Assessing Every Buffalo Bills UDFA's Chances of Making the Final Roster
Much has been made of the Buffalo Bills' wild draft this year, which was full of trading up and down all the way until the end of Day 3. A trade up in the first round to select Sammy Watkins and a seventh-round selection of troubled lineman Seantrel Henderson made the Bills a lightning rod of criticism in the days of reflection following the highly anticipated event, and for good reason, too.
However, the seven-man draft list does not even account for half of the players the Bills added to their 90-man roster on draft weekend. Per usual, the Bills combed through the leftovers from the draft in hopes of finding another diamond in the rough—something they have become accustomed to in recent years. Former USC corner Nickell Robey is the most recent in a long line of UDFA's who have come into camp and made a near-instant impact on the roster.
The Bills didn't sign a clear should-have-been-drafted player like they did last year with immature receiver Da'Rick Rogers, but there is a handful of undrafted rookies who have a legitimate shot at sneaking their way onto the final roster.
Derek Brim, S, Buffalo
Every year, it seems the Bills bring in an undrafted player who had a productive career just down the road at the University of Buffalo. After passing on Khalil Mack with the fourth overall pick, the Bills continued their Buffalo-to-Buffalo connection by signing safety Derek Brim and defensive end Colby Way.
Brim was mostly a special teams player for the Bulls until his senior season, when he became a full-time starter in the secondary. He has solid size for a safety with a six-foot, 200-pound frame, but he's not an especially crafty playmaker. In 18 career starts for the Bulls, Brim never intercepted a pass and only had four passes defensed in 13 games during his senior season.
While the Bills are far from set at safety, with a starting spot still up for grabs opposite Aaron Williams, fellow UDFA Kenny Ladler is probably already a step ahead of Brim on the depth chart. Brim will get his chance to make plays at OTAs next week, but he will have a hard time making it past the initial round of cuts unless he carves out a niche role.
Chance to make roster: 10 percent
Deon Broomfield, S, Iowa State
Deon Broomfield is one of three UDFA safeties signed in the days following the draft who will have every chance to impress the coaching staff in the next few weeks. Broomfield is another player who looks the part in terms of size, checking in about 10 pounds larger than the previously mentioned Brim.
All three safeties picked up last week have similar flaws in their game, but Broomfield might be the biggest hitter of the bunch. The former Cyclone free safety started all 13 games during his senior season, racking up 57 tackles, six pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. He was one of the Cyclones' most productive defenders, and he has a knack for making big plays, including three career interceptions.
Like his rookie counterparts at the position, Broomfield will get a hard look as both a depth player and a special teams contributor. Aaron Williams is the only safety guaranteed to have a roster spot, although Da'Norris Searcy might as well be guaranteed to land one as well. All it will take is a few good showings and Broomfield's toughness could earn him one of the bubble spots in August.
Chance to make roster: 40 percent
Jimmy Gaines, LB, Miami
Nearly half of the Bills UDFA class came from either Florida or Miami, with linebacker Jimmy Gaines coming to the team after being a three-year starter for the 'Canes. Gaines, however, has the local connection going for him as a former Canisius High School standout, which may have played a part in the Bills taking a chance on him in post-draft free agency.
The U hasn't produced many quality defensive players since the early 2000s, but cementing a starting position on Miami's traditionally good linebacking corps for three years is nothing to laugh at. Gaines was listed at 6'3" and 240 pounds on his official bio for Miami, but he measured about two inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter at the school's pro day in April.
Like the safeties, Gaines falls into a position where the Bills will be open to adding some developmental depth because of their lack of quality depth on the roster. His posted frame would have made him a more plausible project at linebacker for the Bills, but instead Gaines is a hard worker who will need to contribute on special teams to make the final roster.
Chance to make roster: 50 percent
Caleb Holley, WR, East Central University
Caleb Holley was a late addition to the Bills 2014 UDFA class after being the only tryout player to be presented with a contract following rookie minicamp last weekend. His addition came as no surprise, as the Bills continue to collect big receivers this offseason—a type of receiver the Bills have sorely been missing with their speed-driven offense.
Holley broke almost every receiving record at Eastern Central during his senior season, as he exploded for 55 catches and 970 yards. His nine touchdowns also set a school record, and he even posted two games in which he hauled in three scores.
After transferring over from JUCO San Francisco City College, Holley started his ECU career slowly, but he took the Division II world by storm in the final month of his senior season. Holley racked up four 100-yard games over his final five games as a collegian, combining for 24 catches and 386 yards in games against Northwestern Oklahoma and Arkansas Tech late in the year.
His level of competition in college is a concern—as it always it with non-FBS athletes—but Holley's solid 6'4", 200-pound frame will give him a long look. However, at a suddenly crowded wide receiver position, Holley is more likely to have a stay on the practice squad than on the final roster.
