Highlighting Every NFL Team's Best UDFA SigningMay 9, 2017
Highlighting Every NFL Team's Best UDFA Signing
Every NFL athlete has a chip on his shoulder. Some have boulders.
First-round picks are celebrated, but the majority of NFL rosters are built upon the contributions of individuals who were either late-round selections or weren't drafted at all.
Even some of the most recognizable collegiate athletes can be overlooked and fail to be selected during the NFL draft's seven rounds.
Clemson linebacker Ben Boulware led the reigning national champions with 116 total tackles. He served as the heart and soul for a top-10 defense in each of the last two seasons. But NFL teams still didn't see enough in the young man to call his name among the 253 selections.
"Like I said 3 days ago, I'm in the business of proving people wrong," Boulware tweeted after failing to be drafted. "All I need is an opportunity."
This is the mentality many have coming into the league. It's the right one, too. Where a player is drafted doesn't matter once he's in the league. It's all about earning opportunities after that point.
Nine undrafted players (not including specialists) played in this year's Pro Bowl. The New England Patriots featured 10 undrafted free agents on their Super Bowl LI roster. Two of the most sought-after free agents, A.J. Bouye and Tony Jefferson, didn't hear their names called, either.
Numerous undrafted free agents will make rosters this fall, and Bleacher Report identified the top signing each team made once the draft concluded.
Arizona Cardinals: CB Sojourn Shelton
Two of the Arizona Cardinals' biggest problem areas—quarterback and cornerback—weren't addressed during the NFL draft. Although the odds of the organization finding its heir apparent to Carson Palmer among the undrafted free-agent pool are slim to none, cornerback is easier to address with the right acquisition.
What usually separates undrafted free agents from those who were selected is a pronounced concern area—whether it's a less-than-ideal physical trait, subpar play or off-field concerns.
Sojourn Shelton developed into a secondary stalwart for the Wisconsin Badgers. He set a program record with 51 starts. During his career, he snagged nine interceptions and defended 30 passes. His level of experience at a football factory playing in one of college football's premier conferences usually equates to becoming a future early-round pick. Not only was Shelton not that, he wasn't even drafted.
He fell well short of the NFL's physical standards. At 5'9" and 177 pounds, Shelton has a slight frame, and his lack of length can be problematic against bigger receivers. As a result, he became overly aggressive in his coverage, which resulted in multiple penalties.
Even so, Sojourn's ample collegiate experience, fluidity, burst, lower-body flexibility and instincts point to a defensive back who can contribute in some fashion at the next level.
Atlanta Falcons: OL Robert Leff
As the Atlanta Falcons regroup after a successful yet disappointing 2016 campaign, the most interesting battle in training camp will be along the offensive line. Chris Chester retired after 11 seasons. Chester played two seasons in Atlanta and started all 32 games during that period.
A free-for-all will commence between multiple available blockers. Veterans Ben Garland, Hugh Thornton and Wes Schweitzer are expected to compete for the starting spot, but the Falcons also signed one of the better available offensive linemen after the draft in Auburn's Robert Leff.
Interestingly, Leff, a collegiate offensive tackle, is listed at guard on the Falcons' official roster. The 6'6", 299-pound lineman comes into the NFL after grading as the top run-blocking right tackle in this year's class, per Pro Football Focus.
Leff excelled at Auburn during the offense's zone plays. This makes him a natural fit for the Falcons' scheme.
Even if the undrafted blocker doesn't make a strong push to claim a starting role, his versatility can make him a valuable swing lineman. Along with playing guard, he can back up both tackles. With his versatility, scheme fit and ability to excel in the run game, Leff can challenge for a roster spot.
Baltimore Ravens: FB Ricky Ortiz
The departure of Kyle Juszczyk in free agency created an opportunity for another fullback to claim a role in the Baltimore Ravens offense. As of now, Ricky Ortiz is the only fullback on the Ravens roster after being signed to a rookie free-agent contract.
Ortiz is a self-made man after walking onto the Oregon State Beavers program.
He bounced back and forth between linebacker and tight end/H-back before making a full-time transition to the offensive side of the ball as a senior. He contributed in said role during the 2014 and '16 campaigns. Ortiz caught 17 career passes for 124 yards and a touchdown. The converted fullback also received positive grades as a run-blocker in each campaign, per Pro Football Focus.
As a four-year contributor, the 6'0", 232-pound prospect earned Academic All-Pac-12 honorable mention after each season.
Ortiz's versatility is similar to Juszczyk's, who played tight end and H-back at Harvard before being selected in the fourth round by the Ravens and converting to fullback. While Ortiz's position on the roster isn't guaranteed, he has an opportunity to impress and take over as team's lead blocker/outlet receiver. His work ethic, versatility and special teams experience provide an advantage at an often overlooked position.
