The 1 UDFA with Best Chance to Make the Roster in Every NFL Team's Training Camp
NFL training camp began last week, letting players and coaching staffs begin preparations for the 2021 season. It was a long-awaited return to normalcy for teams that were required to hold virtual camps and meetings because of the coronavirus pandemic prior to the 2020 campaign.
Things got off to a slow start, however, as the collective bargaining agreement states the first three days of camp must be contactless, while the fourth and fifth days allow players to wear just helmets and light protective wear. With most teams taking off Sunday for a mandated rest day, fully padded practice didn't begin in earnest until Day 7 of camp on Monday.
Fans and analysts alike are finally getting a real glimpse of how they can expect teams and players to perform this year. With the pads on and 11-on-11 scrimmages finally taking place, it becomes easier to tell which players are excelling, and which are disappointing.
Some of the players turning heads are undrafted free agents, many of whom aren't expected to make the final roster when the last round of cuts are due at the end of the month. These surprise performances aren't just being noticed by fans in attendance, but also the team brass that will be deciding their futures.
With that in mind, here's an early look at the undrafted free agent rookies who have been making waves leading up to the start of the season.
Arizona Cardinals: TE Cary Angeline
The Arizona Cardinals were praised for their post-draft pickup of NC State tight end Cary Angeline, getting a player many analysts believed would come off the board in the late rounds. Arizona could now fill the team's massive void at the pass-catching TE position at a bargain price.
Angeline possesses the size, strength and athletic ability to be a force in the NFL. Like many of the league's great receivers at the position, he comes from a basketball background and isn't afraid to absorb contact while snaring jump balls over his defender.
Cardinals reporter Mike Jurecki noted that the 6'6", 250-pound Angeline "looked the part" and was fluid running routes during rookie minicamp in May.
While Angeline still has to prove he can develop into a serviceable blocker, the Cardinals will keep close tabs on this raw but promising UDFA tight end. It wouldn't be a shock to see him make the final roster, especially given Arizona's lack of talent at the position.
Atlanta Falcons: RB Javian Hawkins
The Atlanta Falcons spent some money in free agency to bring veteran RB Mike Davis into the fold, but they may end up leaning heavily on an undrafted rookie to shore up their running back platoon in 2021.
Javian Hawkins has been impressive early in training camp, with the Louisville product earning rave reviews for his speed and elusiveness, traits that made him one of the Cardinals’ best running backs in school history. Hawkins set a program record in rushing yards in 2019 and rounded out his game a bit last year before opting out midway through the campaign.
That decision may have hurt his draft stock, but the Falcons will be pleased they were able to secure a dynamic back outside the draft. D. Orlando Ledbetter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quoted head coach Arthur Smith's praise for the back he calls "Little Hawk": "We have two J. Hawkins, in Jaylinn and Javian, so we call [Javian] Little Hawk. But Little Hawk and Caleb, they are competing, doing good things and making good progress every day."
Kevin Knight reported that Hawkins scored a touchdown during 11-on-11 drills last week when he "outran the whole defense" on the play. If he continues to make plays like that in practice, Hawkins will likely be doing the same on Sundays this year.
Baltimore Ravens: OT Adrian Ealy
The Baltimore Ravens appeared thin at the offensive tackle spot after trading Orlando Brown Jr. to the Kansas City Chiefs this offseason, but the club could end up with some unexpected depth at the position.
Adrian Ealy, a left tackle at Oklahoma, is off to an impressive start in his NFL career. According to one observer, the 6'6", 321-pound mauler was "dominating" rookie fifth-round edge-rusher Daelin Hayes in practice and offensive line coach Cole Jackson stated that he has been hearing positive reviews regarding Ealy's work in camp.
Although Ealy isn't likely to contest for a starting job in Baltimore, the two-year collegiate starter could find himself holding a backup job in year one on either side of the line. He'll likely have to beat out Tyre Phillips—a 2020 third-round pick who will need to transition from guard to tackle in the pros—for the top swing tackle gig.
If Ealy's play in camp is any indication, it should be an exciting competition to watch play out before the start of the season.
