NFL Free Agency 2011: Top 50 UDFAs with the Best Chance of Making an NFL Roster
In a normal offseason, an undrafted player would have a fair chance to make an NFL roster. In fact, the NFL's leading rusher in 2010, Arian Foster, went undrafted after the 2009 NFL draft. Being an undrafted player is not always the end of the world.
But in a lockout-shortened offseason, just making it through camp might be tough for undrafted rookies who haven't worked out with teammates all offseason.
Of the 300 undrafted free agents signed this year, which have the best chance to make an NFL roster?
We break down the 50 players with the best shot to make an NFL roster. These are not the best 50 free agents signed, by far, just the players in the best position to make a roster.
Kristofer O'Dowd, Center, Arizona Cardinals
As a center in the Arizona Cardinals training camp, Kristofer O'Dowd is in a good position to earn a roster spot.
Arizona currently has starter Lyle Sendlein and backup Ben Claxton, who also fills in at guard.
With a hole at the No. 2 center position open and O'Dowd's physical style of play, the Cardinals look like a great fit for this accomplished college center to make his mark in the NFL.
Derek Epperson, Punter, Arizona Cardinals
At 37 years old, Ben Graham's days in the NFL are numbered. That's why the Cardinals offer Derek Epperson the best chance to make an NFL roster this year.
Epperson will have his chance in camp to convince the Cardinals to trust him with the starting gig at punter.
If anything, he may be able to land a job as the kickoff specialist.
Adam Froman, Quarterback, Atlanta Falcons
The Atlanta Falcons already have Matt Ryan, and he's capably backed up by Chris Redman and John Parker Wilson.
So how does Adam Froman fit in?
Redman just turned 34 years old last month, and while he's a good backup, there is no developmental potential here. If the Falcons are happy with Wilson's play this year, they could conceivably cut Redman, making room for a young quarterback they can develop.
There is also a chance the Falcons could stash Froman on the practice squad for a year and let him come in to the QB3 role next year.
Ryan Winterswyk, Tight End, Atlanta Falcons
Yep, that's Ryan Winterswyk up there making a tackle in the picture above. And yes, he's playing tight end in the NFL.
And that's why it seems likely that the Atlanta Falcons will at least hide him on the practice squad for a year as he develops.
On the other hand, he would be a great special teams player due to his athleticism and experience on defense.
How many No. 3 tight ends have the type of tackling experience that Winterswyk does? His background makes him ideal for punt and kick coverage.
Tim Barnes, Center, Baltimore Ravens
According to at least one report, the Baltimore Ravens cannot find a healthy center. This opens the door for rookie Tim Barnes to steal snaps from the competition, and perhaps, catch the eye of John Harbaugh and co.
Barnes is a smart center; he had to be playing in Missouri's spread offense, and he's also a tough as nails type player.
Barnes may be replaced by a veteran signing, but until then, his chances look great of making the roster and seeing the field.
Damien Berry, Running Back, Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens lost two running backs to free agency this summer after they cut Willis McGahee and chose not to re-sign Le'Ron McClain.
This opens the door for rookies, like Damien Berry, to steal playing time behind Ray Rice.
Berry will be competing with fellow rookies Anthony Allen and Walter Sanders for playing time, but he has the potential to at a minimum make the practice squad.
Justin Boren, Guard, Baltimore Ravens
Much like Tim Barnes chances of making the roster, guard Justin Boren has a great chance to sneak onto the Baltimore Ravens' 2011 squad.
Boren is valuable due to his versatility, in a pinch he could line up at tackle, guard or center as needed. Paying one person to man three backup positions is an attractive proposition for NFL teams.
Boren is one of just five guards on the Ravens' current roster, depending on where Marshall Yanda plays this season, giving him a great chance of making the active roster.
Mana Silva, Safety, Baltimore Ravens
For some players they get lucky and find themselves on a roster with a need at a position they were unable to address through free agency or the draft.
Mana Silva is that lucky.
Silva joined the Baltimore Ravens as one of two undrafted free agents competing for the FS2 job behind future Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed.
The Ravens will choose between Silva and Michael Ricks for the job, and Silva looks like the better all-around player.
Jordan Topp, Defensive Line, Buffalo
Players signed after the draft are usually picked up due to their fit in a particular scheme. For Jordan Topp and the Buffalo Bills, the match is perfect.
Topp is a classic defensive end in the 3-4 defense—the system the Bills employ the majority of the time. Topp can also slide down to a defensive tackle position, especially in passing downs where his athleticism pays off between the guards.
