5 Undrafted Free Agents Who Will Make an Impact in 2014
Once the final pick was announced in the 2014 NFL draft in May, hundreds of NFL hopefuls saw their dreams dashed. But some were able to hold on a bit longer to their aspirations to play at the next level as they signed with various teams as undrafted free agents.
While the guys listed above are the exception to the rule, each and every year some undrafted free agents surprise the NFL establishment when they become contributors for their teams in their rookie seasons.
Last year alone, guys like Detroit's Joseph Fauria, Indianapolis' Da'Rick Rogers and Baltimore's Marlon Brown all proved that, despite being unwanted by many teams in the league, undrafted free agents can still make an immediate impact.
The 2013 draft was filled with several talented wide receivers, linebackers and defensive linemen, causing talented players to fall out of the draft completely.
Despite this, many undrafted free agents find themselves in good situations to succeed heading into training camp, and many have the chance to contribute significantly in their NFL first season.
Here are five undrafted free agents who will make an impact in 2014.
Jackson Jeffcoat, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks
A once highly recruited out of high school, former Texas Longhorn Jackson Jeffcoat had three devastating injuries early in his collegiate career but bounced back and finished the 2013 season with 12 sacks en route to being named a consensus All-American.
Heading into the NFL draft in May, various scouting reports and big boards had him ranked all over the place with CBS Sports and NFL Draft Scout listing him as a second-round pick, and Bleacher Report's Matt Miller had him going in the third round.
Despite looking to be a mid-round pick at worst, Jeffcoat went undrafted and ended up signing with the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks.
Jeffcoat still does not know why he wasn't drafted, and likely never will, but he has already commented on how that slight has been pushing him this offseason, telling Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com:
I never found out what the reason was. But I use it for motivation. It’s fuel to my fire. I just keep working. Every day I think about it, because it keeps me going. It keeps me even more hungry. When I start feeling tired, when I start feeling like, ‘Man, I really don’t want to do this,’ I look back at that and say, ‘Hey, 31 other teams didn’t want me. They didn’t think highly enough of me to draft me.’
While the Seahawks are rich with talent along their defensive line, Jeffcoat has all of the tools and ability to become at least factor as a situational pass-rusher in 2014.
He does has a lack of strength, and he will need to continue to address that this training camp and as the regular season wears on. He does has a good first step and enough speed to penetrate and disrupt plays behind the line of scrimmage.
Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett have the starting defensive end positions locked down, leaving Jeffcoat to battle with unproven guys like Greg Scruggs, Benson Mayowa and Cassius Marsh.
Jeffcoat should have a leg up on the competition based on his athleticism and prior production at Texas, but it will not be a cakewalk for him to be an immediate contributor this season.
The motivation from not getting drafted should help him, but he will need to work on his technique and prove that he can do more than just get after the quarterback.
If he can learn to harness his speed and utilize it more effectively, the Seahawks may have found another undrafted free-agent gem.
Albert Wilson, Wide Receiver, Kansas City Chiefs
As an undersized, speedy wide receiver coming out of Georgia State, Albert Wilson going undrafted this year was really not that big of a surprise.
Measuring in at 5'9" and 200 pounds, Wilson recorded 6,235 all-purpose yards in his career, which would have ranked in the top 30 in NCAA history had Georgia State been a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision member prior to his senior season in 2013.
Despite the 4.43 40-yard dash he ran at the NFL combine, according to NFL.com, Wilson went undrafted but quickly landed in Kansas City with head coach And Reid.
“I like Albert Wilson,” said Reid to the media at the conclusion of the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp, via Randy Covitz of The Kansas City Star. “I like his athletic ability. He’s very strong, even though he’s not the tallest guy. And he runs fast.”
Last season, he started all 12 games, and led team in receptions (71), receiving yards (1,177) and touchdown receptions (8) and showed the versatility to play both as a wide receiver and as a return man.
While Wilson would prefer to play in the slot, he is happy with the opportunity to be a return man.
“I can do well in the slot as a receiver, also,” said Wilson after rookie minicamp, via Covitz. “But I know my role, and I feel like kickoff return and punt return will help me out.”
While still raw at the wide receiver position, Wilson has the perfect blend of speed, burst and vision to become an effective return man from day one. His biggest competition will come in the form of veteran Kyle Williams, but Williams is coming off of an ACL injury he suffered last November, leaving the door open for Wilson to earn the job.
With wide receiver/returner Dexter McCluster leaving this offseason for the Tennesee Titans, Wilson may be able to develop into a cheaper, younger version of the former Kansas City playmaker this season.
Christian Jones, Linebacker, Chicago Bears
One of the most surprising players to not get drafted, Florida State linebacker Christian Jones' likely reason for falling off of teams' draft boards was due to reportedly failing a drug test at the NFL combine in February.
While many may attribute his alleged failed drug test as the reason he fell, the fact that Jones never stuck at one position may have led to teams doubting he could hold down one spot at the next level.
He played linebacker on the strong-side in 2011, the weak-side in 2012 and in the middle in 2013.
In four seasons with the Seminoles, Jones racked up 223 tackles, 24 tackles for loss, eight sacks, one interception and forced two fumbles while playing all three linebacker positions in Florida State's defense.
