NFL Free Agents 2011: The 5 Best Undrafted Free Agent Signings so Far
The NFL free agency frenzy has finally begun.
The real stars and big-name talent have yet to fall to their final landing spots, but quite a few college football stars have found their way onto rosters over the last 24 hours.
The impact of undrafted players may be belittled by their unheralded journey to the NFL, but each player has the chance to become a star.
Look no further than the recent big news in the league, and you will find an undrafted, former defensive player of the year on the tip of everyone's tongues—James Harrison.
Of course, he's not the only one. Even the much-scrutinized quarterback position can be solved this late in the draft.
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5. Kendric Burney to the Carolina Panthers
The knocks on Burney are generally fatal to a cornerback hoping to play in the NFL.
He is slow—ran a 4.75 forty time—and undersized.
However, Burney can still find a place in the NFL. He is stronger against the run than you would think and does well reading opposing quarterbacks.
Landing with the Panthers will give him time to develop as a player, which could lead him to becoming a valuable nickel or dime corner with potential to make plays on the football.
The Panthers have a few potential players leaving their defense, including starting cornerback Richard Marshall, so depth will be an issue for the coming season.
Burney may spend a year on the practice squad, but he will have every chance to get on the field and make an impact in Carolina next season—especially if the team can keep star pass-rusher Charles Johnson.
With a strong pass rush, Burney could benefit from his good instincts and ability to read situations to lead to turnovers.
He had a season-high five in his junior season as well as 11 interceptions during his whole college career at North Carolina.
4. Jake Kirkpatrick to the Indianapolis Colts
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The Indianapolis Colts' offensive line was horrible in 2010.
Many people say Peyton Manning had a bad year last year, but even Peyton Manning couldn't do anything with the pressure he was under.
This was reflected in the team's decision to add two tackles with their first two selections in the NFL draft. They may have uncovered another potential contributor in the form of Jake Kirkpatrick.
Kirkpatrick had a stellar career at TCU, and it was a surprise to many that he went undrafted.
Pat Kirwan goes as far as to say that he is a better player than some of the centers who were drafted.
If Kirkpatrick is to feature early in Indianapolis, it likely won't be at center. Jeff Saturday remains there for the short-term future. But Kirkpatrick could compete at guard.
Kirkpatrick is big and strong, with the physical capabilities to handle 3-4 nose tackles.
The fact that he only played one year of high-school football says that he could take a huge leap with the added benefit of professional coaching.
3. Dane Sanzenbacher to the Chicago Bears
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The former Ohio State stud was a player that I expected to be drafted in the latter rounds of the draft.
While he is not the most physically gifted of receivers—lacking true NFL speed or outstanding size—he is a consistent catcher of the football who runs good routes.
Sanzenbacher was someone who repeatedly caught my eye at Ohio State.
While he obviously will never set the league ablaze, he looks to have a great deal of promise as a slot/possession receiver.
This is exactly the role in which he excelled at Ohio State last year on his way to 55 receptions for 948 yards.
His upper-body strength is very impressive and deceptive, as he always knows how to adjust to the football and reel it in under pressure.
These aspects of his game will afford him every chance to earn a place in Mike Martz' offense.
While the Bears have a lot of possession-type receivers available to them, Devin Aromashodou will likely not return, which could open a roster spot for a guy like Sanzenbacher.
Sanzenbacher is the perfect type of receiver to play for Mike Martz.
He is shifty and consistent when catching the football. While he will not solve the team's problem of a leading receiver, he will bring reliable depth to the offense.
2. Mark Herzlich to the New York Giants
Mark Herzlich's battle with cancer is an inspiring story that I really enjoyed hearing about.
However, it's really not worth anything to his football career. In fact, I don't care about it as far as football goes.
That may seem harsh, but the reality is that whenever someone talks about Herzlich's impressive determination and desire to overcome his troubles, it really isn't relevant.
Any undrafted free agent that is going to earn a job in the NFL has to have determination and desire to make it to that degree.
What I do love about Herzlich is the fact that he is a very good football player who has landed in a great spot.
In 2008 he won the ACC Defensive Player of the Year Award before sitting out the 2009 season to endure his battle with cancer.
Herzlich would probably have been a high draft pick had he never been ill, and many analysts were shocked that he went undrafted anyway.
Herzlich is considered the fifth best player to go undrafted by nfl.com's Gil Brandt.
Brandt believes that he was on his way to becoming a potential Top-10 pick in the 2009 draft before being diagnosed with cancer.
On the field, Herzlich's intelligence and work rate is what makes him valuable.
A tenacious presence is exactly what the Giants need at linebacker. The Giants have one of the best defenses in the league outside of the linebacker unit, which needs to be upgraded.
If Herzlich is going to succeed in the NFL and regain his speed and quickness then New York is the perfect spot for him.
Playing behind that outstanding defensive line with the deepest (and arguably the best) secondary in the league behind him, Herzlich could be that three-down linebacker in the NFL sooner rather than later.
1. Pat Devlin to the Miami Dolphins
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This is a great fit for a guy who many experts thought would be drafted.
Devlin was ranked as the best available undrafted free agent by nfl.com.
According to Adam Schefter's Twitter page, the Colts and the Raiders were both interested in acquiring the 23-year-old.
That attests to the quality of the player, but the fact that he has landed with the Dolphins should be a massive boost to him.
Had the Colts picked him up, he would have probably been sitting for the next four to five years. That's too long for a player his age.
With the Raiders, he would likely have had a better chance to get on the field, but the uncertainty surrounding their offensive line—and the franchise in general—would've put a lot of pressure on the young player.
Landing with the Dolphins puts Devlin in the perfect position.
The team needs depth at the position, but there is also a viable chance that Devlin could win the starting job in an offense that is rookie-friendly.
Chad Henne is undoubtedly the starter in Miami, but there is a much greater chance of Devlin swaying the Miami coaching staff than the Colts coaching staff.
Devlin could excel for the Dolphins.
He has a strong arm, which would allow him to take advantage of Brandon Marshall's deep threat, while the offense is built to run the ball after the additions of Daniel Thomas and Mike Pouncey in the draft.
Devlin is a big body who took care of the football in college, which is something that Dolphins fans will be looking for, as their defense should be dominant next season.
With good protection from one of the best blindside blockers in the league—Jake Long—Devlin could manage the game for the Dolphins' offense and actually get on the field as a rookie.
If he adjusts to the speed of the NFL early, Devlin could have a legitimate chance at supplanting/succeeding Chad Henne early in his career.
That would be startling for an undrafted free-agent quarterback.
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