Grading Every Team's Undrafted Free-Agent Haul
Every young man who hopes to play professional football dreams he'll one day hear his name called at the NFL draft.
However, there are far more players with that dream than picks in the draft. Each year hundreds of young players wait by the phone for a call that doesn't come.
That doesn't mean their dream is dead, though.
The hours and days after each NFL draft bring with them a flurry of activity, a feeding frenzy as teams across the league rush to scoop up undrafted free agents.
Some of those youngsters go on to shine as pros. Super Bowl XLIX hero Malcolm Butler of the New England Patriots wasn't drafted. Neither was cornerback A.J. Bouye, who just signed a five-year, $67.5 million contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Tony Romo wasn't drafted. Neither was Kurt Warner. Nor James Harrison.
I hear they were good.
There's no guarantee that this year's UDFA crop contains such a player. But there's talent. There's potential. There's hope.
Let's take a team-by-team look at the undrafted free-agent hauls of each NFL club and try to figure out which franchises best mined the bargain bin.
The UDFA haul for the Arizona Cardinals is highlighted by a pitch-and-catch duo from College Station.
Both quarterback Trevor Knight and wide receiver Ricky Seals-Jones of Texas A&M were invited to the NFL Scouting Combine this year. In fact, Knight peeled off a 4.54-second 40-yard dash that ranked first at the position.
However, Knight also completed less than 55 percent of his passes last year, and one SEC coach told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com that while Seals-Jones looks the part of a field-stretching tight end, his play tells a different story.
"He looks great in that uniform but he can't get open," he said. "Usually you fear guys with that kind of size when they make it down near your end zone but he never competed hard enough down there when we played him."
Still, Seals-Jones, at 6'5" and 243 pounds, has the size to kick inside to tight end at the NFL level, and his 40 time (4.69) in Indy would have ranked inside the top five at that position.
Also, keep an eye on Wisconsin cornerback Sojourn Shelton, who made a school-record 51 starts at the position during his time in Madison.
Just make sure it's a close eye. At 5'9", Shelton can be easy to miss.
Matt Ryan had better watch out!
OK, so Penn quarterback Alek Torgersen probably isn't coming for the 2016 NFL MVP's job any time soon. A best-case scenario probably lands the 6'3", 230-pounder on Atlanta's practice squad.
However, while Torgersen is an exceedingly raw prospect after playing in the Ivy League, tape of the youngster shows a strong, accurate arm. Frankly, given that arm alone, Torgersen could have gone the Ryan Fitzpatrick route from the Ivy to seventh-round pick.
It's the quarterbacks who always get all the ink, but the real meat of the Falcons' crop of undrafted free agents lies in the trenches.
Robert Leff of Auburn was the second-ranked run-blocking right tackle in college football last year, per Pro Football Focus. Atlanta's zone-blocking scheme fits what the 6'6", 299-pounder does well, and while the Falcons list Leff as a guard, he could become a valuable reserve chess piece the team can move around.
There's also San Diego State offensive tackle Daniel Brunskill, a converted tight end who was a combine invitee. At just 273 pounds, Brunskill is another player whose future likely lies on the practice squad (and in the weight room), but his athleticism and quickness can't be taught.
The Baltimore Ravens have a couple of undrafted free agents who could do a lot more than make the practice squad. Or even make the team.
There's a real possibility they could play early in their NFL careers.
Utah's Tim Patrick is lanky and quick with the ability to high-point the football well. Three times for the Utes in 2016, Patrick caught at least five passes, topped 100 yards and found the end zone, including against USC and star cornerback Adoree Jackson.
Of course, Patrick also couldn't stay healthy in college and had a route tree that essentially consisted of "run fast."
But take a look at the Ravens depth chart at the wide receiver spot, and there's opportunity galore for him to make an impression. Ditto for Arizona State's Tim White, a slot speedster who also returns kicks.
Neither has the opportunity presented to Oregon State fullback Ricky Ortiz, though.
With Kyle Juszczyk cashing big checks in San Francisco now, a Ravens team that uses their fullback as much as any club in the NFL has a glaring hole at the position.
As things stand today, the 6'0", 232-pound former walk-on is the only fullback on the roster.
I'll freely confess I'm not blown away by the undrafted free agents the Bills signed. And it's fair to wonder if the postdraft upheaval in the Buffalo front office put the team at a disadvantage. After all, they didn't just can the general manager just after the draft.
The entire scouting department got the axe as well.
The Bills did accomplish a relative rarity, however. They signed an undrafted free agent who could enter training camp as the favorite to start in his first NFL season.
Per Pro Football Focus, Bills punter Colton Schmidt ranked 35th of 39 qualifying punters in 2016. His net average of 38.1 yards per kick ranked 33rd. As a team, only two clubs had a lower net average than Buffalo a year ago.
