The 1 UDFA Turning Heads in Every NFL Team's Training Camp
It's not about how you get to the NFL; it's about what you do once you get there.
Now that the 2018 preseason is underway and we've gotten our first real looks at some rookies, there'll be plenty of buzz surrounding many of the early picks. However, it's not only the first- and second-round guys who'll become stars.
Players such as Saquon Barkley and Josh Rosen are already well-known, but some guys who didn't even have their names called in the draft will emerge as difference-makers as early as this season.
We're here to take a look at some of the players who could fall into this category. We'll examine one undrafted free agent from each franchise who has stood out in training camp and the 2018 value he could provide.
Arizona Cardinals: WR Trent Sherfield
Aside from ageless wonder Larry Fitzgerald (34), the Arizona Cardinals don't have a ton of pass-catching talent. That's why an emergence from Trent Sherfield could be huge.
The Vanderbilt product has good size (6'1", 205 lbs), and he showed in college he could be a reliable target, catching 50 passes and five touchdowns in 2017.
It appears the transition to the NFL has gone well.
"He's smart," head coach Steve Wilks said, per Jess Root of Cards Wire. "The guy does a great job of taking things from the classroom to the field, and for the most part, he's really consistent in the day-to-day routine."
The Cardinals need talent in the receiving corps, and Sherfield has an opportunity.
Atlanta Falcons: RB Justin Crawford
The Atlanta Falcons don't need immediate help at running back thanks to Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The team still used a fourth-round pick on Ito Smith, though.
In spite of all that, former West Virginia back Justin Crawford has flashed in training camp.
"He has been one player who seems to make a few good plays each practice," William McFadden reported for the Falcons' official site. "Although he was undrafted, he was very productive at West Virginia and has solid skills."
Crawford averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and can be a nice change-of-pace back and special teamer as a rookie. If he continues to stand out, he may force the Falcons to keep him.
Baltimore Ravens: WR Janarion Grant
Rutgers product Janarion Grant appears poised to make an impact for the Baltimore Ravens in a variety of ways.
According to Jeff Zrebiec of The Athletic, Grant has already moved up to the second-team offense—ahead of 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman—and has "made some big plays in camp."
Grant can improve the receiving corps for quarterback Joe Flacco. He can also boost the return game. Against the Los Angeles Rams in the team's second preseason game, Grant did both. He finished with two receptions for 32 yards, a 26-yard kickoff return and fielded two punts.
Buffalo Bills: WR Cam Phillips
The Buffalo Bills believe they have their next franchise quarterback in Josh Allen. To ensure he succeeds, they need to surround him with talent. Former Virginia Tech wideout Cam Phillips may help Buffalo do that.
The all-time Hokies receiving-yards leader (3,027), Phillips has produced at least 70 receptions and 950 yards in each of his past two seasons. In 2017, he averaged 80.4 yards per game.
Phillips has been showing off his skills for the Bills this offseason. According to Joe Buscaglia of WKBW, he "just keeps making plays" in camp.
Given the lack of proven receiver talent in Buffalo, Phillips should at least have a shot at making the practice squad.
Carolina Panthers: OL Brendan Mahon
With Amini Silatolu recently undergoing knee surgery, the Carolina Panthers have room for emerging offensive linemen. Undrafted Penn State product Brendan Mahon could help fill the void.
Joe Person of the Charlotte Observer told WFNZ radio that Mahon "was the first guy [head coach] Ron [Rivera] called after the draft."
Mahon should get every opportunity to make Carolina's roster and possibly even to earn a starting role. According to Person, Mahon has gotten reps at starting left guard, a position vacated by All-Pro Andrew Norwell in free agency.
Chicago Bears: RB Ryan Nall
The Chicago Bears have a crowded backfield that features Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen and Benny Cunningham. This will make it difficult for former Oregon State running back Ryan Nall to make the roster. However, Nall will make it difficult for the Bears to part with him.
Dan DeYoung of The Loop Sports reported Nall showed "early flashes" at the beginning of training camp. The rookie continued to do so in Chicago's second preseason game.
Against the Cincinnati Bengals, Nall carried the ball nine times for 95 yards—including an explosive 69-yard gallop—and caught one pass for nine yards.
