Antonio Gates (85) is one of the best undrafted free agents in NFL history
Radio City Music Hall and the 2013 NFL draft were not the only places the San Diego Chargers acquired young talent. The Chargers came to terms with 20 undrafted free agents, and they will be given every chance to make the roster.
While being an undrafted free agent is an uphill climb to an NFL roster spot, the San Diego Chargers have a history of playing the best athlete available regardless of draft status. Antonio Gates is the most famous of the undrafted free-agent Bolts on the roster, and last year Michael Harris from UCLA was the season opening starting left tackle despite being passed over during the draft.
These rookies will get an honest shot at not just making the roster, but contributing on the field. Do not be surprised if at least four make the opening day roster, with two getting significant playing time. The others may stick around on the practice squad or get picked up by other teams.
The grades will reflect how the player fits the Chargers’ need and scheme as follows:
A = Perfect fit for both scheme and need
B = Perfect fit in either scheme or need, but not both
C = Average fit for need and scheme, could still push for a backup role
D = Not a fit or need, would really have to impress to make the roster
F = Probably not even a practice squad player
The San Diego Chargers need additional safety help. Last year’s third-round selection, Brandon Taylor, played in four games and blew out his ACL.
The Chargers also cut ties with Atari Bigby, and Corey Lynch is still an unrestricted free agent.
Central Michigan’s Jahleel Addae is a hard-hitting safety. Listed on the Chargers' website as 5’10” and 195 pounds, Addae would be the shortest of San Diego’s safeties. (For reference, Matt Elam, who was Baltimore’s first-round selection out of Florida, is 5’10” and 208 pounds.)
As a senior leader on the Chippewas defense, Addae made seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, so his size did not prevent him from coming up on run support. He also finished his career with back-to-back seasons with four interceptions.
As with most undrafted free agents, Addae would have a better chance of making the team through superb special teams play. During his pro day (he was not invited to the NFL Scouting Combine) Addae ran the 40-yard dash in 4.64 seconds (according to Walter Football), which is the same time Kenny Vaccaro (first-round pick for New Orleans) ran at the NFL Scouting Combine. At the very least, his speed should not be a hindrance to playing special teams.
The Chippewas ran a 4-3 defense, and while that scheme uses some different coverages than a 3-4, the transition for a safety should be smooth.
Addae could be a quality backup and contribute on special teams, but it looks like the Chargers are counting on Taylor to be ready when the season starts considering the team has not addressed the safety position in the draft or through free agency.
Addae seems willing to help out a team anyway he can.
“I can play free safety or strong, nickleback, anything that gets me on the field,” he told Cory Butzin of MLive.com. “With my skill set, I can play any defense. At the end of the day, it’s football.”
His attitude may make him hard to cut when rosters are trimmed.
“A lot of times, guys who go late [in the draft] become big names and guys who go early aren’t,” Addae said to Brandon Champion of CM Life. “It’s not about where you start; it’s where you finish. I’ve been an underdog my whole life in different things, but the size of my heart tells me I can play at the next level.”
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Chargers selected Alabama’s D.J. Fluker with the No. 11 overall pick in the NFL draft, but did not pick up any additional help along a woeful offensive line during the draft. Fluker projects as the starting right tackle, but the left tackle spot is still unknown.
San Diego brought in King Dunlap during free agency, but few believe he is a long-term answer for the blindside. The Chargers and Bryant McKinnie are still dancing around the possibility of the former Raven coming to San Diego.
Nick Becton was a one-year starter at left tackle at Virginia Tech. He has quick feet to pick up speed pass-rushers, good vision to see delayed blitzes by linebackers and stunts by linemen, and decent strength in the run game. But he only has 13 collegiate starts under his belt, so he is still relatively inexperienced.
Virgina Tech ran out of shotgun and did a lot of zone-read option with quarterback Logan Thomas. Philip Rivers does not have the mobility of Logan Thomas. Rivers’ mobility is closer to Logan Mankins than Logan Thomas.
He filled in at guard during his junior year. Position versatility is always a positive when fighting for a roster spot. Because of the lack of quality left tackles on San Diego’s roster, Becton will get a shot. The Chargers started an undrafted rookie free agent at left tackle last year, Mike Harris, who was rated as the worst offensive tackle Pro Football Focus has ever graded. Granted, Harris was a right tackle in college, but the Chargers may have second thoughts about going down that road two years in a row.