Buffalo is thin at defensive end, giving Topp a shot at a backup position.
Darvin Adams, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
You will notice many NFL teams signing players who played previously with newly drafted quarterbacks. The Carolina Panthers did this by signing No. 1 overall draft pick Cam Newton's favorite receiver from Auburn, Darvin Adams.
Adams has deep threat potential, something the Panthers lack right now with a roster stocked full of possession receivers.
If Adams and Newton can flash chemistry early, expect to see a roster spot for Adams.
Kendric Burney, Cornerback, Carolina Panthers
My No. 1 rated undrafted free agent available after the 2011 NFL draft, Kendric Burney, was quickly signed by the cornerback-needy Carolina Panthers.
Burney has been characterized as slow, which is somewhat true. He may never win an Olympic gold medal in the 100 meters; he is fast enough to keep up with NFL receivers if he's put into a slot/nickel coverage role.
The Panthers are expected to use a zone-coverage scheme under Ron Rivera, something that fits Burney's talents well.
Ryan Jones, Cornerback, Chicago Bears
It would stand to reason that the Chicago Bears want to get better at cornerback. This is a team that prides itself on finding hidden gems and building through the draft.
In Ryan Jones, the Bears just might have something.
Jones, a small school stud from Northwest Missouri State, is an athletic cover man who just needs help learning the NFL game. He's worth hiding as a No. 6 cornerback and letting him blossom on special teams.
Alex Linnenkohl, Center, Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears lost long-time center Olin Kreutz to free agency. Replacing him in the starting lineup will be no easy task.
The Bears have brought in two undrafted free agents, Alex Linnenkohl and J.C. Brignone, to compete with veteran Chris Spencer at the position.
Ideally, Spencer would win the job and the team would groom the winning rookie as his future replacement.
With his experience at Oregon State and top-notch skill set, Linnenkohl has the early advantage.
Bart Johnson, Wide Receiver, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals drafted quarterback Andy Dalton from TCU in the second round of the 2011 NFL draft, one round after they drafted his new best friend in wide receiver A.J. Green.
A lesser heralded move at wide receiver may pay off in the long run, as the Bengals signed Dalton's college receiver—Bart Johnson.
Johnson and Dalton hooked up for nine touchdowns and 85 receptions over four years at TCU.
Johnson will provide Dalton with a solid target through training camp and would make sense as a practice squad player who is familiar with Dalton.
Matthew O'Donnell, Tackle, Cincinnati Bengals
Starting offensive tackles are generally found in the first round of the NFL draft. Once in a while, a team gets lucky and finds a Jason Peters-type player that goes from undrafted to the Pro Bowl.
Matthew O'Donnell has that raw potential.
After playing college ball in Canada, O'Donnell is spending his summer in training camp with the Bengals. At 6'9" and 340lbs, O'Donnell is a massive player, but he's solid and lean instead of soft and chubby.
This kid is worth watching.
Brian Smith, Linebacker, Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns love athletic linebacker/defensive ends, and that's exactly what Brian Smith brings to the table.
Smith is a versatile player who has lined up in a defensive end position on passing downs or stood up at outside linebacker.
As Cleveland transitions from the 3-4 to a 4-3 defense, Smith could be a valuable depth player at weakside linebacker and on special teams.
There is not much talent at outside linebacker in Cleveland. This leaves room for a young player with impressive potential to make a spot for himself.
James Dockery, Cornerback, Cleveland
The Cleveland Browns added four rookies at cornerback this summer, with three of them coming through the undrafted free agent market.
It's obvious that fifth-round pick Buster Skrine makes the roster, but what about the other three?
Cleveland lost Eric Wright and lack depth and developmental players in the secondary.
Dockery may not see playing time as a rookie, even on special teams, but he should have a good shot at the practice squad.
Mario Butler, Cornerback, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are hungry for physical covermen who can survive in Rob Ryan's aggressive coverage schemes.
Currently, they have zero cornerbacks who are a good fit for this scheme, which opens the door for a rookie like Mario Butler to impress coaches and earn a roster spot.
Butler was beaten often at Georgia Tech, but he was playing in a scheme that did not best fit his talents. In a more aggressive scheme, with zone coverage on top, he could excel.
Orie Lemon, Linebacker, Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys use a 3-4 scheme that asks for linebackers to be athletic, tough and instinctive. That's what Orie Lemon is.
One of my favorite, and highest rated, undrafted free agents—Lemon has the ability to make this team as a special teams player and rotational two-down linebacker.
Mark Dell, Wide Receiver, Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos have a nice assortment of wide receivers on the roster now, with established stars and potential talent.
