Undrafted Free Agents with the Best Chance of Making NFL Rosters
As the NFL heads to training camps this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic, it might be harder than ever for undrafted free agents to make final rosters.
But a notable handful will break through.
The few who make the final 53 were likely considered draftable before they fell into free agency. The combination of their skill set and teams that need the help or are invested in a youth movement only helps their causes.
These are the most notable undrafted free agents with the best chances of making final rosters.
Hunter Bryant, TE, Detroit Lions
Hunter Bryant's fall out of the draft was one of the more perplexing elements of the event's third day.
A 6'2" target with an Evan Engram-like (a first-round pick in 2017) skill set, Bryant posted 825 yards and three scores over 12 games in his farewell college season. His per-catch average at Washington never dipped below 15 yards over three years, and that 825 yards led the team in receiving for an attack that hardly got past the 3,000-yard mark.
Now with the Detroit Lions, Bryant is clearly the third tight end behind veteran Jesse James and 2019 No. 8 pick T.J. Hockenson. But his game is just different enough—he can be used out of the backfield and not just as a big-catch artist—that he might create a niche the coaches want to keep in town.
The booming potential sure doesn't hurt either, should the Lions need him to step into the Matthew Stafford-led passing attack and create mismatches.
Calvin Throckmorton, OL, New Orleans Saints
It wasn't surprising to see Oregon's Calvin Throckmorton fall out of the draft after his combine numbers didn't meet expectations.
And yet, Throckmorton's got a chance to be one of those players for whom the film, not testing numbers, means everything.
He was one of the best linemen in the Pac-12 despite athletic limitations. Those didn't stop Pro Football Focus' Michael Renner from hyping his resume:
"The good news is that while he’s played 2,706 snaps at right tackle throughout his career, Throckmorton has also cross-trained at every single position along the offensive line, with 230 coming at center. Over his four years as a starter, Throckmorton earned a pass-blocking grade of 91.2 and a run-blocking grade of 80.2. It may not always be pretty, but Throckmorton gets the job done."
It's not hard to see why the New Orleans Saints were all over him. While they used a first-round pick on O-lineman Cesar Ruiz, they only had four draft selections and cut guard Larry Warford. Throckmorton could do quite a bit more than just make the roster.
Joe Bachie, LB, New Orleans Saints
Joe Bachie, much like Throckmorton, has a better chance to make the Saints roster because the team had just four draft selections in April.
And New Orleans got one of the best general responses after landing the Michigan State linebacker.
Bachie fell out of the draft after serving a five-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance as a senior. But he was a three-year starter for the Spartans, putting up 285 tackles and 28 for loss, with seven sacks and five interceptions during his career. He likely would've surpassed the 100-tackle mark for a third straight season were it not for his missed games.
Granted, production doesn't guarantee pro success. But that, paired with his athleticism and instincts, makes it clear he's got a serious shot at a major role on special teams as a rookie.
Josh Knipfel, OL, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals have had serious problems along the offensive line for a few years, yet the team only used a sixth-round pick (Hakeem Adeniji) on the area in April.
That gives Iowa State product Josh Knipfel a fighting chance, to say the least. The Bengals hope 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams can stabilize left tackle, but both guard spots remain question marks with Michael Jordan and Billy Price fighting it out at one and free-agent add Xavier Su'a-Filo an unknown at the other.
Knipfel played three seasons with the Cyclones, and at one point in 2019, he was B/R draft expert Matt Miller's ninth-rated guard in the class. He put together 39 consecutive starts, was a co-captain and two-time Honorable Mention All-Big 12 and has the frame (6'5", 305 lbs) and athleticism for the NFL.
The fact that Knipfel latched on with one of the worst line units from the last few years isn't a coincidence, and he's in a great spot to impress early.
Lavert Hill, DB, Kansas City Chiefs
Michigan's Lavert Hill was a big draft snub based on the consistent powerhouse numbers he put up.
Hill, roughly 5'9", tossed up 21 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Over four years, the cornerback returned two interceptions for touchdowns while totaling 56 tackles, six picks and 20 passes defensed.
The numbers weren't enough for the NFL draft, though, which seemingly has created a rich-get-richer scenario for the Super Bowl-winning Kansas City Chiefs.
They have steadily been making a defensive transition after a scheme change, and adding a high-ceiling prospect with good instincts, great ball skills and proven production is never a bad thing at a premium position.
Sometimes a few big plays make all the difference for an undrafted player, and Hill has a good chance to make those happen.
J.R. Reed, S, Jacksonville Jaguars
J.R. Reed is a known commodity who shouldn't have many problems making the Jacksonville Jaguars' final roster, as he brings quite a bit to the table despite his fall out of the draft.
Reed excelled in the SEC and won't change much at the pro level, given that the safety played as a fifth-year senior last season. He was a captain and three-year starter at Georgia while tallying 204 total tackles, three sacks and five interceptions for his career (which included one year at Tulsa in 2015).
Jacksonville's depth chart on the back end of the secondary is a hodgepodge of names, with Jarrod Wilson and Ronnie Harrison lightly penciled in as starters. Given the nature of the rebuild and the solid presence Reed can provide, he's bound to make the final 53.
Easop Winston, WR, Los Angeles Rams
Easop Winston is far from the biggest name, which probably didn't concern the Los Angeles Rams when they nabbed the Washington State product in free agency.
Winston spent the last two seasons dominating the Pac-12, catching 137 passes for 1,624 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging nearly 12 yards per catch. As Renner pointed out, he ranked third among the last two wide receiver classes in yards per route against man coverage—higher than guys like Jerry Jeudy.
In other words, Winston is great at shaking free and making plays downfield, something the Rams would love to have more of for Jared Goff. The team did use a second-round pick on Van Jefferson and grabbed several other undrafted wideouts. But that says more about the desire to get new, productive faces around Goff than anything else.
Given Winston's blend of skills and production, he's got a strong chance of standing out enough to a coaching staff that knows how to squeeze the most out of offensive talent.
Thaddeus Moss, TE, Washington
Arguably the biggest name who fell undrafted, Thaddeus Moss landed in possibly the most predictable spot with Washington.
The team lost tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis this offseason and didn't use a major asset to reinforce a position that is critical for a developing young passer like Dwayne Haskins.
In his lone season with LSU, Moss carved out a role in the Joe Burrow-led passing attack by putting up 570 yards and four scores, averaging 12.1 yards per catch. While he profiles as a good run-blocker, it's notable Moss was one of four 2019 Tigers with 500-plus yards.
A versatile player with a big catch radius, Moss should latch on at a position with several unproven names as Washington eyes the best long-term outlook for Haskins.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.