver Broncos
Talk about a tackling machine. Franklin led Arkansas in tackling four years in a row—the first player in school history to accomplish that. In 2011 alone, he tallied 97 total tackles with 10 for a loss and five quarterback hurries. He is strong against the run and really lays the wood.
Paired with Von Miller, the two could terrorize offenses for years to come. Talk about an absolute steal.
CB Leonard Johnson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Stock plummeted because of height and speed concerns—in an era where receivers are both big and fast. Johnson measured in at 5'10" and clocked a 4.71 40-yard dash at the Scouting Combine, but ran well at his pro day (4.56). He is arguably the most physical of any corner in the draft, often jamming receivers at the line and disrupting their routes.
Johnson fits into the defensive scheme in Tampa Bay and should be a steady contributor on special teams as he climbs up the depth chart.
WR Eric Page, Denver Broncos
Some receivers are really fast, and others just have a knack for getting open. Page falls in the "knack for getting open" column. Undersized (5'9", 185 pounds) with 4.6 speed, he is not your prototypical receiver, yet he still finds a way to get it done. He runs precise routes, has exceptional hands and is fearless on the gridiron.
Whether on special teams or in the slot, Page will make an impact early on. It also doesn't hurt to have Peyton Manning as your quarterback.
RB Rodney Stewart, Cincinnati Bengals
Let me preface this: Stewart will never be an every-down back in the NFL. He will, however, make an impact as a change-of-pace, situational back.
Stewart is slight in stature (5'7", 180 pounds), but electric in the open field. He is also a reliable receiver out of the backfield and really makes defenders whiff on tackles. As A.J. Green and Marvin Jones stretch the field vertically, Stewart can work his magic underneath. I call it the Darren Sproles Effect.
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