Every NFL Team's Undrafted Free Agent Most Likely to Make the Roster
The life of an undrafted free agent is an uphill climb.
After seeing the entire NFL draft come and go without their names being called, undrafted free agents sign for little or no guaranteed money. They live on the fringes of rosters. One misstep, blown assignment or bad practice can mean a pink slip.
In fact, many undrafted free agents already received one in rookie minicamps.
However, it is possible to rise from UDFA to NFL starter or even superstar. Cornerback Malcolm Butler made the climb from undrafted free agent out of West Alabama to two-time Super Bowl champion and hero of Super Bowl XLIX.
Kurt Warner went one better, reaching the ultimate summit of the sport. The former UDFA from Northern Iowa was a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's class of 2017.
Now, it's incredibly premature to start fitting the players listed here for gold jackets or large gaudy rings. But these undrafted free agents have a better-than-average chance of accomplishing the first goal they all seek.
Climbing their way onto an NFL roster.
Cornerback Sojourn Shelton
Over his four years at the University of Wisconsin, cornerback Sojourn Shelton compiled 129 total tackles, nine interceptions and 30 passes defensed. He earned second-team All-Big Ten honors as a senior.
And yet, draft day(s) came and went without the 5'9", 177-pounder hearing his name called—probably because of the small fact that he's, well, small.
Shelton told Adam Green of Arizona Sports that as far as he's concerned, it isn't the size of the dog in the fight.
It's the size of the fight in the dog.
"(I'm) just an aggressive corner, a scrappy corner,” he said. “I am smaller, so that’s my whole thing, just being like an annoying gnat outside, just can’t get away from them. That’s the kind of dude I pride myself on being.”
Head coach Bruce Arians said the Redbirds very nearly drafted Shelton on Day 3.
“We had him up there pretty high, and that’s why we went after him, really, right after the draft,” he said. “We really liked him. It really came down — we had Rudy (Ford) way up there and we traded up — or we’d probably have drafted him in the seventh round.”
Shelton, who got a $25,000 signing bonus from the Cardinals, stood out at rookie minicamp, where his technique and ball skills were on display.
Shelton's already shown the ability to hang with the big boys at college football's highest level.
It really wouldn't be that big of an upset if he figures out a way to secure a spot at the back end of the Cardinals roster.
Guard Travis Averill
The player I originally listed here (guard Robert Leff) was released by the team on the very day this article went live.
I'm honestly surprised by that, but not shocked. Hard to be stunned by any UDFA getting cut.
Not the best of starts for me personally, but if nothing else it underlines the tenuousness of situation every youngster on this list is under.
There's just no margin for error.
But while I whiffed on Leff, I'm not going too far with my second selection as the UDFA most likely to make the Falcons' 53-man roster.
In part because Leff's release opens a window of opportunity for Boise State o-lineman Travis Averill.
A 6'3", 295-pounder, Averill has no shortage of experience, having started 38 of 40 games at both guard and center over the past three seasons for the Broncos.
In 2016, Averill ranked inside the top 30 among guards in pass blocking per Pro Football Focus, allowing only a single sack on the season.
And whereas Leff was a tackle trying to convert to guard, Averill already has experience playing up and down the interior of the line.
That sort of versatility can be very appealing to NFL coaching staffs.
Wide Receiver Tim Patrick
I have a stunning news development. You may want to sit down.
The Baltimore Ravens need wide receiver help.
I know. You're floored.
Surprisingly, general manger Ozzie Newsome didn't address the receiver position in the 2017 NFL draft, despite the retirement of Steve Smith and the departure of Kamar Aiken.
But Newsome may have gotten a gift in free agency after the draft.
Tim Patrick is a 6'5", 210-pound receiver with good speed from Utah who has shown more than a little aptitude in going up and high-pointing the football. He also shined against some of the better cornerbacks in college football last year.
Against USC's Adoree Jackson, Patrick hauled in six passes for 100 yards and the game-sealing touchdown. Against a talented Washington secondary loaded with NFL draft picks, Patrick reeled in five catches for 72 yards. Patrick also had success against Colorado's Chidobe Awuzie, making five catches for 78 yards.
Patrick's biggest problem at Utah was just staying on the field. But if he can stay healthy in Baltimore, there's a very real chance he could emerge as a badly needed steal for Newsome and the Ravens.
Punter Austin Rehkow
I know, I know. Nothing says "excitement" quite like a punter battle.
The thing is, the Buffalo Bills need one.
Per Pro Football Focus, Bills punter Colton Schmidt ranked 35th of 39 qualifying punters in 2016. His net average of 38.1 yards per kick ranked 33rd. As a team, only two clubs had a lower net average than Buffalo.
That opens the door for rookie Austin Rehkow, who averaged a robust 44.4 yards per kick over his collegiate career while also serving as a kickoff specialist. Rehkow was the fifth-ranked punter in college football last year, per PFF, and ranked inside the top 20 in gross punting average. Even better, only half of Rehkow's punts were returned on the season.
Let's be frank. OK, you can be whoever you are, and I'll be Frank.
The Buffalo Bills aren't going to win a bunch of shootouts in 2017. The Bills are going to win with defense and the run game. With ball control. Old-school football.
