While top Bronco rookies battle it out during the preseason with top free agents to see who starts, there another battle raging among players. They are the afterthoughts, the players no one expects anything from.
Undrafted free agents are usually training camp fodder, but every once in a while, one turns out to be a hidden gem.
The list of great players who were undrafted free agents includes such notables as Rod Smith, Wes Welker, Kurt Warner and John Randle. This year the Broncos have a few of UFA’s who will bear watching.
Josh McDaniels was widely criticized for not picking a candidate for the nose tackle position in the draft.
What escaped many people’s notice was that the Broncos quietly acquired a player whom many scouting combines projected as the seventh best defensive tackle in the 2009 rookie class.
Chris Baker is a 6’2”, 326 lb physical marvel with a 35.5 inch vertical leap and a 40 yard dash time of 5.02. Baker is a player who was on the New England Patriots radar for the 2010 draft. and was actually called in by them for a private workout.
Unfortunately for Chris Baker, he was a player at Penn State during a time when sports media was focusing on the 46 players who had been charged with a total of 163 counts of criminal behavior. The resulting sensitivity to any character issues cost Baker his place at Penn State and ultimately his place in the draft.
Now Chris Baker hopes to earn a spot in the rotation in a key defensive position for the Broncos.
How does a 6’4.5”, 305 pound defensive end not get drafted? The answer is that Everette Pedescleaux was more dedicated to basketball than football for most of his college career.
Throughout prep school and his first two years of college, Pedescleaux was a two sport athlete whose main interest was basketball. When he finally began to focus on football, Pedescleaux began to truly develop as a defensive end.
While his low production over the course of his college career kept him from getting an invite to the scouting combine, his size and speed alone are intriguing. The key for this prospect will be his ability to continue to improve his technique. If he does that, he could well become a solid starting defensive end by the end of preseason.
The big knock on the Broncos defensive line was size along the defensive line. Rulon Davis, at 6'5" and 290 pound,s could be one of the solutions.
Every scout has Davis rated high for his size and athleticism. Davis' character is of the highest caliber, as he served in the Marines during the Iraq War.
Entering the NFL at the advanced age of 25, Davis' stock in the draft was brought down by his history of leg injuries. The key to his success as a Bronco will be his ability to stay on the field.
One of the most intriguing pickups of this year's undrafted free agent class is Central Arkansas tight end Marquez Branson. His great hands and ability to get down-field quickly made him a big play-maker in college.
Branson probably won’t make it onto the Broncos team as a tight end because he is not a good blocker, and the Broncos are strong in that position. Where Branson will have a big impact will be at the H-back position.
Peyton Hillis is currently the favorite to win the H-back position, but Branson will push him hard. Branson’s receiving skills may win the position for him outright; otherwise he will end up as a primary backup.
At 6’2.5”, 249 pounds Lee Robinson is considered undersized for his natural position as an outside linebacker in the 3-4 system. His weak coverage skills make a conversion to inside linebacker more of a project, which is why this prospect wasn’t drafted.
What Robinson does have though is great pass rushing ability and explosive speed against the run game. Look for Robinson to initially see situational action as a run stopping inside linebacker while he hones his coverage skills.
All five of these players have the potential to play important minutes during the course of this 2009 season. This preseason may be a chance to watch one of them go from a lowly UFA to star.