Buffalo Bills: Punter Austin Rehkow
Punters, field position and hidden yardage aren't given the attention each deserves in regards to a team's overall success. The cliche states, "Special teams are a third of the game." As many times as it's been said, most on the outside think of it as little more than lip service.
The Buffalo Bills finished 30th in net punting average last year. Colton Schmidt finished 22nd overall in punts within the 20-yard line. Of the 23 punters with 60 or more punts last year, none forced fewer fair catches than Schmidt's eight last season.
All of this points toward change, even though the Bills extended a restricted free-agent tender to Schmidt in the offseason, which he signed.
But the team acquired Idaho punter Austin Rehkow after the draft. Rehkow was the top-rated punter in this year's class. In four seasons, the big-legged specialist averaged 44.4 yards per punt. He also served as Idaho's kicker and kickoff specialist.
Bills faithful should expect Rehkow to replace Schmidt as the team's punter.
Carolina Panthers: LB Ben Boulware
Ben Boulware thrives as an underdog. The linebacker has never been the biggest, fastest nor most talented player on the field, yet he excelled as a two-year starter for the Clemson Tigers.
During the last two campaigns, Boulware amassed 197 total tackles and was honored with the Jack Lambert Trophy in 2016 as the nation's top linebacker. The two-time All-ACC performer excelled due to his instincts and a knack for big plays.
But the 6'0", 238-pound defender doesn't fit NFL standards, despite his natural feel for the position. Boulware ran a 4.85-second 40-yard dash at Clemson's pro day after posting average change-of-direction numbers. As a result, his previous production went overlooked, and Boulware wasn't drafted.
With Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Shaq Thompson, the Panthers are set at linebacker. But Boulware has a chance to crack the rotation behind the team's talented trio.
"I'm not going to lie and say that I'm going to take their starting job because there is no way in hell I'm going to," he said during an interview on with Panthers official site. "But I'm going to be ready for any opportunity that comes up and try and contribute with whatever role that may be—special teams, being the tackling dummy—whatever it is, I’m just trying make the 53."
Boulware still isn't the biggest, fastest or most talented player among a loaded defense, but there's no reason to count him out, considering his penchant for rising to the occasion.
Chicago Bears: WR Tanner Gentry
The Chicago Bears' 2017 NFL draft will always be defined by the trade that landed quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. But the team only made four more selections through the final six rounds. Such a small number of picks wasn't enough to address all of the team's concerns.
The front office attempted to build around Trubisky with the selections of Ashland tight end Adam Shaheen, North Carolina A&T running back Tarik Cohen and Kutztown offensive lineman Jordan Morgan. However, wide receiver wasn't addressed.
Chicago has an eclectic collection of talent at wide receiver, but none of the targets strikes fear into defenses, unless Kevin White finally develops. Otherwise, the Bears quarterbacks will rely on Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright.
With a strong camp, an undrafted free agent like Tanner Gentry can push aside some of these retread receiver options. Gentry is a 6'1", 208-pound target with a 38" vertical, per NFL Draft Scout. His vertical would have finished fourth among wide receivers at the NFL combine.
The Wyoming product finished his senior campaign with 72 receptions for 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns. According to PFF College Football, he ranked eighth in this year's class with an average of 3.41 yards per route run.
The Bears need more of an outside threat from their wide receivers, and Gentry can help.
Cincinnati Bengals: LB Hardy Nickerson
After a watching a few minutes of Illinois film, it's easy to locate the progeny of a four-time All-Pro linebacker. Hardy Nickerson Jr. may not be as naturally gifted as his father, but his understanding and feel for the game are outstanding.
The 6'0", 232-pound linebacker displays the natural instincts, quick reads and proper angles to make numerous stops. Nickerson led the Fighting Illini with 107 total tackles last season. The talented defender added 5.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and a pair of interceptions as well.
Nickerson originally played for the Cal Golden Bears but transferred during his final season of eligibility to play for his father. During his final season on Cal's campus, Nickerson was named a team captain, led the defense with 111 tackles and earned team MVP honors. Whether he played in the Pac-12 or Big Ten, the linebacker earned the respect of his teammates and produced at a high level.
The Cincinnati Bengals made it a priority to become younger and more athletic at linebacker this offseason. The team released Rey Maualuga and didn't re-sign Karlos Dansby. Instead, it signed Kevin Minter as a free agent and drafted Carl Lawson in the fourth round to play a hybrid role.
The organization also signed a pair of talented linebackers as undrafted free agents in Nickerson and Brandon Bell. These two will compete for a roster spot. Nickerson may have the edge due to his bloodlines and professional approach.
Cleveland Browns: S Kai Nacua
The Cleveland Browns entered the offseason with over $100 million to spend and 11 draft picks, yet the team failed to find a starting free safety in free agency or the draft. Instead, the organization spent multiple assets to build its trenches on both sides of the ball and added Michigan's Jabrill Peppers in the first round to be the team's strong safety/ultimate defensive chess piece.
