The 1 UFA Who Should Turn Heads in Every NFL Team's Training Camp
The hurdles facing undrafted free agents at NFL training camps are more difficult than usual in 2020.
Given the unorthodox nature of the preseasonless summer and differing roster requirements on a team-by-team basis (some cut down to 80 before veterans reported, others will wait), it will take special performances by college free agents to crack final rosters.
But thanks to individual talent and production, as well as roster fit and positional need, at least one undrafted free agent should turn heads at each team's camp before the season starts.
Arizona Cardinals: DB Jace Whittaker
Talented undrafted prospects who played close to their new pro teams always stand a good chance.
Defensive back Jace Whittaker fits that bill with the Arizona Cardinals after he spent his college days at Arizona. The Cardinals staff is surely familiar with him given his local ties, and it sure doesn't hurt he's appeared in four seasons, dating back to 2015.
With six interceptions over his final two college seasons, Whittaker is the type of playmaker who could flash in camp. It only helps his chances that the Cardinals didn't add a defensive back in the draft or sign a notable one in free agency, so they have room to develop him.
Atlanta Falcons: TE Jared Pinkney
After the Atlanta Falcons lost tight end Austin Hooper in free agency and only added Hayden Hurst at the position, their Matt Ryan-led offense adds a big value in Vanderbilt's Jared Pinkney.
Pinkney could've been a Day 2 pick in 2018 after a season in which he recorded 774 yards and seven touchdowns. Instead, he went back to school and dramatically regressed from a statistical standpoint, in large part because the offense around him dropped from 29th to 75th in total offense from 2018 to 2019.
Now he'll get a shot in Atlanta's camp to impress—and he should, considering Hooper's loss and Hurst's lack of career success.
Baltimore Ravens: TE Jacob Breeland
Chalk up former Oregon tight end Jacob Breeland as a win for a team that just lost the same sort of player.
The Baltimore Ravens traded Hurst but added Breeland after the draft, a hybrid H-back player who posted 13 touchdowns over his final three seasons with the Ducks, including six in 2019.
He's a fun chesspiece for the Ravens to deploy in the Lamar Jackson-led offense, given he can line up all over the place and checks in as a big target (6'6").
There are still names like Nick Boyle and Mark Andrews in front of him, but Breeland's resume suggests creative usage will help him stand out during practices.
Buffalo Bills: OL Trey Adams
The Buffalo Bills have to do whatever it takes to protect quarterback Josh Allen over the long term after he took 38 sacks last season.
Trey Adams, an offensive lineman out of Washington, could be a big part of the plan.
He was a potential notable draft pick even with a so-so injury history before he flopped at the combine both physically and in the interview process. But if he's anywhere close to his standout collegiate form, he'll have no problems holding his own against pros.
The Bills needs additional depth in the wake of Jon Feliciano's pectoral injury, so there might be extra snaps available for Adams to rehab his image and make the final 53.
Carolina Panthers: TE Giovanni Ricci
After spending all of their picks on rebuilding the defense this year, the Carolina Panthers might look to other avenues to surround new quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with as much talent as possible.
And former Western Michigan tight end Giovanni Ricci might be just what the coaching staff needs.
Ricci, 6'3" and 240 pounds, finished his college career in the MAC on a strong note, tallying 642 yards and eight touchdowns on a per-catch average of 12.6. As Senior Bowl director Jim Nagy pointed out, his potential as a moveable H-back will be hard for staffs to ignore.
That includes the one in Carolina, which doesn't have a ton to work with at the position other than him.
Chicago Bears: LB Rashad Smith
Linebacker isn't exactly the Chicago Bears' biggest need entering training camp.
But Rashad Smith isn't exactly the typical college free agent.
Smith spent all four of his seasons at Florida Atlantic putting on a show, registering 302 total tackles, 31 for loss with 11.5 sacks, six interceptions and seven passes defensed.
A smaller (6'1") hybrid sort of 'backer who fits today's game, Smith shouldn't have problems standing out if the coaching staff moves him all over the place and plays to his strengths.
Cincinnati Bengals: DL Tyler Clark
The Cincinnati Bengals lost defensive tackle Josh Tupou to an opt-out during a time of massive roster overhaul.
Luckily for the Bengals, the team signed Georgia's Tyler Clark after the draft.
The 6'3", 289-pound Clark, a four-year player in the SEC, tallied 119 total tackles and 6.5 sacks while serving as an "undersized" interior player who could disrupt the pocket. That sure sounds like another former Bulldogs star by the name of Geno Atkins.
Maybe that is a bit unfair to Clark, but he's got a special skill set, he'll work in camp against a struggling offensive line and his path to the 53 just opened up a bit.
Cleveland Browns: DB A.J. Green
The Cleveland Browns hope they have their own standout A.J. Green to match that of the rival Bengals.