Buffalo Bills: TE Quintin Morris
After falling short in the AFC Championship Game, the Buffalo Bills brass admitted they lacked a playmaking tight end who could impact a game the way Kansas City's Travis Kelce and other elite weapons at the position have been. While the Bills didn't make any notable TE acquisitions in free agency or the draft, they may have unearthed a viable pass-catcher in UDFA Quintin Morris.
Morris, who converted to tight end after starting his career at Bowling Green playing wideout, has a great feel for the receiving game. The 6'2", 252-pound rookie flashed great hands, body control and athleticism during his three years starting for the Falcons, having his best season in 2018 when he caught 42 passes for 516 yards and seven touchdowns.
Although he's still raw in developing the rest of his game, Morris isn't facing stiff competition to make the roster. Buffalo has few proven options outside of Dawson Knox and Jacob Hollister, making the third-string job could happen despite his underdeveloped skill set.
Morris will be an interesting player to keep an eye on this offseason. If he can make some noise in training camp, he has a real shot at making the final roster cut and bolstering Buffalo's tight end depth.
Carolina Panthers: OL David Moore
The Carolina Panthers revamped their offensive line this offseason, making several adjustments that should help facilitate a quarterback transition away from Teddy Bridgewater to Sam Darnold this season. They may end up with some unexpected depth in the trenches thanks to the signing of David Moore.
Despite strong performances during his tenure at Grambling State, Moore wasn't one of the 259 players who heard their name called this spring. Carolina came to terms with the lineman and secured a 6'3", 320-pound bruiser with long arms and incredible leverage.
Moore may have slipped under the radar after opting out of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Trent Scott, a veteran tackle for Carolina, reportedly told Rhule to keep tabs on his former college teammate at the Senior Bowl. Rhule listened to the advice and raved about the guard's work ethic and attitude:
"Trent Scott, he's one of us, he's got the right mindset and work ethic, he's an awesome guy. He said to keep an eye out for David Moore from Grambling; I put my stamp on him, he can play. And then we got down there, and he was pretty much everyone on our team, one of their favorite guys. He had a great attitude. He's got a great personality and great demeanor, and everyone who's around him just kind of gravitates toward him."
The rookie guard won't remain an unheralded talent for long if he can crack the Panthers 53-man roster this fall. Moore took snaps at multiple positions during Carolina's rookie minicamp and has a great shot at earning a spot because of his versatility if he can continue to shine during training camp.
Chicago Bears: Edge Charles Snowden
The Chicago Bears were an average squad at generating pressure on the opposing quarterback last year, notching 35 sacks despite the presence of star pass-rusher Khalil Mack and other veteran talents. The team needs to improve if it is going to get back to the postseason in 2021, a goal that could aided by UDFA Charles Snowden.
Snowden, a 6'7", 240-pound edge-rusher out of Virginia, was regarded as an extremely athletic but rather raw prospect going into the draft. He was thought to excel more in coverage than attacking the quarterback, but his performances early in training camp may change the scouting report on this 23-year-old rookie.
The Chicago Audible reported Snowden recorded a sack on a key third-down play during a scrimmage Monday. His quarterback takedown should have Bears fans excited, as the team has lacked a promising developmental edge-rushing prospect to bring along on this veteran-laden defense.
Given Snowden drew rave reviews for his attitude and energy at the Senior Bowl, this display of on-field production could mean he is well on his way to becoming a complete player. There's still a long way to go, but Chicago may have something in Snowden.
Cincinnati Bengals: RB Pooka Williams Jr.
The Cincinnati Bengals may be getting a ton of bang for their buck regarding the signing of Pooka Williams Jr.
The former Kansas running back has shown promise as a return man on special teams during minicamp and also begun working as a slot receiver at the start of Cincinnati's training camp.
Teams were likely wary of drafting the 5'10", 170-pound playmaker because of his slight stature and perceived inability to hold up to the rigors of a pro workload, but the Bengals are excited about finding different ways to deploy Williams in different facets of the game.
Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said Williams will be able to find a role on offense because of the unique abilities he brings:
"[Williams has] got an interesting skill set. He's got great quickness. He's got good acceleration and good burst. So we're trying to find where he might fit best for us. He's done a really good job. He's still learning. It's kind of foreign to him, obviously. He played running back most of his career. But he's got some ability to do those types of things for us in our offense."
With Williams providing utility out of the backfield, in the slot and on special teams, the Bengals have quite a find here. He's a good bet to end up as one of the most impactful undrafted free agents in the league this coming season.
Cleveland Browns: DL Marvin Wilson
Marvin Wilson may be disappointed he wasn't drafted this year, but the Florida State product was thrilled to get a call from the Cleveland Browns following the event. He called landing with the team a "perfect situation" to start his career in May and has a real chance to crack the roster because of his size, strength and resume.
With Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney drawing most of the attention on the edge, Cleveland's interior linemen will have ample opportunity to cause havoc in the backfield. Wilson will be competing with a slew of new faces to fill that role.
Although he's regarded as one of the better UDFAs this year, Wilson is far from a shoo-in to make final cuts. The defensive tackle played poorly in 2020, recording just 2.0 sacks in six appearances for the Seminoles after having 5.0 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss in 2019.
Expect Wilson to be judged on his training camp performance, which has drawn positive reviews from observers. The 22-year-old has been giving great effort by some accounts and Jacob Roach of the Barking Browns Show said he was one of the few standouts during a pads-less practice, with Wilson "whipping a lot of the guards" in drills.
If Wilson keeps this up, he'll end up becoming a great asset for a contending Cleveland squad this season.
Dallas Cowboys: FB Nick Ralston
Fullbacks generally don't draw too much buzz in training camp, but Nick Ralston is making waves with his play for the Dallas Cowboys.
The undrafted free agent is a local star from Argyle, Texas, and playing his college ball at Arizona State and Louisiana. Ralston was a versatile player for both schools, lining up at running back, linebacker and tight end. He'll now primarily be tasked with blocking for Ezekiel Elliott, something the 6'0", 237-pound prospect surely has the right build for.
One report from a Cowboys camp observer said that Ralston bent his facemask making contact on a hit last week, praising how physical and competitive he has been on both offense and special teams.
Unfortunately, Ralston has an uphill battle to make the cut because of the position he plays. Dallas didn't even carry a fullback for much of the 2020 campaign, with Sewo Olonilua—Ralston's primary competition for the job—spending all but two games on the practice squad last year.
Denver Broncos: Edge Andre Mintze
With Von Miller and Bradley Chubb, the Denver Broncos have one of the most enviable starting pass-rushing tandems in the league. Despite this excess of riches on the edge, the team could end up using an UDFA as depth in 2021.
Andre Mintze, an outside linebacker from Vanderbilt, landed in the Mile High after he surprisingly failed to get drafted this year. Denver reportedly doled out a hefty $85,000 guarantee to get him on the roster, where he will compete with the likes of Derrek Tuszka and Jonathon Cooper for one of the final edge-rushing spots on the roster.
Fortunately for Mintze, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio—who raved about Mintze's "talent and ability" after signing him—has a proven track record of developing unheralded pass-rushers in his defensive system. Mintze could follow in fellow UDFA Malik Reed's footsteps, turning into a high-quality pass-rusher despite going undrafted.
Reed is coming off a fantastic sophomore campaign in which he started 13 games and recorded eight sacks, a meteoric rise for a player who had little buzz around him coming out of Nevada three years ago. While it will be tough to get snaps early in his career, the Broncos can afford to take their time bringing Mintze along and turn him into the city's next great quarterback hunter.
Detroit Lions: CB Jerry Jacobs
The rebuilding Detroit Lions have little in the way of veteran talent, so this will likely be a rebuild year under new head coach Dan Campbell. One player trying to earn a job in this revamped lineup is cornerback Jerry Jacobs, who signed with Detroit after going undrafted out of Arkansas.
Jacobs is already putting together impactful performances in camp, with Pride of Detroit's Erik Schlitt posting a photo of the team celebrating an interception the 23-year-old made on Saturday.