The roster features a trio of young veterans in Tyvis Powell, Ed Reynolds and Derrick Kindred to potentially start alongside Peppers. Their experience is limited, though. All three are in their second or third seasons with 15 combined starts.
Due to the uncertainty, former BYU safety Kai Nacua has a chance to not only compete for a roster spot, but a starting opportunity as well. Nacua follows a draft trend the Browns established early in this year's class. With each of the team's three first-round selections, Myles Garrett, Peppers and David Njoku all tested among the top six in SPARQ—a cumulative score to assess speed, power, agility, reaction and quickness—among their respective positions. Nacua ranked third in SPARQ for safeties, per Three Sigma Athlete's Zach Whitman.
Not only is Nacua a top-notch athlete, he's also a ball hawk along the back line with 14 career interceptions. Concerns arise regarding his lack of consistency as a tackler, but his ability to roam the deep third gives him an advantage over other talented undrafted free agents the Browns signed like cornerback Channing Stribling, linebacker Kenneth Olugbode and defensive end Karter Schult.
Dallas Cowboys: QB Cooper Rush
The Dallas Cowboys struck gold when they selected a future franchise quarterback in Dak Prescott with the 135th overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Prescott helped lead the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and a playoff appearance on his way to being named NFL Rookie of the Year. That's gold, Jerry. Gold!
Tony Romo's retirement to begin his journey into broadcasting left the team without a solid backup option, though.
Kellen Moore is a cerebral albeit limited second-string quarterback. If he didn't suffer a fractured fibula during training camp, Prescott may have never seen the field. But he did and the rest is history.
The Cowboys need a more sturdy and reliable option to serve as their backup.
Cooper Rush is an ideal candidate to fill the role.
Rush is an brilliant young man with a tremendous understanding of the game after being a four-year starter for the Central Michigan Chippewas. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Rush played in a pro-style scheme at the collegiate level and left Central Michigan with a 62.0 completion percentage, 12,891 passing yards and 90 touchdowns. He throws with good anticipation and shows toughness in the pocket.
The 6'3", 228-pound signal-caller can be the exact type of developmental talent the Cowboys need as an insurance plan if Prescott is forced out of the lineup for any reason.
Denver Broncos OL Erik Austell
A large portion of the Denver Broncos' offseason has been spent upgrading the team's offensive line. In free agency, the organization signed guard Ronald Leary and right tackle Menelik Watson. General manager John Elway selected left tackle Garett Bolles in the draft's opening round.
Each of these acquisitions are positive steps in the right direction to provide a stable cockpit for Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch at quarterback. The unit, however, still lacks quality depth, particularly along the interior.
Charleston Southern's Erik Austell was considered one of the top available small-school blockers. A three-year starter for the Buccaneers, Austell earned FCS first-team All-American honors after receiving a 91.4 percent blocking grade from the team's coaching staff, per Charleston Southern's official site. The left tackle led his team with 84 knockdowns.
The 6'3", 301-pound blocker has the feet necessary to play on the blind side but lacks the preferred length to play the position with only 32" arms. As such, he'll move inside, where he can take advantage of his natural athleticism. Austell isn't the most powerful lineman at the point of attack. But he can succeed as a position blocker by using his natural quickness and movement skills.
Denver's coaching staff may even consider moving him to center as another option behind Matt Paradis. Austell has the potential to play all five line positions and can be a long-term utility lineman along the Broncos' offensive front.
Detroit Lions: DE Alex Barrett
Prior to the NFL draft, most prognosticators expected the Detroit Lions to select a defensive end during the early rounds. Instead, the organization didn't address the position until the sixth round.
Even after drafting Arkansas' Jeremiah Ledbetter (No. 205 overall) and Eastern Michigan's Pat O'Connor (No. 250), the front office made it a priority to sign San Diego State defensive end Alex Barrett.
Barrett doesn't fit the same physical profile as Ledbetter and O'Connor. Each of those edge defenders are long-limbed and weigh 270 or more pounds. The San Diego State product measured 6'2" and weighed 252 pounds at the Aztecs' pro day, per NFL Draft Scout.
Only a handful of defensive ends played better in 2016, though.
The two-time All-Mountain West performer led the Aztecs with 13 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks. Only Alabama's Jonathan Allen, who the Washington Redskins selected 17th overall, received a higher grade among 3-4 defensive ends from Pro Football Focus.
As a 5-technique, Barrett played out of position. He excelled with his first-step quickness, but he could be overwhelmed at times. He should benefit greatly by switching to rush or even base end in Teryl Austin's four-man front.
Barrett may not fit the Lions' typical standards for their defensive ends, but his play speaks for itself.
Green Bay Packers: OL Geoff Gray
The Green Bay Packers churn though offensive linemen and always have another waiting for an opportunity to develop into a starter. This was never more evident than in the last two offseasons. The organization released Josh Sitton in early September, and Lane Taylor seamlessly transitioned into the lineup.