A big part of winning games old-school is field position. The ability to flip the field and pin opponents deep in their own territory.
And to do that, the Bills need a better punter.
Linebacker Ben Boulware
Based purely on collegiate production, it's fair to wonder why Ben Boulware wasn't drafted. The Clemson linebacker tallied 116 tackles for the Tigers in 2016. In Clemson's College Football Playoff National Championship Game win, Boulware piled up six stops and two tackles for loss en route to winning defensive MVP honors.
However, Boulware is just 6'0" and lacks elite athleticism, which spurred his slide out of the draft. He told Rob Hughes of WCNC-TV he's looking forward to proving that what he might lack in quickness, he more than makes up for with toughness and plus instincts.
"I just want to prove myself right, and everyone else wrong that I can play at this level," Boulware said. "I'm up for a challenge, and like I said the other day I'm in the business of proving people wrong."
Boulware isn't going to bump Luke Kuechly out of the starting lineup any time soon, but he's already shown the ability to star on one of the best college football teams in the nation.
He might not have the skill set to start, but Boulware's the template for the kind of youngster who can become a dynamo on special teams while providing depth at the linebacker position.
My guess is he's going to get his wish and prove those who doubted he can stick on an NFL roster wrong.
Wide Receiver Tanner Gentry
The Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Pace have caught more than a little flak for their rookie haul in 2017.
I should know. I've been slinging part of it.
But in the case of Wyoming wide receiver Tanner Gentry, it appears an attaboy may be in order for Pace and the gang.
Gentry, a 6'1", 208-pounder who caught 72 passes for 1,326 yards for the Cowboys in 2016, has been widely hailed as the team's top late-round or UDFA acquisition this year.
According to the Casper Star-Tribune, Gentry's done nothing to dampen those accolades, standing out as arguably the best player on the field at Chicago's rookie minicamp.
Gentry said he's taking the pats on the back in stride, and that he still has plenty of work to do.
"I think I showed my strengths and what I can do," Gentry said, "and I think it was also good for our receiver coach to see me and see some things that he wants to change with me and wants me to work on as well."
Gentry averaged a robust 18.4 yards a catch at Wyoming last year, and his 14 scores shows that he can be a factor in the red zone.
The Bears could use every bit of help they can get at wide receiver, so if Gentry continues to impress, he could catch on with the team.
Get it? Catch on?
Of course, much will depend on whether the Bears have anyone who can get him the football.
There I go piling on again.
Linebacker Hardy Nickerson
Football is in Hardy Nickerson's blood. His namesake father was a five-time Pro Bowler who played 16 seasons in the NFL before beginning a coaching career.
The 6'0", 232-pound Nickerson doesn't have the physical gifts that allowed his father to star in the NFL for so long. But as Geoff Hobson reported for the Bengals' website, Nickerson apparently shares his father's encyclopedic knowledge of NFL defenses.
Per Hobson, Nickerson stepped onto the field at rookie camp and ran the defense like a grizzled vet, leading Hobson to call him the UDFA most likely to stick around into the fall.
"The word from last weekend’s rookie minicamp is that Nickerson’s command of the huddle was staggeringly good and had long time Bengalites trying to remember the last time somebody did it like that so decisively with so little fanfare," Hobson said. "He apparently stepped in there like a 10-year vet and smoothly ran the defense."
Nickerson's big problem is a little problem, in that he's little. Really little. As in, 6'0" and 230 pounds if he's standing on his tiptoes with rolls of quarters in his pockets. He's going to have to show that he won't simply be swallowed up by larger blockers at the NFL level.
However, like the other undersized linebackers with superior instincts you'll see on this list, Nickerson has a set of skills that translates very well to a spot on coverage teams.
Special teams might be the most glamorous way to make a 53-man roster, but it's the guys who can play there who win spots at the back of the depth chart in camp.
Cornerback Channing Stribling
There's an old saying in the NFL that you can never have too many defensive backs.
OK, maybe it's not an old saying. But it's true.
And while the Cleveland Browns appear to be set on the boundaries with Joe Haden and free-agent acquisition Jason McCourty, the rest of the secondary remains a question mark.
That question mark presents a golden opportunity for undrafted free agent Channing Stribling, especially after fourth-round pick Howard Wilson fractured his kneecap in rookie minicamp.
Stribling, who played with first-round pick Jabrill Peppers at the University of Michigan, told Patrick Maks of Cleveland's team website that rather than lament the fact he wasn't drafted, Stribling intends to use it as motivation.
"I didn't want people to feel sorry for me like I should've got drafted like that," he said. "If I did, I did, if I didn’t, I didn’t — just keep it moving, still competing and still have the same mindset. I like Cleveland, I like that underdog and bringing teams back and being a part of that and building up a program."
At 6'1", Stribling brings size that's lacking in the Cleveland secondary. And while he didn't demonstrate either plus size or plus speed at February's scouting combine, he did show the ability to produce when it counted between the lines last year.
As a matter of fact, per Pro Football Focus, no qualifying cornerback in college football had a lower completion percentage against last year than Stribling.
Add to that impressive stat the Browns' need at the position, and you have the recipe for a player who could be in Northeast Ohio for a while.
Offensive Tackle Dan Skipper
Offensive tackle Dan Skipper is a big dude, vertically speaking.