Jacobs is not only making plays, he has been "eager to learn" according to USA Today's Jeff Risdon. The reporter revealed that the cornerback was in regular contact with 2020 first-round pick Jeff Okudah and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant during practice.
Risdon noted that Jacobs is getting practice reps with the second-stringers, seemingly usurping notable free-agent acquisition Quinton Dunbar, who is working with the third-string. It's a positive sign for Jacobs' chances of making the final roster, as the thin Detroit secondary would greatly benefit from an unlikely injection of talent out of the UDFA pool.
Green Bay Packers: WR Bailey Gaither
The Green Bay Packers offseason has been a bit of a circus thanks to the Aaron Rodgers show. The future Hall of Famer finally reported to camp, where he's now working alongside an UDFA receiver who could assume a role for the Packers in 2021.
The play of Bailey Gaither, a rookie out of San Jose State, has been a pleasant surprise for Green Bay. Gaither made a name for himself with the Spartans, compiling 2,227 yards and 18 touchdowns on 135 catches during his career. His ability to get off the line quickly, run crisp routes and large catch radius translated to consistent production in college and should help him catch on.
Gaither is having immediate success in camp, reeling in a deep touchdown pass from Kurt Benkert on Saturday. He also brought down a contested throw from Jordan Love, with reporter Andy Herman pointing out that the wideout was "flipped in the air" but still hung on.
That sort of toughness will curry favor from a coaching staff that is desperate to unearth some reliable weapons for Rodgers other than star wideout Davante Adams.
Houston Texans: OT Carson Green
The Houston Texans are in a state of turmoil, lacking reliable talent at nearly every position on the roster. Some of these question marks will hopefully be cleared up during training camp, where many unproven players will be competing for significant roles for the organization.
Carson Green, an undrafted rookie who played offensive tackle for Texas A&M, will be vying for playing time in Houston's trenches. He mostly manned the right side of the line for the Aggies but could end up playing on the interior for a franchise that acquired nine new offensive linemen this offseason.
While it's unlikely Green can carve out a starting role—offensive line is one of the few positions that could be considered a strength in Houston—he could earn a backup gig somewhere on the line with a strong showing in training camp.
Expect to find out much more about Green's performances and his chances to make the roster once padded practices begin on Tuesday and he can showcase his talents in earnest.
Indianapolis Colts: WR Tarik Black
The Indianapolis Colts don't boast the most impressive receiving corps, but the unit could get better this year if undrafted free agent Tarik Black can reach his lofty potential.
The Colts landed one of the more impressive athletes at the receiver position in this class without having to expend a pick. Black, who stands at 6'3", 213 pounds, has a high ceiling because of his unteachable athleticism and measurables.
Unfortunately, Black struggled to put it all together on the field during his collegiate career at both Texas and Michigan. The prospect will get another chance to do so during Indianapolis' training camp, and he's already shown some flash early on according to the Herald Bulletin's George Bremer.
He still has to find a way to play well on a consistent basis, but the Colts could have a real star if Black figures things out.
Jacksonville Jaguars: WR Tim Jones
Much of the attention has been on tight end Tim Tebow and quarterback Trevor Lawrence this offseason, but some of the club's undrafted rookies have been playing well out of the spotlight.
One of those UDFAs is wideout Tim Jones, who started the first day of camp with a long touchdown connection with backup quarterback C.J. Beathard. That kind of showing will help his slim chances of cracking the final roster, but he has a tough road ahead. Jones must contend with Marvin Jones Jr., DJ Chark Jr., Laviska Shenault Jr. and several other veterans to become part of the Jacksonville receiving corps.
The former Southern Miss receiver has the size at 6'1", 210 pounds to make catches in the middle of the field, while also flashing breakaway speed to get after the deep ball. He ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and achieved a 40-inch vertical at his pro day.
It's a long shot, but if Jones can keep turning heads and snagging touchdowns in camp, he would not only be a lock for the practice squad but may even end up as one of the final receivers to make the Jags roster.