T.J. Lang's loss may be a bit more difficult to address, however.
The coaching staff has a plethora of options to start at right guard, including veteran Jahri Evans, Don Barclay, Kyle Murphy, Lucas Patrick and recent draftee Kofi Amichia. A little-known Canadian import has a chance to enter the conversation as well.
Manitoba's Geoff Gray was the top available prospect from north of the border.
"We had a sixth-round grade on him," an anonymous NFL personnel executive told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Bob McGinn. "That's a good get. Like him. It's going to take a year but, if he hits it, they got one."
Gray is an aggressive 6'5", 315-pound blocker who might be overwhelmed early in his career by NFL defensive linemen. However, he has the physical tools and right mentality to develop into a future starter.
"You have more time to react in Canada but also the defender has more space," the young lineman said of the transition, per McGinn. "You don't have to play more passively, but you have more ground to protect and you have to be a little more conservative in your angles."
In fact, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers selected Gray in the first round of this past weekend's CFL draft.
Houston Texans: LB Dylan Cole
The Houston Texans tout the NFL's best defense. The team's front seven is loaded, and it only added to the talented group during and after the draft.
General manager Rick Smith pulled the trigger on Vanderbilt linebacker Zach Cunningham in the second round. After the draft, the team signed Missouri State's Dylan Cole as an undrafted free agent.
Cole became a consensus All-American when he led the FCS level with 142 total tackles. During his Missouri State career, he amassed 457 tackles and 40.5 tackles for loss. According to Pro Football Focus, the Missouri native tied for third among incoming linebackers in run stop percentage.
The 240-pound small-school linebacker impressed during his pro day, too. He ran a 4.54-second 40-yard dash and had exceptional times during the change-of-direction drills, per NFL Draft Scout. His 4.19-second short shuttle and 6.82-second three-cone drill would have both qualified among the top-four fastest among the position at the NFL combine.
While the Texans' additions of Cunningham and Cole may seem like overkill with Brian Cushing and Benardrick McKinney at inside linebacker plus Max Bullough to provide depth, the situation could drastically change in the next year or two.
The 30-year-old Cushing has an opt-out clause in his contract after this season, per Spotrac. Bullough enters restricted free agency in 2018, while McKinney is an unrestricted free agent after the 2018 campaign.
Indianapolis Colts: TE Darrell Daniels
The Indianapolis Colts lack tight end depth after trading Dwayne Allen to the New England Patriots. The organization retained Jack Doyle by signing him to a three-year, $18.9 million contract in March, but the talented target has an opt-out clause in his contract after the 2017 campaign, per Spotrac.
Thus, it's imperative for the Colts to build quality depth at tight end. Since the organization didn't address the position during the draft, the coaching staff will have to develop one of the team's undrafted free agents or the former basketball players on the roster.
Darrell Daniels is the most polished of the group. The former wide receiver caught 47 passes for 728 yards and five touchdowns over the past three seasons.
Daniels provides flexibility. The tight end is a natural receiver with 4.55-second 40-yard dash speed. He makes a living working out of the slot or flexed off the line of scrimmage. The Washington Huskies never took full advantage of his skills since the team also featured this year's ninth overall pick, John Ross, and Dante Pettis, who earned second-team All-Pac-12 honors.
The NFL is now a matchup league, and Daniels can create mismatches as a move tight end due to his speed, length and reliable hands.
Jacksonville Jaguars: DE Hunter Dimick
Some guys just don't receive the respect they deserve.
During his career, Utah's Hunter Dimick registered 44 tackles for loss and 29.5 sacks in 43 games. His 20 tackles for loss and 14.5 sacks in 2016 both ranked among the top-10 performers at the FBS level. Usually, this type of production warrants a draft pick. In Dimick's case, he didn't even receive an NFL combine invite.
"I honestly feel like Hunter again got screwed," former teammate Isaac Asiata told the Salt Lake Tribune's Kyle Goon. "But the [Jacksonville] Jaguars got the best defensive player in the draft."
A perceived lack of explosiveness worked against Dimick. He tested well at Utah's pro day, though.
According to NFL Draft Scout, the defensive lineman posted a 4.75-second 40-yard dash, 38 reps on the bench, a 4.13-second short shuttle and a 7.15-second three-cone. His bench and short shuttle performances would have ranked first among the defensive linemen at the NFL combine.
"I just feel like people got the impression for some reason that I was slow and couldn’t change direction very well," Dimick said, per the Deseret News' Amy Donaldson. "So I felt like I did a good job [at Utah's pro day] of showing that's incorrect, and that I'm overall just a good athlete."
A team can never have too many pass-rushers, and the Jaguars signed one of the best after the draft came to a close.