That opens the door for rookie Austin Rehkow, who averaged a robust 44.4 yards per kick over his collegiate career while also serving as a kickoff specialist.
And in addition to being arguably the top prospect at his position in 2017, Rehkow is an Idaho Vandal.
Potato punters rate double-extra credit here.
There isn't a team in the NFL that signed fewer undrafted free agents than the Carolina Panthers. The few they did sign face uphill position battles on a crowded depth chart.
Per the Panthers' website, linebacker Ben Boulware is fully aware that Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis aren't coming out of the starting lineup any time soon.
“I know Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis are better than me," he said. "It is what it is. I’m not going to lie and say that I’m going to take their starting job because there is no way in hell I’m going to. But I’m going to be ready for any opportunity that comes up and try and contribute with whatever role that may be – special teams, being the tackling dummy – whatever it is, I’m just trying make the 53.”
Boulware was wildly productive during his time at Clemson, including a defensive MVP award in the 2016 national title game.
But a miserable 4.85-second 40 at Clemson's pro day sealed perceptions that Boulware is "too slow" to play in the pros.
Poppycock. He might never be Kuechly, but Boulware's superior instincts go a long way toward compensating for a lack of speed. If he doesn't make the team, it will probably say more about Carolina's depth at the position than his skills as a player.
Just as this grade says less about the players the Panthers did sign and more about all the ones they didn't relative to the other teams in the NFL.
The majority of undrafted free agents fall into one of two categories. Either they are fringe talents NFL teams feel might be able to contribute in multiple areas (aka they're solid special teams candidates) or they are "lottery tickets"—physical specimens who are raw but have potential.
Florida International tackle Dieugot Joseph falls into that latter category. The 6'6", 293-pounder could stand to add some size, but he's got the frame to do so. And while his technique is "unrefined" (i.e. lousy), the big man has the length and quickness that teams covet at the position.
At first glance Wyoming receiver Tanner Gentry would appear a member of the former camp. He was a productive player with the Cowboys, but the 6'2", 198-pounder doesn't have any "wow" characteristics.
That doesn't mean he can't play though. Per Brandon Foster of the Casper Star-Tribune (via the Denver Post) Gentry wasted no time making an impression on his new team at rookie minicamp, although he was the first to admit the journey has only just begun.
“I think I showed my strengths and what I can do,” Gentry said, “and I think it was also good for our receiver coach to see me and see some things that he wants to change with me and wants me to work on as well. I’ll continue to try to learn the plays, and then after that, a few weeks off before training camp starts.”
Keep an eye on Gentry once camp does roll around. The Bears aren't exactly loaded at his position, which helps his chances of sticking on the 53-man roster.
The Big Ten has long been a conference that bangs out NFL linebackers with regularity. And as the Cincinnati Bengals try to get younger and more athletic at the position, the team went the B1G route with a pair of undrafted free agents.
One, Hardy Nickerson Jr., is...well it's pretty obvious whose son he is. The 232-pound weak-side man put up big numbers at the University of Illinois, but he doesn't impress as being especially fast. Or especially agile. Or especially strong.
Nickerson does have a motor that doesn't quit, though, and Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett talked up his leadership and experience while speaking with Geoff Hobson of the team's website.
“Smart. Physical. Captain. Plays like a coach’s son. Great to get him,” Haslett said. “I just hope he doesn’t come in here telling me I’m doing it wrong.”
But Nickerson will have a familiar foe trying to take his roster spot, in a player who is in many respects a carbon copy.
Like Nickerson. Brandon Bell of Penn State is a bit undersized at 233 pounds. Like Nickerson, Bell was a prolific producer in 2016, piling up 89 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
And like Nickerson, Bell's clearest path to a roster spot probably lies in proving his worth on kick and punt coverage as a rookie.
It's not at all a stretch to imagine one of those linebackers sticking with the Bengals.
The question is which one.
It says something about the state of the Cleveland Browns defense that nine of the team's 11 undrafted free agents are on that side of the ball. Yes, the Browns added potential starters in No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett and safety Jabrill Peppers.
But in a ground-up rebuild, the Browns also need reserves and depth players. Special teams contributors, too.
It's a golden opportunity for some of these young defenders to stick on an NFL roster, and there are prospects in Cleveland with the potential to take advantage of that chance.
Safety Kai Nacua of Brigham Young is a rangy and athletic ball hawk who measured third among all safeties in the this year's draft in the SPARQ metric. It's a guarantee that tidbit didn't escape the attention of Cleveland's analytically driven front office.
Channing Stribling is a long cornerback at a position where the Browns need both quantity and quality. Stribling posted second-team all-conference honors as Peppers' teammate at Michigan last year.
Kenneth Olugbode is a hard-nosed young linebacker who improved his run defense grade from 33.8 in 2015 to 85.6 last season, per Pro Football Focus.