Kansas City Chiefs: DB Devon Key
The Kansas City Chiefs wisely focused much of their attention this offseason on revamping the offensive line after its collapse on the biggest stage. While this overhauled unit should help the team get back to a third consecutive Super Bowl, the Kansas City secondary isn't in the best shape going into training camp.
UDFA Devon Key, a safety prospect who reportedly earned more snaps than any other undrafted defensive back at Kansas City's first practice, could be in the mix. Key partnered with Juan Thornhill, the team's former starting free safety who was relegated to backup duty midway through the 2020 campaign, on the second unit.
With Tyrann Mathieu locked in as the Chiefs' top strong safety, Key could carve out a unique role for this squad. The rookie was mostly used as a box safety at Western Kentucky, but he may end up playing deeper for Kansas City while also taking some snaps as a linebacker or covering the slot.
Daniel Sorensen, a versatile safety himself, praised Key for being able to pick up Kansas City's defensive schemes so quickly (via Ed Easton Jr. of USA Today):
"[Key is] picking up the defense really well. Which, is probably the first hurdle for any rookie, being able to understand the scheme and how to play in this system, and he's done that very well. He's a high-energy, high-effort guy, so he's been flying around making plays, and they're giving him opportunities to do that."
Sorensen may be helping to groom his eventual replacement in Key. If the first-year defensive back is catching on as fast as his teammate believes he is, Key could have an outside shot at making the final roster.
Las Vegas Raiders: WR DJ Turner
The Raiders look like they have found the hidden gem they sorely need to round out their receiving corps this offseason.
DJ Turner, an UDFA out of Maryland, has emerged as a reliable and consistent weapon for Las Vegas at the onset of training camp. The 5'9", 206-pound speedster struggled to find playing time for much of his college career at Maryland, but he transferred to Pitt for the 2020 campaign and played well for the Panthers out of the slot and as a return man.
An anonymous NFL scout raved about Turner's toughness and versatility when discussing the young wideout with Tom Lamarre of SI.com:
"I think what sticks out is his toughness. He can be used all over the place, and he can help on special teams. He is fast, has good hands, and quick feet. When you watch his film, the toughness and grit jump out. Turner is a little guy but does not shy away from blocking or being hit. He is likely a slot guy at the next level, and when he is on the field, he will find a way to produce."
It's high praise for a player who wasn't drafted, but Turner seems unfazed by the slight and looks is playing with a chip on his shoulder. Considering Vegas' roster is devoid of any truly high-profile wideouts apart from 2020 first-round pick Henry Ruggs III, Turner has a real shot at turning this training camp production into a roster spot.
Los Angeles Chargers: DT Forrest Merrill
The Los Angeles Chargers have a lack of experienced veterans and dearth of talent on the interior of their defensive line, which could result in an unheralded rookie taking on a big role.
Defensive tackle Forrest Merrill is one of the club's top undrafted free agent candidates to make final cuts due to a combination of team need and skill. At 6'0", 322 pounds, Merrill brings an immense amount of power and leverage to the nose tackle spot.
Merrill is a run-stuffer, but the rest of his game leaves much to be desired. He went undrafted likely because of a lack of versatility apart from run defense and doesn't have the size teams look for when evaluating elite interior defensive linemen.
Despite these limitations, Merrill can play on Sundays because of his hard-nosed style, mean streak, lane clogging and his ability to shut down the run inside. He benched 48 reps of 225 pounds and deadlifted a minivan in the lead up to the draft, a testament to just how strong he is.
If Merrill can translate this raw power into steady run stuffing during training camp, the Chargers could do far worse than tabbing him as Linval Joseph's backup in 2021.
Los Angeles Rams: RB Otis Anderson
There wasn't a need to bring in more running backs to join an already crowded Los Angeles Rams platoon, but the franchise seemingly couldn't resist taking a chance on Otis Anderson following the draft.
The former UCF star possesses versatile traits that boost his chances of catching on in LA this season. He's not the biggest skill position player at 5'11", 174 pounds, but Anderson can play several positions and contribute in a variety of ways.
The Knights used Anderson as a running back, receiver and kick returner during his tenure with the program. He served primarily as a rusher in his final year with the school but flashed the ability to bust a big gain wherever he lined up on the field.
