New York Giants: The 10 Best Undrafted Free Agents in Tom Coughlin Era
Across the NFL, teams are always looking for that diamond in the rough that managed to slip through the cracks during the draft.
Tom Coughlin has been particularly good at spotting NFL-caliber talent and grooming UDFAs to play critical roles to the team's success.
In honor of the start of the 2013 NFL season being that much closer, we'll take a look back at the 10 best UDFAs in the Coughlin era as the G-men prepare for their 10th season with the coach.
All statistics are courtesy of pro-football-reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Honorable Mentions
Simply making a roster out of an NFL training camp as an UDFA is an accomplishment. Here's the guys that couldn't quite crack the top 10.
TE Darcy Johnson (2006): The third tight end is one of those positions that people rarely remember. They're never the center of attention, even when they do something wrong. Johnson was on the Giants for three seasons, and he dressed for 30 games. He scored two receiving touchdowns in 2008, but more importantly, he was there to help block in a season where the Giants led the league in rushing yards with 2,518.
RB D.J. Ware (2007): Ware was never overly impressive for the Giants, but he was steady. He contributed on special teams, provided them with an OK return game and was good for spot duty at running back. His best statistical season came in 2011, rushing for 163 yards on 46 attempts. He added 27 catches for 170 receiving yards.
S Craig Dahl (2007): Dahl only dressed in nine games with the Giants in 2007, but former defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo thought enough of him to sign him with the St. Louis Rams the next season when he was hired as head coach. Dahl played the next four seasons with the Rams and started in 16 games in 2012. He signed with the 49ers this offseason for a three-year deal worth $5 million.
CB Bruce Johnson (2009): Johnson dressed for all 16 games his rookie season and even started in five games. He had one sack and two interceptions, including a 49-yard return for a touchdown against the Cowboys. He only dressed in six more games in his NFL career following that season.
LB Spencer Paysinger (2011): The verdict is still out on Paysinger. After fierce camp battles in his first two NFL seasons, he should be breathing a little easier this season. He'll get serious consideration as a starter this year.
S Will Hill (2012): Hill will serve a four-game suspension to start the season after failing a drug test. He's got all the talent, it just seems like he can't keep himself in good standing off of the field. This is the second four-game suspension in as many years that he'll serve in the NFL. Coach Coughlin's patience has got to be running thin with Hill, and this offseason, there's plenty of depth at safety.
DE Adewale Ojomo (2012): Ojomo has made a name for himself in the preseason, but the Giants are crowded at defensive end. They drafted the Texas A&M product, Damontre Moore, in the third round, and Mathias Kiwanuka is transitioning back to DE. There may not be room for Ojomo, even if he's impressive.
QB Jared Lorenzen (2006)
The Pillsbury Throwboy. The Hefty Lefty. The Abominable Throwman. QBese. Whatever you want to call him, Jared Lorenzen worked hard to battle weight problems and earn Tom Coughlin's trust as Eli Manning's backup in 2005. He won the Superbowl in 2007...and he was waived next year in favor of David Carr, Anthony Wright and Andre Woodson.
He only saw mop-up duty in his NFL days, but that doesn't mean UDFAs couldn't learn a thing or two from him. There was never any denying the arm strength and athleticism he possessed for a big man. Still a long shot to ever make the NFL, he worked hard and met Coach Coughlin's weight ultimatum in 2007 of showing up to camp 20 pounds lighter.
CB Curtis Deloatch (2004)
Most cornerbacks aren't as tall as 6'2", but Curtis Deloatch made it work for him. He didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school, but he still managed to make it in the NFL.
In his second season with the Giants, Deloatch was afforded a chance to start a preseason game with William James out with an injury. "I think it's a really big deal," he told the Bill Pennington of The New York Times. "You can't waste your shot at something like this. I want to show the coaches how much I've learned."
That's exactly the attitude all UDFAs need to have, and the North Carolina A&T product started in 13 games in 2005. He'd lose his job to Corey Webster at the end of that season.
Deloatch was a good depth player that could contribute on special teams. After his tenure with the Giants, he spent 2006 with the New Orleans Saints and 2007 with the Carolina Panthers before his career came to an end.
Even if he couldn't do enough in his opportunity with the Giants as a starter to solidify his status as an NFL player, he will always be a part of New Orleans Saints history. The highlight of his brief four-year NFL career was scoring the first touchdown in the first game played at the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina on a blocked punt.
TE Michael Matthews (2007)
Michael Matthews is not a household name. In fact, most readers may struggle to remember who Matthews is.
The thing is, Matthews suited up as a blocking-specialist tight end for two very run-heavy seasons for the Giants, and he was a quiet contributor in the Giants Superbowl run in 2007.
Bleacher Report senior analyst Dan Siegel correctly pointed out that Matthews was always getting his hands dirty when Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw had success running the ball in two tight end sets that season, especially in the playoffs when Jeremy Shockey was injured.
CB Kevin Dockery (2006)
A contributor on special teams and pass defense packages, Dockery was a great third or fourth cornerback for the Giants for four years. His resume includes a Superbowl ring from the Giants' 17-14 win over the Patriots in 2007.
Like a lot of players on this list, he was a key contributor for the Giants in some of their most successful seasons under Tom Coughlin. Unfortunately for him, he had a hard time finding much work when the Giants let him go—just like a lot of his counterparts on this list too. He played in 10 games for the St. Louis Rams in 2010 and was cut after training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.