Of course, there's a reason these young men weren't drafted. For Nacua, it was concerns about his tackling. Stribling's long speed isn't great. Olugbode is undersized and can be overwhelmed at the point of attack.
But even the Browns' UDFAs appear to have been signed with a particular plan in mind. A script the braintrust is sticking too.
Will wonders never cease?
There may not be an owner in the NFL who catches more flak from fans than Jerry Jones. That Jones has an ego cannot be denied. The Dallas Cowboys are very much Jerry's ballclub.
What's gotten lost in the snickers is that Jones isn't close to being the worst general manager in the NFL, and the Cowboys have one of the better UDFA crops in the league in 2017.
It doesn't hurt to have the star on your hat when selling yourself.
LSU's Lewis Neal is a 272-pound "tweener" who at first glance isn't quick enough to play end or strong enough to kick inside. But his 60 tackles for the Tigers last year speaks to his motor and ability to fight through traffic. With the right coaching, Neal could become an interesting rotational player capable of playing up and down the line.
Dan Skipper is an enormous (6'10") tackle from the University of Arkansas who has experience on both sides and at guard and who owns the school record for blocked field goals. Skipper's height is actually more hindrance than help when blocking, but being able to just reach up and bat kicks from the sky may well save his NFL bacon.
The coup de grace could be Cooper Rush, who Lance Zierlein of NFL.com wrote, "processes as quickly as any quarterback I've studied over the last five years and has the anticipation and accuracy to counter his lack of velocity."
Rush hardly has a cannon, but he's a four-year starter who is both smart and accurate. With time, he could develop into a long-term backup for Dak Prescott.
How 'bout them Cowboys?
The Denver Broncos failed to make the playoffs in 2016 because of issues on the offensive side of the ball—issues that originated in the trenches. It's the O-line where Denver spent their first pick in 2017. Garrett Bolles will be expected to contribute right away in the NFL.
But the Broncos also added a free agent who could do the same if the team's willing to be a little more patient.
OK...a lot more patient.
Erik Austell is a small-school standout who used to be more interested in chasing quarterbacks than protecting them. Given his lack of length, the 6'3", 301-pounder won't be playing tackle at the NFL level. He doesn't really have the strength to play guard either.
What Austell does have is excellent footwork and quickness—a skill set that would traslate very nicely at center.
Defensively, Miami safety Jamal Carter is another player who will take time to develop at the NFL level after starting only one year for the Hurricanes. But the 6'1" 218-pounder certainly looks the part of an NFL safety from a physical standpoint.
Add in his ability to contribute from Day 1 in special teams, and as one NFC personnel man told Zierlein, "I don't see the ball skills to be a starter, but guys that look like that make rosters."
Last year, Anquan Boldin ranked second on the Detroit Lions in catches and led the team with eight scores. As of now, the Lions haven't brought Boldin back, and while they added a wideout in Round 3 of the 2017 draft, there's a reason why four of the team's UDFAs hail from that spot.
The Lions need depth at receiver.
And each of these players brings something different to the table.
Dontez Ford is a lanky speedster from Pitt. Ford lost most of the 2016 season to a collarbone injury, but the year before he averaged 19.4 yards a reception and scored twice.
Stanford's Michael Rector has something of a similar skill set but was the more productive player while in college. At February's scouting combine, Rector showed off the 4.42 wheels that earned him a tryout in Motown.
If you want to talk collegiate production, the conversation begins and ends with Noel Thomas. He piled up 100 catches (a single-season record) at UConn last year for nearly 1,200 yards. That productivity belies the fight in his game, but he needs more actual game in his game to go with it.
The last receiver isn't a receiver at all. Or at least he won't be in the NFL. Robert Tonyan played wideout at Indiana State, but the 6'5", 220-pounder projects as a tight end at the professional level—a wildly athletic and equally raw tight end.
None of these young pass-catchers are shoo-ins to replace Boldin. Neither is Round 3 pick Kenny Golladay.
But at least one of these young free agents will make the team.
Green Bay Packers
As LaDarius Gunter showed during the 2016 season, it's possible for undrafted free agents to carve out prominent roles in the Green Bay defense.
And as Ted Thompson showed in bombing away in the secondary after the draft, the team still sees the defensive backfield as an area that needs addressed.
The Packers added no fewer than five defensive backs as undrafted free agents, including a quartet of cornerbacks.
David Rivers is a lanky boundary corner from Youngstown State who checks all the boxes physically.
Raysean Pringle is a converted wide receiver who has already survived one round of tryouts at rookie camp. It's Donatello Brown (Valdosta State) and Lenzy Pipkins (Oklahoma State), who are most interesting, though.