That doesn't mean they couldn't use one more.
Mark Dell has a nice skill set that fits well in the Denver offense.
As the Broncos look for a No. 5 and No. 6 receiver, Dell will have a chance this training camp to stand out.
Mario Fanning, Running Back, Denver Broncos
If the Denver Broncos are known for one thing, it is taking unknown running backs and turning them into stars.
They did it with Terrell Davis, Olandis Gary, Mike Anderson and even Leonard Russell. Is it Mario Fannin's turn?
This much is true, the Broncos are unhappy with RB1 Knowshon Moreno and would like to work in a two or three-back rotation.
If Fannin can show the breakaway speed and pass-catching ability that he did at Auburn, he has a chance.
Ray Dominguez, Guard/Tackle, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers lost two offensive linemen to free agency when Daryn Colledge and Jason Spitz left town. The team did draft Derek Sherrod in the first round of the 2011 NFL draft, but his best position is at tackle and he's likely to step in at left tackle soon.
Green Bay continues to revamp an offensive line that was suffering from aging and injury. One area that continues to be a need is for a guard/tackle backup.
Ray Dominguez played in a pro-style offense at Arkansas, so he's as ready for the NFL as any offensive lineman. As one of three rookie tackles in camp, Dominguez's ability to play inside and out should help his chances of making the roster.
Tori Gurley, Wide Receiver, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers love wide receivers, especially players with a skill set that separates them from the average player.
Tori Gurley, at 6'4" and 230lbs, is a beast in the red zone. He is very raw, but he also has pure talent and size that the Packers do not have at wide receiver.
Gurley may be a long shot to make the roster at a crowded position, but he is worth a practice squad designation.
Jamari Lattimore, Linebacker, Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers won a Super Bowl last year, so why are they listed as a possibility for so many undrafted free agents?
Largely because their front office did a great job of identifying UDFAs who could fit into their schemes and also because the Packers were quite dormant in free agency, which left a lot of openings in backup positions.
Jamari Lattimore is an athletic inside linebacker prospect, who is oddly similar in talents to starter Desmond Bishop.
Steven Friday, Linebacker, Houston Texans
As the Houston Texans transition to new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 defense, they'll need to add warm bodies at outside linebacker.
Steven Friday is an excellent developmental prospect for Phillips and the Texans.
Having played defensive end at Virginia Tech, Friday is well-versed in rushing the passer. He's also athletic enough to potentially drop back in coverage.
Jeff Maehl, Wide Receiver, Houston Texans
The Houston Texans have made a name for themselves in the undrafted free agent world after they found the NFL's leading rusher, Arian Foster, on the UDFA market two years ago.
Like Foster, Oregon's Jeff Maehl is just hoping to make the roster.
Maehl had a great college career, notably his senior season during Oregon's Pac-10 championship season. He's a disciplined route runner with some big play potential. He's also versatile enough to help on special teams.
Guy Miller, Nose Tackle, Houston Texans
As mentioned before, the Houston Texans are rebuilding their defense in the model of a 3-4 scheme. To do so, they need to get rid of players who do not fit the mold and add players who do.
The team did a great job addressing these needs through the 2011 NFL draft, but there are only so many picks to use there.
One area where a need is prevalent is at nose tackle. Shaun Cody has the inside track for a starting job, but who will back him up?
Miller is a little small for a nose, but in the Texans' 3-4 scheme he is a good fit, as they like their tackles to penetrate the offensive line.
Mike Hartline, Quarterback, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts are set at quarterback as long as Peyton Manning is healthy. That doesn't mean they should not develop a quality backup behind him.
The New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles have profited from developing backups and then trading away either the starter or the developed player. Indianapolis has never bought into this, but they should.
Mike Hartline has a good skill set, he just needs time to develop and an NFL-level coaching staff helping him.
If stuck on the practice squad for one year, Hartline would be ready to compete as a No. 3 quarterback.
Jake Kirkpatrick, Center, Indianapolis Colts
The Indianapolis Colts currently have two pure centers on the roster—Jeff Saturday, who is 36 years old, and Jake Kirkpatrick.
It would stand to reason that the Colts like Kirkpatrick enough to develop him as Saturday's backup and potential replacement, otherwise they would be adding free agents with NFL experience here.
Brandon Bair, Defensive End, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs may not yet regret their drafting of defensive end Tyson Jackson as the No. 3 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, but he's certainly not living up to expectations.
The poor play of Jackson in the 3-4 defense will open the eyes of the Chiefs' coaches and scouts when watching the hard-working, high-motor Brandon Bair in practice.
