Undrafted Rookies Making Noise in Offseason Workouts
As important as the seven rounds of the NFL draft are, the undrafted free agents figure into the NFL’s plan to a great degree as well. Every team has, and relies on players who went undrafted to win week after week.
With OTAs kicking off this week, news about the undrafted free agents should be coming in fast and furious. Right now, things are fairly quiet. However, there are still some players who are already opening eyes, whether it’s through their effort on the field or their stories that got them to the NFL.
If you love the draft process, it is impossible not to root for these young men to make rosters and help their respective teams win. Let’s take a look at six guys sure to make noise throughout the offseason.
Paul Lasike, FB Arizona Cardinals
The journey to the NFL isn’t always a straight path. However, there are some universal truths when it comes to professional athletics. First, if you are a great athlete, there will always be teams willing to give you a shot to learn the game. And second, if the power of will is strong enough, you can accomplish anything.
For Arizona Cardinals fullback Paul Lasike, the journey to the NFL, should he make the final roster, will make a great Lifetime movie someday. While at BYU Lasike never even considered playing football because he was already an All-American, but in rugby. However, according to Adam Green at arizonasports.com, the BYU strength staff pushed Lasike to play, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There’s no doubt he can be an NFL player. This isn’t a case of a raw athlete coming to the league with no understanding of the game. Lasike racked up over 200 touches in college. While the game's mental side will be a challenge for the New Zealand native, he does have one thing that really helps him. As part of rugby, he must have an excellent understanding of angles.
This is a lost art in the league. However, this should help him be effective on special teams, while he is learning the subtle nuances of the game. If the Cardinals are serious about becoming more of a power football team, the 232-pound Lasike will help that.
La’el Collins, OT Dallas Cowboys
You can’t have a conversation about undrafted rookies and not include Dallas Cowboys offensive tackle La’el Collins. As OTAs get ready to start, the conversation has turned from the drama around his place on what is one of the best units in the league.
According to ESPN’s Todd Archer, it is head coach Jason Garrett's goal to get the five best offensive linemen on the field. One can assume that would include Collins, even with this talented group.
The two spots he will be work toward are either right tackle or left guard. It seems more likely that Collins would supplant Ronald Leary at left guard, unless starting right tackle Doug Free isn’t recovered from foot surgery in time. If the Cowboys can get Collins up to speed as quickly as they’d like, this line really could be elite.
Zach Vigil, LB Miami Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins have two undrafted players on this list, and both of them happen to be linebackers. First is former Utah State star Zach Vigil. During his final three collegiate seasons, Vigil racked up a remarkable 385 tackles. His film showed a player with exceptional instincts and physicality.
It is hard to say why no team took a shot on Vigil during the seven rounds of the draft, but Miami was very fortunate to be able to sign him post-draft. This is a team a bit starved for linebackers, and Vigil has the look of a future star.
In his short time with the Dolphins, Vigil has made multiple plays, per Omar Kelly and Chris Perkins' practice report in the Sun Sentinel. He worked inside in rookie camp, but he should get a long look at all three linebacker positions with productivity and versatility. Look for Vigil to not only find a spot on the final roster, but he could easily sneak into the starting lineup with a strong camp.
Mike Hull, LB Miami Dolphins
If Vigil doesn’t win a starting spot for the Dolphins, it could be because fellow UDFA Mike Hull beats him out. During his 2014 season, Hull was one of the most productive players in all of college football. He ended up with 140 tackles for Penn State his final season and just popped on film every time you watched him.
In that same piece, Hull was described as “by far the most polished” of the undrafted rookie linebackers the Dolphins brought in. It’s really remarkable just how much talent the Dolphins could potentially have just among these young players. All three starting spots are open and could be filled with two of these guys.
If you look up blue-collar football player in the dictionary, you will likely find a picture of Hull. He’s as hard-working as there is on the team and gives Dolphins fans flashbacks to the glory days of linebacker Zach Thomas.
Corey Grant, RB Jacksonville Jaguars
One thing that always holds true in the NFL is that if you have speed, and I mean truly elite speed, the league will do all they can to find you a spot in the league. The Jacksonville Jaguars recognize how speed can change the complexion of a game in a single play.
So when Jacksonville decided to sign former Auburn running back Corey Grant after the draft, it wasn’t because of gaudy stats. In fact, Grant only rushed for 1,040 yards in three seasons. In that Auburn run-heavy offense, this seems pedestrian. But for the Jaguars, that’s just fine.
Auburn sports writer Tom Green of the Opelika-Auburn News pointed out that, while the Jaguars want Grant to get up to speed on the system, they can still be enamored with "his burst."
After committing a draft pick to former Alabama running back T.J. Yeldon, Grant’s best shot going into training camp is to be an impact player in the return game. Every team covets a player who can flip the field in the return game and give their offense a short field. All early reports are Grant has the skills to do just that.
Dres Anderson, WR San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are not opposed to rolling the dice on players returning from injury. Things didn’t quite work as planned when they spent a fourth-round pick on Marcus Lattimore back in 2013. However, that didn’t deter them from going after a couple of more talented players recovering from injuries themselves.
After spending a 2015 fourth-round pick on former Georgia Tech wide receiver DeAndre Smelter, the 49ers followed it up by signing former Utah wide receiver Dres Anderson as an undrafted free agent. Anderson suffered a torn MCL back in October that cut his season short.
However, as OTAs have arrived, Tyler Emerick of 49ers.com reports that Anderson is "participating fully without the use of a brace." This is truly remarkable and just shows not only how impressive medical technology is, but it speaks to Anderson’s work ethic.
The odds are long that Anderson will make the roster; however, it’s not out of the question. He averaged 18.1 yards per catch over the final two seasons, which would give quarterback Colin Kaepernick an interesting deep threat in the slot.
Unless specified, all player stats courtesy of the college football section of Sports-Reference.com.