In fact, Skipper is now the biggest dude in the entire NFL, vertically speaking.
Now, the Cowboys didn't sign the 6'10" (yes, 6'10"), 309-pound Skipper because he's tall. Although, that can be a bonus in at least one situation: Skipper holds the Arkansas school record for blocked field goals in a season, because duh.
No, the Cowboys inked Skipper because he's a two-time all-SEC performer who has experience at both tackle spots.
Per Bryan Broaddus of the team's website, Skipper moved well at the Cowboys' rookie camp, although the problem with his being so tall was also evident.
"It’s a struggle for Arkansas tackle Dan Skipper to bend his knees and really get low because of his height," Broaddus wrote. "The linemen have a special device that they go though in individual drills that keeps them flat coming off the ball, and you can see the problems he has. He’s going to need some strength training as well to help with his punch. I will say this though – when Skipper is moving in space he does look athletic and not clumsy at all."
Skipper didn't fall from the draft because of his height, either. As Michael David Smith reported for Pro Football Talk, a blood condition caused some teams to remove Skipper from their boards altogether. But the Cowboys did additional tests and medically cleared the big man.
And in doing so, the NFL's richest offensive line may have gotten richer.
The field-goal block team certainly did.
Safety Jamal Carter
There's something of a recent history of undrafted free agents not only making the team in Denver but also making a dent for the Broncos. Both tailback C.J. Anderson and cornerback Chris Harris were UDFAs who have gone on to prominent roles with the team.
Miami safety Jamal Carter already has the look of an NFL starter. His 218-pound frame looks like it was chiseled from a block of granite. Carter, who tallied 85 total tackles for the Hurricanes in 2016, also fared pretty well at the scouting combine. He had one of the better showings in his position group, with 19 reps on the bench press.
However, while Carter's strength isn't in question, his coverage and ball skills are. And in today's NFL, when you're a young safety prone to lapses in coverage, it can be the kiss of death to draft stock.
Still, Carter's speed and agility are decent, and he isn't afraid to mix it up at the point of attack. As one NFC personnel director told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com in regards to Carter, "I don't see the ball skills to be a starter but guys that look like that make rosters."
The Broncos must be reasonably confident Carter can make theirs—he received the highest signing bonus ($20,000) of any undrafted free agent on the team.
These are the blocks from which special teams units are assembled.
Can I interest you in a nice gunner this afternoon?
Wide Receiver Noel Thomas
If collegiate production were the sole arbiter of draft stock, Connecticut's Noel Thomas wouldn't be listed here. The 6'0", 205-pounder totaled 1,179 yards for the Huskies in 2016—on a staggering school-record 100 catches.
But Thomas flopped at the combine. He didn't fare especially well in position drills, and his 4.63-second 40 time ranked much closer to the bottom of the wideouts than the top.
However, Thomas ran a 4.42 at UConn's pro day, so either the guy on the stopwatch for the Huskies is a big ol' cheater or Thomas just had a bad day in Indianapolis.
Personally, I'm inclined to believe the latter. Tape of Thomas in action doesn't show a sluggish receiver. His route running wasn't particularly crisp in college, but he did an excellent job of either getting open or making the contested catch when he wasn't.
Thomas told Ty Schalter of Lions Wire he picked Detroit in part because it's a pass-first team with a less-than crowded depth chart at his position.
“I kind of did my homework," Thomas said. "I’m excited to come to Motown."
The Lions have a pair of established starters in Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, and the Lions added another receiver, Kenny Golladay, in this year's draft.
But depth behind Tate in the slot remains an issue, and if Thomas can translate anything resembling his collegiate production to the pros, that issue will be resolved.
Green Bay Packers
Quarterback Taysom Hill
Taysom Hill isn't like most undrafted free agents.
For starters, most undrafted free agents aren't one-time Heisman contenders. Hill was back in 2014, before a broken leg ended his season at BYU in October.
Injuries were a theme for Hill in Provo. There was knee and hamstring injuries as a freshman. That broken leg. A foot injury that ended his 2015 campaign after all of two quarters. And then, after beng granted a medical redshirt, there was an elbow ailment that cost Hill his final game in college.
Also, most rookies aren't 26 years old. But Hill is, having gone on a two-year mission to Australia rather than attend Stanford back in the day. Add his age to his injury history, and it isn't hard to see why Hill wasn't drafted.
However, Hill is also a strong-armed 6'2", 230-pounder who peeled off a 4.44-second 40 at BYU's pro day. After watching Hill throw at Green Bay's rookie camp, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy didn't mince words.
"He belongs," McCarthy said, per the team's website.
Hill, for his part, told Jason Wilde of the Wisconsin State Journal that he's eager to learn the playbook and hit training camp in earnest.
“I’ve had three different offensive coordinators at BYU, so I’ve had the opportunity to learn three different offenses and I feel like I picked them up really well. But there wasn’t as much put on the quarterback in those offenses as there is here, so that’s going to be new. But I’m excited for the challenge.”
If Hill continues to be a quick study, it's far from inconceivable he could lock down a spot on a Packers depth chart that isn't deep at all at quarterback once you get past that Rodgers fella.
I hear he's OK.
