Report Card Grades for the New Orleans Saints' Undrafted Free Agents

Will OsgoodAnalyst IMay 14, 2014

Report Card Grades for the New Orleans Saints' Undrafted Free Agents

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    Bill Haber/Associated Press

    The New Orleans Saints have gained a reputation for hitting big on undrafted free agents in the Sean Payton era.

    It has become such a "thing" that Payton, in his post-draft press conference, said the team now uses that reputation as a selling point to the undrafted players:

    Yes, the one thing we do sell that is easy for us to sell is the amount of free agents that have made our rosters in the last eight seasons going into the ninth year.

    Answering a different question, Payton posed his thoughts on what the Saints are looking for in an undrafted free agent target:

    With only seven rounds there are some good football players that go undrafted and the trick is to look for some traits that maybe stand out and also to look maybe at where they have a chance to earn a roster spot.

    The Saints have undoubtedly used this strategy with great effectiveness over the past few years. Kevin Reddick and Khiry Robinson were two players the Saints brought in after the draft last year who made the team and contributed to the Saints’ 11-5 record.

    This year the Saints officially signed 17 undrafted free agents and are bringing in a handful of players for a “tryout” this Friday through Sunday (Robinson was brought in for a tryout last season before being signed).

    Here is the list of players who have been signed to the current 90-man roster, as of May 13.

    Each player is given a grade, evaluation and projection for his likelihood to end up on the 53-man roster or practice squad.

Brandon Coleman, WR, Rutgers

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    Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

    The 6’6”, 225-pound receiver was expected to be taken somewhere in the first four rounds of this past weekend’s NFL draft.

    Instead, he went undrafted—inciting a bevy of questions around one main formulation: Why?

    After watching three games of film from his final season at Rutgers in 2013, it is clear that Coleman is a very talented player. His size and quickness are rare for a player of his stature. In fact, his quickness and agility are what make him the player he currently is.

    He would be well off to add 10-15 pounds of muscle to his current frame. Doing so would seemingly help him become more explosive in jump ball situations, where he often gets pushed around by smaller, more aggressive defenders.

    The good news is that Coleman is a willing blocker, and he can become a really good blocker with a little technique work—in addition to the aforementioned added strength.

    He has good hands, though his concentration wanders on some of his easier catch attempts. He isn’t a player who is going to make a ton of hay after the catch—likely the main reason he wasn’t drafted, since he’s also not great in traffic.

    Still, there is a ton of potential here.

    Coleman is well worth the “risk”—of which there really is none. This is the classic “take a flyer on a guy” scenario. Coleman could become a star with some coaching and increased strength.

    The Saints didn’t invest a draft pick on him or pay a hefty price in free agency. It’s an extremely low risk move with a very high reward potential.

    Grade: A

    Roster Spot: Released on final cut (Likely to be signed by another team)

George Uko, DE, Southern California

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    David Zalubowski/Associated Press

    Even at 6’3”, 284 pounds, George Uko is a tremendous athlete. Despite being undrafted this past weekend, Uko—light on his feet and loose in his hips—looks like a player with a legitimate chance to earn a spot on the 53-man roster in September.

    Uko appears to take well to coaching. He exhibits great awareness and technique—most notably his hand usage. Those skills promise to come in handy at the NFL level.

    In a perfect world, Uko would increase his strength exponentially without losing any of his elite quickness and agility. Doing that might allow him to hold the point of attack better against the run.

    Make no mistake, though, Uko is always in attack mode.

    He has a motor that seemingly does not stop. His violent hands create separation from a blocker and allow him to penetrate the smallest of gaps on his way to the backfield.

    Like Coleman, Uko is a player clearly talented enough to have been drafted. It’s easy to speculate and theorize, just as it’s easy to critique the young man for leaving school early—he still had a year of eligibility left at Southern California.

    In spite of the disappointment of not being drafted, Uko ended up with an amazing opportunity—landing just below Cameron Jordan and Akiem Hicks on the Saints’ depth chart at defensive end.

    His game is eerily similar to Jordan’s already. He should aim to come in and learn a thing or two from the Pro Bowl defensive end.

    Learning from Jordan could allow him to stay in New Orleans for a while. He has the talent to play in a rotation on this defensive line in 2014.  

    Grade: A

    Roster Spot: 53-Man Roster (Likely game day inactive early in career)

Spencer Hadley, ILB, Brigham Young

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    Spencer Hadley is not a perfect prospect—those do not exist. Nor would a team expect to find one in post-draft free agency. But Hadley is a great find as a priority free agent.

    Hadley is a fundamentally sound player who flies to the football.

    He loves to get in the mix, taking up blockers when necessary. He doesn’t ward them off the way an inside linebacker ideally would in a 3-4—something that is necessary in the Saints’ version where the defensive linemen are asked to shoot gaps to try to make plays.