Kansas City Chiefs: S Jordan Sterns
Strong safeties have made a comeback in recent years. As Cover 2 defenses trended toward Cover 3-heavy schemes and the usage of big nickels increased, more opportunities existed for defensive backs considered box safeties
Jordan Sterns was one of the top pure strong safeties in this year's class. He's a classic downhill run defender, who struggles when asked to play regularly in space. However, he led the Oklahoma State Cowboys last year with 101 total tackles.
In fact, Sterns managed 315 total tackles over the last three seasons.
"He's the type of player you want in your locker room," an NFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "He has to prove he's the type of player you want on your sideline. Has to play up near the line. His instincts are nice, but you can't have him in space for very long."
Sterns also provides value as a special teams standout. According to Pro Football Focus, the safety registered 12 special teams tackles during the last two campaigns.
While sixth-round pick Leon McQuay can provide depth behind Ron Parker at free safety, Sterns can play strong safety behind Eric Berry—which allows Daniel Sorensen to be used in a variety of ways, too.
Los Angeles Chargers: LB James Onwualu
When a team identifies a problem area it couldn't address during the draft, multiple undrafted free agents are usually signed in an attempt to throw multiple talents at the problem. The Chargers lacked linebacker depth.
As a result, the organization signed three linebackers to undrafted free-agent contracts.
James Onwualu is the best of the bunch due to his natural upside, continual improvement and comfort level working in space. The 6'1", 232-pound linebacker led the Fighting Irish with 11.5 tackles for loss just three seasons after converting from wide receiver.
"I like him for what he is," an AFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "I think he'll be a really good special teams player with backup WILL linebacker ability. I don't think he's going to start, but he's got some cover talent so maybe he could be a factor there."
With Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown expected to start, the rest of the Chargers linebacker corps remains undecided in Gus Bradley's new scheme.
Los Angeles Rams: CB Aarion Penton
Aarion Penton is the type of cornerback who's always overlooked during the draft process: He falls short of the NFL's physical standards yet forces wide receivers to fight for every catch. A player like Penton is a nuisance, because he's impossible to shake.
But the Missouri product is only 5'9" and 177 pounds, so teams overlook the fact he already proved himself as a stellar cover corner.
According to Pro Football Focus, Penton graded among the draft's top cornerbacks, including multiple first-round picks. In three full seasons as a starter, the St. Louis native broke up 30 passes, and his five interceptions led the Tigers in 2016.
Penton is outstanding in coverage with legitimate ball skills; he's just undersized. It's the only reason he went undrafted. The Rams made him a priority after the draft, though.
According to the National Football Post's Joel Correy, the Rams spent 25.4 percent of their allotted signing bonus money for undrafted free agents to acquire Penton's services.
Miami Dolphins: WR Francis Owusu
Late-round draft picks and undrafted free agents provide perfect opportunities to take a chance on certain talents. Teams look for qualities that make theses prospects viable options at the next level. Maybe they excel in certain niche roles or present outstanding athleticism to mold and develop.
Francis Owusu falls in the latter category. Owusu is the epitome of a workout warrior. At 6'3" and 221 pounds, the wide receiver posted a 4.34-second 40-yard dash, 39-inch vertical jump and 10'7" broad jump during Stanford's pro day, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline.
The Miami Dolphins already have DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry at wide receiver. The organization drafted Isaiah Ford, too. General manager Chris Grier wasn't done there. The team signed Damore'ea Stringfellow, Drew Morgan and Malcolm Lewis as undrafted free agents.
None of these targets present the same raw physical tools as Owusu. Plus, the Stanford product has the added advantage of playing in a pro-style system at the collegiate level.
"[NFL teams] definitely like that we come from a pro-style offense," Cardinal teammate Michael Rector said, per the San Jose Mercury News' Vytas Mazeika. "They like how it translates, all the tests we take—football knowledge-wise. I think we're pretty ahead of the game there coming out of Stanford."
If the Dolphins can harness Owusu's physical potential, maybe he produces more than 34 collegiate receptions for 482 yards and three touchdowns.
Minnesota Vikings: DE Tashawn Bower
Two years ago, the Minnesota Vikings spent a third-round pick on an immensely talented yet underdeveloped defensive end in Danielle Hunter. Hunter didn't produce at a high level for the LSU Tigers before declaring early for the draft. Although, his athletic profile projected as a future elite pass-rusher, which he became.
Bower doesn't present the same physical tools as Hunter, but he's a natural pass-rusher when given an opportunity to pin his ears back. Due to the coaching staff's ability to develop his former and current teammate, Bower hopes they can do the same for him.
"I think definitely knowing the coaches that they had here and what they can do and help me with my game [influenced my decision]," Bower said, per Craig Peters of the team's official site. "Seeing what they did with Danielle was something that was appealing to me. I just know that they had a great tradition of d-linemen here, so I wanted to be part of it."