Per ESPN's Rob Demovsky, both were picked out by an NFL scout—who correctly identified three UDFAs who stuck with the Packers in 2016—as players who could repeat the feat this summer.
That scout mentioned West Virginia tackle Adam Pankey, who will slide inside to guard in the NFL, as the third undrafted player to keep an eye on in Titletown. Another anonymous personnel exec told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee-Journal Sentinel to look out for Canadian lineman Geoff Gray.
“We had a sixth-round grade on him,” he said. “That’s a good get. Like him. It’s going to take a year but, if he hits it, they got one.”
There isn't a team in the NFL who has made a bigger dent in rookie free agency the past decade than the Pack.
That reputation alone gets them halfway home.
The Houston Texans apparently like the road less traveled where undrafted free agents are concerned. The small-school standouts greatly outweigh the recognizable names.
Not that there isn't talent here, mind you.
Dylan Cole was an FCS All-American as a linebacker at Missouri State, and while he was disappointed to not be drafted, Cole told Jim Connell and Wyatt D. Wheeler of the News-Leader he's looking forward to getting down to work.
"I thought I was going to get picked up around the sixth round," Cole said. 'When the seventh round came around, I just wanted to become a free agent so I could pick where I wanted to go and the best fit for me. Houston was that place."
Zach Conque is a big-armed quarterback from Stephen F. Austin who will trade in working out his arm for his legs as he tries to make the transition to tight end at the NFL level.
Then there's cornerback Dee Virgin, who's attempting to pull a Malcolm Butler. Virgin was a two-time all conference performer at Tennessee-Chattanooga before being dismissed for a rules violation. He landed at West Alabama as a senior—the same school that produced the Patriots star.
Don't sleep on Washington edge-rusher Joe Mathis, either. Talent wasn't the reason he went undrafted. Injury was.
The Texans brought in a big group, and the odds are good that a handful could stick on the active roster and/or practice squad.
All of the teams in the AFC South signed robust classes of undrafted free agents.
The wide receivers the Indianapolis Colts brought in are at least winning the nickname battle early.
There's Johnathan "Bug" Howard, a 6'4" possession receiver from the University of North Carolina who posted one of the top vertical jumps at the scouting combine in February.
If small and speedy is more your thing (apparently "Bug" is an ironic moniker), the Colts have you covered with Bruce "JoJo" Natson of the University of Akron. Natson was generously listed at 5'8" at Akron, but what he lacks in size, he more than makes up for with speed.
“Any small crease, I’m looking to hit it. I rely on my speed and quickness,” Natson told George Thomas of the Akron Beacon Journal.
Finally, there's Arizona wideout Trey Griffey, a 6'3" vertical threat who was an honorable mention all-conference pick for the Wildcats in 2016.
He has two—if you also count "being Ken Griffey Jr.'s kid" as a nickname.
These young men face an uphill battle to crack a crowded Colts depth chart at the position. But each also has the ability to carve out the sort of niche that could keep them around for a while.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have spent a fortune on defense over the past two years, both in terms of free-agent dollars and early draft picks.
Those players will form the core of the Jacksonville D in 2017, but there's still depth to flesh out.
And in that regard, the Jaguars may have gotten a gift this year in the form of Utah defensive end Hunter Dimick.
Despite piling up 13.5 sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss for the Utes in 2016, Dimick wasn't invited to the combine. But after shining at Utah's pro day, Dimick told Amy Donaldson of the Deseret News he was confident he'd allayed concerns about his lack of speed and athleticism.
“I just feel like people got the impression for some reason that I was slow and couldn’t change direction very well,” Dimick said. “So I felt like I did a good job today of show that’s incorrect, and that I’m overall just a good athlete.”
Apparently not so much, as the draft came and went without Dimick's name being called.
Now, Dimick doesn't have Myles Garrett's first step, or Solomon Thomas' leverage at the line of scrimmage.
But he was wildly productive in a big-time conference, and now he enters the NFL with a 65-pound chip on his shoulder.
Kansas City Chiefs
In at least one draftnik's opinion, the Kansas City Chiefs did quite well with their undrafted free agents.
Of the top 25 UDFAs listed by ESPN draft analyst and hairdo savant Mel Kiper, two landed with the Chiefs. The first was USC guard Damien Mama, a 334-pound mauler whom Lance Zierlein of NFL.com graded as a fifth-round prospect.
"Could start his career as a backup," Zierlein wrote of Mama, "but has the size and ability to become eventual starter."
As an aside, between Mama and Zach Banner, I can only imagine what the budget for team meals was at USC in 2016.
The second player on Kiper's top 25 the Chiefs scooped up was Oklahoma State cornerback Ashton Lampkin, who showed a measure of aptitude at everything but excellence at nothing during his time in Stillwater.