According to the Gaston Gazette, Becton had offers from other teams but decided to sign with San Diego because of the offensive line troubles. Even so, he knows a roster spot will not be given to him. He must earn it.
“This is what I’ve been working for,” he told the Gaston Gazette. “Now it’s up to me to go out these and make the team.”
OVERALL GRADE: B
Frank Beltre played defensive end for Towson, and he played it well. He was a three-time All-Colonial Athletics Association in football on the defensive line. If Beltre expects to play in the NFL, he needs to switch positions.
At 6’2” and 240 pounds, Beltre is too small to play anywhere on the line. He needs to convert to outside linebacker, especially if he expects to play in a 3-4 defense like the one the Chargers run. Beltre shows great quickness at the snap, an ability to shed blocks and make a tackle, decent pursuit on plays away from him and a constant motor and drive to not give up on the play. But that was at defensive end.
At the Towson pro day, Beltre showed nice speed, running the 40-yard dash in 4.67 seconds. By comparison, Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (6’2”, 245 lbs.) and Alec Ogletree (6’3”, 242 lbs.), both of whom were first-round draft picks, clocked 40-yard dash times of 4.92 seconds and 4.70 seconds, respectively.
The Chargers need an outside pass rush now that Shaun Phillips is in Denver and Antwan Barnes is with the Jets. Beltre had 11 sacks in his career and 38 tackles for loss. Even if he had a smooth transition from DE to OLB, Beltre would be a situational pass-rusher and special teams contributor considering last year’s first-round draft pick Melvin Ingram is slated to start on one side and 10-year pro Jarret Johnson is the other starter.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Former starting cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason are on different teams, so finding two starting CBs was a must for new general manager Tom Telesco.
The Chargers drafted California cornerback Steve Williams in the fifth round and added Derek Cox and Johnny Patrick via free agency. Veterans Shareece Wright and Marcus Gilchrist are expected to step up and earn more playing time, as well.
The road is fairly uphill for Greg Brown, but the former Kansas corner is by no means a definite roster cut come the start of the regular season.
The Jayhawks front seven are in a 4-3 look, while San Diego runs the 3-4. It isn’t that big of a deal for the secondary, especially corners, but it is a different scheme.
Brown (5’10”, 185 lbs.) started his career at KU on special teams, earning Special Teams Player of the Week vs. New Mexico State his sophomore year. He will have to use that special teams experience in order to impress the coaches and stay with the team.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Proof that Cotton (81) was used in the passing game.
The Nebraska Cornhuskers have rarely been known as a team who airs it out on offense. As NFL.com points out, the folks in Lincoln ranked 101th, 113th and 107th in passing offense the past three years. It makes it hard for a tight end to show NFL scouts his all-around skill set when that is the case.
Ben Cotton showed enough to get signed by San Diego.
Like most offensive players from Nebraska, Cotton knows how to block. Despite his 22 receptions in 32 games as a Cornhusker, Cotton has decent hands.
He has the size (listed as 6’5” and 256 lbs. on the Chargers website) and temperament to be a blocking tight end in the NFL.
The problem is the Chargers have future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates entrenched as the starter. Gates has been slowed by foot and toe injuries, and there has been speculation that his career is coming to an end sooner rather than later.
San Diego drafted Ladarius Green last year. He only caught four passes in 2012, but he was only targeted four times. An increase in his playing time is an almost certainty.
The Chargers also added John Phillips and Dallas Walker through free agency. Teams rarely carry more than three tight ends on the roster, so it looks like Green and Gates are set while Phillips, Walker, Cotton and the other tight ends currently on the team will have to battle it out for the last spot.
Nebraska runs a lot of power blocking, meaning the tight ends are asked to handle the outside linebackers one-on-one. San Diego is expected to use a zone-blocking scheme, asking blockers to double-team opponents at the line of scrimmage and then attacking a linebacker when he commits to the run.
Transitioning from power blocking to zone blocking should not be too difficult for a tight end, but it is a different scheme.
OVERALL GRADE: D
No need to rehash all of the information regarding the Chargers cornerbacks when it was laid out in the Greg Brown slide.
Marcus Cromartie is different than Brown, though. Cromartie is taller (6’1” compared to 5’10”), heavier (195 lbs. compared to 185 lbs.) and faster (4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash compared to 4.59 seconds). The Badgers ran 4-3 on most occasions but did use multiple fronts on defense, including a 3-4 from time to time.