Linebacker Dylan Cole
As Jim Connell and Wyatt D. Wheeler of the News-Leader reported (via USA Today), Missouri State linebacker Dylan Cole admitted in a press release that it was both a blessing and a curse to go undrafted in April.
"It's kinda bittersweet," Cole said. "Obviously I wanted to get drafted ahead of my prediction. I thought I was going to get picked up around the sixth round. When the seventh round came around, I just wanted to become a free agent so I could pick where I wanted to go and the best fit for me. Houston was that place. I've been talking to them for a long, long time. They didn't get a chance to draft me so they could fill their needs on the offensive side. At the end of the day, I'm happy to be a Texan and hope to be for a long time."
Cole certainly didn't go undrafted for lack of production in college. As a senior at Missouri State, the 6'1", 240-pounder led all FCS players with 12.9 tackles per game. The unanimous FCS All-American also showed off some skills in coverage, picking off a pair of passes last season.
Cole isn't the most agile player in space, largely because he's built like the proverbial brick...well, you know. And the Texans hope to be set at inside linebacker for years to come after paring Benardrick McKinney with second-round pick Zach Cunningham.
But Cole's explosiveness and ferocity are tailor-made for making return men cry on special teams, and I've learned you should never underestimate players who are just always around the ball.
Maybe I'm projecting a little personal bias (among UDFAs, Cole is a favorite of mine), but I really believe the small-school Tasmanian devil of tackling is going to make the cut with the Texans.
Kicker/Punter Rigoberto Sanchez
OK, I promise. After this, no more punters.
Now that I've made that pledge though, look at that magnificent name. Just look at it. Say it out loud. Notice how it rolls off the tongue.
However, Sanchez is more than just a pretty name. The punter and kickoff specialist from the University of Hawaii was PFF's eighth-ranked collegiate punter in 2016, averaging over 44 yards a kick.
Indy special teams coach Tom McMahon actually believes Sanchez has the potential to do even more. He told Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star that he thinks the great Rigoberto could one day handle all the team's kicking duties.
“I see him more as a combo punt-kickoff specialist immediately,” said McMahon. “I think (in the long term) he’s going to develop into a very good field goal kicker. I see him on the same leg-talent par as Cody Parkey and Brandon McManus. Those are the only two (free agents) we’ve brought in here. We don’t bring guys in unless we feel like they’re ready to play.”
Now, the team signed Jeff Locke in free agency after longtime punter Pat McAfee retired, but the fact the Colts saw fit to bring in another leg shows they aren't locked in at the position.
Get it? Locked in?
And there is no way I'm not rooting for a player named Rigoberto Sanchez.
Cornerback Jeremy Cutrer
The Jacksonville Jaguars have overhauled their defense more than any other squad in the NFL this year. The team spent huge in free agency on the likes of defensive tackle Calais Campbell, safety Barry Church and cornerback A.J. Bouye.
However, despite adding Bouye, depth at the cornerback position remains an issue, and that could mean a chance for one of the team's undrafted rookies to vie for a spot on the 53-man roster.
That's exactly what NFL.com draft analyst Chad Kreuter expects to happen. Kreuter, who graded the Jaguars' UDFA haul as the third-best in the NFL behind the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, expects a pair of small-school standouts to battle for a spot in Tennessee State's Ezra Robinson and Middle Tennessee State's Jeremy Cutrer.
Of the two, I give Cutrer the better chance, for reasons that Robinson can't really control. That is, unless he plans on growing a couple of inches in the next few weeks.
Cutrer is a rail-thin 170 pounds, but he's 6'2" with good speed and even better ball skills. Of the last 52 targets Cutrer saw at MTSU (according to Lance Zierlein of NFL.com), only one went for a score.
Frankly, given the Jaguars' lack of cornerback depth, there's a decent chance both of these young corners will at least make the practice squad.
But if it comes down to one or the other, I think Cutrer's length will carry the day.
Kansas City Chiefs
Guard Damien Mama
In the opinion of Eric Eager of Pro Football Focus, the Chiefs were able to find a potential steal after the 2017 draft when they signed UDFA guard Damien Mama.
"While the Chiefs' offensive line improved greatly from 2015 to 2016," he said, "starting second-year left guard Parker Ehinger is coming off an injury and they could use some interior depth to go along with backup guard/center Zach Fulton, who has played 2442 snaps the last three years, and improved each year."
Mama could provide that depth. A 334-pounder who was PFF's 10th-rated guard of the 2017 draft class, Mama is the prototypical "phone-booth" player. He's a 6'3" mass of brute strength who didn't allow a single sack in 2016.
I'll admit I don't understand why Mama wasn't drafted. I get that he's not the fleetest of foot and that his technique could use work. His moves consist of a right-hand punch, a right-hand punch and a right-hand punch. And I get that he's not a fit for all blocking schemes.
But Mama was a consistently good interior blocker for the Trojans. Even if you don't think he has the talent to ever be a starter, there's no way I'm going to buy that he can't be a solid backup on man-blocking teams as early as now.
That he slipped all the way out of the draft was a gift for Andy Reid and the Chiefs.
I'd be less surprised if Mama starts games as a rookie than I will be if he doesn't make the 53-man roster.