"I thought Lampkin might run a little faster than his 4.54-second 40 at the combine," Kiper said. "He had 25 career special-teams tackles at Oklahoma State, so that could be his way onto a 53-man roster."
it isn't an especially deep group of UDFAs, and it's weighted heavily toward pass-catchers. But it's hard to find much fault when a team lands a pair of players whom most expected to be drafted.
Los Angeles Chargers
Georgia Southern kicker Younghoe Koo has to promise us all something.
If he can beat out Josh Lambo for placekicking duties in 2017, he has to make every field goal and point-after attempt like this.
Hey, Rules Committee! You wanna really make the PAT interesting? Make Sebastian Janikowski try that.
Kidding aside, the Chargers didn't sign Koo as a goof. He was one of the top prospects at the position this year after missing all of one field-goal try in 2016.
Koo told Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times he's just looking for a chance to compete.
“To get a chance, this opportunity, to showcase what I can do on a NFL team, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was young, just picturing it. For me to be on a team and be able to kick in front of the coaches. … I can’t ask for anything more than that.”
Koo may have the best shot of any UDFA to make the Chargers' 53-man roster. If he does, he could see some familiar faces in special teams meetings.
Whether it's Andre Patton of Rutgers, Ohio State's Dontre Wilson or Clemson's Artavis Scott, the Bolts loaded up on players with the speed and athleticism to help out on kick coverage or make some hay in the return game.
Los Angeles Rams
Often, a young quarterback is only as good as his offensive line.
For Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams in 2016, that was both true and depressing.
The Rams addressed the line in free agency with the addition of veteran tackle Andrew Whitworth and center John Sullivan, but the 2017 draft came and went without further additions.
After the draft was a different story.
At 6'8", Kwayde Miller of San Diego State is a long-armed prospect who played tackle for the Aztecs. But he's small for his height, and his lack of agility may portend a move inside to guard.
Washington's Jake Eldrenkamp is even smaller at just 297 pounds. But he has the quickness to be a depth piece on the inside of a zone-blocking scheme. Toss in the ability to play center, and Eldrenkamp has the potential to stick at the back end of a Rams line that's light on depth.
It feels unfair on some level to penalize the Rams too much for the size and quality of their UDFA crop. They've recently made some cuts, and the cold truth is that as of right now, this team faces one of the harder sells in the NFL compared to other clubs.
Um, the weather's nice?
Still, it's hard to see a youngster in this group making much of a dent in 2017.
Tailback Jay Ajayi was a breakout star for the Miami Dolphins in 2016. But Ajayi carried the ball more than 20 times in four games last year, including a 32-carry effort in a pivotal Week 16 game against the Bills.
That was as much due to necessity as design. There just isn't much behind Ajayi on the depth chart, and Miami eschewed the backfield in free agency and the 2017 draft.
The team did, however, add a back in rookie free agency who might be able to take a bit of the load off. Michigan's De'Veon Smith isn't a home run hitter. He isn't going to juke any defenders out of their shoes. But at 223 pounds, the downhill bruiser could take a bit of the pounding away from Ajayi in 2017.
If Smith was the offense's most welcome addition where UDFAs are concerned, wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow was probably the most surprising.
It has nothing to do with talent. Stringfellow is a sure-handed, big-bodied receiver who topped 700 yards on 46 catches last year at Ole Miss.
But Stringfellow has no margin for error in a wide receiver club that's standing room only.
Neither will Miami's Malcolm Lewis. Nor Drew Morgan of Arkansas. Nor Francis Owusu of Stanford.
That's four UDFA receivers added to a team that was already deep at that spot.
It wasn't all that surprising that the Minnesota Vikings would add a player like LSU defensive end Tashawn Bower. The Vikings have enjoyed great success with talented but raw linemen from Baton Rouge (see Hunter, Danielle), and the only thing head coach Mike Zimmer likes more than hard-nosed defensive linemen is more hard-nosed defensive linemen.
Bower told Craig Peters of the team's website that Hunter helped sell him on a trip to the Twin Cities.
“He was definitely telling me how great the coaches are, how well they’ll teach you and craft you into a better d-end and help you be successful,” Bower said. "I think definitely knowing the coaches that they had here and what they can do and help me with my game [influenced my decision].”
It also isn't surprising that the Vikings signed Aviante Collins, a wildly athletic lineman from TCU who has played both guard and tackle and peeled off the fastest 40 of any O-lineman at the combine. He was second in the bench press at the position, with 34 reps of 225 pounds.
Actually, it is surprising, It's surprising that Collins wasn't drafted. Yes, his technique needs work, and he could stand to add some weight. But we're talking about a quick young lineman who plays mad on tape and could provide depth at both guard and tackle.
Of the hundreds of rookies who were signed as free agents, Collins stands out as one of the best gets of all.
New England Patriots
The New England Patriots are so incredibly annoying.