    But Hadley always finds his way to the football and is quite good in pass coverage.

    In the short term, his undersized frame will prevent him from playing on defense. His motor and nose for finding the ball, though, should get him time on the special teams units.

    If he can put on some weight, he might find himself roaming the middle in the Saints’ 3-4 defense.

    For an undrafted free agent, there are traits that translate to possible NFL success. Hadley is another wonderful find by the Saints’ scouting department.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: 53-Man Roster or Practice Squad

Kasim Edebali, OLB, Boston College

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    Michael Dwyer/Associated Press

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the Saints signed another really good football player when they agreed to a deal with Boston College outside linebacker Kasim Edebali.

    The Hamburg, Germany native looks like he’s been playing football his whole life.

    For a relatively inexperienced player, he shows off great awareness and instincts—reading running backs into the flat and forcing quarterbacks into poor throws or secondary targets.

    When rushing the passer, he already has a bevy of moves—among them a swim move, dip-and-rip and spin move. Sometimes, though, he just runs through or around a helpless offensive tackle. 

    At 6’2”, 253 pounds, Edebali has ideal size for the outside linebacker position—though he’s a bit top-heavy with that weight. He looks like a Rob Ryan outside linebacker—if you base that assessment on Ryan’s OLBs in Dallas.

    He can probably add a few more pounds and get even stronger while not sacrificing much, if any, quickness and agility. If he does, he can become an effective pass-rusher at the NFL level.

    He’ll have to play on special teams early, which may be a challenge for him. But he promises to make the Saints coaches make a decision on him. He’s a talented enough player to make the Saints’ final roster.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad (if not signed after initially being waived)

Chidera Uzo-Diribe, OLB, Colorado

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    Gary Kazanjian/Associated Press

    Not every signing is going to appear like a knock-it-out-of-the-park deal.

    The Saints undoubtedly did an amazing job of bringing in talent after the draft. Chidera Uzo-Diribe is included in that group, though his on-field variables are a bit lacking in comparison to the players we’ve looked at thus far.

    Uzo-Diribe managed 30.5 sacks in his career, so the production is impressive. But looking at the film, he is a player who does not look big enough "on the hoof." He looks rather small for the outside ‘backer spot.

    He has decent burst and explosive pass-rushing quickness, but is nowhere near “elite” for the college level. He doesn’t get off the snap or bend to get around tackles well enough to become an NFL sack artist.

    That said, Uzo-Diribe did have a productive career in Boulder. He is capable of raising his game; thus a practice squad spot is not out of the question. But there’s little reason to expect him to make the roster.

    Grade: C

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

Ty Zimmerman, S, Kansas State

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    Charlie Riedel/Associated Press

    The Saints drafted a small, smart playmaking safety in the person of Vinnie Sunseri. In undrafted free agency they then signed an adequately sized playmaking safety in the person of Ty Zimmerman.

    Zimmerman is an absolute ball-hawk. He reads the quarterbacks eyes quickly and makes plays on the ball with ease. Zimmerman’s 13 career interceptions are almost as impressive Uzo-Diribe’s 30.5 sacks.

    The difference is that Zimmerman displays a lot of the traits of a contributing NFL safety. Like Kenny Vaccaro, he was used at Kansas State as a hybrid corner at times and played intermediate zones in different coverage schemes.

    He reads the run and flies up to make plays. He’s a do-it-all safety. He scored two touchdowns off of interceptions in 2013. And on special teams he looks like a monster just waiting to be unleashed on the league.

    There was a lot of talk over the past week about the increased value of the safety position in the NFL. The Saints may be leading the league in making this a reality. Zimmerman is yet another player who fits the mold at the position.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

Tim Flanders, RB, Sam Houston State

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    The Saints did not need another running back—even after dispersing Darren Sproles to Philadelphia earlier this offseason. The Saints, though, have some unwritten rule about bringing in one quality back as an undrafted free agent every offseason.

    Flanders fits that description pretty well. He was undrafted, but fits into what the Saints like to do with their running backs. The vertically-challenged Flanders (5’9” is being generous) comes in close to 210 pounds.

    He runs with great pad level, which allows him to churn out yards and break tackles. He has magnificently quick feet to jump cut at the line of scrimmage and make people miss in space. Based on timed speed—4.75 in the 40-yard dash—he does not have breakaway speed, yet he runs away from defenders in the open field.

    He compares favorably to Pierre Thomas in terms of running style. Might he be another Thomas who comes in undrafted yet yields great dividends for the Saints?

    In an ideal situation, Flanders would be a practice squad player in 2014. After that, the Saints can figure it out. As of now, Khiry Robinson is the lone back signed for 2015, meaning Flanders could find a role in the offense down the line.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

Seantavius Jones, WR, Valdosta State

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    If odds were taken right now for the undrafted free-agent wide receiver which is most likely to make the Saints' final roster, Seantavius Jones would not possess the greatest odds.