If Nall can't crack the tailback rotation, he has enough size (6'2", 232 lbs) to earn consideration at fullback.
Cincinnati Bengals: S Trayvon Henderson
Though they didn't sign him, the Cincinnati Bengals did meet with free-agent safety Eric Reid early in the offseason. This is an indication the team is at least interested in adding depth to the middle of its secondary.
The Bengals may find that with rookie safety Trayvon Henderson.
Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official site recently wrote the Hawaii product turned heads in training camp.
The safety made his Bengals debut in the preseason opener against Chicago and made a strong solo special teams tackle. He did leave the game with a rib injury after the play but returned.
Cleveland Browns: DE Marcell Frazier
The Cleveland Browns have a pair of capable defensive ends in Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah, so undrafted free agent Marcell Frazier isn't likely to get a crack at a starting gig. However, the Missouri product could provide quality depth.
The Browns claimed Frazier off waivers fxrom the Seattle Seahawks. During a scrimmage, the 6'5", 255-pounder showed fans why Cleveland acquired him.
"No one helped their cause in the scrimmage more than Marcell Frazier, an undrafted free agent out of Missouri," Nathan Zegura of the Browns' official site wrote. "Frazier single-handedly blew up two goal-line plays for sacks in the Friday evening scrimmage."
Dallas Cowboys: CB Kameron Kelly
Former San Diego State defensive end Kameron Kelly racked up 68 tackles, two sacks, eight passes defended and three interceptions in 2017. However, he still went undrafted this spring.
The Dallas Cowboys were more than willing to bring Kelly aboard, though, as they look to continue revamping their secondary. They're likely glad they made the move, as Kelly has been "making plays" in camp, per Patrik Walker of 247Sports.
Kelly managed to do so in the Cowboys' preseason opener, too. He finished the game against the 49ers with three tackles.
Don't be surprised if he sticks as a depth player in the Dallas secondary. Raiders Wire's Marcus Mosher believes Kelly has a chance to make the 53-man roster.
Denver Broncos: WR John Diarse
The Denver Broncos brought in quarterback Case Keenum this offseason to lead what they hope will be an improved offense. The journeyman signal-caller may already have a favorite target, and it isn't an established player.
Undrafted rookie John Diarse has regularly been seen on the receiving end of long Keenum passes. According to Ryan O'Halloran of the Denver Post, Diarse has been getting first-team reps and had a "solid week of play" leading up to Denver's preseason opener against the Vikings.
Diarse averaged an impressive 16.4 yards per reception last season at TCU. He should have a great opportunity to stick with Denver as a legitimate downfield threat.
Detroit Lions: WR Teo Redding
Former Bowling Green receiver Teo Redding doesn't have an imposing frame (6'1", 181 lbs), but he's stood out in training camp for the Detroit Lions.
"He seems to do something notable almost every time he steps on the field," Kyle Meinke of MLive.com wrote. Jeff Risdon of Lions Wire named Redding the "clubhouse leader" for Detroit's fifth receiver spot.
Redding made his preseason debut in Detroit's opener against the Oakland Raiders. He finished with one reception for eight yards. Keep an eye on him throughout the preseason as he tries to emerge as another weapon for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
Green Bay Packers: QB Tim Boyle
The Green Bay Packers don't have a need at quarterback. Aaron Rodgers is one of the best signal-callers in the business, and the Packers traded for 2017 second-round pick DeShone Kizer just before the start of free agency. They also have Brett Hundley, who started when Rodgers was injured last year.
Yet, the Packers still took a flier on the Eastern Kentucky product Tim Boyle. If camp has been painting an accurate picture, Boyle may be a better option as Rodgers' understudy than either Kizer or Brett Hundley.
"Not only did we get our first glimpse of Boyle eclipsing Hundley and Kizer in the pecking order, but we saw why," Jack Wepfer of Packers Wire wrote. "Boyle looked more comfortable in the pocket and has a rocket for an arm."
He shined in the Packers' preseason opener, too, passing for 130 yards and two touchdowns. If Green Bay can't find a spot for him, another team might.
Houston Texans: WR Vyncint Smith
The Houston Texans have one of the NFL's most dominant wide receivers in DeAndre Hopkins. Therefore, when he's noticing an undrafted rookie wide receiver such as Vyncint Smith, it's worth paying attention to.