Kidding aside, the Browns made the former Oklahoma State defensive back one of the highest-paid undrafted players for a reason.
It's easy to see why. At 6'2", Green is a big corner and posted 145 total tackles and six interceptions over the last three seasons.
While speed might be a reason he fell out of the draft (4.6-second 40-yard dash), it shouldn't limit him on a Cleveland defense that likes to employ zone looks and desperately needs depth behind recognizable names Denzel Ward and Greedy Williams.
Dallas Cowboys: WR Aaron Parker
A Rhode Island product isn't going to be the biggest name in Dallas Cowboys training camp.
But Aaron Parker has the talent to stand out after latching on as a free agent.
A big wideout at 6'3" who posted a gaudy 19 touchdowns over his last 23 games, Parker ran roughshod on FCS competition and has the size, separation and catch-radius traits to hang with pros immediately.
And while the Cowboys already used a high-profile pick on receiver CeeDee Lamb to pair him with Amari Cooper, Parker is an end-of-roster contender with big upside who can make the final 53 if he does enough in camp.
Denver Broncos: DB Essang Bassey
Essang Bassey was one of the more notable free-agent wins for any team.
The Denver Broncos added the Wake Forest product, a 5'10", 190-pound corner with 4.46 speed and the willingness to come up and get nasty against the run.
Bassey posted three seasons in a row with at least 60-plus tackles and nabbed five interceptions over that span. He also happens to be joining a depth chart that lost Chris Harris Jr. this offseason and didn't make massive additions otherwise.
Given Bassey's athleticism and proven production, he should catch plenty of eyes while working against Broncos receivers.
Detroit Lions: TE Hunter Bryant
Another massive name in the undrafted free-agent realm, former Washington Huskies tight end Hunter Bryant shouldn't have a problem standing out in Detroit Lions camp.
Bryant is a versatile 6'2" weapon who spent his final collegiate season amassing 825 yards and three scores while averaging 15.9 yards per catch. Whether it's blocking, playing near the chains or creating mismatches all over the field, the upside has always been apparent. Red flags from a pair of knee injuries were seemingly the only thing that knocked him out of the draft.
Not that the Lions will complain. Bryant has the talent to slot comfortably on the depth chart behind 2019 first-round pick T.J. Hockenson and free-agent add Jesse James.
In fact, creative usage out of the backfield and otherwise could quickly help Bryant become a camp star.
Green Bay Packers: DB Marc-Antoine Dequoy
Defensive back Marc-Antoine Dequoy has become something of an overnight sensation for the Green Bay Packers.
And it's easy to see why.
Dequoy hails from Montreal, and as the team's website reported, he wowed onlookers at a workout with a 4.35-second time in the 40-yard dash, among plenty of other impressive numbers.
That sort of athleticism should stand out in camp. Green Bay could use more depth at defensive back, and Dequoy is guaranteed to be flying all over the field as the team preps for the season.
Houston Texans: RB Scottie Phillips
Running backs who are capable of making defenders look silly while piling up the stats tend to steal the show.
Scottie Phillips out of Ole Miss has a chance to do just that at Houston Texans training camp.
Phillips, an electric 5'8" weapon with plenty of versatility, scored 20 total touchdowns over the last two seasons while posting 1,470 rushing yards on a 5.3 per-carry average and averaging 10.1 yards per catch.
Houston has the David Johnson-Duke Johnson tandem in the backfield. But there is an opening for Phillips to get some third-string looks and put his versatility to use.
Indianapolis Colts: K Rodrigo Blankenship
Is it boring to go with a kicker? Not when Rodrigo Blankenship is the only undrafted leg likely to make a big splash in camp.
He enters a competition with Chase McLaughlin for the right to serve as Adam Vinatieri's successor with the Indianapolis Colts.
And it's easy to envision the former Georgia star making it happen against a veteran on a one-year deal. Blankenship hit on all 200 of his extra-point attempts in college and nailed 82.5 percent of his field-goal tries.
Considering the Colts coughed up decent money to get him in town, he'll be featured prominently in camp.
Jacksonville Jaguars: RB James Robinson
Running backs will continue to be the focus for the Jacksonville Jaguars so long as there's even an ounce of speculation about a Leonard Fournette trade.
But it sure doesn't hurt that the Jaguars have Illinois State's James Robinson in camp.
Robinson was a superb workhorse in college, handling 364 carries last season while drumming up 1,899 yards and 18 touchdowns on a 5.2 per-carry average. That made it two seasons in a row with 200-plus carries and 1,200-plus yards, and he had some notable usage in the passing game (at least 16 catches each of the last two years).
Almost regardless of Fournette, Robinson's body of work should have him near the forefront of the conversation once practices start.
Kansas City Chiefs: OL Darryl Williams
In perhaps yet another example of how great teams stay great, the Kansas City Chiefs might've hit it big with undrafted offensive lineman Darryl Williams.