    There is a lot to like about Jones, though. He improved his body from his junior season to his senior season—becoming more muscular and stronger overall. His quickness allows him to blow by defenders.

    He is raw, but there is a ton of skill just waiting to be tapped. He does a great job of catching the ball out in front of him—most of the time. There are times he lets the ball get in on him, which leads to drops.

    His willingness to block was high in both his junior and senior seasons, and his effectiveness there improved during his senior year.

    With a little coaching, Jones could become Marques Colston’s replacement.

    Grade: B

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

Lawrence Virgil, DE, Valdosta State

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    vstateblazers.com

    In the one game available featuring Lawrence Virgil, he was facing a traditional Wing-T offense—complete with constant chop-blocking at the snap. As the game went on, Virgil began effectively using his hands to gain leverage and find his way into the backfield.

    The 290-pound defensive end played in the NFLPA All-Star Game along with teammate Seantavius Jones.

    It is hard to project Virgil to the next level. Most likely he will be a nice player to have around as a camp body.

    Saints coach Sean Payton loves to say that it doesn’t matter how the player got here once he’s here. Virgil has a chance to prove he belongs starting this Friday.

    Grade: C (Average)

    Roster Spot: First Cut

Je'Ron Hamm, WR/TE, Louisiana-Monroe

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Je’Ron Hamm is a big-bodied receiver (6'3", 233 pounds) with mitts for hands. Of the three big receivers the Saints brought in post-draft Hamm is the most naturally gifted at going up for the football in traffic.

    He exudes great effort as a blocker and shows innate athleticism despite his size. The Saints tentatively have him penciled in as a tight end, but that could change.

    Of course, the Saints’ tight end he most relates to—Jimmy Graham—is a glorified wide receiver anyway. Those positional designations mean little in today’s NFL.

    Hamm caught a meager 32 passes last year—meager based on his talent level—for Louisiana-Monroe. He is still a bit raw but shows a ton of promise.

    Hamm would be a nice practice squad body—as many of these players would be—for a year or two.

    Grade: B

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

Nic Jacobs, TE, McNeese State

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Nic Jacobs transferred from LSU to McNeese State after the 2012 season. His lone season at McNeese was a successful one. He took what he did well at LSU—blocking—and showed he could also catch the football.

    In McNeese State’s upset victory at South Florida, Jacobs stole the show with two touchdown catches. He looked every bit the part of a playmaking tight end.

    He broke tackles, ran past defenders and generally played like a man possessed. His blocking kept with the same theme—intense and to the whistle.

    If that is the kind of effort he gives in the upcoming camps, he could easily beat out Josh Hill for the No. 3 tight end spot on the roster.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: 53-Man Roster, No. 3 TE

Matt Armstrong, OC, Grand Valley State

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    Nam Y. Huh/Associated Press

    By now you likely know that Matt Armstrong was teammates with current Saint Tim Lelito—he of presumed starting center status headed into OTAs and minicamp.

    That association may be the most noteworthy thing to add here. The two will now compete with each other (presumably all the way through training camp) if another center is not added between now and then.

    Armstrong was the D-II winner of the Rimington Trophy, given to the best center in each collegiate division.

    The 6’2”, 302-pound Lansing native is the perfect size for the center position and clearly a wonderful athlete. He started at least one game at every spot on the offensive line in his college career—plus he competed in shot put for Grand Valley State.

    He was a high school teammate of Micajah Reynolds, another player the Saints signed after the draft. Those two will likely get to work together on the practice field in the coming weeks.

    If the Saints do not sign another center in the coming weeks or months, Armstrong almost has to be kept around for depth purposes. If they do, Armstrong will become expendable, though based on his accomplishments he may actually be the right man for the job of snapping the ball to Mr. Drew Brees.

    Grade: B

    Roster Spot: 53-Man Roster/Practice Squad

Brian Dixon, CB, Northwest Missouri State

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    At 6’0”, 196 pounds and having run a 4.42 40-yard dash, Brian Dixon was just the kind of physical freak teams emphasizing size at the cornerback spot were going to lose their minds over.

    However, odds are that no team lost their mind over Dixon—seeing as how he was merely a priority free agent signee.

    He was ranked as the No. 51 cornerback by NFLDraftScout.com. And Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller did not rank Brian, though he had his brother, Brandon as his No. 30 cornerback and 210th overall ranked player (Brandon was selected by the Jets in the sixth round).

    Dixon has a chance to outdo his brother now, though. The Saints, of course, emphasize performance while in the building, not what the player did before they got to town.