At 6'5" and 250 pounds, the New Jersey native is a fluid athlete. He can bend the edge and drop into space, but he was never a full-time starter with the Tigers. He only played 31.7 percent of LSU's defensive snaps during the last three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
Since Brian Robison is 34 years old and Datone Jones is only signed through the 2017 campaign, the Vikings are searching to build long-term depth behind Hunter and Everson Griffen, with Bower being a prime candidate.
New England Patriots: LB Harvey Langi
The New England Patriots win at everything, including the acquisition of top undrafted free agents.
The organization decided to take a different path in this year's attempt to supplement a Super Bowl roster. It did so by trading draft picks for multiple talented veterans, such as wide receiver Brandin Cooks, defensive end Kony Ealy and tight end Dwayne Allen.
When it was all said and done, the Patriots only drafted four players. In an attempt to offset such a small group, the franchise signed a monster free-agent class. Not only did New England acquire a large quantity with 19 signees, but it found quality too.
Multiple options exist for the best undrafted signing, with talented players such as Austin Carr, Jacob Hollister, Josh Augusta, Damarius Travis and David Jones worthy of consideration. To discover who the Patriots valued the most, follow the money.
The Patriots outbid multiple teams to sign linebacker Harvey Langi. They did so by guaranteeing a league-high $100,000 in his initial contract, per the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe. BYU used Langi as a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. He projects inside, where he can compete for a roster spot behind Dont'a Hightower. At the NFL combine, the 24-year-old defender finished among the top five defensive linemen in both the short and 60-yard shuttles after finishing fourth on the Cougars with 57 total tackles in 2016.
Of course, head coach Bill Belichick will find a way to capitalize and maximize Langi's versatility.
New Orleans Saints: WR Travin Dural
During his time with the LSU Tigers, Travin Dural became a victim of circumstance. LSU utilized a run-first offense that featured the talents of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice (another future first-round pick). As a result, the team's wide receivers weren't featured despite their obvious talent, and it had a dramatic effect on their draft standing.
Malachi Dupre lasted until the seventh round, while Travin Dural never heard his name called. The Saints benefited by signing Dural once the draft came to a close.
"Remember that this is the same program that was able to hold Beckham (Odell Beckham, Jr.) and Jarvis Landry at bay in college," an AFC scout told NFL.com's Lance Zierlein. "LSU's quarterbacks stink. Dural gets a projection grade because he just didn't do enough on tape."
The Saints offense seems to create productive receivers at will. Since the offense isn't dependent on any specific talent not named Drew Brees, the team traded last year's leading receiver, Brandin Cooks, which opened an opportunity for other targets on the roster.
Dural never produced more than 758 receiving yards in a single season in Baton Rogue, yet he showed an ability to stack cornerbacks, create separation and run efficient routes. Very little depth exists at wide receiver behind Michael Thomas, Willie Snead and Ted Ginn. A young receiver with Dural's natural ability has a chance to crack the rotation even after going undrafted.
New York Giants: LB Calvin Munson
The New York Giants don't place a heavy emphasis on the linebacker position. Since 2010, the team has selected four linebackers, and none of those picks came before the fourth round. General manager Jerry Reese simply doesn't prioritize the position.
Thus, signing one of the nation's best linebackers is a major coup for the organization. Calvin Munson graded as a top-10 inside linebacker in each of the past three seasons, per Pro Football Focus.
The three-year starter amassed 301 total tackles, 35.5 tackles for loss and 18 sacks during that time. As a two-time first-team All-Mountain West performer, Munson consistently made plays in all areas for the Aztecs. He showed an ability to read and react, play off the edge or even drop into space. The biggest concerns revolved around a perceived lack of athleticism.
At San Diego State's pro day, the 6'1", 245-pound linebacker posted a 4.68-second 40-yard dash, 32-inch vertical jump and a 9'9" broad jump, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline. The former two-sport star was once selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 31st round of the 2013 MLB draft.
Considering Munson's level of play, versatility and the fact he was the only linebacker the Giants acquired during or after the draft, per SNY's Ralph Vacchiano, he should be expected to make the roster and provide depth behind the team's starters and on special teams.
New York Jets: WR Gabe Marks
The New York Jets spent a pair of draft picks to improve its wide receiver corps. The team added another talented pass-catcher once the draft ended in Washington State's Gabe Marks.
Over the last three seasons, Marks caught 267 passes for 2,893 yards and 35 touchdowns on his way to becoming the Pac-12's all-time receptions leader. The Jets' draft picks—ArDarius Stewart and Chad Hansen—combined for 242 fewer career receiving yards than Marks.
With Eric Decker as the team's only proven commodity and Robby Anderson facing a felony count of resisting arrest with violence, per NFL.com's Jeremy Bergman, all three of these targets have a chance to make the roster.
Marks played in a heavy-volume passing offense and provided plenty of production. The 5'11", 189-pound receiver proved to be a good route-runner, reliable target and the type of personality to shoulder plenty of responsibility. This wan't always the case, as he redshirted in 2014 after being arrested for assault and dealing with a serious medical issue.