Los Angeles Chargers
Kicker Younghoe Koo
What? I said I wouldn't mention any more punters. I made no promises about kickers.
To some it might seem odd that the Los Angeles Chargers are potentially interested in replacing kicker Josh Lambo. Lambo was the sixth-rated kicker in the NFL last year per Pro Football Focus, and he was 20-for-21 on field goal attempts inside 40 yards in 2016.
However, once you get a little farther out the picture either clouds or clears up, depending on how you look at it.
From 40-49 yards out Lambo hit a moderately respectable 75 percent of his attempts in 2016. But the 26-year-old misfired on all three of his long (50-plus yards) attempts a year ago, and his overall accuracy of 81.3 percent ranked 23rd among kickers with 10 or more attempts.
That accuracy percentage is over 10 points lower than Koo, whose only miss at Georgia Southern last year came from over 50 yards out.
Long story short? Koo has a bigger leg than Lambo. A significantly bigger leg.
When asked if the kicking job is up for grabs in L.A. this summer, new head coach Anthony Lynn hit Dan Woike of the Los Angeles Times with some coachspeak.
"Every position out here is a competition," Lynn said.
That aside, if Koo can show he can handle the pressure of making kicks at the NFL level, odds are the job is going to be his.
Plus, I'm pretty sure Lambo can't do this.
Los Angeles Rams
Center Jake Eldrenkamp
That Jake Eldrenkamp appears to be in position already to make the Los Angeles Rams as an undrafted rookie is in and of itself impressive.
That he's doing it while switching positions is even more so.
As Rich Hammond wrote for the Los Angeles Daily News, Eldrenkamp played both tackle and guard during his four years at the University of Washington. But the 6'5", 297-pounder said that moving to center may well be the best way to take advantage of his particular skill set.
"I love it," Eldrenkamp said. "I think it's the best fit for me. My game is about the mental side as much as the physical side. When you talk about applying my strengths to the game, I think center is the best place to do it."
Eldrenkamp worked at center during the Rams' rookie minicamp, drawing praise from new head coach Sean McVay.
"He's a guy that's got good movement," McVay said. "He's got some flexibility to be able to play on the interior line, but he was a guy that Coach [Aaron] Kromer, our scouts, did a nice job identifying as a player that we feel like could project well with some of the things we're looking for. It'll be exciting to kind of watch him."
Eldrenkamp cited his making the line calls for the Huskies as a big help in his transition.
"I think the biggest difference for most guys is just having to make all the calls," Eldrenkamp said, "and knowing how every piece of the offense works together. That’s something that I'd been doing in Washington, so it was a pretty easy carry-over. That wasn't too hard, but that trips a lot of guys up. The physical side is, you've just got to square your feet up and get the ball back."
The Rams brought over veteran center John Sullivan in free agency, but behind him there isn't much, and Sullivan has a lengthy injury history.
And that leaves the door wide open for Eldrenkamp to make the 53-man roster.
Running Back De'Veon Smith
Running backs who pass-protect well are rather like Bigfoot. You'll occasionally hear hushed secondhand reports or see a grainy photograph of one, but there's very rarely an actual sighting.
Michigan's De'Veon Smith is an exception.
Smith, who averaged just under 4.7 yards a carry on 181 carries for the University of That Team Up North (Sorry, born and raised in Columbus, Ohio) last year, isn't going to juke anyone out of their shoes. The 223-pounder is a downhill bruiser.
But in addition to being a relatively effective power runner, Smith is a very effective pass-blocker. Per Josh Liskiewitz of Pro Football Focus, he allowed only two sacks during the last three years at Michigan (there...happy?), and none over the last two seasons.
Those are refreshing numbers for a tailback coming out of college.
The Dolphins are set so far as a starter at tailback in Jay Ajayi, but behind him things get cloudy very quickly. Damien Williams still hasn't signed his tender. Kenyan Drake is what he is—a scatback who isn't built to either absorb punishment or pick up blitzers.
No one's going to confuse Smith with Ezekiel Elliott or Leonard Fournette. But he's more than capable of giving Ajayi the occasional blow.
And keeping Ryan Tannehill from taking them if the Dolphins drop back to pass while he's on the field.
Defensive End Tashawn Bower
Tashawn Bower has now twice been recruited by Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. The first time led the 6'5", 250-pound edge-rusher to join Hunter at LSU.
As he told Craig Peters of the team's website, the second led Bower to join the Vikes as an undrafted free agent.
"He was definitely telling me how great the coaches are, how well they'll teach you and craft you into a better D-end and help you be successful,” Bower said. "I think definitely knowing the coaches that they had here and what they can do and help me with my game [influenced my decision]. 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.”
In many respects, Bower is a poor man's version of his former college teammate. He's a lanky end with plus athleticism who amassed four sacks for the Tigers last year, but he's the prototypical "tweener"—not quite quick enough to merit a look during the draft from 3-4 teams, but, at just 250 pounds, too small for 4-3 teams to use a pick on him.
However, the argument can be made that Bower's modest production in college said more about the players ahead of him on the depth chart than it did about Bower himself, and it's unlikely that the Vikings used a 90-man roster spot on Bower as a favor to Hunter.
It's even less likely that they gave Bower $45,000 in guarantees as one.