    That said, Dixon is facing a monumental challenge of gaining a roster spot with six or seven legitimate NFL corners already in the building.

    Grade: C

    Roster Spot: First Cut

Micajah Reynolds, OL, Michigan State

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    Al Goldis/Associated Press

    To call Micajah Reynolds a massive human being is to make the largest of understatements. At 6’4”, 327 pounds, Reynolds is a giant; a beast among beasts. They simply don’t make ‘em any bigger than Reynolds.

    Reynolds began his collegiate career on the offensive line where then-Michigan State offensive coordinator Dan Roushar believed he belonged—as a guard.

    However, Roushar left Michigan State during Reynolds’ career and Reynolds ended up swinging over to the defensive side of the ball.

    A funny thing happened, though. Roushar ended up in New Orleans as the Saints’ running backs coach. That connection, as well as the friendship he has with Matt Armstrong, swayed Reynolds from signing with the Patriots on Saturday night.

    Reynolds now has the opportunity to open holes for Roushar’s running backs and protect Drew Brees. He likely will be slotted in at guard in camp and go from there.

    The Saints need added depth at the guard spot, especially if Tim Lelito wins the starting center job. That makes this pick a potentially great match. Sentiment and need aside, this grade cannot be that high as Reynolds comes in needing to relearn the guard position.

    Grade: C

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad

    Background information via Brian Calloway’s (Lansing State Journal) story told here.

Pierre Warren, S, Jacksonville State

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Pierre Warren looks like a cross between Reggie Nelson and Earl Thomas but doesn’t even play as well as the former. When going in for a tackle he is much more likely to throw his shoulder nonchalantly at the ball-carrier in the hopes of knocking him to the ground.

    Other times he takes poor angles to the ball and flails around hoping to make a play-saving tackle.

    On the rare occasions when his angles are good he can be a turnover machine.

    In the two games observed, he had an interception, a forced fumble, an almost fumble recovery and an interception negated because of a holding call on the cornerback.

    It’s clear the Saints signed Warren due to that turnover potential, but he is reckless and plays out of control—similar to Nelson.

    He doesn’t even have the makeup at this time to perform on special teams as that part of the game is wholly reliant on taking good angles and breaking down to make a solid tackle.

    Grade: C-

    Roster Spot: First Cut

Brandon McCray, DT, Louisiana-Lafayette

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    GM Andrews/Associated Press

    It might be a good thing that Brandon McCray was a criminal justice major at Louisiana-Lafayette. The likelihood he will have much of an NFL career is slim.

    He only had a half of a sack in his entire collegiate career—despite playing four seasons and roughly 40 games. Of course, he was playing the nose tackle position.

    Still, there are a ton of players in the draft pool who played nose tackle in college and registered somewhere between five and 10 career sacks...and still weren’t drafted.

    Production is important.

    It should be noted, though—McCray is another mountain of a man. The Saints hope that his lack of collegiate production was more the result of McCray still learning to play the game of football and how to use his massive frame.

    The Saints might be able to coax something out of that mountainous frame. If they can, they will prove that once again gold is theirs to strike in the undrafted free agency market.

    If not, it was worth a shot.

    Grade: C

    Roster Spot: First Cut

Logan Kilgore, QB, Middle Tennessee State

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    Rick Bowmer/Associated Press

    In football, everything begins and ends with the quarterback. Every position is important, but none any more than the signal caller. That is why we end our 2014 draft coverage with the quarterback spot.

    Logan Kilgore bears some resemblance to Aaron Rodgers. Both starred at California junior colleges for one season before moving on to D-I football—Rodgers at Butte College, Kilgore at Bakersfield College.

    The main difference between the two, of course, is that Rodgers ended up going No. 24 overall, while Kilgore went undrafted.

    Kilgore is more athletic than his collegiate stat sheet suggests (remember that sacks count against a quarterbacks’ rushing totals in college). Kilgore rushed 96 times for 210 yards in three-plus seasons at Middle Tennessee State (Kilgore played in three games in 2010 but ended up redshirting).

    A career 61 percent passer, Kilgore shows off exemplary arm strength. Just watch some of the throws he makes in this video.

    The 6’3”, 206-pound 2013 Manning Award candidate has the quintessential quarterback body.

    Physically, he is everything that Drew Brees is not. He hopes to soak up a fraction or more—by osmosis or otherwise—of Brees’ mental moxie, awareness, attitude and sheer greatness.

    If Kilgore can learn from Brees, and prove to coaches early on in this camp that the process is working, he could stay on this roster long-term. Few quarterbacks that have come through New Orleans since Sean Payton has called the shots have been as physically gifted as Kilgore.

    The Saints may have just found their answer to who Brees’s successor will be one day. Until then, Kilgore has a lot to learn, and a lot to prove.

    Grade: B+

    Roster Spot: Practice Squad