Jones' skill set lends well to a Bears defense that still has not quite defined what it wants to be in 2014. Jones can play either outside linebacker positions in a 4-3 defense but also has the ability to rush the quarterback as an outside linebacker in a 3-4.
With the weak-side already occupied by former Pro Bowler Lance Briggs and the middle occupied by veteran D.J. Williams, Jones will have an opportunity to compete at the strong-side linebacker position with unproven third-year man Shea McClellin and second year-man Jon Bostic.
The Bears have noted that the linebacker competition will be wide open on the strong-side and while he may be at a bit of a disadvantage now, Jones has received praise from the coaching staff this offseason.
#Bears LB coach Reggie Herring: Undrafted rookie Christian Jones "is doing an incredible job & flashes & shows he has a chance to be good."— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) June 18, 2014
Despite McClellin and Bostic both having NFL experience, both are making the move to a new position this offseason, leaving Jones on a somewhat level playing field.
With a strong showing in training camp and the preseason Jones has a real shot to push for the starting job or he could wind up being utilized as a stand-up rushing linebacker in certain passing situations.
Brandon Hurst, Offensive Tackle, Baltimore Ravens
Initially thought to be a mid-round pick in the 2014 draft, North Carolina's James Hurst saw his stock plummet after he broke his leg in the Belk Bowl this past December.
Due to his injury, Hurst had to sit out of the NFL Scouting Combine, leaving lingering concerns as to whether he would be healthy enough to contribute in 2014. Hurst opted to sign with the Baltimore Ravens because of the wide open competition at the tackle position, made all the more when Baltimore bypassed drafting an offensive tackle in this May's draft.
As it currently stands, second-year man Billy Wagner appears to be the favorite to land the right tackle job in 2014, but he will be facing competition from Hurst and two other undrafted free agents in Parker Graham and Brett Van Sloten.
"All three of those guys, very happy with them," Harbaugh said of his rookie tackles to the media, via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun.
He continued with praise for Hurst, saying:
I think they're all going to make a run. Of course, Hurst at the left tackle draws my attention a lot. He has very good feet. He seems like he's picking it up quickly. He likes to practice. He has a heavy punch. So, he has a chance.
In the world of undrafted free agents, having a head coach say "he has a chance" is about as good as it can get early in the offseason.
According to Bo Smolka of CSNBaltimore.com, Hurst spent time with the first team during OTAs, filling in for left tackle Eugene Monroe. Smolka noted that Hurst seems to have ascended the depth chart.
While Hurst has spent the majority of his career playing left tackle, the Ravens are slowly easing him into the right tackle spot, and he has appreciated the tough competition he has faced on a daily basis this offseason, as he told The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli:
There’s a lot to learn, being so young and going against great outside linebackers, especially in pass protections...You’ve got Suggs, [Courtney] Upshaw, [Pernell] McPhee — those guys are real challenges, so it’s good to go out there every day to get that kind of battle and know that you’re blocking the best. It is a battle every day but you’ve got to come out here, get better and work on one thing every day.
If Hurst can continue to impress his head coach and develop by going up against some of the league's best pass-rushers, he may have a chance to not only earn a spot on the roster but beat out Wagner for the starting right tackle role in 2014.
Brandon Coleman, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
Tabbed as a third- or fourth-round pick in May's draft, Rutgers wide receiver Brandon Coleman surprisingly went undrafted.
After finishing his junior season with 34 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns, Coleman opted to forgo his senior season despite having lingering issues from a knee injury he suffered last spring.
At 6'6" and 225 pounds, Coleman fits perfectly in the mold of the NFL's new-age wide receivers like Calvin Johnson and Alshon Jeffery. While he does have good size, one of the biggest questions surrounding Coleman, outside of his knee, is whether he has enough speed to create separation in the NFL.
According to NFL.com, Coleman ran a 4.56 40-yard dash at the scouting combine back in February. While his 40-yard dash time wasn't among the best at the combine, it is still an above-average time for a player of his size.
Regardless of the reasons why he fell off of draft boards, Coleman has realized that the past is the past and all he can do is look forward.
“I don’t have any control over being drafted or not," Coleman told ESPN.com's Mike Triplett. "But I did everything I could to prepare for it. And now it’s just, I’ve got an opportunity to play, and I’m gonna take advantage of that.”
While it is still early in the evaluation process, Saints head coach Sean Payton has taken notice of Coleman.
“He’s a big target,” Payton said, via Triplett. “With him, there’s just a handful of things were working on with regards to his transition. But he’s picked things up well, seems to be moving around well.”
With guys like Marques Colston, Kenny Stills, Brandin Cooks, Robert Meachem and Nick Toon ahead of him on the depth chart, it appears that it will be very difficult for Coleman to get any playing time in 2014.
Despite the challenging competition, Coleman has all of the tools to be an effective wide receiver and may be able to use his size to carve out a niche in certain packages.
“There’s pressure whether you’re drafted or undrafted,” Coleman said, via Triplett. “But you’ve just gotta go out there and be confident in yourself. And that’s what I’m gonna do.”
While the odds right now may be stacked against him, his biggest asset is his physical presence. While teams will be targeting Colston and tight end Jimmy Graham in the red zone, Coleman can give the Saints a big-bodied target who has strong hands and can use his frame to position himself to make plays.
It will be an uphill battle for Coleman, but a strong showing in training camp and the preseason will make it too hard for Sean Payton to not get him on the field.