The young man matured and developed into one of college football's finest receivers.
Marks isn't the most dynamic receiver. Stewart is better with the ball in his hands, and Hansen has better size and body control. However, the Washington State product is an ideal target to work out of the slot due to his ability to create separation during underneath routes.
Oakland Raiders: WR Ishmael Zamora
In August 2016, Baylor wide receiver Ishmael Zamora was suspended from the Bears football program for whipping and beating his dog.
As a result, the NFL didn't invite Zamora to the combine. The wide receiver waited without being selected at any point during the 253 picks.
At 6'4" and 215 pounds with 4.53-second 40-yard dash speed, Zamora is an intriguing developmental talent with the physical tools teams want at wide receiver. Last season, he caught 63 passes for 809 yards and eight touchdowns despite starting only eight games. The redshirt sophomore then declared early for the draft.
Like many of the wide receivers Baylor has produced, Zamora is an impressive physical specimen with the natural ability to succeed at the NFL level, yet he lacks some of the basic nuances of playing the position. The Texas native needs to develop as a route-runner. He often won at the collegiate level by overwhelming smaller and less talented defensive backs.
If the Oakland Raiders coaching staff takes its time to develop this talented target, Zamora's combination of size, speed and physical prowess would add a difference-making dynamic to the team's wide receiver corps with Andre Holmes' departure in free agency.
Philadelphia Eagles: C Tyler Orlosky
The Philadelphia Eagles didn't spend a single draft pick on an offensive lineman yet landed one of the class' best available blockers. West Virginia's Tyler Orlosky was generally considered a top-three center prospect entering the 2017 NFL draft. In somewhat of a surprise, the 6'3", 298-pound blocker wasn't drafted.
As a whole, the center position doesn't hold much value. Only six centers even heard their names called during draft weekend, and half of those prospects may not even stay over the ball.
Orlosky is a typical overachiever. He'll never be a physically dominant force in the middle, but he holds the point of attack well, understands his angles and battles on a down-by-down basis. Many centers had limitations and went on to become long-term starters. Orlosky lacks length and top-notch lateral movement. However, he found a way to be a Rimington Trophy finalist, make the coaches' All-Big 12 second team and be named an academic All-Big 12 performer.
He can overcome everything, because he's a smart, technically proficient and tenacious blocker. Those are the three main ingredients needed to become a starting center.
For the Philadelphia Eagles, Jason Kelce turns 30 in November, and the organization has two more years before the guaranteed portion of his contract is complete. Orlosky can immediately compete to become the team's backup center.
Pittsburgh Steelers: OG Ethan Cooper
During the offensive line portion of the NFL combine, many fawned over the workouts of Utah's Garett Bolles and Alabama's Cam Robinson. After all, they were considered the top offensive tackle prospects, and neither disappointed.
Quietly, Indiana-Pennsylvania's's Ethan Cooper provided one of the best on-field workouts of any offensive lineman. His agility and fluidity came as a surprise after starting 25 straight games at guard. Usually, the top blockers from the lower levels play tackle. Instead, Cooper become a first-team All-American along the offensive interior.
Cooper is built like an NFL guard at 6'2" and 322 pounds. He displayed a strong initial punch and ability to overwhelm lesser talents during his collegiate career.
"When I get on the field, I refuse to be beat," he told FanSided's Joel W. Cade. "When someone lines up across from me, I am going to make them regret that decision. I am going to come back play after play to punch them in the mouth until they quit."
The Pittsburgh Steelers already feature one of the NFL's best offensive lines, but quality depth is always needed. Plus, Cooper has the potential to be a long-term replacement for Ramon Foster if the IUP product is properly developed. Foster is already 31 years old, with two years remaining on his current contract.
San Francisco 49ers: LB Jimmie Gilbert
If it wasn't already obvious, the San Francisco 49ers killed the draft process both during and after the event. The organization splurged on its postdraft acquisitions. Colorado outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert became the team's most prized target.
Gilbert was a late bloomer at Colorado and didn't become a full-time starter until his senior campaign. He took advantage once he was on the field, though. The hybrid defender accumulated 10.5 sacks, 16 more quarterback pressures and six forced fumbles, which ranked second-most in the country.
The 6'5", 230-pound defender is a long and lanky athlete with the ability to play multiple roles in Robert Saleh's new defense. At his pro day, he posted a 37.5-inch vertical and 4.62-second 40-yard dash, per Draft Analyst's Tony Pauline.
San Francisco is loaded at linebacker with NaVorro Bowman, Ray-Ray Armstrong, Malcolm Smith and recent first-round pick Reuben Foster on the roster, but where all these pieces fit in Saleh's scheme has yet to be determined.
Gilbert's skill set projects as a Bruce Irvin-type of contributor due to his overall athleticism and ability to rush the quarterback. No one else on the roster replicates exactly what Gilbert can bring, which is why the front office aggressively pursued him after the draft.