Bower's the poster child for a practice squad player—a talented but unrefined youngster the Vikings can stash for a year while they refine his technique.
And while that may not be as good as making the 53-man roster, it beats a visit from "The Turk."
New England Patriots
Linebacker Harvey Langi
There are at least a few barometers that can be of help in determining which undrafted free agents might have an inside track to a spot on NFL rosters.
The biggest of those is an easy one—green.
BYU linebacker Harvey Langi was the greenest undrafted free agent of them all.
I don't just mean raw or inexperienced, although Langi is certainly the former. According to Gil Brandt of NFL.com, the New England Patriots gave the 6'2", 251-pound Langi $115,000 in guaranteed money—easily the most of any undrafted free agent in the NFL.
It's not hard to see why. Langi has excellent quickness for a linebacker his size—the sort of combination that appeals to Bill Belichick's desire for versatile linebackers capable of working in multiple spots.
The problem, as one scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, is just that—Langi lined up in multiple spots at Brigham Young, which slowed his development as a defender.
"Go back and watch him against UCLA and Michigan in 2015 and you will see what he might become at middle linebacker," the scout said. "I don't know why (BYU) put him on the edge this year because it didn't help them and it did the kid a real disservice."
Still, the fact the Pats gave Langi over $100K in guarantees demonstrates a level of confidence in Langi's ability to settle down and learn more about playing inside.
And it affords him more rope than most of the players on this list.
New Orleans Saints
Cornerback Arthur Maulet
It isn't all that often that you hear an NFL team say they have plans for an undrafted rookie. Generally speaking, the first step in such a plan is "draft that player."
However, while talking with Chris Hagan of FOX 8 TV, head coach Sean Payton said the New Orleans Saints have just such a plan in mind for hometown cornerback Arthur Maulet.
"There's a vision for him," said Payton. "He's built well, and we see him being the smart player he is. We see him being a nickel candidate and someone that can play on the inside."
It isn't all that difficult to see why Maulet slid out of the 2017 draft. His 4.62 40-yard dash at the combine certainly didn't blow anyone away. Maulet allowed to Hagan that things do indeed move a lot faster at the NFL level.
"The way the speed is, it's totally different from college," says Maulet. "It's a whole new level. It's like they hit the fast-forward button."
Maulet also peeled off 18 reps on the bench press in Indy, one of the best showings among his position and a testament to his physicality.
Nothing is guaranteed for the youngster, but it certainly looks like the Saints signed Maulet with the intent of not only keeping him around but perhaps even getting him on the field early in his career.
Now it's up to the 5'10", 189-pounder to hold up his end of the deal.
New York Giants
Defensive Tackle Jarron Jones
Notre Dame defensive tackle Jarron Jones looks the part of an NFL player. He's a massive, 6'6", 315-pound space-eater with 35.5-inch arms.
NFL scouts get positively woozy over measurables like that.
So why did Jones go all 253 picks in 2017 without hearing his name called? Well, according to what one scout told Lance Zierlein of NFL.com, it's that the size of Jones' heart doesn't match the length of his arms.
"He's a character flag for us," the scout said. "He's talented but I just don't think he loves the game enough for me to back him in our room. Who doesn't love those long arms? We all do, but I think he's lazy and will head south as soon as he has more time and money on his hands."
It didn't help that Jones had an absolutely miserable showing at February's scouting combine.
The Giants won't have to worry about that money part. Jones won't be getting rich off the contract he signed as an undrafted free agent. And his lack of production in South Bend is concerning, even if you believe he was somewhat miscast as a one-technique space-eater.
However, Jones doesn't just have the talent and athleticism to stick as a depth player. If the light goes on, he would appear to have the natural ability to be a starter at the NFL level.
If you think the Giants can coach him up, Jones could be a huge get both literally and figuratively for a Giants team that watched starting three-tech Johnathan Hankins bolt in free agency.
And it's the time of year when I'm willing to offer up the benefit of the doubt.
New York Jets
Wide Receiver KD Cannon
Wide receiver KD Cannon has already experienced a slip-up on his climb up the UDFA mountain.
Cannon, who hauled in 87 passes for 1,215 yards last year at Baylor in 2016, was originally signed by the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, the Niners thought enough of the 5'11", 182-pounder to give him $45,000 in guaranteed cabbage.
But Cannon didn't make it through the first round of rookie camps.
Cannon wasn't out of work for long, though. That guaranteed money is now the responsibility of the New York Jets, who claimed Cannon off waivers. He'll now try to stick as a member of a Jets receiver corps that can use all the help it can get.
Cannon's not especially tall, his frame is slight and, like many Baylor receivers, his technique is essentially non-existent. In Waco the past few years, if the play wasn't run to your side of the field, receivers could essentially do anything they wanted, up to and including nothing.
But Cannon has excellent speed, having run a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at the combine that placed in the top five among wideouts. He also peeled off a 37-inch vertical in Indianapolis. And he's been productive, piling up well over 3,000 yards over the past three years in Waco.
Cannon will also have a potential ace up his sleeve in the Big Apple in the form of a familiar face. With the Jets, Cannon will be practicing with Bryce Petty, who he played with at Baylor in 2014.