He's already been competing with Raymond Calais, Jeremiah Haydel and J.J. Koski for punt return duty during camp but could get a leg up because he can contribute as a gadget player who can work out of the backfield or line up in the slot to stretch defenses. The Rams have also run plenty of screens under head coach Sean McVay, a play type where they could get plenty of mileage out of Anderson as a receiver.
With Cam Akers suffering a torn ACL and Darrell Henderson being held out of preseason, Anderson should get a plenty of meaningful chances to show he belongs before the season kicks off.
Miami Dolphins: OG Robert Jones
The Miami Dolphins have maximized the talents of some of their undrafted free agents in recent times, getting contributions from guys like Salvon Ahmed, Benito Jones, Nik Needham and Preston Williams in recent years. Robert Jones may just be the next to outperform the low expectations generally placed on UDFA players.
While Jones isn't the most polished prospect, it was surprising when he wasn't selected in the draft. B/R's Scouting Department was one of several outlets to grade him as a potential mid-round pick. The 6'4", 322-pounder played outside for the Blue Raiders but lacks the size and athleticism to continue there in the NFL. He's an ideal build for a guard, however, and could be an impactful contributor in both pass protection and run blocking.
The Dolphins now have a hole to fill on their offensive line after D.J. Fluker suffered a torn meniscus early in camp, increasing Jones' chances to catch on with the club. He won't be handed a backup job but could earn one by beating out players such as seventh-round rookie Larnel Coleman, Adam Pankey and Timon Parris.
Considering Jones took home $130K in guarantees—far more than the average UDFA—to come to Miami, he'll be getting a real shot at claiming a backup job along the club's offensive line.
Minnesota Vikings: WR Blake Proehl
Blake Proehl's name may sound familiar to NFL fans, as he's the son of Super Bowl-winning receiver Ricky Proehl, who played 17 seasons in the league before retiring in 2006. Blake will be looking to forge his own legacy, beginning his journey this offseason at the Minnesota Vikings training camp.
Proehl is the highest paid of any of the UDFAs signed by the Vikings this offseason. That won't have too much of an impact on whether he makes the roster or not, but it does show how interested the team was in having him around.
With fellow Minnesota wideout Bisi Johnson going down for the year with a torn ACL on Friday, Proehl has one less receiver to compete against for a job. There's still a logjam of talent behind Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, including Chad Beebe, Dede Westbrook and fifth-round rookie Ihmir Smith-Marsette.
Regardless, Proehl is reportedly doing well in camp—notably torching veteran defensive back Xavier Woods in one highlight—and could end up contributing for this squad during the regular season.
New England Patriots: K Quinn Nordin
Only one undrafted free agent will be capable of turning heads at the New England Patriots training camp. That's because head coach Bill Belichick bucked the trend of bringing in at least a handful of rookies following the draft and instead only signed kicker Quinn Nordin to compete for a roster spot this summer.
As of now, Nordin is the franchise's only hope of keeping a 17-year streak of at least one UDFA making New England's final cut alive. He seems to at least be in the running to challenge Nick Folk for the placekicking.
Nordin has drawn praise from teammates, including longtime special teams ace Matt Slater, who said the following about the rookie early on in camp (via Chris Mason of MassLive.com): "He's got a cannon on him. There's no doubt about that. He's super explosive, and Quinn, he asks a ton of questions, which I love—young guys who ask questions."
Folk emerged as a steady presence in New England last season, connecting on 26-of-28 field-goal attempts and converted all 13 of his tries inside 40 yards.
Nordin finished his career at Michigan having knocked through 42 of 58 field-goal tries and was shaky in his final season with just two of five attempts going through the uprights. Unless Nordin can become more consistent, Folk is likely to retain his role as the Pats' top kicker for the 2021 campaign.
New Orleans Saints: DB Eric Burrell
The New Orleans Saints saw its roster gutted by a shrinking salary cap, parting ways with several key veteran contributors this offseason. The secondary wasn’t immune to this cap crunch and now may need to lean on an undrafted rookies to take meaningful snaps in 2021.
