Buying or Selling Roster Spots for Top Undrafted Free Agents
Rookie minicamps are done and we've got a solid look at a lot of players fighting for positions on rosters.
Very few of the guys we watched during those practice sessions are guaranteed a spot. Being drafted isn't a promise, save for most first-round picks.
As rough as it is for sixth and seventh-rounders, it can be even tougher for the undrafted free agents (UDFAs) who were passed by the entire league for three days straight.
We always cheer for these guys, but we do so knowing they got passed on for a reason. It's a steep climb for them.
After a brief look at them during minicamps, we can take a stab as to whether they have a legitimate shot at sticking on their roster or if their time is close to an end.
Here are eight of the better prospects who fell off the board during the recent draft and whether we think they really have a shot or not to make the final roster.
Buying: Dion Bailey, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
Dion Bailey probably dropped out of the draft because of fit more than anything else—he’s an unusual combination of linebacker and safety and doesn’t fit neatly into either slot.
He’s still learning the safety position but doesn’t quite have the size and speed teams want in a linebacker.
This is the type of player the Seattle Seahawks excel at finding roles for.
I liked the example Eric Galko threw out in his recent article on “Every Team’s Best UDFA Signings so Far”: Kam Chancellor.
Galko points out that the Seahawks use Chancellor—a guy who had similar concerns when he came into the NFL—as an enforcer who acts as a linebacker at some times and a safety at others.
The Seahawks also use a lot of players in specific situations, such as with Michael Bennett when he was rotated in and out last season depending on the situation.
Bailey could start out just like that. If there is a role for him, the Seahawks will find it.
Buying: Mike Davis, Wide Receiver, Oakland Raiders
I was pretty surprised when I realized former Texas receiver Mike Davis had gone undrafted.
It’s not that I was so enamored of his talent and thought he would go high, but I had him in my top 25 wide receivers and felt he had enough talent to be selected. Davis has the speed to be a vertical threat and makes acrobatic catches along the sideline.
He needs work, especially in running routes and not dropping the ball, but if he can overcome those things (and some others) he has tremendous talent.
Right now, Davis is buried on an Oakland Raiders depth chart that includes two other UDFAs, Greg Little, Denarius Moore and the recently signed James Jones.
Still there isn’t any one player who is so great as to dismiss his chances. In fact, while I like similar receivers like Juron Criner and Little, Davis’ upside is greater.
I believe he will show what his upside is in camp and have a spot on the bench by the end of August. From there he can grow and improve as a role player before emerging as a consistent threat for Matt Schaub or Derek Carr.
Selling: Kenny Ladler, Safety, Buffalo Bills
I get that the Bills don’t exactly have Hall of Fame safeties on the roster right now. It’s been a bit thin since Jairus Byrd took his talents to the Big Easy.
While that should make it easier for Kenny Ladler to make the roster, he lacks some important traits for a safety.
Ladler doesn’t show good ball instincts and is often baited by a quarterback’s eyes, which makes him either late to react or go in the wrong direction.
He’s also not a great tackler, especially in the open field. That’s a real problem for both strong and free safeties. Despite being strong (he benched 225 pounds 24 times, second-most among safeties) Ladler doesn’t tackle with power.
These are things you can correct, yes. However, the Bills need depth and talent now.
In the end, it could be hard to keep a guy with Ladler's flaws.
Buying: Marcus Lucas, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
One of the things everyone will be watching closely during training camps and through the preseason are the Carolina Panthers wide receivers.
After letting Brandon LaFell and Steve Smith go, the Panthers added free agents Jason Avant and Jerricho Cotchery and drafted receiver Kelvin Benjamin in the first round.
They then didn’t do anything else at the position until after the draft despite some tremendous talent dropping down the boards, which could be due in part to general manager Dave Gettleman's apparent confidence in the Florida State product. As quoted by Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk, Gettleman commented on Benjamin's skills to Ross Tucker of Sirius XM NFL:
When I watched him, I thought I was watching a young Plaxico [Burress]. He’s a better athlete than people realize, he plays faster than a lot people think and he made some ‘OMG’ catches in the rookie minicamp. He’s talented, he has good focus, he learns well and it’s important to him. It’s really important to him.
There might be a mad sort of genius to Gettleman's draft strategy, though, as plenty of solid receivers were left holding an empty dance card after the seventh round completed, including Marcus Lucas.