After winning Super Bowl LI, the Pats have spent the offseason making the National Football League's best team substantially better. Free agency brought a shutdown cornerback and a flurry of trades that landed the Patriots a pass-rusher, an athletic tight end and a game-breaking wideout.
Then, because they hadn't been disgusting enough yet, the Patriots managed to nail the 2017 NFL draft despite having dealt many of their picks away.
Mark my words—three years from now we're going to all be wondering how Youngstown State edge-rusher Derek Rivers fell into Bill Belichick's lap.
I think he's a Sith Lord.
Now, of Mel Kiper's top 25 undrafted free agents, three (Northwestern receiver Austin Carr, Vanderbilt defensive lineman Adam Butler and BYU linebacker Harvey Langi) chose Boston to begin their NFL careers.
Because of course they did.
It's reached the point that we just assume whoever the Patriots bring on board will work out, because things always work out for the Patriots.
If one of those guys makes the play that wins the Pats their 304th Super Bowl this year, I'm going to be physically ill.
Yes, I'm jealous.
Don't judge me.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints started out with a larger list of UDFAs than the group currently listed above. "The Turk" has already visited a few young players.
However, what the class lacks in size, it makes up for in talent...in at least a couple of instances.
LSU wide receiver Travin Dural wasn't especially productive in college, never catching more than 40 passes in a season. Nor did he test especially well at the NFL Scouting Combine. But in Dural's defense, the last decent quarterback in Baton Rouge was...
Has LSU ever had a good quarterback? I'd say JaMarcus Russell, but there's no way that I'm getting that sentence typed without laughing.
In other words, the 6'1", 202-pounder is more than his stats. Zierlein projected Dural as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, so it can be argued the Saints got a bargain with the hometown hero.
Just like Dural, Memphis cornerback Arthur Maulet is a local product, having played high school ball in the Big Easy before heading off to college. And just like Dural, head coach Sean Payton told Chris Hagan of Fox 8 TV the Saints were surprised the 5'10", 189-pounder was still available when the draft ended.
"You certainly are going to prioritize those players when the draft ends,” Payton said. “And he was one of those players. He’s picking things up really well, and we’ll just keep giving him more and more. There’s a vision for him. He’s built well, and we see him being the smart player he is. We see him being a nickel candidate and someone that can play on the inside.'
Getting a twofer from your home state of players you figured would be drafted has to rate a high B, right?
New York Giants
A defensive overhaul got the New York Giants back into the playoffs in 2016, but the linebacker spot remains an area of need for the team—an area that Giants general manager Jerry Reese did nothing to address during the 2017 NFL draft.
OK, almost nothing.
After the draft, Reese and the Giants signed San Diego State's Calvin Munson, a 245-pound thumper who averaged nearly 100 stops a season over the last three years. The knock on Munson is a lack of athleticism, but one AFC scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com he thinks Munson can carve out a roster spot in the pros.
"He's a better athlete than people think," the scout said. "He's no more than a backup but he does have special teams ability which could help him stick."
Clemson safety Jadar Johnson may do even better. In fact, Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated singled Johnson out as a potential starter for the Giants in the not-too-distant future.
"Johnson looked more the part of an early-Day 3 pick than a UDFA," Burke said. "A one-year starter at Clemson, he picked off five passes and broke up a dozen more. He’s not much of a threat vs. the run, but considering how much teams value playmakers at the free safety spot, it’s a minor upset he did not hear his name called."
In budding superstar Landon Collins, the Giants are set at strong safety. The spot next to him isn't as solid, leaving Johnson (much like Munson) a path to not only a roster spot, but also early playing time.
New York Jets
The New York Jets are in the beginning of a ground-up rebuild. Veterans are being cast aside left and right in favor of younger, cheaper talent. And the cupboard, while not completely bare, is hardly overflowing.
Much the same can be said about the relatively small crop of undrafted free agents the team signed. It's not a bad group, but I have a hard time finding anything really good to say about it either.
The Jets do at least get extra credit for signing one of my favorite players this year. There's no guarantee linebacker Connor Harris will ever sniff the sort of production at the NFL level that he enjoyed at tiny Lindenwood University, but Harris is the first player in NCAA history to amass 600-plus tackles, so I'm not going to bet against him.
Dude tackles the waiter at IHOP. The ticket-taker at the movies. The guy handing out flyers at the mall.
About time someone blasted that last dude.
The UDFA with the best chance at sticking with the Jets this summer is probably either Harvard fullback Anthony Firkser or Syracuse return specialist Brisly Estime. But that has more to do with the positions those youngsters play than their talent level.
Maybe I'll be proven wrong, as grading these sorts of dart-throw players is about as speculative as it gets.
But I don't see much in this green gang to go gaga about.