Chargers fans can only hope he is more aggressive against the run than his cousin, former San Diego corner Antonio Cromartie.
In an interview with Scott Porter for New Era Scouting, Cromartie said he would not be a liability against the run.
“I played in a conference that forces you to tackle, so I have become a good open-field tackler,” he said.
OVERALL GRADE: B
No one will blame you if you have never heard of Courtney Gardner. He never played a down in the NCAA, and yet he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the San Diego Chargers.
Gardner played two years at Sierra College, a junior college outside of Sacramento. At 6’3” and 220 pounds with track speed (10.7 seconds in the 100-meter dash, according to FanSided.com), Gardner dominated lesser competition. But the difference between Sierra College and the San Diego Chargers is, well, the difference between junior college and the NFL. The defenses he will play against will be faster, more complicated and not intimidated by his size or speed.
Deciphering an NFL defense could be an issue. The reason he played two years at junior college and never a down after was his inability to pass academic requirements to transfer.
Gardner told NFL Draft Blitz he was requited by Pac-10 schools out of high school (this was before it became the Pac-12), but he did not pass his high school math efficiency. He went to a prep school in North Carolina to get his grades up then transferred to Sierra College. He said he was going to play at Oklahoma, but another academic glitch derailed that path, so he decided to enter the draft.
Despite the obvious red flags, the Chargers decided the raw athleticism was too much to pass up.
The wide receiver coaching room has quickly become a very crowded destination. The Chargers return Eddie Royal, Danario Alexander, Malcom Floyd, Richard Goodman, Robert Meachem and Vincent Brown returns after a broken ankle kept him sidelined all of 2012. San Diego also added Cal’s Keenan Allen in the third round, as well as Mike Willie, Deon Butler and Dan DePalma during free agency. The team also signed undrafted free agent Luke Tasker.
If Gardner wants to impress the coaching staff, he had better duplicate the seven blocked field goals and seven blocked punts he had at Sierra College.
OVERALL GRADE: D
Kwame Geathers was a situational player for the Bulldogs, giving John Jenkins, the Saints' third-round selection, a breather from time to time. If Geathers stayed for his senior year, he would have had the starting nose tackle job at the University of Georgia.
Geathers is a massive man (6’6” and 342 lbs. at his pro day) but also nimble on his feet. During the SEC championship game against Alabama, Geathers ran 34 yards downfield to cut off a long Eddie Lacy run.
The Bulldogs run a 3-4 defense, as do the Chargers, and with Cam Thomas the only returning nose tackle on the roster, San Diego is in need of backups. Even if Geathers does not beat out Thomas for the starting spot, Thomas is going to need a water break every once in a while, and the Chargers could do a lot worse than Geathers jumping in as a sub.
OVERALL GRADE: A
Fans of the San Diego Chargers may be a little weary of the running back situation on the roster. Ryan Mathews has never played a full season. Ronnie Brown is 31 years old. Danny Woodhead has never been the feature back in an offense. Edwin Baker was on the practice squad for all but two games last year. Fozzy Whittaker was signed during free agency, but he was an undrafted free agent and had two knee injuries at the University of Texas.
The fans may be weary, but the front office did not think the running back situation merited a draft pick, despite opportunities in the sixth and seventh rounds to pick up a quality ball-carrier.
Tom Telesco did not draft a running back, but he did sign Michael Hill. Hill was runner-up to the 2012 Harlon Hill Trophy, which is the Division II equivalent to the Heisman Trophy. Hill rushed for 2,168 yards with 16 touchdowns on the ground. He also had 21 receptions for 220 yards and three touchdowns. Woodhead was a back-to-back Harlon Hill winner 2006 and 2007 after his junior and senior seasons at Chadron State.
Hill was named the MVP of the Raycom All-Star Classic in January after he rushed for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
His coach for that All-Star game was Dan Reeves, the former all-pro running back and Super Bowl-winning coach, and he had high praise for Hill.
“You have to have great quickness to play running back and that is the thing that impressed me the most was his tremendous quickness,” Reeves said. “Also his ability to break tackles was impressive.”