Trill Williams initially seemed to be the UDFA defensive back most likely to emerge in the Big Easy, but the former Syracuse star was quickly released after failing a physical. Eric Burrell is still hanging around, however, and the Wisconsin product has a great opportunity to stick due to his versatility.
While the Saints have more talent at safety than they do corner right now, Burrell would make for an ideal depth option behind Malcolm Jenkins and the two Williams, P.J. and Marcus. He could also line up as a slot corner, an area Burrell covered well in college. On Day 4 of camp, John Hendrix of SI.com caught him getting work at free safety, giving up a catch on his lone target.
At the minimum, Burrell would be an ideal addition to the practice squad, but New Orleans would be fortunate to have him reach it without another team claiming the rookie prospect.
New York Giants: C Brett Heggie
After suffering through a 2020 season with one of the worst offensive lines in football, the New York Giants added some new faces to help improve it for the upcoming campaign. Unfortunately for the G-Men, many of these additions lack experience. Because the Giants opted against taking any O-linemen in the draft, they'll be tasking undrafted free agents like Brett Heggie to fill key roles.
Heggie, a prospect out of Florida, is the only player Big Blue tapped to shore up the interior offensive trenches this offseason. Fortunately for the Giants, Heggie is a versatile asset. He has experience playing both guard and center during his tenure with the Gators and performed admirably in pass protection and the run game.
Perhaps most importantly, Heggie seems to have a great attitude and is willing to learn. Giants Country's Patricia Traina noted that Heggie drew praise from Giants head coach Joe Judge, who complimented the rookie center's ability to respond to coaching early in camp.
With little competition, Heggie is likely to earn his keep on the New York roster, starting his career as a backup center while he gets brought up to speed as a potential starter down the line.
New York Jets: CB Isaiah Dunn
The New York Jets are no strangers to deploying undrafted free agents on Sundays. Last year, they got significant contributions from UDFAs like CB Lamar Jackson and DE Bryce Huff. In 2021, CB Isaiah Dunn could play a key role for the club.
Dunn is a standout athlete who excelled at track and played receiver in high school. He has great size for an outside corner at 6'0", 193 pounds, possessing the speed and smarts to stick on receivers and read quarterbacks.
Although Dunn wasn't picked in the draft despite some stellar play at Oregon State, he is one of four rookie corners at Gang Green's training camp. The three others—Michael Carter II, Jason Pinnock and Brandin Echols—were all Day 3 picks and are far from guaranteed to make final cuts. Dunn, reportedly coming in to camp on a record-breaking contract for a UDFA, will likely have the same opportunity as his fellow rookies to earn the right to play on Sunday.
Justin Fried of TheJetPress.com reported that Dunn began turning heads almost immediately, calling him one of the "stars of camp" and earning first-team reps early on.
Philadelphia Eagles: TE Jack Stoll
The Philadelphia Eagles haven't found a resolution to the Zach Ertz ordeal and expect to keep the disgruntled tight end for the upcoming season. With the messy saga ongoing, the team would be wise to leave no stone unturned in the hunt for an eventual replacement.
Nebraska's Jack Stoll is one potential rookie who could one day take on Ertz's responsibilities in Philadelphia. The Eagles valued him highly following the draft, offering him the most guaranteed money of any UDFA in their class.
Stoll proved himself to be a decent receiver and quality blocker during his four years with the Cornhuskers. He has great hands and the ability to make catches in traffic, solid qualities that will help him become a reliable target for young quarterback Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
He's already turned some heads in practice, as NJ.com's Mike Kaye noted the tight end caught a "fantastic floater" for a touchdown at the start of training camp.
Stoll likely won't be seeing many snaps early in his career due to the presence of Dallas Goedert and the chance that Ertz sticks around for the 2021 campaign. Regardless, he's already looking like a solid candidate to make the practice squad as a rookie and could eventually earn a promotion to the active roster in the coming years if he continues playing well.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Shakur Brown
The Pittsburgh Steelers were lauded for a savvy post-draft pickup of cornerback Shakur Brown, a player who was considered a potential mid-round pick by some analysts.