Seattle Seahawks: OL Jordan Roos
Upgrading a woeful offensive line became the overriding theme to the Seattle Seahawks' offseason after an annual Super Bowl contender had been derailed by a suspect offensive front.
General manager John Schneider chose a pair of blockers in the draft with Ethan Pocic and Justin Senior in the second and sixth rounds, respectively. The front office had considered drafting Jordan Roos before signing him after the event concluded, per the Seattle Times' Bob Condotta.
Pocic was among the top-rated center prospects, but he could play tackle at the next level. Senior was an offensive tackle expected to play guard. Meanwhile, Roos is a powerful guard expected to remain at his natural position after being a three-year starter at Purdue.
The Texas native's 41 reps on bench at his pro day proved to be the most of any available prospect. He also graded well as a pass-blocker. Pro Football Focus graded Roos higher than multiple guards who were drafted, including Dorian Johnson, Isaac Asiata and Danny Isidora.
Head coach Pete Carroll creates an environment based on competition. It doesn't matter if a player is an early-round pick or signed as an undrafted free agent. If one outperforms the other, he'll make the roster. Among an offensive line in dire need of an overhaul, Roos is a candidate to come in and surprise if others continue to struggle.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: TE Antony Auclair
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are loaded at tight end, but changes are coming.
The Buccaneers benefited from one of the most unexpected draft-day slides. Alabama tight end O.J. Howard—often considered a top-10 talent—fell to the 19th overall pick, where Tampa Bay gladly selected him. With Howard, Antony Auclair's designation as a top undrafted free-agent signing doesn't seem to make much sense on the surface.
However, Howard may be the last man standing after the 2017 campaign. Luke Stocker is scheduled to become a free agent after the upcoming season, while Cameron Brate enters restricted free agency.
Thus, Howard might not have much company going into his second season unless the team plans for its future, and it appeared to do so with the Auclair acquisition. The Canadian product excelled during the predraft process with a strong showing at the East-West Shrine Game and an outstanding workout before pulling up with a tweaked hamstring.
"He's got everything you want: perfect size, tenacious blocker, soft hands, smarts and runs well enough," a CFL evaluator said of the 6'6", 254-pound tight end with 4.84-second 40-yard-dash speed, per Sportsnet's Justin Dunk. "... Auclair's unique in that he might be a more valuable commodity south of the border than he would be up here because of the different styles of play."
Howard and Auclair present plenty of potential to develop into a strong duo.
Tennessee Titans: NT DeAngelo Brown
Big, physical run defenders aren't en vogue, but every team needs one or it runs the risk of being dominated at the point of attack.
The Tennessee Titans allowed starting nose tackle Al Woods to leave during free agency. In response, the organization signed Sylvester Williams to replace Woods. Williams is a talented former first-round pick, but his game isn't predicated on eating up blockers and holding the point. Of the 73 nose tackles/defensive tackles Pro Football Focus graded last season, Williams ranked 68th against the run.
Tennessee lacks a true stout presence in the middle of its defense.
DeAngelo Brown displays the potential to excel in said area. The undrafted defensive tackle from Louisville is built like a fire hydrant at 6'1" and 317 pounds. He's also one of the strongest players in this year's class. At the Cardinals pro day, Brown posted 36 bench press reps—which topped the best combine performances from Isaac Asiata and Carl Lawson by one rep.
Brown led the Cardinals with 13 tackles for loss last season and finished third with three sacks. But he'll never be an every-down defender at the next level. The defensive tackle isn't an explosive disruptive force. Instead, he can be a role player with an obvious niche as a interior run defender in the Titans defense.
Washington Redskins: S Fish Smithson
The Washington Redskins selected a pair of safeties this year, yet both are better suited playing at or near the line of scrimmage. None of the safeties on the team's roster are particularly adept in coverage along the back line.
Montae Nicholson and Josh Harvey-Clemons are bigger and more physical box safeties. Harvey-Clemons may even serve in a role similar to Su'a Cravens in Washington's scheme. Free safety didn't receive a similar talent injection.
Fish Smithson is a natural free safety, who graded among the top 12 in coverage last season, per Pro Football Focus. In 35 career games, Smithson snagged six interceptions and defended 17 passes. Big 12 coaches named him first-team All-Big 12 after his senior campaign.
The 5'11", 190-pound defensive back is an inconsistent tackler and a marginal athlete, which is why he went undrafted.
Although, instinctive safeties with good ball skills and an ability to play the deep half or third continue to grow in value. Washington signed D.J. Swearinger after a breakout campaign with the Arizona Cardinals, but he's not a natural in coverage. Veterans DeAngelo Hall and Will Blackmon are 33 and 32 years old, respectively.
A true free safety of Smithson's caliber should help supplement a suspect 'Skins secondary.