The NFL Lockout is finally over and it's time for teams around the league to begin filling out their rosters. This means many teams will target any number of unrestricted free agents as well as undrafted free agents. Just because a player went undrafted doesn't mean he doesn't have a shot at contributing at the NFL level. Plenty of players like Kurt Warner, Warren Moon, Antonio Gates and Priest Holmes were passed over in the draft only to go on to have All-Pro careers.
Here are the top 5 undrafted free agents that the New York Giants should pursue this offseason.
It's really no surprise that Thornton wasn't drafted in April due to off the field concerns. Despite that immature reputation, I'll be shocked if a team doesn't take a flyer on this guy.
He's all of 6'3", 309 lbs., so it's clear that he's got the requisite size, not to mention the guy is tough and physical.
Is he ready to come in and be a starter right away? Heck no; he's got plenty to prove.
Is he ready to even contribute at a high level at this point? Probably not.
Is he ready for a reserve role? You bet, and if you know anything about the Giants, you know that they love to have a stable full of physical d-linemen on hand. This a guy the Giants should definitely target; the veteran leadership on the line could really get this guy on the right track toward a productive career.
Speaking of character issues and immaturity concerns, let me introduce you to Weslye Saunders (that's not a typo, it's actually spelt that way!). Weslye has prototypical tight end size at 6'5", 270 lbs. and he runs like a deer. He's got wide receiver hands and he possesses the ability to leap for balls and pull them out of the hands of opposing DBs. Saunders has everything you could want in a tight end.
The only problem? Well, everything else. He's been questioned about having contact with agents in college, he's been questioned about living in housing that he wasn't paying for and he did something so egregious in August of 2010 that he was dismissed from the team. Apparently, that was enough to scare all 32 teams away from this guy.
Fortunately for him and for all 32 NFL teams, he can be picked up in free agency for a pretty low cost. The Giants are thin on tight ends and having this guy on the squad would be a definite bonus. As with Thornton, he'll benefit greatly from the strong veteran leadership in New York. Worst case scenario: he gets cut before the season begins. Best case scenario: the Giants find a diamond in the rough and acquire a productive pass catching tight end that can stretch the defense.
And now for something completely different. You've seen the guys with character issues, now here's a guy who's got none of that baggage. Ian Williams, an undersized defensive tackle from Notre Dame, is a coaches dream. His work ethic is top notch and he was the Fighting Irish Lineman of the Year in 2010.
His production at Notre Dame didn't blow anyone away and, like I mentioned, at 6'1", 319 lbs., he's a bit stocky to play DT at the NFL level. That said, he will work hard and demand attention; it looks to me like at the very least he could be a great practice squad player. He will give the starters all they can handle in a practice squad guy and maybe even prove himself skilled enough to see time on Sundays if an injury arises.
The Giants love to stockpile defensive linemen, and Williams wouldn't be a bad guy to have in the bullpen. He's a great team guy and a high energy player who could be a valuable piece to the Giants success, even if he never sees the field on Sunday.
Another player the Giants should target is a tough little runner by the name of Derrick Locke, a diminutive ball carrier from the University of Kentucky. At 5'8", 188 lbs., there's not much to him, but he's actually quite physical and slippery.
His size scared teams off, but the Giants desperately need someone, anyone, who can compete for a return man job and Locke is just the man to do it. He runs with toughness beyond his size and he even took back two kicks for touchdowns in his career.
Is he going to give you much in the running game? Honestly, no. At most, he could be an occasional third down back if the offense wants to mix things up a bit, but he'll never carry the ball more than 10 times in an NFL game; he just can't withstand that sort of punishment.
He had injury concerns for most of his career but that doesn't mean, like Williams, that he can't be a strong practice squad player that could get a call on any given Sunday. Also like Williams, he's a high-energy, competitive player who would have a positive impact on the attitudes of those around him.
To say I was shocked that Herzlich wasn't drafted would be an understatement. Herzlich was one of the top defensive players in the country in 2008 but he missed all of the 2009 season after being diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, a cancer most often found in bone and soft tissue.
Despite that, Herzlich fought all the way back to be a productive member of Boston College's defense in 2010. Was he the player he once was? Sadly, no. The disease robbed him of much of his athleticism and overall durability. That being said, I would be thrilled if the Giants signed him up.
More than anyone, Herzlich deserves a shot to play the game he loves at the highest level. However, that's not the only reason he should get a chance. He should be signed by someone, specifically the Giants, because of his unwavering work ethic and positive attitude. Often, when signing UDFA's, a team is not looking for a superstar, but rather a player who will compete in practice and answer the bell when their services are needed. Could you picture a more worthy practice squad player then Herzlich?
Not to mention, I wouldn't put it past this guy to regain all of his ability from 2008. If anyone can do it, it's Herzlich. After being told he may never play again, he beat the odds and made himself a productive player and he could be on his way to even greater things.
In any case, he's a guy I'd want in my foxhole, and I think the Giants should want him too.
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