2021 NFL Draft: Which Undrafted Free Agents Can Make the Biggest Impact?
All any NFL draft prospect can ask for is an opportunity to prove themselves with an NFL team. For 259 of those prospects, that chance came in the form of a draft pick.
For several more, it's going to come as an undrafted free agent.
Every year, there is a signing frenzy as teams scoop up the remaining talent after the seven rounds of the NFL draft. Most of these prospects will have to fight and claw just to make a roster by the end of camp.
But there are always those who wind up making an impact. The most apparent case last year was James Robinson. The Illinois State running back watched all seven rounds go by without being selected before signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars and putting up 1,414 yards from scrimmage.
Adam Thielen and Shaquil Barrett highlight undrafted free agents from previous seasons. So who will be the next to join the list?
Based on their talent, athletic profiles and team fit, here are eight candidates to make an unexpected splash despite not having their names called over the weekend.
Tamorrion Terry, WR, Seattle Seahawks
Especially in a draft class that lacked size at the position, Terry checks most of the boxes you'd like to see in a big-bodied receiver prospect. At 6'2¾" and 207 pounds, he posted a respectable 7.3 relative athletic score, which was hampered by a poor three-cone time of 7.11.
You know who has some experience in getting the best out of big, fast receivers who didn't run well in the three-cone? The Seattle Seahawks.
Once upon a time, DK Metcalf got passed over, in part, because of a comically bad three-cone time that allegedly foretold issues with his route running.
That isn't to say the Seahawks are going to make Terry the next Metcalf. But it does make Terry's odds of reaching his potential in Seattle better. Outside of Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks receiver hierarchy is far from set.
Marvin Wilson, DT, Cleveland Browns
The draft was not kind to Florida State. Both Tamorrion Terry and Marvin Wilson were projected to be much higher draft picks after their 2019 campaigns. Fast-forward a year and they both went undrafted.
That might speak more to the situation in Tallahassee than it does either of these prospects.
Wilson was a disruptive force on the Seminoles defensive line in 2018 (four TFL, 3.5 sacks) and 2019 (8.5 TFL, five sacks) but didn't put the same burst on film in an injury-plagued 2020 season. He finished with 17 tackles and a sack across six games before a leg injury ended his season.
The good news for Wilson is it appears he will have a legitimate shot at making the roster and from there could crack the rotation. Tom Pelissero of NFL Network reported the Browns won a "swift bidding war" for the defensive tackle and the Browns gave him $162,000 guaranteed.
The Browns cut ties with both Larry Ogunjobi and Sheldon Richardson this offseason. That leaves the competition for defensive tackle a young man's game in Cleveland with Andrew Billings, Jordan Elliott and fourth-round pick Tommy Togiai joined by veteran free agent Malik Jackson.
Ar'Darius Washington, S, Baltimore Ravens
Almost any scouting report you look at for Ar'Darius Washington is the same: He's undersized (5'8¼", 176 pounds) but is a stud in coverage.
There's no getting around the lack of size, and he doesn't have the elite athleticism that you would expect to accompany his diminutive stature. What Washington does show on film is great instinct and positioning as well as a fearless streak.
Washington lined up in both the slot and as the deep safety in TCU's 4-2-5 defense, showcasing a diverse set of skills as far as coverage. In 2019, he had as many interceptions (five) as he did completions allowed, per Pro Football Focus.
Going to Baltimore, Washington should have an opportunity to compete for the third safety spot. His experience lining up in the slot and the deep third should be appealing, and the Ravens didn't take a safety in the draft, meaning they could actually hold high hopes for him.
Current starting safeties DeShon Elliott and Chuck Clark are both former sixth-round picks. The Ravens have proved to have an eye for hidden gems at the position.
Jaret Patterson, RB, Washington Football Team
This list wouldn't be complete without at least one running back. Of all the positions, running back has one of the most simple routes to playing time and success, as evidenced by James Robinson's emergence.
Jaret Patterson could become the latest success story. He's another player who was obviously passed on because of his size. The Buffalo product is just 5'6½" but carries a decent amount of weight on that frame at 195 pounds for a BMI of 31.5 (78th percentile). Concerns about durability may be overblown.
Playing in the MAC, Patterson dominated lesser competition, as you would expect from an NFL prospect. He rushed for at least 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons, including 19-touchdown campaigns in 2019 and 2020.