Ishmael Zamora wasn't the only undrafted free agent the Oakland Raiders signed. But the 6'4", 215-pound wide receiver from Baylor is going to dominate the conversation about the Raiders' UDFAs.
For all the wrong reasons.
Were it purely a matter of talent, Zamora may not have made it out of Day 2 of the 2017 draft. He has excellent speed for a wideout his size, and while he's raw as a route-runner, he was productive while on the field for the Bears in 2016.
The problem is that Zamora started last season serving a suspension due to animal cruelty charges that surfaced after video emerged of him beating a dog.
The situation got Zamora dropped from the scouting combine, and while other "red flag" players like Joe Mixon and Caleb Brantley were drafted this year, all 253 picks came and went without Zamora's name being called.
Maybe that will be a blessing in disguise for both player and team.
Maybe Zamora will grow from his mistakes. The Raiders have the luxury of bringing him along slowly, and Zamora can learn from Pro Bowler Amari Cooper and veteran receiver Michael Crabtree.
It's essentially a no-risk move for the Raiders, although any more trouble with the law would bring the sort of attention NFL franchises most assuredly do not appreciate.
And end any chance Zamora has of making the team in the process.
The Philadelphia Eagles went the quality-over-quantity route with their undrafted free agents in 2017.
As a matter of fact, their grade here is based on just a couple of players.
When the draft wound down, Dane Brugler of CBS Sports banged out a list of the top undrafted players. West Virginia center Tyler Orlosky led the group.
"Orlosky competes with physical hands and the tenacious mentality to tie up defenders at the line of scrimmage," Brugler said. "If he can improve his sink and mirror skills in space, Orlosky has the brute power and protection awareness to win a starting role and make all the line calls in the NFL."
Orlosky told Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com that a handful of teams reached out to him, but he eventually settled on Philly as a new home.
"They went out of their way to reach out to me and show interest in me," he said. "They showed interest that I could possibly make this team, and that is my main goal, is making the team."
That Orlosky went undrafted was one of the biggest surprises of this year's draft. Given the swirling uncertainty at center for the Eagles, he may well have more than just a chance to make the big club.
Just as with Ohio State punter Cameron Johnston (an Aussie assassin at flipping the field), he may actually have a chance to start.
There are two things NFL teams can never have too much of.
Offensive line depth. And nacho vendors who understand the importance of cheese-to-chips ratio.
I can't speak to the latter in the Steel City, but the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gotten a gift in the former: undrafted free-agent guard Ethan Cooper.
Playing at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the 322-pound Cooper was a two-time all-conference first-teamer at guard. There are legitimate concerns about the level of competition he faced at IUP, but Cooper insisted to FanSided's Joel Cade that whoever lines up opposite him is in for a fight.
“When I get on the field, I refuse to be beat," he said. "When someone lines up across from me, I am going to make them regret that decision. I am going to come back play after play to punch them in the mouth until they quit.”
Cooper was intriguing enough to earn an invite to the combine, where he tested well enough that most pundits (myself included) figured he'd come off the board at about the midway point of Day 3.
That didn't happen though, and while Cooper will need time to acclimate to the NFL, there's enough talent present to rate him a practice squad spot at the very least.
The rest of Pittsburgh's undrafted free agents don't really turn my gears (they've already switched several in and out), but the Steelers got a nice little steal with the big man from the tiny school.
San Francisco 49ers
There hasn't been a more active general manager this offseason than San Francisco's John Lynch, who hit the ground running the moment he took the job. Lynch has been wheeling and dealing at a breakneck pace through free agency and into the 2017 draft.
Authorities are still debating whether to charge Lynch with robbery after the trade he pulled off with the Chicago Bears on April 27.
Lynch didn't slow down after the draft came to a close, as the 49ers welcomed a large and varied class of undrafted free agents.
On defense, Lynch may have gotten a steal in small-school safety Lorenzo Jerome of St. Francis (PA). The 5'10", 204-pounder isn't a "wow" athlete, and his draft stock tumbled after poor workouts at the combine. But Jerome shined at the Senior Bowl and is a player who shows a lot more once the pads go on than he does running around in his underwear.
Offensively, the 49ers signed a bevy of linemen, albeit ones who are hardly household names. Michigan "tweener" Erik Magnuson hails from a big school, but Darrell Williams (Western Kentucky), Bret Treadway (Lamar) and JP Flynn (Montana State) will be ratcheting up the level of competition about 11 notches.
The 49ers have a long way to go as a franchise, but Lynch has made more than a little progress in his first few months on the job.
The question now is whether that will translate into wins in 2017.
There's not a lot to see among the undrafted free agents for the Seattle Seahawks.
This is mostly a list of camp bodies. Kids whose best hope is probably to make enough noise in camp that another team catches wind of them.
With a couple of potentially notable exceptions.