Bair is a guy who needs coached up, but his effort is undeniable. He's worth a late roster spot.
Pat Devlin, Quarterback, Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are unsold on quarterback Chad Henne, which is why they signed free agent Matt Moore and also why they picked up a player who many felt could have been drafted—Pat Devlin.
Devlin needs work in his fundamentals and particularly in his ability to read the field, but he has shown the tools to eventually develop into a solid No. 2 quarterback.
At this point in Miami, he's worth a shot as the QB3.
Mark Herzlich, Linebacker, New York Giants
Mark Herzlich may have the most talent of any undrafted player. The only question mark is how much of that talent is left?
Herzlich missed the entire 2009 season after being diagnosed with cancer. Scary enough, right? He then had a rod inserted in his leg to fix a fracture. Double scary—especially for the NFL team signing him.
Herzlich is one year removed from injury and should start to regain some speed. If he does, the Giants will have a steal.
Craig Marshall, Defensive End, New York Giants
The New York Giants are on the brink of possibly losing Osi Umenyiora at defensive end.
While the team has two solid ends to play without Osi—Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul—they could use depth at the position if Umenyiora leaves.
Cliff Marshall is a big bodied end with good overall athleticism. He's the type of player the Giants defensive line has lived off of since the Michael Strahan days.
Henry Hynoski, Fullback, New York Giants
Once the New York Giants lay eyes on fullback Henry Hynoski, the battle for a roster spot should be over.
He's big, strong and can run. He's also an able and willing blocker who can catch on release routes.
Think of a better all-around version of Brandon Jacobs.
If Hynoski doesn't make the Giants squad, I'll be surprised.
Nick Bellore, Linebacker, New York Jets
The New York Jets love those cagy inside linebackers who hit hard and scare opponents. That's what Nick Bellore did every play in college.
The Jets have a glut at inside linebacker, but Bellore has the talent to standout. He's a player that Rex Ryan can fall in love with.
Graig Cooper, Running Back, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles have dominated every facet of free agency this year, including the free-agent market.
Before the Eagles signed Ronnie Brown to a one-year deal, it looked like they might rely on a rookie for carries and special teams play, now it looks like their No. 3 running back will be an emergency back.
Cooper could fill that role, and he could help on special teams as well. He fits the mold in Philly as a versatile runner/receiver.
Terrance Turner, Wide Receiver, Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles may need more help at receiver than they planned on if DeSean Jackson continues his hold out.
Even with Jackson, Philadelphia could use a vertical threat with some size to pressure safeties. Terrance Turner is a big man with good ability up-field.
Turner may be a long-shot to make such a talented roster, but he definitely has the ability to contribute in the NFL.
Anthony Gray, Defensive Tackle, Pittsburgh Steelers
The Pittsburgh Steelers have one of the best nose tackles in football on their roster, but even the great Casey Hampton needs a backup.
Chris Hoke has done an admirable job filling in for Hampton and even coming in on four-man fronts, but behind these two, there is no depth in Pittsburgh.
Gray has the body-type and strength the Steelers have looked for in previous defensive tackles. This is a team that likes to stock pile talent to avoid being hurt by injury or retirement. Doing so at nose tackle would be a smart play.
Weslye Saunders, Tight End, Pittsburgh Steelers
Weslye Saunders was at one time viewed as a top 100 player for the 2011 NFL draft. Missing the 2010 college football season didn't help, neither did confusion over his eligibility for the draft class.
Saunders can put that all in the past as he tries to make a Steelers' roster that needs to replace No. 2 tight end Matt Spaeth.
Saunders is a big player, and while he may lack top-end speed, he's a good blocker and a big red-zone target.
Vidal Hazelton, Wide Receiver, San Diego Chargers
A one-time prep superstar and promising freshman at USC, Vidal Hazelton's career took a turn when he transferred to Cincinnati to be closer to his grandfather, who had recently been diagnosed with cancer.
Hazelton's talent is undeniable. What's in question is his ability to pick up the pro game. He was not as productive at Cincinnati, although this could be due to bad quarterback play.
Hazelton is definitely climbing uphill to make the roster, but with Malcom Floyd a possibility to leave and Buster Davis having been released, there is room on the roster for him.
Chase Beeler, Center, San Francisco 49ers
Before the 2011 NFL draft, I wrote an article laying out the San Francisco 49ers draft plans with Jim Harbaugh in place as the new head coach. In this article I said it would be likely the 49ers sign many former Stanford players to help transition the 49ers to Harbaugh's system.