Williams is a versatile prospect out of Mississippi State who can bounce around the interior spots, including center.
As if his resume in the SEC and versatility weren't enough, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif opted out. That opens the door for longer shots like undrafted players, and if Williams flashes, the team will jump at the chance to improve the protection for Patrick Mahomes.
Given the potential for available snaps and his versatility, Williams should be an early standout.
Las Vegas Raiders: LB Javin White
Again, the local angle is hard to ignore regarding undrafted players, given how familiar coaching staffs tend to be with their skill sets.
That's what makes the Las Vegas Raiders' acquisition of Javin White so telling. An Oakland, California, native who played college ball at UNLV, White's listed as a linebacker above but is really more of a hybrid player who can line up in the secondary too.
He had 74 and 79 total tackles during his final two seasons and posted seven interceptions, all while boasting the athleticism of a former receiver. He's going to have an intriguing case as a hybrid sub-package player who can make big plays all over the field.
Los Angeles Chargers: DL Joe Gaziano
Sometimes an undrafted player's productivity is just too hard to ignore, and that's the case with new Los Angeles Chargers defensive lineman Joe Gaziano.
He spent his college days at Northwestern in the Big Ten and put up 152 total tackles over four seasons, 49 of them for a loss, and posted a superb 30 sacks over the same span.
Which isn't to say Gaziano will get himself in the lineup next to Joey Bosa in the near future. But he's got the sort of versatility and motor that will help his efforts stand out, enabling him to stick around in a reserve role for what could be a long time.
Los Angeles Rams: QB Bryce Perkins
The Los Angeles Rams have some interesting undrafted players, yet not one has the ability to shine brighter than a quarterback.
It helps that Virginia product Bryce Perkins is so explosive and versatile. Last year, he completed 64.4 percent of his passes while throwing for 3,530 yards and 22 touchdowns. He posted another 769 yards and 11 scores on the ground via a 3.4 per-carry average.
One of the top dual-threat prospects in this year's class, Perkins could have the upside to unseat John Wolford behind Jared Goff or possibly encourage the Rams to keep three passers when it's time to cut to 53.
Either way, Perkins' playmaking ability entrenches him as a standout candidate.
Miami Dolphins: DL Benito Jones
Predictability is almost nonexistent when it comes to a rebuilding roster like that of the Miami Dolphins.
Add in the fact that Benito Jones was one of the more shocking players to fall out of the draft, and he has a good shot to make noise in camp.
It isn't often an SEC defensive lineman with good measurables and production falls out of the draft. Over four years at Mississippi State, Jones racked up 132 total tackles—with 31 of them going for a loss—and added 10.5 sacks.
Keep in mind that Dolphins coach Brian Flores will be rotation-happy and scheme-based, depending on opponent, just like New England, so Jones' skill set could come in handy quickly.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Quartney Davis
Stefon Diggs is gone, and first-round rookie receiver Justin Jefferson has to provide an immediate answer to that issue.
But don't sleep on Quartney Davis too much.
Davis, free of the pressure Jefferson faces, enters the NFL after two productive seasons at Texas A&M in which he totaled 1,201 yards and 11 touchdowns while also seeing some usage as a runner.
The Minnesota Vikings are thin at wideout and added three corners in the draft; otherwise, defensive back Nevelle Clarke might've gotten the nod here. But even taking that out of the equation, Davis is a high-upside receiver who might catch some defenders off guard in camp.
New England Patriots: RB J.J. Taylor
Bill Belichick and his coaching staff almost always make shrewd, pointed moves, so J.J. Taylor's addition to a loaded backfield shouldn't be dismissed.
Adding to that, running back Brandon Bolden opted out in late July.
Even before that hit to the depth chart, Taylor had an interesting case. He played much bigger at Arizona than his 5'6" stature, rushing for 3,263 yards over four seasons (including 1,434 in 2018) and scoring 18 times on a 5.6 per-carry average. He also piled up 62 receptions.
A chesspiece like this should excel when deployed within a Cam Newton-led offense—never mind his ability on special teams.
New Orleans Saints: OL Calvin Throckmorton
The New Orleans Saints had several big wins in undrafted free agency in the wake of only having four 2020 draft selections.
Undrafted linebacker Joe Bachie got some attention after he received a guaranteed $160,000 from the team. But Oregon offensive lineman Calvin Throckmorton should get some shine too.
Throckmorton understandably fell out of the draft after struggling at the combine. But his sturdy resume in the Pac-12 and the fact that he's well-versed at every position along the line means he can fill in wherever he's needed.
The Saints paid up big for Throckmorton and cut veteran Larry Warford, so there is a spot for the taking.
New York Giants: WR Austin Mack
For the New York Giants, it's all about surrounding quarterback Daniel Jones with as many quality pieces as possible.