BYU fullback Algernon Brown is a bruising 250-pounder at a position where the Seahawks have a need. Brown told Jared Lloyd of the Provo Daily Herald that the Seahawks called to sign him, "maybe 30 seconds after (the end of the draft). It’s been crazy."
For the team to have made him a priority demonstrates the Seahawks may have plans for Brown.
Then there's Purdue guard Jordan Roos, a 320-pound guard whom the Seahawks were so pleased to acquire that GM John Schneider made a point of mentioning him in the postdraft press conference, per Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times.
“We had a guy, Roos, from Purdue, he’s a guard/center, I think he benched like 42 times,” said Schneider. “We’re really excited to get him. He was a guy who was a draftable player. We were trying to decide if we should take him or not take him, and so we just found that out before we came in here, we’re pretty excited.”
It was 41 times, if you want to be particular—six more times than any other lineman at the combine.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers aren't exactly in dire need of help at the linebacker position. In fact, in "Mike" Kwon Alexander and "Will" Lavonte David, the Buccaneers have two of the better 4-3 linebackers in the game.
That didn't stop the Bucs from hitting the position early and often after the 2017 NFL draft, though.
Paul Magloire is an instinctive and physical run defender from the University of Arizona who has "special teams maven" written all over him. Ditto for Michigan State's Riley Bullough, who is slightly smaller but a quicker player.
Deondre Barnett from Southern Illinois doesn't have the pedigree of Magloire or Bullough, but he may have even better athleticism. Christian Kuntz is a small-school star from Duquesne who told NFL Draft Diamonds he's just hoping for an opportunity to show what he can do in camp.
"I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do to win games," he said. "Pro day drills measure a lot, but they can’t measure heart and I would put my will to compete against any other player in this year’s draft class."
Finally, there's Mississippi State's Richie Brown, a productive two-year starter who has posted over 100 tackles each of the past two seasons.
The Buccaneers don't necessarily have any rookies whose free-agent status was a surprise. But most of the youngsters they signed at least offer Tampa some potential to contribute on special teams.
The Tennessee Titans have been very busy addressing their wideout corps in 2017, making Corey Davis the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft and selecting Taywan Taylor the following day.
The Titans kept right on going after the draft, adding three more pass-catchers as UDFAs.
As Jordan Honeycutt of the New Bern Sun Journal reported, North Carolina State receiver Bra'Lon Cherry knows he has a long climb ahead of him to make the team.
“I’m just going to bring a hard-work mindset and show them that I can make plays and help the team,” he said.
Cherry does have an ace up his sleeve, in that he was the Wolfpack's return man in 2016.
Ball State's KeVonn Mabon and Louisville's Giovanni Pascascio are more underneath threats, but Mabon (who chose the Titans over three other teams) echoed Cherry's sentiments while speaking to Robby General of The Daily News.
BSU's all-time receptions leader just wants a chance.
"It's an exciting time right now," Mabon said. "Now it's just making sure my body is ready for camp and making sure that my body is in the best shape it can be going into camp."
On a crowded depth chart, each of these young receivers is a long shot to make the Titans. The same could be said for most of the players listed here.
If nothing else, that speaks to the improvements the Titans have made from Nos. 1 to 53 in recent years.
The Washington Redskins haven't been especially active in rookie free agency. There have been some nice adds like big-school offensive linemen Tyler Catalina of Georgia and Kyle Kalis of Michigan.
But it's the most recent signing the team's made that's worth talking about—because it's fascinating.
Nico Marley isn't exactly a linebacker. In fact, at just 5'9" and 195 pounds (with a roll of quarters in his pockets), Marley's small by NFL safety standards.
However, Marley's made his presence felt the last few years at Tulane, and his former college coach told Mark Wright of The Undefeated that big hitters most assuredly come in smaller packages.
“If you have a smart guy who can run, who leaves it all out on the field and plays as reckless as he does and is an exceptional leader, you have to take as many guys as you can like that,” Curtis Johnson said. "Besides his size, which is a big factor for everyone, this guy could have played anywhere in the country with his speed and athleticism. He’s a tackling machine, a sideline-to-sideline player who tackles with more impact than most guys much bigger than him. I mean, he was everything you wanted in a linebacker.”
Marley isn't playing linebacker in the pros. He may not even play safety, although after about five minutes of watching him run around like his hair's on fire, putting him on kick coverage doesn't seem like a half-bad idea.
Anyway, Marley's status as the ultimate "tweener" isn't the fascinating part.
Marley, who was born in Haiti and lived in Jamaica as a child before moving to Florida, is the son of Rohan Marley, who is in turn the son of Bob Marley.
Yes, that Bob Marley.
Fans of the Redskins should root for this kid. I hope they get the chance to see him play in the preseason.
He's a tiny little whirling dervish of reggae destruction.