The 49ers signed three former Stanford players as undrafted free agents.
Chase Beeler is perhaps the best of the group, and the one who is almost guaranteed a roster spot.
The 49ers lost Eric Heitmann to injury for the year and then lost David Baas to free agency. Currently they have Jonathan Goodwin, a solid player from the New Orleans Saints who was picked up earlier this week, and Beeler.
Goodwin will be the starter, that's unquestioned, but Beeler will work in well as a No. 2.
Brian Bulcke, Defensive End, San Francisco 49ers
The second of the three former Stanford players signed by the San Francisco 49ers, Brian Bulcke will help the 49ers in their transition to Vic Fangio's brand of 3-4 defense.
Much like the Green Bay Packers' scheme, the 49ers will pressure the offensive line with athletic defensive linemen who can do more than stop the run. Defensive ends like Bulcke will be asked to play the run and pass, while controlling two gaps on defense.
The scheme can be tough to learn, which is why Bulcke will have a head start on other young players for a backup spot.
Derek Hall, Tackle, San Francisco 49ers
Just a one-year starter at Stanford, Derek Hall is the third and final undrafted free agent signed by the San Francisco 49ers from Jim Harbaugh's former employer.
Hall was a good player at right tackle, and my highest rated undrafted tackle for the 2011 class.
The 49ers have two solid players at each tackle spot, but Hall could come in as a rookie and help the offensive line learn the Harbaugh scheme as a No. 3 tackle.
Jeremiah Masoli, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
One of the most talented players in college football, Jeremiah Masoli could never escape trouble long enough to develop as a quarterback.
Now that he's in the NFL, Masoli will have the chance to use his natural athletic ability as a running back.
The 49ers seem to like Masoli as a special teams player and change of pace back. His signing and his former position of quarterback, lead me to believe the 49ers could be thinking of implementing a Wildcat type offense this year.
Pierre Allen, Defensive End, Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks did a nice job in addressing needs and signing talented players on the undrafted free-agent market.
One such player is defensive end Pierre Allen.
Allen was good enough to be drafted. He ranked No. 14 among defensive ends and even had a good showing at the 2011 Senior Bowl.
Allen will get a chance to redeem himself, and he'll use the chip on his shoulder to prove he belongs in the NFL.
Jeron Johnson, Safety, Seattle Seahawks
Jeron Johnson ranked as my favorite of all undrafted free agents. His ability to separate receivers from the ball became legendary during the 2009 and 2010 seasons.
Combining Johnson's big hits with Earl Thomas' playmaking skills would be devastating for NFC West offense. Johnson just has to show he has the speed needed to play at the high level expected.
Zach Hurd, Tackle, Seattle Seahawks
Here is a fun fact for you to digest today:
James Carpenter was the Seattle Seahawks' first selection in the draft, a reach in most minds, as he ranked No. 82 overall on our big board.
Zach Hurd ranked No. 155.
Just 73 spots separated a player the Seahawks used their first pick on and a player they were able to pick up on the undrafted free agent market.
This tells me that either I know nothing about scouting (possible), or the Seahawks made a big mistake in drafting James Carpenter so high—but redeemed themselves by signing Hurd.
Detron Lewis, Wide Receiver, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers found one of their best players via the 2010 undrafted market when they signed running back LeGarrette Blount after the Tennessee Titans let him go.
Blount would go on to become the Bucs' best running back. Could a similar fate be in store for Detron Lewis?
Lewis is a smart, sound wide receiver who comes to the NFL with a great understanding of route trees and timing after spending four years at Texas Tech. He has the talent to make waves in Tampa.
Jock Sanders, Returner, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
In Tampa Bay there is a need for a great return man on the Buccaneers' roster. Jock Sanders might be that guy.
At just 5'6" and 185lbs, Sanders is considered too small to handle regular duties at wide receiver or running back—but put in a role as a return man he may excel.
Sanders is hard to find when behind a wall on returns, and he proved that by averaging over 23 yards per kick return at West Virginia.
Tampa Bay could find a use for a scat back/return man like this.
Cedric Thornton, Defensive Tackle, Philadelphia Eagles
It is not fair to put too much pressure or expectations in undrafted free agents—they did get bypassed by all 32 teams for a reason, afterall. But sometimes you see a player sign with a certain team and you can see the pieces fitting well together.
That's what happened when Cedric Thornton signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Thornton is a prototypical 4-3 defensive tackle as a three-technique penetrator, with good size and strength for the position. He's big, but lean. Strong, but quick.
Keep an eye on Thornton. He has the talent to develop if he's coached up.