It looks like Missouri Western ran some zone, but a lot of the highlights have guards and tackles pulling, which is something zone-blocking schemes never have. Running in a zone scheme requires patience, allowing the offensive linemen to double-team the defensive line and then work up to the linebackers. Once the linebackers commit, the running back is allowed to pick where he wants to run, resulting in a lot of cut-back runs.
In a man-blocking scheme, the running back runs straight to a spot as the blockers are trying to push the defenders out of that specific area.
In the highlights, Hill looks like he has good patience and sets up his blockers well, traits that carry over well to a zone offense. The debate becomes if running back is a need or not. The front office was not too concerned about it, but those veteran players do not have a history of dominance.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Byron Jerideau is in the same boat as Kwame Geathers (let’s hope it’s a sturdy boat considering the size of the occupants) in that both are disappointed in not getting drafted, but both must be ecstatic in landing in San Diego.
Besides the great weather, Jerideau should be thrilled to be a Charger because it is almost a certainty he will see playing time.
The lone nose tackle is Cam Thomas. Jerideau will be given every opportunity to make the team in order to make sure Thomas has fresh legs once the fourth quarter rolls along.
Jerideau is smaller than Geather (6’0” and 334 lbs., compared to 6’6” and 342 lbs.) and he played in a 4-3 scheme as a defensive tackle. The difference between a 4-3 defensive tackle and a 3-4 nose tackle are actually quick significant. The nose is asked to sit and take on as many blockers as possible. In a lot of 4-3 defenses, the tackles are asked to slant between offensive linemen.
Also, a nose tackle is going to be double-teamed almost every play. A defensive tackle has many more one-on-one opportunities against offensive linemen.
Jerideau is used to playing across from a guard and beating that guard. A nose tackle like Geathers is used to playing across from the center and getting blocked by the center and a guard almost every play.
Still, Jerideau should be able to handle two offensive linemen. He is thought to be the strongest player in South Carolina history. He bench-pressed 500 pounds and squatted 670 pounds. He also ran the 40-yard dash in 5.12 seconds.
OVERALL GRADE: B
The cornerback situation has already been covered.
Josh Johnson is an averaged-sized corner (5’10”, 199 lbs.) with less-than-ideal speed (4.65 seconds in the 40-yard dash).
If he makes the team, Johnson would probably be a nickel or dime defender at best. His lack of size and speed could be a liability.
Purdue ran a lot of four-man fronts on defense.
OVERALL GRADE: C
The Chargers signed an undrafted free-agent punter.
No, nothing is wrong with Mike Scifres.
And it looks like nothing will be wrong with Scifres.
Bleacher Report AFC West lead writer Christopher Hansen said Kent will be around purely to keep Scifres ready for the season.
“The punter is just a camp leg to keep Mike Scifres fresh,” Hansen wrote.
OVERALL GRADE: F
Jamarkus McFarland did not live up to the hype while at Oklahoma. McFarland was highly recruited out of high school, but McFarland only registered 37 total tackles in 47 games.
McFarland played as a defensive tackle in a 4-3, but he is listed as a defensive end on the Chargers website. Does that mean he will only get opportunities at defensive end?
The coaches will probably move him wherever they find him most useful.
At 6’2” and 305 pounds, McFarland is similar in size to San Diego’s Corey Liuget (6’2”, 300 lbs.). Kendall Reyes is slightly taller (6’4”) but the same weight as McFarland and Liuget.
Behind Liuget and Reyes, San Diego has Jarius Wynn, whom the team acquired via free agency. It should be a fairly wide-open contest beyond that. The Chargers also have Damik Scafe and Logan Harrell, but they can easily be replaced.
OVERALL GRADE: C
Collecting 166 total tackles in one season is pretty impressive, no matter what level of competition you play against. Dan Molls led all of college football with those 166 total tackles as a senior at Toledo.
Donald Butler is one of the two starting inside linebackers. The Chargers drafted Manti Te’o in the second round of the NFL Draft, giving up a fourth-round pick to move up to grab Te’o, and all indications point to Te’o starting at the other inside linebacker spot.
San Diego quietly made a move right before the draft, signing free agent DJ Smith from Green Bay. Jonas Mouton returns to the Chargers and has said he wants to contribute. Andrew Gachkar returns for his third year, and Phillip Dillard and Bront Bird are also on the roster.
Molls could push Mouton and Smith for the primary backup rolls, especially considering Smith has had knee injuries.
Toledo ran a 3-4 defense, so adjusting to San Diego’s scheme should be smooth.
