Football mania in America has made the NFL a true 365-day operation, even during the leaner parts of the league calendar.
In past years, this period would be one of those voids, leaving analysts to speculate over secondary free-agency waves and still-too-early draft projections.
But with the addition of the NFL Veteran Combine on March 22, the league has added an interesting wrinkle to spice up the dog days. At first blush, the combine might look like a glorified extension of the anonymous workouts that teams hold for street free agents all the time.
However, none of that is particularly relevant to winning games. Organizations are always searching for the extra 1 percent, and while any acquisitions from this combine will likely be for depth purposes, building a deep roster is indispensable to winning.
Just ask Malcolm Butler, Chris Matthews or anyone else from the two most recent Super Bowl participants.
Taking a look at the complete combine roster, let’s highlight a trio of veterans who currently deserve a place on someone’s team—and may receive that opportunity after their workouts in Tempe.
|Armstrong, Matt||C||Grand Valley State|
|Carter, Sherman||C||Tennessee State|
|Foster, Jason||C||Rhode Island|
|Gallington, Deveric||C||Texas Tech|
|Golic, Mike||C||Notre Dame|
|Gottschalk, Ben||C||Southern Methodist|
|Van Roten, Greg||C||Pennsylvania|
|Carr, Deveron||CB||Arizona State|
|Lee, Saeed||CB||Alabama State|
|Reid, Greg||CB||Valdosta State|
|Mims, Tevin||DE||South Florida|
|Harris, DaJohn||DT||Southern California|
|Jerideau, Byron||DT||South Carolina|
|Minter, Zach||DT||Montana State|
|Troup, Torell||DT||Central Florida|
|Pryor, Lonnie||FB||Florida State|
|Unga, Harvey||FB||Brigham Young|
|Wells, Justin||G||St. Augustine's|
|White, Ian||G||Boston College|
|Baker, Chris||LB||East Carolina|
|Divitto, Steele||LB||Boston College|
|Doughty, Jake||LB||Utah State|
|Dowtin, Marcus||LB||North Alabama|
|Fox, Dan||LB||Notre Dame|
|Kimbrough, Jeremy||LB||Appalachian State|
|Rolle, Brian||LB||Ohio State|
|So'oto, Vic||LB||Brigham Young|
|Miller, Jordan||NT||Southern U.|
|Johnson, Jerrod||QB||Texas A&M|
|Robinson, Zac||QB||Oklahoma State|
|Hampton, Jewel||RB||Southern Illinois|
|Wood, Cierre||RB||Notre Dame|
|Mitchell, Charles||S||Mississippi State|
|Owusu-Ansah, Akwasi||S||Indiana, Pa.|
|Starling, Jawanza||S||Southern California|
|Aladenoye, Josh||T||Illinois State|
|Breckner, Jack||T||Gustavus Adolphus|
|Foketi, Manase||T||West Texas A&M|
|Childers, Jamie||TE||Coastal Carolina|
|Momah, Ifeanyi||TE||Boston College|
|Ogbuehi, Emmanuel||TE||Georgia State|
|Veldman, Matt||TE||North Dakota State|
|Walker, Dallas||TE||Western Michigan|
|Anderson, Joe||WR||Texas Southern|
|Jean, Lestar||WR||Florida Atlantic|
|Johnson, Darius||WR||Southern Methodist|
|Kurihara, Tukashi||WR||No College|
|Mayo, Thomas||WR||California, Pa.|
|Mitchell, Carlton||WR||South Florida|
|Slaughter, Nathan||WR||West Texas A&M|
Keith Price, QB
By their nature, combine workouts tend to favor the freakishly athletic marvels.
However, the best of the seven quarterbacks in attendance may be the relatively unimposing 6-footer Keith Price. After three seasons as a starter at Washington, Price had a cup of coffee with the Seattle Seahawks last spring but was released when the Hawks embarked on the ill-fated Terrelle Pryor experiment.
Still, there’s clear talent here, as Price set UW records for touchdown passes (75), career completion percentage (64 percent) and career passer rating (143.2). Moreover, for all the fuss over Price’s lack of ideal measurables, his pro-day results, per NFL Draft Scout, would have placed him in the top 10 among combine quarterbacks in the broad jump, vertical jump and three-cone drill.
After Seattle cut him, Price languished in the CFL last season as the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ third-stringer, a development that was probably less optimal than landing on an NFL practice squad. But with three years under noted quarterback whisperer Steve Sarkisian—plus the intangibles that made him a two-time captain in college—Price’s leadership and strong work ethic will probably land him a more earnest tryout.
Price would fit best as a developmental prospect in a system with spread principles, which would allow him to take advantage of his mobility while also hiding his mediocre arm strength. Teams like the Eagles, Packers and Jaguars might benefit from Price’s skill set and provide him with a genuine opportunity to work his way onto the roster.
Ifeanyi Momah, TE/WR
No player is better built for this combine than the 6’7” hybrid receiver/tight end Ifeanyi Momah. After going undrafted and missing his 2012 rookie campaign, the former Boston College receiver was in the Eagles training camp the past two years, only to miss the final 53-man roster both times. Momah also spent time on the Cleveland and Detroit practice squads last year, but the Lions waived him on Feb. 3 after he failed to disclose a physical condition.
The fact that Momah is suiting up for this combine does suggest promising signs about his health, however. Eagles reporters were gushing about Momah—an ultra-raw prospect coming out of college—last summer in his second training camp go-around. When Philly released Momah during the final cutdowns to the 53-man roster, some were even clamoring that the Birds retain him on the practice squad:
Hopefully, Momah developed some capacity for special teams during his time on taxi squads last year. For all his physical tools, his inability to play anything aside from receiver made him an impractical selection for the final squad. Contributing to the third phase is indispensable for any bottom-of-the-roster candidate, and Momah’s athleticism certainly makes him a logical gunner on coverage units.
Ultimately, though, it’s not difficult to imagine a team taking another flier on Momah’s upside, especially given the monumental leaps forward he took last summer. The receiver-needy Eagles could take a third shot at him, but they likely won’t be the only suitors this time.
Michael Sam, DE/OLB
Ultimately, this event’s most prominent player is also probably one of its best. Michael Sam’s talent doesn’t match the attention he garners—a fact that may irritate some—but regardless of his cultural significance, he probably belongs on a roster due to the league’s insatiable thirst for edge-rushers.
Sam’s prolific senior season at Missouri, in which he garnered 11.5 sacks and 19 tackles for loss, isn't reflective of his NFL potential because of how he generated those big plays. As breakdowns like this one from SBNation’s Stephen White illustrate, Sam won in college almost exclusively by beating tackles around the corner but doesn't possess the speed to pull that off in the NFL.
Without secondary moves or functional strength to develop as a bull-rusher, Sam is stuck.
Nevertheless, no mid- to late-round prospect is a complete player, and Sam’s motor and arm length provide him with nice starting points to work from. It’s not surprising that Sam was drafted lower than expected, but his failure to make an active roster was a bit of a surprise.
|NFL Draft Scout Projections|
|Player||Proj. Round||Actual Round|
|NFL Draft Scout|
|Walter Football Projections|
|Player||Proj. Round||Actual Round|
Clearly, Sam wasn't the only one who failed to meet predraft prognostications. But apart from James Gayle and Morgan Breslin, everyone else was on an active roster last season. And neither Gayle nor Breslin was a consensus All-American like Sam was in his final year at Missouri.
Ignoring the noise, Sam is probably an edge-rushing specialist worth attempting to develop. For 3-4 teams with a dearth of young pass-rushers—like Pittsburgh or Washington—Sam may be worth a flier solely for his on-field merits.