As a matter of fact, Cannon pulled in 58 catches for over 1,000 yards and eight scores that year.
Wide Receiver Ishmael Zamora
At first glance, it's a bit puzzling that Baylor wideout Ishmael Zamora went undrafted. He's a lanky (6'4") 215-pound wideout with good hands who has good speed (4.53-second 40-yard dash) for a receiver his size.
Sure, Zamora's raw, but stating that Baylor has a limited route tree is a bit like stating that ducks have wet feet. It rather goes without saying.
Of course, what caused Zamora to fall out of the draft entirely had nothing to do with anything that happened between the lines. The video that emerged of Zamora abusing a dog was horrific, and in today's social media age of increased awareness of such off-field offenses, it was a death knell to his draft stock.
No one is trying to excuse what Zamora did. It's quite simply inexcusable. But he was already punished. He was suspended by the school, charged with a Class C misdemeanor and banned from participating in the NFL Scouting Combine.
That ban cost him hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Once again, what Zamora did is awful. But he's been contrite throughout, and there's been nothing to indicate it was anything more than a one-time incident. One mistake shouldn't define and ruin a young man's life.
Zamora's gotten a second chance of sorts with the Raiders. And while he's unrefined as a receiver and may need a year on the practice squad to hone his craft, he has the talent to make the most of it.
Center Tyler Orlosky
Tyler Orlosky's quest to make the Philadelphia Eagles' 53-man roster as an undrafted free agent has already hit a substantial snag.
As Jimmy Kempski of the Philly Voice recently tweeted, Orlosky will miss 7-8 weeks after spraining his MCL during rookie camp. The hope is that Orlosky will be ready when training camp begins in earnest, but even that is far from guaranteed.
For most other UDFAs, such a setback would be the end of the line. It's also rotten luck for the Eagles, who already saw a big-name UDFA signing go down when quarterback Jerod Evans suffered a season-ending foot injury.
But Tyler Orlosky isn't your average undrafted free agent.
That Orlosky went undrafted was one of the bigger surprises of this year's draft. CBS Sports listed Orlosky as their third-ranked prospect in the middle of the line and a probable Day 2 pick. Walter Football ranked him fifth and believed he could go as early as Round 3.
The 6'3" 298-pounder obviously wasn't viewed as favorably by NFL scouts, but he was PFF's fourth-ranked collegiate center. His pass-blocking grade was the highest among all centers by a sizable margin.
In short, Orlosky can play. I honestly think he could start in the NFL—and sooner rather than later.
Provided the knee injury doesn't linger well into training camp, Orlosky will get a chance to show the Eagles that.
Once he does, he'll make the final 53.
Tight End Phazahn Odom
At 6'8", Fordham tight end Phazahn Odom is rather hard to miss.
But as Odom told Christopher Mueller of the Beaver County Times that he's learning in Steelers OTAs that bigger isn't always better.
"It’s great to be 6'8" in the pass game," said Odom. "But then the run game, I can't be 6'8". I have to force myself to stay low. I'm being asked to do different things. Back at Fordham, I didn't really in-line block as much. Here, the tight ends are forced to block. I'm adjusting to that."
Many things are new to Odom. At Fordham the offense was a highly simplified no-huddle attack and he was rarely asked to stay in and block. But second-year safety Sean Davis said he's been impressed by Odom so far.
"(A player like Odom's) range is so crazy. A guy towering over you, especially who can really jump and extend his arms, you've really got to play technique-sound ball," Davis said.
Now, there's a still a long way to go before Odom is catching passes from Ben Roethlisberger in games that count, or opening holes for tailback Le'Veon Bell. And given how raw Odom is, it's far more likely than not his rookie season will be spent on the practice squad even if he does stick around the Steel City.
But after whiffing badly on the Ladarius Green signing, tight end is a position of need for the Steelers.
A need that could be filled quite well by a 250-pound pass-catcher with soft hands and long arms.
Quite well, indeed.
San Francisco 49ers
Running Back Matt Breida
Almost from the moment he was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, there's been speculation that Utah tailback Joe Williams could challenge Carlos Hyde to start behind quarterback Brian Hoyer in 2017.
However, before Williams can challenge Hyde, he may have to hold off a hard-charging undrafted free agent who didn't get the memo that he isn't supposed to be part of the equation.
Per Kevin Jones of KNBR, it wasn't Williams who was the best back in San Francisco's rookie camp.
"One 49ers assistant told me the best rookie on the field during minicamp was actually RB Matt Breida," Jones said. "Not ready to crown Joe Williams yet."
At just 5'9" and under 200 pounds, the former Georgia Southern product isn't the biggest back. But that didn't stop him from positing big numbers. In three years as the lead back for the Eagles, Breida piled up over 3,700 rushing yards and scored 40 total touchdowns.
A disappointing senior season led to Breida being shut out of the combine, but Breida opened eyes at Georgia Southern's pro day by peeling off a sub-4.4-second 40-yard dash.
According to Matt Baker of the Tampa Bay Times, that speed led to Breida receiving UDFA offers from several teams before he settled on the Bay Area.
And that same speed could fit in very nicely in Kyle Shanahan's offense.
Guard Jordan Roos
As the team's website reported just after the draft, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider have been talking up Purdue guard Jordan Roos from the moment he landed in the Emerald City.