He dressed in 51 games for Big Blue—starting 10 of them. He'd score two big touchdowns in his career: a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown against Tony Romo and the Cowboys in a 36-22 win on Sunday Night Football in 2006 and a 71-yard field-goal block he scooped up for a touchdown in 2008 in a losing effort in 2008 against the Eagles.
LB Mark Herzlich (2011)
Mark Herzlich is believed by many to be the favorite for the starting middle linebacker competition in this year's camp. Now entering his third season, he's managed to contribute on special teams and on spot duty on defense.
His story of being diagnosed with cancer as a 21-year-old to not only survive but win the Super Bowl as a 24-year-old should be inspiration enough for other UDFAs to step their game up.
For the linebacker out of Boston College, the next step in his career is to prove he's worthy of being a starter. He'll get an excellent chance this offseason.
S James Butler (2005)
James Butler is one of a few Coughlin-era UDFAs that cashed in on their success with the G-Men.
Butler had some solid years as starting safety for the Giants, his most memorable being the Giants unlikely run to Superbowl versus the Patriots in 2007. Butler started 12 regular games at strong safety that year and all four in the postseason. He lead the team in tackles in the playoffs with 24 solo and 5 assists.
When he left New York in 2009, he signed with the Rams for four years at $14 million. He was cut in 2011 as a cap casualty after losing his starting job to fellow Giants UDFA, Craig Dahl.
FB Henry Hynoski (2011)
Henry Hynoski's worth is being tested this season. If he isn't ready to go Week 1, it will be a huge handicap for the Giants. They have the parts in place to fill in for Hynoski with Bear Pascoe and recently signed Ryan D’Imperio, but they are not the player Hynoski is.
Similar to another undrafted fullback from 1998 on the Giants—Greg Comella—Hynoski is not only a great lead blocker, but he is deceptive as a receiver out of the backfield. He's not the fastest, most-athletic fullback by any means, but he's got good hands and quick feet.
When you go to the tape, there's no denying Hyonski's importance to the Giants ground game. The Giants were extremely lucky to find him outside of the draft.
TE Jake Ballard (2010)
For a while there, it looked like the Giants might have found their replacement for Kevin Boss very quickly. Unfortunately, injuries and a calculated risk cut Jake Ballard's time with the Giants short.
Ballard's career path should give hope to those UDFAs that get cut but receive the call to be on the practice squad. He spent his first season on the squad before being signed to the roster for a game against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Still relatively unknown in 2011, Ballard would be a major component to the Giants Superbowl run. He had 38 receptions for 604 yards and four touchdowns in the regular season, acting as an effective safety valve for Eli Manning. He might have battled through injuries at the end of the season and into the playoffs that hindered his effectiveness, but make no mistake, things might have gone differently without Ballard's emergence as a starting tight end.
Ballard might have still been on the Giants today had it not been for a move that backfired for the Giants. To make room for defensive tackle Rocky Bernard, the Giants waived the then-injured Ballard. Surprisingly to the Giants, the Patriots claimed Ballard.
After missing all of last season, Ballard is back on the field with the Patriots in training camp this season.
LB Chase Blackburn (2005)
It doesn't get more blue collar than Chase Blackburn.
Blackburn doesn't have an amazing skill set, but he has intangibles that make him the kind of player that championship teams need.
His career with the Giants came to a close this offseason, as he signed with the Carolina Panthers on a two-year deal.
Some may not remember his first training camp with the Giants as a rookie in 2005, but he impressed in limited playing time and earned a spot as a backup on the roster. Most days after practice, he could be found shuttling Carlos Emmons and Antonio Pierce's pads to the locker room, but not before going up and down the autograph line and interacting with fans.
Blackburn made a name for himself on special teams, leading the team in special teams tackles in 2005 through 2010. Injuries cut his season short in 2010, and he spent a majority of 2011 out of action before rejoining the team down the stretch. Blackburn's return was another amazing storyline to the Giants run to another Superbowl victory that year.
A play that will forever be engraved in Giants' fans brains is his interception way down the field in Superbowl XLVI. At the beginning of the 4th quarter, with the Patriots up 17-15, Blackburn would meet a Tom Brady throw at its highest point over Pats tight end Rob Gronkowski and come up with an interception to get the Giants the ball back. It was the first turnover of the game.
WR Victor Cruz (2010)
If finding successful UDFAs is a lottery, the Giants hit the jackpot with Victor Cruz.
He's already joined the ranks of Priest Holmes, Kurt Warner and company as one of the greatest UDFAs in NFL history.
Cruz was one of eight key contributors to the 2011 Superbowl Champion New York Giants that was undrafted, joining RB D.J. Ware, P Steve Weatherford, K Lawrence Tynes, FB Henry Hynoski, LB Chase Blackburn, LB Mark Herzlich and TE Jake Ballard.
Not many realize that Cruz's success with the Giants almost never happened. Despite making quite an entrance against the Jets in the 2010 preseason with six catches for 145 receiving yards and three touchdowns in less than a full game of work, he was almost waived in hopes he'd make it through to be placed on the practice squad.
When that didn't happen, he was placed on injured reserve a few weeks into the season after suffering a hamstring injury. He had yet to record a catch in a regular season game at that point.
"It’s no big secret he was on the bubble both years,” senior vice president of player evaluation Chris Mara told Mike Garafolo of The Star-Ledger. “That happens a lot. Look at (James) Harrison from Pittsburgh. He got cut (four) times.”
If Cruz continues the pace he's at now, he may be considered the greatest Giants receiver of all-time when his career comes to a close.
He's the single-season receiving yards record holder for the Giants, with 1,536 yards in 2011. He just re-signed this offseason on a six-year deal worth $43 million.
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