The NFL is filled with undrafted free agents—like Tony Romo and Arian Foster—who have major impacts on their teams, but a handful of undrafted players in 2013 are already turning heads and gaining attention during OTAs (organized team activities).
It’s possible that one of these rookies finds a way to earn playing time this season. In fact, there’s so much talent in this group that it’s not out of the question a few could earn some Rookie of the Year votes.
Despite having no football experience, London-born Lawrence Okoye is flashing a lot of potential at the San Francisco 49ers OTAs. Okoye is a tremendous athlete who is looking to translate his rugby and Olympic skills into a football career.
Football isn’t a game that can quickly be mastered. However, coaches know how to mask shortcomings in order to help players succeed. Okoye’s raw athleticism and quickness means he has a chance to see some playing time this season.
He has a long way to go, but if he’s serious about making it in the NFL, it’s hard to bet against him.
Tyler Bray is another player who went undrafted because of concerns surrounding his maturity.
Outside of some off-field issues, Bray also showed a tendency to make poor decisions on the field. This problem overshadowed his tremendous talent.
Andy Reid has a reputation of developing young quarterbacks. He’s the perfect coach to work with Bray and try to get the most out of his talents.
It appears that Bray has already made some progress with his new team. In a tweet from Kansas City reporter TJ Carpenter, the Chiefs gave Bray reps with the third team, which put him ahead of Ricky Stanzi. Carpenter also reports that "Daniel had some great passes but mishandled several snaps/handoffs."
Bray and Stanzi are likely fighting for a roster spot.
The Buffalo Bills took a risk on Da’Rick Rogers that has a chance to really pay off.
Rogers possesses the talent needed to be a difference-maker in the NFL. However, he first needs to prove to the Bills that his off-field issues are a thing of the past.
So far, Rogers has made a good impression during OTAs. BuffaloBills.com’s Chris Brown highlighted Rogers as one of the standouts from a recent OTA practice.
If he can keep himself focused, Rogers could earn significant playing time as a rookie. Buffalo is looking for someone to help take the pressure off of Stevie Johnson. Rogers’ size and big-play ability is exactly what the Bills need to accomplish that task.
The Philadelphia Eagles’ decision to hire Chip Kelly brought on a lot of changes—including a switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defensive attack.
This adjustment means the Eagles will be on the lookout for players who fit their new system.
Damion Square had a solid career at Alabama, but he really wasn’t a standout. However, he has the strength and bulk needed to anchor a defense against the run. He’s the perfect fit to play the 5-technique spot in Philadelphia’s defense.
Square has a great opportunity to make the roster, as the Eagles lack depth along the defensive line. Cedric Thornton, Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry are the only defensive ends who appear to be locks to make the roster.
Robert Lester didn’t hear his name called during this year’s NFL draft, but he was quickly scooped up by the Carolina Panthers. His leadership, experience and toughness have already made an impression on the Panthers’ coaching staff.
Lester fell in the draft because of questions surrounding his overall athleticism. He may never develop into a top-notch cover man, but he plays the run well enough to earn a roster spot.
Special teams is another area where Lester can have a major impact. Look for the Panthers to use him on coverage teams until they feel he can help out on defense.
Everybody is talking about how the Green Bay Packers will have a much better running game because of their draft additions of Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin.
However, undrafted free agent Angelo Pease continues to catch the eye of head coach Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy had this to say regarding Pease’s performance:
I'm going to do it to him again, I thought Pease of Kansas State had a very good weekend. He had another run today. I think he's a good young back. ...He’s here for a reason. So that’s a credit to the player and that’s a credit to our personnel department.
You’re also practicing in helmets and shorts and that’s why you have to be practical about what you saw today. It really confirms movement ability, athletic ability. Are they systematic? Do they fit what you’re looking for? So that’s really what this weekend’s for. The real football doesn’t start until training camp and we all realize that.
Lacy and Franklin are virtual locks to make the roster, so Pease still has his work cut out for him to make it as well. He needs to continue his strong play through the rest of OTAs and into training camp.
Ray-Ray Armstrong began his college career with a ton of expectations. He had several decent years as a safety at Miami, but he was kicked off the team prior to last season for illegal contact with Miami boosters.
His maturity issues played a major role in why he went undrafted in this year’s draft.
Head coach Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams decided to give Armstrong a chance to turn things around. They gave Janoris Jenkins a similar opportunity last season. The surprising thing is that the Rams are lining Armstrong up at outside linebacker.
Armstrong's transition will be interesting to watch, as he’s a bit undersized for the position. He will need to add some bulk to his 214-pound frame in order to make the most of this opportunity. However, he showed during his college days that he knows how to play the run.
Despite top-end talent, MarQueis Gray struggled to play at an elite level during his college years.
A lot of that had to do with Minnesota constantly rotating him between quarterback and wide receiver. It’s tough for any player to find a rhythm when trying to play two very different positions.
Gray can expect to see a lot of the same in the NFL, although the San Francisco 49ers won’t ask him to play quarterback. He should see most of his action at tight end, but he will likely also play at running back and wide receiver.
He’s the type of versatile player who can easily make a roster with his ability and willingness to play multiple positions, serving as a real asset for any NFL team.
The Indianapolis Colts secondary had its share of issues last year. This is why the team spent time during the offseason adding talent.
Outside of flashy free-agent signings like LaRon Landry, Indianapolis added two very intriguing undrafted free agents.
George Bremer of The Herald Bulletin tweeted, "UCLA CB Sheldon Price did a nice job in coverage again, but Sam Houston St. CB Daxton Swanson made the day's best defensive play."
Because of the advanced passing offenses in the league, every NFL team needs depth and talent in the secondary. This is why Swanson and Price have a chance to make the roster. At the very least, both should be able to make an impact on special teams.
The Chicago Bears had both Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings earn Pro Bowl nods last season. Those two will again open the season as starters, but the depth behind them is a concern. Their primary backups, Kelvin Hayden and Zack Bowman, had their share of ups and downs last year.
This is why an undrafted free agent like C.J. Wilson has a chance to earn some playing time. During OTAs, Wilson made the most of his opportunity and impressed his coaches.
According to Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune, Wilson’s ability to get his hands on the football and break up passes turned some heads. Getting noticed by the coaches doesn’t guarantee a roster spot, but it puts him on the radar.