Scouts say Molls is undersized (6’0” and 238 lbs.) but NaVorro Bowman is considered one of the best linebackers in the NFL and is 6’0” and 242 pounds.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Brandon Moore projects as a defensive end, much like Jamarcus McFarland projects as a defensive end.
The University of Texas defense switched between a 4-3 and a 3-4. In the 4-3, Moore was a defensive tackle over a guard. In the 3-4, Moore was an end lined up over an offensive tackle. That is what scouts refer to as “scheme diverse.”
Moore has the size (6’5”, 315 lbs.) to play end and could be a valuable backup in case starters Kendall Reyes or Corey Liuget get injured or need a break. Moore would need to beat out McFarland, Jarius Wynn, Damik Scafe and Logan Harrell in order to see playing time.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Chibuikem “Kenny” Okoro is very similar to Marcus Cromartie. Both are 6’0” and 200 pounds, and both played in a 3-4 defense. Okoro has also played safety, which adds to his value and gives him a better shot at making the roster.
To add even more value to his stock, Okoro returned kickoffs for Wake Forest and could be pressed into duty for that with the Chargers if need be.
OVERALL GRADE: B
Like Nick Beckton, Randy Richards should be given every opportunity to find a roster spot as the San Diego Chargers offensive line continues to get rebuilt. Unlike Beckton, Richards played right tackle in college.
Richards (6’3”, 305 lbs.) could switch to guard based on his size and aggressiveness. Durign free agency, the Chargers brought in guards Rich Ohrnberger and Chad Rinehart to compete with second-year man Johnnie Troutman for the starting jobs. Troutman missed his rookie season with an arm injury. UT-San Diego writer Michael Gehlken reported the Chargers will try former right tackle Jeromey Clary at guard, meaning there could be one more hurdle to Richards getting playing time.
It looks like Missouri State uses zone blocking schemes, which will help Richards, as will his position versatility. San Diego desperately needs to upgrade the offensive line, but not at right tackle since they just drafted a mountain of a man in the first round. Still, it is useful to be an offensive lineman who played in a zone blocking offense and can be moved to multiple positions.
OVERALL GRADE: A
David Rolf is an interesting pick up for the Chargers.
Rolf transferred from Michigan State to Utah after the 2009 season. Of the 40 career games he played in (26 at Michigan State and 23 at Utah), 32 were on the defensive line. Mid-way through the 2011 season with the Utes, Rolf converted from defensive end to tight end.
The willingness to not just switch positions, but to flop sides of the ball, shows a work ethic and attitude coaches will love. Traditionally, defensive players switching to offense are known as aggressive and nasty (former San Diego all-pro guard Kris Dielman was a converted defensive lineman.)
It will be a longshot for Rolf to make the final roster, but attitude and work ethic do carry a lot of weight with coaches. Adding an aggressive tight end for short-yardage situations is a need considering Antonio Gates is not known for his blocking prowess, but the Bolts did sign John Phillips in free agency as well as undrafted free agent Ben Cotton from Nebraska.
OVERALL GRADE: D
Luke Tasker can set as many receiving records at Cornell as possible, but the simple fact is the Chargers are not bringing him in to haul in passes.
When your father is Steve Tasker, you will be expected to contribute on special teams. Tasker the father is debated as a possible Hall of Fame nominee not as a wide receiver but because he was a special teams ace for the Buffalo Bills in the late 1980s and early ‘90s.
Tasker the son was a productive receiver for the Big Red. His 1,207 receiving yards as a senior are tops in Cornell history. He was ninth in the nation in receptions per game (7.5).
But if Luke can duplicate his dad’s seven Pro Bowl appearances as a special team gunner, San Diego may have found a gem.
OVERALL GRADE: C
San Diego does need linebacker depth, especially on the outside. Behind starters Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram, the Chargers have former first-round pick Larry English and recent sixth-round draft pick Tourek Williams. English has been a major disappointment and Williams played defensive end in college in a 4-3 scheme.
Devan Walker played outside linebacker in a 3-4 defense. Granted, he played at Southeastern Louisiana against less-than-stellar competition. Still, Walker played well earning All-Southland Conference designation after registering seven sacks, 12 tackles-for-loss and 46 total tackles.
Walker can hold up against the run (he played defensive end his first three seasons in college), but has the quickness to get to the quarterback.
OVERALL GRADE: A