The knock on Patterson is his lack of top-end speed. He ran a 4.54 40-yard dash at his pro day, and you don't see him pulling away from defenders very often on tape. But the one-cut ability and vision are more than enough to find production behind a good offensive line.
There's no telling if he'll have that in Washington, but the opportunity is there. Antonio Gibson is the explosive playmaker in the backfield, but the team needs a slashing back between the tackles to round out its stable of backs.
Patterson can thrive in that role.
Kenny Yeboah, TE, New York Jets
The New York Jets are going to look to the 2021 draft class to help lay the foundation for the franchise going forward under Robert Saleh. Even though Kenny Yeboah was added after the draft, he's going to have an opportunity to be a part of that core.
Yeboah has the skills and frame to be a weapon as a second tight end. His blocking leaves a lot to be desired, so he may never develop into a TE1, but in today's NFL offenses, there's a role for big-bodied tight ends who can make plays downfield the way he can.
At Ole Miss, Yeboah led SEC tight ends in yards per catch (19.4) and was second with six touchdowns.
Opportunity should be there for him to make the roster and crack the rotation. Chris Herndon remains the team's top tight end, and he's joined by Ryan Griffin in two-tight end sets. Herndon graded out as the 59th tight end by PFF, while Griffin wasn't far behind at 65th of 71.
The team also added Tyler Kroft in the offseason, but his grade was similarly pedestrian.
Griffin is 31 years old and has hit his ceiling. If Yeboah starts making plays in camp, it would make sense for the young Jets to continue to give the rookie the opportunity to get experience and see the field.
Mark Gilbert, CB, Pittsburgh Steelers
Of all the players on this list, it's easiest to see why Mark Gilbert wasn't drafted. The cornerback missed most of the 2018 and 2020 seasons while missing 2019 entirely with hip injuries. The limited experience over the past two seasons and injury history likely had him off several draft boards.
The 6'0", 186-pound defensive back, who is the cousin of Darrelle Revis, oozes potential, though. His sophomore 2017 campaign shows a ball-hawking corner who was on his way to stardom. He had six interceptions and 15 passes defended in his final healthy season in college.
Gilbert certainly looked healthy at his pro day. He ran a 4.36-second 40-yard dash and took to Twitter to let people know he's ready to go.
He was one of only three players in our top 100 to go undrafted but wound up with an organization that gives him a path to playing time.
The Steelers are a team that will be looking for reinforcements at the position with the departures of Steve Nelson (907 snaps) and Mike Hilton (463).
Gilbert's background and situation have all the elements of being a player who comes out of nowhere to be a surprise contributor.
Christian Uphoff, S, Green Bay Packers
Christian Uphoff is another FCS player who likely would have been drafted with a 2020 season. It's hard to overcome playing a lower level of football in the draft process to begin with, and sitting out a season doesn't help.
Uphoff's performance at Senior Bowl practices should have clued decision-makers in on his ability, though. The Illinois State safety was named the top safety on the National team by a group of receivers and quarterbacks who had to go against him.
It's not likely that Uphoff cracks the starting rotation for a team in the Packers that should have Super Bowl aspirations, but his ability to help on special teams will keep him on the roster and give him a chance to develop.
Uphoff received a fifth-round grade and a comparison to George Iloka, who carved out a starting role for himself in the league for five years.
He's the kind of developmental prospect who could wind up contributing over the second half of the season once he gets his sea legs under him in the NFL.
Jonathan Adams, WR, Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions receiving corps has undergone a major makeover this offseason. Marvin Jones Jr. and Kenny Golladay are gone, which means the hierarchy is ambiguous at this point.
There will be plenty of competition among the Lions' additions (they signed four receivers in free agency and drafted Amon-Ra St. Brown) under general manager Brad Holmes, but undrafted free agent Jonathan Adams shouldn't be discounted coming out of Arkansas State. At 6'2" and 210 pounds with a relative athletic score of 7.53, he brings a strong physical profile to the table.
He isn't the most nuanced receiver at this point. He was a two-sport athlete at Arkansas State who didn't quit basketball to focus on football until his junior year.
Where Adams excels is at the catch-point where he can use his 39" vertical, large frame and basketball background to bully defensive backs for the ball.
Early on, he could be a red-zone specialist who becomes a favorite of Jared Goff while teams are focused on defending T.J. Hockenson.