"Yeah, I have," Hopkins said, when asked if he's seen good things from Smith, per the team's official website. "He's always asking me questions. He has probably asked me the most questions out of everybody."
Hopkins is certainly a good person to be asking questions of. Hopefully, the 6'3", 195-pound Smith figures out how to take full advantage of the answers. He averaged an impressive 17.3 yards per reception at Limestone College last season, so there's physical talent to build upon.
Indianapolis Colts: LB Skai Moore
The Indianapolis Colts need an influx of defensive talent to bolster a unit that allowed 367.1 yards per game last season—third-most in the NFL. Skai Moore, an undrafted linebacker out of South Carolina, can help provide it.
Moore has regularly flashed his quickness and ball skills in training camp.
"Moore had a good day, showing off his speed on one play," Andrew Walker of the Colts' official website wrote after one practice. "... On another, he intercepted quarterback Andrew Luck in the end zone."
In the Colts' preseason opener against the Seattle Seahawks, Moore continued to shine. He finished the game with four tackles and a pass breakup.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Allen Lazard
With guys such as Dede Westbrook, Marqise Lee, Donte Moncrief and DJ Chark Jr. sitting atop the depth chart, undrafted rookie receiver Allen Lazard will have to fight for a depth slot if he's going to make the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The good news for the Iowa State product is he has a legitimate chance of doing so. After a slow start to camp, the 6'4" pass-catcher began to shine.
"He has finally started to show why he was so highly regarded at Iowa State," Mike Kaye of First Coast News wrote August 3. "It's almost as if Lazard woke up from an offseason program slumber and a switch went off."
Lazard has the length to be a mismatch. He appeared in the preseason opener against the Saints and finished with one catch for five yards.
Kansas City Chiefs: LB Ben Niemann
The defense, which allowed 365.1 yards per game (28th), was an issue for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2017. Undrafted linebacker Ben Niemann may be part of the solution. The Iowa product is already making a name for himself.
Niemann got some playing time with the first-team defense early in camp, and special teams coordinator Dave Toub mentioned him as "a guy who is impressing," according to Chiefs reporter BJ Kissel.
The Chiefs gave Niemann an opportunity in the preseason opener against Houston, and the rookie flashed there, too. He finished the game with a team-leading five tackles, including one that ended a Texans drive on 4th-and-1.
Los Angeles Chargers: LB D'Juan Hines
Linebacker D'Juan Hines was a playmaking machine at Houston. He racked up 110 total takedowns, 6.5 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and an interception last season. Yet, he didn't hear his name called in the 2018 draft.
The Los Angeles Chargers took a chance on Hines, though. It's a decision that could pay dividends, as Hines has had a strong start to camp.
"The LB out of Houston has had a nice camp so far, and I could see him sneaking into a weak position group," Michael Peterson of Inside the Pylon wrote.
Don't be surprised if Hines does indeed sneak onto the Chargers roster as a reserve linebacker and special teamer.
Los Angeles Rams: LB Tegray Scales
Despite racking up 89 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and six sacks in 2017, former Indiana linebacker Tegray Scales didn't hear his name called in the 2018 draft. The Los Angeles Rams are likely to be glad they landed him once it was over.
Scales is a rangy, versatile inside linebacker who made several plays—including forcing a fumble—during joint practices with the Ravens, per Edward Lee of the Baltimore Sun. He followed that with a strong performance against Baltimore in the preseason opener.
In his debut, Scales logged four solo tackles and five total stops.
The Rams have a lot of defensive talent, but Scales has good chance of making the roster as a depth player and core special teamer.
Miami Dolphins: LB Cayson Collins
The Miami Dolphins may have found a gem in undrafted linebacker Cayson Collins. The North Carolina product has stood out with his physicality in training camp, and he has the potential to add attitude to the defense.
"Collins has been a very physical presence during camp," Omar Kelly of the Sun Sentinel wrote. "He's caught my eye."
Collins likely caught the Dolphins' attention with his ability to make plays in a variety of ways. He logged 83 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in 2017.