"Roos, from Purdue, he's a guard/center, I think he benched like 42 times," general manager John Schneider said. "We're really excited to get him. He was a guy who was a draftable player. … We were trying to decide if we should take him or not take him. We're pretty excited."
Per Lindsey Wisniewski of Seahawks Wire, the glowing reviews of the 6'4", 302-pounder continued right into Seattle's first round of rookie camps.
"Yeah, I really liked Jordan Roos," Carroll said. "I thought he looked really good. That was a really important signing for us, we had targeted him through the draft, and we weren't able to get him, but he looks like he fits right in."
The lovefest continued while Carroll spoke to Todd Milles of the Tacoma News-Tribune. "He looks like he fits right in. I was really, really happy about that, because we're trying to keep that whole position as competitive as possible. (Roos) looks like he'll be able to battle, and I'm talking with the guys who are going to be playing."
That's an awful lot of smoke surrounding a player who was a top-five guard in pass-blocking last year, per Pro Football Focus.
Add in the Seahawks' need for help all up and down the offensive line and their willingness to start younger players up front, and Roos may do a lot more than just make the team.
He could play significant snaps as a rookie.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Linebacker Richie Brown
There's something of a running theme in this piece—wildly productive collegiate linebackers with limited athleticism who I expect could stick in the NFL for no other reason than having guys who relish hitting people on kick coverage is, um, good.
Former Mississippi State linebacker Richie Brown certainly fits that bill. As a matter of fact, he told John Crist of Saturday Down South that he actually enjoys playing special teams.
"I played all special teams," Brown said. "I played every position in college. Even when I was a veteran, I did practice on special teams. Even when they didn’t let me play special teams my junior and senior year, but I still did all the reps in practice. So that's something at Mississippi State we stressed a lot with special teams and staying on top of that, so I feel adequately prepared to come out here and play special teams."
Mind you, it isn't that Brown can't play linebacker. Over his past two seasons with the Rebels, the 6'2", 236-pounder amassed an impressive 211 total tackles, and his superior instincts help compensate for a lack of straight-line speed in the open field and in coverage.
But like most of the UDFA linebackers I've discussed here, Brown is neither especially fast nor especially strong. And if you're going to challenge either Lavonte David or Kwon Alexander in Tampa, you'd better be both and then some.
Unless you also have laser eyes or something, you aren't bumping those stars.
However, there's always room on coverage teams for tough, heady players who like to get dirty.
Having experience at it is just another plus in his favor.
Quarterback Tyler Ferguson
In the NFL, circumstances can change in a heartbeat. And those changing circumstances can make all the difference in the world as to whether or not a young player makes a team.
That's the situation that Western Kentucky quarterback Tyler Ferguson finds himself in with the Tennessee Titans. With veteran backup Matt Cassel out at least six weeks after having thumb surgery, both third-stringer Alex Tanney and Ferguson will see extra reps in OTAs and early in training camp.
Ferguson told Terry McCormick of Titans Insider (via the Daily Herald) that he's been trying to take advantage of those extra reps while also allowing that Cassel has been a help even if he isn't on the field.
"Matt has been a huge help to me," Ferguson said. "I've been getting some good reps in OTAs up to this point, and it allows me to get a little more, some work with the twos and a couple of older guys sprinkled in there that I wasn’t getting reps with. So I'm going to try to take full advantage of it."
At 6'4" and 225 pounds, Ferguson has the look of an NFL quarterback. But the bigger question is if he has the arm for it. And it's a true question—Ferguson played sparingly for the Hilltoppers after transferring from Louisville by way of Penn State.
He's well-traveled, he is.
But any big-bodied passer who can hit the side of a barn is going to have some value in the NFL.
It's actually a long shot for any of the Titans' UDFA to make the 53-man roster. There aren't any players who jump out at you, or glaring holes that would appear to need patching.
But Cassel's injury has at the very least presented Ferguson a golden chance to try to earn a practice squad spot this summer, if not push Tanney for the No. 3 job.
Safety/Linebacker Nico Marley
OK, I'll freely admit I'm projecting here. At 5'8" and 200 pounds (maybe), the odds of Nico Marley making the Redskins roster as a linebacker are, um, ungood.
The odds of him making the roster as a safety aren't so hot either. He's just so small.
But I can't help it. I badly want Marley to make an NFL roster. I will be making a point of checking out the Redskins in the preseason for no other reason than to see him fly down the field on special teams.
That's the thing. Marley might be small, but he doesn't play small. Marley piled up 88 tackles a year ago Tulane, including an impressive 14 tackles for loss. He also pitched in three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception...
At 5'8" and 200 pounds (maybe).
Marley is the big thing in the small package. He plays the game with bad intentions. On four separate occasions for the Green Wave in 2016, Marley topped 10 stops in game.
Watching him fly around the field on tape is one of the more enjoyable things I've done in the last few weeks.
And I honestly believe that little or not he could make some hay on special teams in the NFL.
Plus he's Bob Marley's grandson, which is just fantastic.
Marley will likely never be a Pro Bowl linebacker. Or even a starting safety.
But he doesn't have to be to have value to Washington.
After all, they don't call them special teams for nothing.