12 Underrated Players Who Could Win Roster Spots in Training Camp
The drama of training camp has a lot of layers. There are players battling for starting spots, rookies trying to learn the playbook and the ultimate showdown for those last roster spots. The goal is to make the final 53 for that opening weekend.
The NFL is full of stories, and the out-of-nowhere story resonates more than most. Kurt Warner's journey from grocery store bag boy to Super Bowl MVP is legendary. That's the ultimate dream for the player on the NFL roster bubble—to be a star.
For these 12 players, all they want to do is not meet The Turk and get a spot on the squad.
Teams love to take young players who get injured and put them on the IR. That's what the New York Giants did with Victor Cruz after Cruz had a fantastic 2010 preseason and hurt his hamstring in October. They saved a roster spot and Cruz proved his worth in 2011.
The Houston Texans have been searching for a No.2 receiver to replace Kevin Walter for years. Even though they drafted two receivers in April, second-year wideout Lestar Jean impressed coaches at the team's minicamp.
Jean went on IR in August with a shoulder injury. He has the size at 6'3, 215 pounds. Jean's going to have to outplay fellow second-year receiver Terrence Toliver to make the cut.
It's been a long time since a player had such a precipitous drop as Vontaze Burfict. In January, it would have seemed preposterous that he wasn't going to get drafted. No team was willing to use a precious draft pick on the mercurial Burfict.
One benefit an undrafted player gets is a bit of choice in his destination. Burfict landed in a great spot with the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals traded weak-side starter Keith Rivers to the New York Giants. They didn't draft a linebacker. Rey Maualuga is the starting middle linebacker, but Burfict could make the team as a backup linebacker if he can help out on special teams.
Players who had injury concerns in the draft were taken late if taken at all. Chris Owusu is one of those guys. He had three concussions in a 13-month period. Otherwise, he's getting drafted.
He landed in a good spot with his former coach Jim Harbaugh and an uninspiring wide receiver depth chart in San Francisco. He's a smaller player at 6 feet tall and 196 pounds. Where he excels is speed.
The 49ers have tried for years to get production out of Ted Ginn. Ginn's a returner. Owusu could be the team's slot receiver as soon as this year.
Stanford has a good pedigree for free agent players making contributions, as Doug Baldwin made the Seahawks as an undrafted rookie last season and led the team in receiving.
At first glance, it seems like the Eagles are set at running back. They recently gave LeSean McCoy a contract extension through 2017. He's their next Brian Westbrook. During Westbrook's tenure, the team kept searching for the larger back to complement him.
Chris Polk could be that back. Rumors of shoulder and hip injuries kept him off the team's draft boards. For a guy who ran for more than 1,300 yards last year at Washington and scored 15 touchdowns, getting him as an undrafted free agent is a major value.
Polk needs to beat seventh-round Bryce Brown to get a roster spot. It's unlikely that both players can make the active roster.
There's no doubting Marcus Easley's measurables or talent. He's an ideal candidate to start at wideout opposite Stevie Johnson. Easley missed 2010 due to a training-camp knee injury. He was inactive in Week 1 of the 2011 season and was put in IR again due to a heart ailment.
Knee injuries can heal, but a heart ailment is scary. Easley was cleared to return to football last December He will battle with Donald Jones, David Nelson, rookie T.J. Graham and Brad Smith for playing time this fall. If he makes the team, he could be a starter by the end of the season.
Another situation a borderline "rosterable" player can make in order to get on an active roster is a coaching staff change. Darren Evans shuffled between the practice squad and the active roster last year with the Indianapolis Colts.
At six feet tall and 220 pounds, Evans has good size. A torn ACL in his final year at Virginia Tech kept him from being drafted.
He has a lot of work to do to make the final roster. Donald Brown is the starter, and 2011 draft pick Delone Carter is probably safe. Evans needs to beat Deji Karim, who played the last two seasons in Jacksonville, and sixth-round draft pick Vick Ballard.
Minnifield was a potential second-day draft pick until news came out that his January knee surgery included a microfracture procedure. He went undrafted and the Washington Redskins picked him up as a priority free agent.
Since he had the knee procedure in January, the Redskins could consider 2012 a redshirt season for Minnifield and put him on Injured Reserve. DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson are penciled in as starters, but there aren't a lot of sure things on the roster behind them. Minnifield could make the roster this year or sit out and get ready for 2013.
Fannin was one of the fastest draft-eligible running backs last year and has size at around 230 pounds. To make the final roster, he'll have to beat out some veterans. Willis McGahee, Knowshon Moreno, and rookie Ronnie Hillman are most likely to make the final cut. Lance Ball, Jeremiah Johnson, and Xavier Omon will battle for that last spot. Fannin has the most upside.
After finishing his junior season at Toledo with 306 career catches, Eric Page decided that he was ready for the NFL. He wasn't ready to be drafted.
The Denver Broncos signed Page a few days after the draft. He fits the mold of a slot receiver and has the skills to return kicks and punts. For now Page is wearing No.19, which belonged to former kick/punt returner Eddie Royal. The opportunity is there on a team that's thinking Super Bowl this season.
James Brown, a tackle at Troy University, hopes to make the Chicago Bears as a guard. Brown started all 37 games for the Trojans in the past three years.
The Bears have needs at offensive line, and the fact that they drafted zero means that Brown has a good shot to make the roster. The Bears have talked up moving former first-round pick Chris Williams to tackle this year from left guard, which could leave an opening for Brown.
Lucas Nix was another player surprised to not hear his name on draft weekend. After being a mid-round projection, Nix fell out of the draft in part due to a dislocated knee he suffered last season.
The Oakland Raiders signed Nix as a free agent. Nix played right tackle and guard at the University of Pittsburgh. He'll match up against current starter Mike Brisiel and backup Ed Wang to win a spot at guard.
In four years at Mississippi State, Saulsberry started all 49 games. He started at four out of five spots on the offensive line, which will serve him well in the NFL.
The Minnesota Vikings picked Sausberry as an undrafted free agent. The Vikings did not select any interior offensive linemen in the draft. He has an excellent shot of making the final roster.