Minnesota Vikings: RB Mike Boone
The Minnesota Vikings should have their top two running backs set with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray. However, there is competition for the No. 3 spot now that Jerick McKinnon is in San Francisco.
That third spot could go to undrafted rookie Mike Boone, who is a threat on receiving downs.
"For a young guy, he runs really, really good routes out of the backfield," offensive coordinator John DeFilippo said, per Matthew Coller of ESPN 1500 "He's a mature guy. He takes pride in his job. He's very mature for a rookie."
Boone rushed for 4.2 yards per carry last season for Cincinnati while hauling in 24 passes. He scored five total touchdowns.
New England Patriots: RB Ralph Webb
The New England Patriots have a crowded backfield that includes rookie first-round pick Sony Michel. However, undrafted Vanderbilt product Ralph Webb may have what it takes to force his way onto New England's roster or, at least, the practice squad.
Webb, who had 1,283 yards rushing two years ago, saw his workload dip in 2017 (from 250 carries to 192). This may have caused him to go undrafted, but it didn't prevent him from landing a chance in New England.
Camp opportunities led to a shot in the preseason opener, which Webb made the most of. He finished the game with 46 yards rushing and two touchdowns against Washington.
"He's got good strength ... and he runs hard." head coach Bill Belichick said after the game, per Forbes' Oliver Thomas. "... He showed us that in the spring, in training camp. He's a tough kid that runs with good pad level."
New Orleans Saints: WR Keith Kirkwood
The New Orleans Saints aren't hurting for offensive playmakers, but they may need to make room for former Temple wideout Keith Kirkwood. The 6'3", 210-pound wideout hauled in 45 passes last season for 671 yards and seven touchdowns, and he's already standing out for the Saints.
According to John Sigler of Saints Wire, Kirkwood has "quietly made some noise" in camp and has earned time with the first-team offense.
In the preseason opener against Jacksonville, Kirkwood grabbed two passes for 17 yards. If he continues to show he can be a reliable receiver, he has the size to catch on as a big-bodied red-zone threat.
New York Giants: CB Grant Haley
The New York Giants, who allowed an average of 252.4 yards passing per game last season (31st), are in need of a makeover in the secondary. This is why undrafted Penn State product Grant Haley has been able to move up the depth chart in camp.
"After spending much of the spring as the nickel cornerback with the third-team defense, Haley was quickly promoted to the second-team defense on the outside following a fast start to training camp in which he picked off two passes during the first two practice sessions," Matt Lombardo of NJ.com wrote.
Haley got an opportunity in the preseason opener against Cleveland and finished with one tackle for a one-yard loss. Expect him to get a longer look from New York's coaches over the final three weeks of the preseason.
New York Jets: LB Frankie Luvu
New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles has been trying to sort out his outside linebacker situation, according to Darryl Slater of NJ.com. This has led to some first-team opportunities for former Washington State linebacker Frankie Luvu.
Luvu, who logged 12.0 tackles for a loss and 6.5 sacks last season for the Cougars, could be just the kind of second-level playmaker the Jets have been lacking.
"He's got a lot of athleticism," Bowles said of Luvu, per Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential.
Don't be shocked if Luvu makes an impact as a situational edge-rusher.
Oakland Raiders: K Eddy Pineiro
Undrafted rookie kicker Eddy Pineiro performed well enough early in the offseason that the Oakland Raiders were willing to cut 2017 starter Giorgio Tavecchio at the beginning of camp.
"The kid is really kicking the ball well," head coach Jon Gruden said of Pineiro, per Matt Schneidman of the Bay Area News Group.
Oakland brought in veteran kicker Mike Nugent to compete with Pineiro, but it appears the rookie Florida product has a clear path to the starting job. He made all three field-goal attempts and an extra point in the preseason opener against Detroit.
Philadelphia Eagles: RB Josh Adams
Running back Josh Adams had a strong career at Notre Dame—1,430 yards rushing just last season—but that wasn't enough to get him drafted. This was a good development for the Philadelphia Eagles, though, who snagged him post-draft.
The Eagles already have a versatile backfield, but Adams brings unique talents to the group. As Eliot Shorr-Parks of NJ.com wrote, he has been "tough to bring down once he gets going" in camp.