Chance to make roster: 10 percent
Damien Jacobs, DT, Florida
Jacobs is the first of three UDFA defensive lineman signed after the draft. The Bills didn't address the defensive line at all during the draft, and for good reason, as the team led the NFL in sacks a season ago. Kyle Williams, Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams make up an already scary line, but depth could be a concern in the near future with Alex Carrington moving on to St. Louis.
Last season, Jacobs filled in for first-round pick Dominique Easley, who fell due to an injury last season. Jacobs doesn't have the size or freakish athleticism of Easley, but he held his own on Florida's injury-plagued defense. What will help Jacobs earn a spot on an NFL roster is his non-stop motor, which makes up for his lack of size (6'3", 284 lbs).
Jacobs will have to shift outside in the Bills 4-3 defense if he doesn't gain enough weight during the offseason. He did manage a 4.97 40-yard dash time at the Gators' pro day, but that speed didn't translate to him being a great pass-rusher at Florida.
Chance to make roster: 20 percent
Bryan Johnson, DE, West Texas A&M
Other than Holley, Johnson may be the most obscure signing of the bunch, hailing from West Texas A&M after a two-year stint at Nassau Community College in New York. Johnson is another New York product, playing high school ball at for Bellport High School on the south shore of Long Island.
Johnson played linebacker for two seasons for the Buffs of West Texas A&M, and he started three games during his senior season. He was mainly used as a pass-rusher, finishing with 8.5 tackles for loss and four sacks last year.
The problem with Johnson's chances is his "advanced" age for an NFL prospect. Johnson is a 25-year-old rookie, which makes him the same age as former first-round pick Jerry Hughes. Even with defensive end depth being something the Bills might be willing to take a chance on, Johnson's age already puts him at a disadvantage in terms of development.
Chance to make roster: five percent
Darrin Kitchens, LB, Florida
Kitchens is the second prospect from Florida's disappointing defense to be signed by the Bills this offseason. Like his former and current teammate, Jacobs, Kitchens is undersized for his position at 6'2" and 230 pounds. He split his time between inside and outside linebacker for the Gators, but he projects better as a 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL.
Much of Kitchens value as a UDFA stems from his willingness to be a special teams standout. According to the Bills scout C.J. Leak (h/t Chris Brown of Bills.com), Kitchens spends much of his time in the film room to make up for some of his physical limitations. Preparedness and hard work are two great qualities for an undrafted free agent to possess, because they can make or break an NFL career.
Chance to make roster: 20 percent
Kenny Ladler, S, Vanderbilt
If I had to put money on one UDFA making the final 53-man roster, Ladler would be the early pick based upon the quality of his college performance.
It is a little hard to believe no one took a chance on Ladler in the later rounds of the draft after the Vanderbilt safety led both the FBS and the SEC with five forced fumbles during his senior season. Not to mention, Ladler picked off five passes, which made him one of the most impactful players in the draft from a turnover standpoint.
Ladler dropped from his mid-round status after showing poorly at the combine in both fluidity drills and the 40-yard dash. The over-hyping of speed could work out in the Bills' favor, though, with Ladler getting a opportunity to shine right away in a glaring hole on the roster. In a recent article by Mark Gaughan of the Buffalo News, Ladler said he watched tape of Pro Bowl corner Charles Tillman in order to get a better sense on how to create turnovers.
If Ladler has half of the impact Tillman possesses in the secondary, he will be a steal for the Bills as a free agent.
Chance to make roster: 75 percent
Darius Robinson, CB, Clemson
The pipeline from Clemson to Orchard Park, New York, continued with the addition of both Sammy Watkins and UDFA corner Darius Robinson. The South Carolina school took over Florida State's status as the most represented university on the Buffalo roster, with six Tigers now on the team heading into the preseason.
Robinson looks the part of an NFL corner at 5'10", and he also possesses a 4.50-second 40-time. However, he was overshadowed Bashaud Breeland during his two years of starting for the Tigers. His production in the ACC was still pretty good for a UDFA, with six career interceptions and 70 tackles, but he will face an uphill battle to make the team at a fairly deep position.
One benefit to being a corner at Clemson is that Robinson has been matching up with NFL quality receivers since he arrived on campus. As good as the Tigers were in 2013, Clemson had Watkins, Martavis Bryant and 2013 first-rounder DeAndre Hopkins all lining up outside for a lethal attack.
Chance to make roster: 30 percent
Colby Way, DE, Buffalo
Here is another local product and another tweener to round out the Bills 2014 UDFA class. Way was one of the big guys up front taking up blockers for top-five pick Khalil Mack on the Buffalo Bulls defense.
He is the typical "motor" guy from a mid-major conference, which always makes for a good depth player at either defensive line position. Way, like Jacobs, will have to decide to either lose weight or gain weight in order to fit in on the Bills' talented defensive line. He did have a standout career for the Bulls, compiling 26 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in four seasons, which earned him third-team All-MAC honors during his senior year.
Chance to make roster: 25 percent