Undrafted Free Agents Sure to Make NFL Training Camps Interesting
This year’s crop of undrafted free agents features several players capable of developing into contributors.
In fact, there are a handful of players who will start making noise as early as training camp.
Da'Rick Rogers, Wide Receiver, Buffalo Bills
Based on pure athletic talent, Da'Rick Rogers might be the most physically gifted wide receiver on the Buffalo Bills' roster. He possesses a rare combination of size, explosiveness and top-notch leaping ability.
However, Rogers went undrafted thanks to off-field issues that included problems with drugs. The Bills are giving Rogers a very short leash and won’t hesitate to cut him loose.
Prior to his off-field issues, I had Rogers rated as a first-round talent. His play on the field was actually superior to his former Tennessee teammates Cordarrelle Patterson (first round) and Justin Hunter (second round).
Don’t be surprised if Rogers not only makes the roster but earns a spot in the wide receiver rotation.
Kevin Reddick, Linebacker, New Orleans Saints
Kevin Reddick faces an uphill challenge to make the New Orleans Saints roster, but he’s talented enough to make things interesting.
The Saints currently have David Hawthorne, Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma at the top of the linebacker rotation. However, each of those players has a larger contract and is older than Reddick.
NFL teams must always be aware of their salary-cap situation and take a forward-thinking approach. If Reddick shows enough promise during training camp, the Saints may decide to cut ties with one of the older and more expensive veterans.
Reddick’s speed and good instincts are two skills that give him a chance to stick. He’s able to make plays from sideline to sideline. At the very least, he can make an instant impact on special teams.
Braxston Cave, Center, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns have Pro Bowler Alex Mack in place as their starting center, but look for Braxston Cave to find a role as the team’s backup center. Cleveland doesn’t have another clear-cut option to replace Mack should he suffer a significant injury.
I was shocked when Cave went undrafted in this past year’s draft. He’s a solid all-around player who shows good quickness off the snap. Cave is capable of getting across the face of a defender and sealing him from the play.
He also brings a high football IQ to the table as someone who can make calls at the line of scrimmage. There’s always a place on a roster for a backup center who has potential to develop into a starter.
Tyler Bray, Quarterback, Kansas City Chiefs
Tyler Bray has always had a ton of natural talent but struggled to remain focused on making himself a better player. The Kansas City Chiefs and Andy Reid saw enough potential in Bray that they decided to give him a chance.
This is a perfect situation for Bray because Reid knows how to coach up young quarterbacks. Kansas City’s roster also offers room for Bray to sneak onto the roster. Alex Smith and Chase Daniel hold the top two spots, but the No. 3 quarterback job is up for grabs. Bray only needs to beat out Ricky Stanzi, and that No. 3 job is his.
It’s also important to note that Daniel has yet to prove himself as a NFL quarterback. Should something happen to Smith, there’s no certainty that Daniel will succeed.
Lerentee McCray, Pass-Rusher, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos face the difficult task of trying to replace Elvis Dumervil’s pass-rushing contributions. A paperwork mishap allowed Dumervil to sign with the Baltimore Ravens, which left the Broncos without their No. 2 pass-rusher.
Undrafted linebacker/defensive end Lerentee McCray should be seen as an underdog candidate to make up for some of that lost production. McCray features excellent snap awareness and a quick first step that’s needed to generate pressure on the quarterback.
He’s also a hard worker who never stops his pursuit of the football. Denver will have to give McCray a look at some point during the preseason, and he has the natural talent to turn some heads.
Lawrence Okoye, Defensive Lineman, San Francisco 49ers
Lawrence Okoye is an unbelievable athlete who has shown a desire to play football at the highest level. His years of training for the Olympics shows that he knows that it takes hard work to reach such a high goal.
This combination of athleticism and effort will allow Okoye to make some noise in the preseason. The San Francisco 49ers may find themselves making a tough decision whether or not to keep him on the roster.
The NFL has plenty of raw and talented players but just as many who refuse to give max effort. Okoye’s commitment and discipline give him a legitimate chance of seeing some playing time in the near future.
Robert Lester, Safety, Carolina Panthers
The biggest reason Robert Lester went undrafted is because of the perception he lacks great athleticism. However, he makes up for the athleticism issues with good instincts and experience. This is why the Carolina Panthers rushed to ink him to a free-agent contract.
Lester has already turned heads and even saw some time with the Panthers' first-team defense during OTAs.
His top competition at the safety position includes Charles Godfrey, Haruki Nakamura and Mike Mitchell. Godfrey has played well enough to have a strong hold on one of the starting spots, but the other job is up for grabs.
At this point, nobody should be surprised if Lester works his way into the starting lineup by the first game of the season.
Ray Ray Armstrong, Linebacker/Safety, St. Louis Rams
There was a point in time during Ray Ray Armstrong’s college career at Miami that he was seen as a potential first-round pick. However, a few off-field issues devastated his draft stock and resulted in the former safety going undrafted.
The fact he went undrafted isn’t a major surprise, but the St. Louis Rams signing and converting him to linebacker was a shock. Armstrong is an interesting fit at his new position and may actually have a chance to stick.
He has always had good size and shown aggressiveness versus the run. His experience at safety will help him provide excellent coverage ability at the linebacker position. The Rams might be experimenting with something we’ll see widespread in the league.
With the NFL continuing to become more of a pass-heavy league, defenses need players on the field who can cover. A hybrid safety/linebacker is an excellent player to have on the field to combat versatile and ever-changing offenses.
Matt Scott, Quarterback, Jacksonville Jaguars
Arizona’s Matt Scott was one of the major darlings of the draft community this past year. Evaluators seemed to fall in love with his gutty play and natural talent. However, NFL teams saw that he was a major project as a quarterback.
This is why Scott was available for the Jacksonville Jaguars to sign as an undrafted free agent. While he needs a ton of work before he’s ready to take the field, Scott could gain a lot of attention this preseason for the Jaguars.
Jacksonville’s quarterback situation is one of the worst in the league. Both Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne have failed to grab hold of the long-term job. It’ll only take a few impressive preseason outings for Scott to develop a fanbase.
Damion Square, Defensive Lineman, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles did a good job this offseason bringing in players to help ease their transition from a 4-3 to 3-4 defense. One of the more underrated additions is undrafted free agent Damion Square.
Square was a key member of Alabama’s national championship teams the past few years but was overshadowed by more well-known players. His combination of size and strength makes him a great fit for the 5-technique spot along the defensive line.
Philadelphia doesn’t have much depth at the position behind projected starters Fletcher Cox and Cedric Thornton. The one wild card is Vinny Curry, who is attempting to add bulk in order to increase his ability to play the run.
Either way, Square has an excellent shot at earning a roster spot this preseason.