It’s a crowded roster of receivers right now, with 11 total as of this week (per Ourlads.com), and some have a year in the offense already. That isn’t to say they are a lock, though, and Lucas has the talent to carve out a spot for himself as a reliable possession receiver.
At 6’4”, 218 pounds, Lucas is tough to beat on a jump ball and a big target, willing to fight for a ball in traffic.
With his size, it’s possible he could develop into an H-back as well. Regardless, he has size and the ability to be a safety valve for Cam Newton.
Selling: Isaiah Crowell, Running Back, Cleveland Browns
With the Cleveland Browns signing Ben Tate and drafting Towson’s Terrance West, it’s hard to be enthusiastic about Isaiah Crowell’s chances.
A lot will depend on how many backs (including fullbacks) the Browns keep. Tate and West should be locks for the roster and Dion Lewis is likely to stick as well.
That leaves fullbacks Chris Ogbonnaya, Jourdan Brooks and Ray Agnew (a fellow rookie) as well as journeyman Edwin Baker competing with Crowell for the running back spot.
The biggest problem with Crowell is his off-field issues, most notably the three weapons charges (per Chip Towers of AJC.com) that resulted in his dismissal from Georgia.
With Josh Gordon facing a potential year-long suspension (per ESPN.com’s T.J. Quinn and Don Van Natta Jr.) the team might hesitate to commit to another player who has shown a penchant for poor decisions.
You also have to wonder how teams perceive something like a weapons charge (much less three) given the story of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
Clearly, there was enough concern for him to drop out of the draft. I feel as though it’s going to be hard to turn that around and stick on the roster, but he's still a talented player.
Buying: Bryn Renner, Quarterback, Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos general manager John Elway has come out and called Brock Osweiler the Broncos’ future at quarterback (per Brian McIntyre of NFL.com), but that doesn’t tell you much about the future of the backups.
Can UDFA Bryn Renner crack the roster and steal Zac Dysert’s place?
At 6’3” he’s got decent height, with a good release and mechanics, and an ability to command a huddle. Renner doesn’t have the best arm and struggles under pressure, but is a solid prospect who has a ton of experience, and he seems more than willing to do what it takes to earn a roster spot.
As quoted by Joe Person and Jonathan Jones of the Charlotte Observer, Renner knew well before the draft he might have to go the hard way to make an NFL roster:
"I’ll do whatever it takes to play at this level. If a team wants to draft me that’s great. If I have to go the long and hard way, I’m looking forward to that as well."
He doesn’t have Dysert’s athleticism or arm strength but has had better accuracy and consistency than Dysert had from Day 1.
The Broncos are unlikely to keep four quarterbacks, but I like Renner’s chances of unseating Dysert.
Worst-case scenario he makes the practice squad.
Buying: Max Bullough, Linebacker, Houston Texans
The good news is that Max Bullough is a smart player who can read plays quickly, is physical and has a good motor.
However, he is a pretty average player; he doesn’t have much explosiveness, range and struggles in coverage.
Overall, Houston's front seven is solid, but inside linebacker is definitely a weak point.
Beyond Brian Cushing—assuming he stays healthy through camp—there isn’t much in the way of competition.
Jeff Tarpinian, Justin Tuggle, Paul Hazel and Mike Mohamed aren’t world beaters and can be overcome.
While Bullough isn’t a special athlete, he’s an incredibly savvy player and could be a great match inside with Cushing.
Selling: Kerry Hyder, Defensive Tackle, New York Jets
The New York Jets are pretty set along the defensive line, though you can never have enough defensive linemen for a Rex Ryan-designed scheme.
However, with Sheldon Richardson, Damon Harrison and Muhammad Wilkerson starting, with Kenrick Eliis and Leger Douzable serving as solid backups, there aren’t a lot of open spots.
Kerry Hyder has versatility in his favor, as he played all over the interior for Texas Tech. That’s a big plus for a Rex Ryan team.
He’s a solid tackler and plays very tough.
However, Hyder is a bit undersized and lacks explosion off the snap. He’s somewhat overweight for his height at 6'2", 290 pounds (which may explain his lack of explosion) and seems to tire as games go on. Conditioning will be an issue.
That can be improved, but you have to survive roster cuts in order to have time to change it.
Hyder strikes me as a guy who will end up cut for another player who is closer to ready.