Adams was tough to bring down in the preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers, too. He finished the game with six carries for 30 yards and two receptions for 11 more. He should, at minimum, catch on with Philadelphia's practice squad.
Pittsburgh Steelers: LB Ola Adeniyi
The Pittsburgh Steelers, who amassed a whopping 56 sacks last season (1st), don't need pass-rushing help. However, they may get it from undrafted Toledo product Ola Adeniyi.
According to Ray Fittipaldo of the Block News Alliance, Adeniyi has been a rookie standout and "has the attention of Steelers coaches."
Adeniyi likely grabbed even more of the coaches' attention in the preseason opener against Philadelphia. He finished the game with two tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He looks a lot like former Steeler James Harrison—also an undrafted free agent who wore No. 92—on the field, and you can bet Pittsburgh is hoping he can have a similar career.
San Francisco 49ers: CB Tarvarus McFadden
The San Francisco 49ers signed cornerback Richard Sherman early in the offseason to help bolster a pass defense that ranked 22nd in the league (235.2 yards per game allowed). However, Sherman alone won't transform the secondary into an elite unit.
Undrafted cornerback Tarvarus McFadden has the potential to add both depth and talent to the secondary. The Florida State product has great size at 6'2" and 205 pounds, and he has flashed his ball skills in training camp.
Chris Biderman of Niners Wire noted during an early August workout that McFadden had logged the only interception of the day.
"The back end of the CB depth chart is crowded, but McFadden appears to have a real shot," Biderman wrote.
Seattle Seahawks: DT Poona Ford
The Seattle Seahawks may have struck gold when they signed former Texas defensive tackle Poona Ford as an undrafted free agent. The 5'11", 310-pound defender wasted little time in grabbing the attention of the coaching staff in camp.
"He's really active," coach Pete Carroll said, per Andy Patton of Seahawks Wire. "He's not very tall, but he's got good length and he utilizes his leverage. He's a very instinctive kid, and he's got quickness for the nose tackle spot that allows him to penetrate, and we've already seen him in the backfield a number of times."
Ford finished the 2017 season with 34 total tackles, eight tackles for a loss and 1.5 sacks. He had a tackle in Seattle's preseason opener against Indianapolis.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DE Demone Harris
Defensive end Demone Harris has never let long odds determine his fate, as he was a walk-on at Buffalo. The undrafted rookie hopes his attempt to make the Tampa Bay Buccaneers yields familiar results.
"In a sense, I've been through it before in college," Harris said, per Allana Barefield of the Tampa Bay Times. "I started as a walk-on and eventually earned a scholarship out of my first year."
Harris became a star at Buffalo. He finished the 2017 season with 55 total tackles, 9.5 tackles for a loss and five sacks.
Head coach Dirk Koetter said Harris has stood out in camp, per the Tampa Bay Times' Greg Auman. Don't be shocked if Harris eventually emerges as a star for the Buccaneers, too.
Tennessee Titans: RB Akrum Wadley
Former Iowa running back and Akrum Wadley is trying to crack a deep Tennessee Titans backfield. He has little chance of earning a significant role as long as Dion Lewis and Derrick Henry are both healthy, but he's showing the Titans he deserves a roster spot.
"Wadley has flashed," Jim Wyatt of the Titans' official website wrote early in camp. "... He has a chance to make a move with the pads on. We'll find out more soon."
What we found out is Wadley has real NFL talent. The undrafted free agent led Tennessee with 27 yards rushing, caught three passes for 11 yards—one reception coming on fourth down—and returned a kickoff 64 yards in the preseason opener.
Wadley did fumble once, but he's showing he can be a versatile piece.
Washington Redskins: RB Martez Carter
The Washington Redskins got terrible news the day after their preseason opener against the Patriots. Second-round pick and potential workhorse running back Derrius Guice suffered a torn ACL and will miss his rookie season.
With Guice out, Washington will have to look for other ways to bolster the backfield. One of them could be former Grambling State standout Martez Carter.
Fellow back Chris Thompson believes Carter will be a preseason standout, according to the Redskins Capitol Connection's Chad Ryan. Ryan reported Carter has looked "fast and slippery" while working with the third-team offense.
Carter didn't appear in Washington's preseason opener, but he'll have three more in-game chances to make his case.