After the team unearthed Darius Slayton last year, Ohio State's Austin Mack could be the next big hidden gem for the Giants.
The receiver was a well-known player for the Buckeyes, tallying 1,050 yards and six touchdowns over four seasons while averaging 13.3 yards per catch. His 6'2", 215-pound frame and skill set could see him carve out a role on special teams early.
In a spread-it-around attack based on running back Saquon Barkley, big-bodied targets like Mack should feast during the summer.
New York Jets: DB Javelin Guidry
Lighting-fast players with good college track records are usually hard to ignore during training camps.
That should be the case for Javelin Guidry with the New York Jets, a cornerback who dropped a 4.29-second 40-yard dash time at the combine.
Not to say that Guidry is only a former track star (which he was). He played three years at Utah in a secondary that just saw three of its members get drafted, and he recorded 120 total tackles and three interceptions (one returned for a touchdown).
The speed-production combo means Jets coaches will want to see plenty of Guidry, which should translate to lots of chances for him to shine.
Philadelphia Eagles: LB Dante Olson
Getting an award-winning player in free agency is always a good thing.
So it goes for the Philadelphia Eagles with linebacker Dante Olson, the Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year who just put up 179 total tackles, 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups and one interception last season at FCS program Montana.
Linebacker was one of the weaker points of the Eagles roster going into the draft after the loss of Nigel Bradham, which would explain why they selected several and added more in free agency.
But Olson's stellar production and nose for the football on a situational basis should have him standing out in camp.
Pittsburgh Steelers: DL Calvin Taylor
Good luck ignoring Calvin Taylor during Pittsburgh Steelers training camp.
The defensive lineman checks in at a staggering 6'9" and 310 pounds, and he put that frame to use during a productive college career at Kentucky, where he notched 85 total tackles (16.5 for loss) with 10.5 sacks in 34 games.
That doesn't sound like much, but consider that he pressured the quarterback on 14 percent of his pass rushes, according to Pro Football Focus, for the highest mark of any Power Five interior defender.
Even if he's used situationally, Taylor's size and skill set should have him standing tall—pun intended.
San Francisco 49ers: RB JaMycal Hasty
A running back has to be the pick for the San Francisco 49ers, considering the offense's love of them and the fact that the front office added three undrafted players at the position.
Arguably not one of the three is more impressive than JaMycal Hasty out of Baylor, though. An effective zone rusher, Hasty put up 1,998 yards and 15 touchdowns on a 5.2 per-carry average over four seasons. Perhaps most impressive, he had 79 catches.
A versatile weapon with proven multifaceted production in a similar offense, Hasty is one of those dark-horse prospects who could quickly make Matt Breida's departure insignificant.
Seattle Seahawks: QB Anthony Gordon
It's impossible not to mention quarterback Anthony Gordon when talking Seattle Seahawks undrafted free agents.
Gordon, after all, is the incredible former JUCO story who transferred to Washington State, served as a backup to Gardner Minshew II and then hit the 2019 starting lineup to complete 71.6 percent of his passes and throw for 5,579 yards and 48 touchdowns.
Given his massive upside and traits the Seahawks would presumably like to groom, it isn't outlandish to think he'll eat into some of Geno Smith's summer snaps behind Russell Wilson. If he does, the booming arm and proven production are bound to impress.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: DB Parnell Motley
After throwing plenty of resources at the offense, including signing quarterback Tom Brady, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers still need defensive help.
And former Oklahoma cornerback Parnell Motley might have what it takes to contribute early.
A big-program defender with good size (6'0") and a solid track record in an explosive passing conference, Motley registered 40-plus tackles in each of his last three seasons. He also posted six interceptions and 33 passes defensed.
While Tampa Bay's front seven continues to improve, the shaky secondary leaves the door ajar for someone like Motley to leap through.
Tennessee Titans: DL Kobe Smith
It isn't every day an AFC contender picks up an SEC defensive anchor in undrafted free agency.
Yet here are the Tennessee Titans with South Carolina powerhouse Kobe Smith, a 6'2", 312-pound enforcer one the D-line who had 80 total tackles, seven for loss and two sacks over the last three seasons.
Tennessee could use that sort of rotational presence after losing defensive end Jurrell Casey this offseason. Given Smith's measurables and track record in college football's best conference, he should look right at home during camp.
Washington Football Team: TE Thaddeus Moss
Thaddeus Moss might've been the biggest undrafted name this year.
He smartly landed in Washington with a team that lost tight ends Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis, meaning he'll have plenty of chances to impress.
Moss did just that at LSU last season, totaling 570 yards and four scores while carving out a role in an offense that featured two receivers with 1,500-plus yards.
A solid all-around player who seems to inhale everything thrown his way, Moss could for a good connection with quarterback Dwayne Haskins early.
Stats courtesy of Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.