Instead of having to expend a pick, the Steelers secured a legitimate inside-outside cornerback prospect with great instincts and a relentless motor. He's not the most athletic defensive back in his class but makes up for the lack of speed with his football IQ.
Brown is also a ballhawk, securing five interceptions during his final season at Michigan State. That was his lone campaign as a full-time starter, a lack of experience—coupled with less-than-ideal size at 5'10", 190 pounds—that may have made some potential suitors leery of drafting him.
Pittsburgh is already seeing a return on their minor investment in Brown. He's one of just five players to record an interception since training camp opened to the public. ESPN's Brooke Pryor said Brown's pick was a rare highlight among the second- and third-stringers at practice on Saturday.
Brown will be a favorite among the Steelers crop of UDFAs to make the active roster this season, potentially providing a solid boost to this secondary.
San Francisco 49ers: LB Justin Hilliard
The San Francisco 49ers are coming off a disappointing Super Bowl hangover season but look poised for a bounce back with some rookies leading the charge. While stars like Trey Lance and Trey Sermon may be drawing most of the hype, some undrafted talents could make significant contributions.
Spurred on by the urging of former Ohio State teammate Nick Bosa, the Niners brass signed linebacker Hilliard after he slipped out of the draft. Although the former 5-star prospect is well-regarded for his athleticism and natural talents, he struggled for consistency and staying healthy during his time with the Buckeyes.
When Hilliard was on the field, there was no denying his ability to impact a game. He only suited up for 36 contests over six years in Columbus but did some of his best work in 2020. He racked up 33 tackles—five for a loss—plus an interception, a defensed pass and three fumble recoveries in just six games to help Ohio State reach the national championship. While he had an advantage against younger opponents, the 24-year-old Hilliard's age and experience should only help him transition to life in the NFL.
If Hilliard doesn't break down with another injury, he has a real shot to crack San Francisco's linebacker rotation this year. He's an immense talent with prototypical size, strength and the tenacity to anchor the middle, adding an edge to a defense that took a step back last year.
Seattle Seahawks: WR Cade Johnson
The Seattle Seahawks had just three picks in the 2021 draft, using the first of them on playmaking receiver D'Wayne Eskridge. Eskridge is expected to round out a receiving corps that includes a pair of stars in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but the competition for snaps behind this trio appears wide open.
With Eskridge suffering a toe injury early in training camp and landing on the PUP list, the rest of the wideouts battling for a roster spot will get more opportunity to prove their value to the organization. There are nine wideouts fighting for a limited number of jobs, a group that includes a pair of UDFAs in Connor Wedington and Cade Johnson.
Johnson is the more likely of the two to stick around. The South Dakota State product was unstoppable at times with the Jackrabbits, racking up nearly 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns during three years with the program. While Johnson will face much tougher defenders in the NFL, his plus-route-running skills will easily translate to the next level.
Given how highly he was regarded leading up to the draft—he was ranked No. 134 overall in the class by The Athletic—Johnson clearly isn't your typical UDFA. He's skilled enough to make plays during the regular season for Seattle and will get his shot if he puts together a quality camp.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: OG Sadarius Hutcherson
After retaining nearly every key contributor from their Super Bowl run, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had zero glaring needs going into the draft. That didn't stop them from making some savvy selections with their picks and subsequently coming to terms with a handful of talented prospects that slipped through the cracks.
Sadarius Hutcherson was one of the more athletic offensive linemen in his class, putting up 36 reps on the bench and running a respectable 5.01 40-yard dash while checking in at a sizable 6'3", 321 pounds.
Although he played several offensive line positions for the Gamecocks, the Bucs see Hutcherson as a guard in the NFL. He still must prove he can consistently win matchups in the trenches on a consistent basis, but he's off to a good start in practices.
According to Bucs senior writer Scott Smith, Hutcherson was one of the guards that veteran offensive lineman Ali Marpet praised last week based on his training camp performances. While the Bucs would be in dire straights if they need to press Hutcherson into action this year, a good camp could land Hutcherson on the team's practice squad to develop his skills further.
Tennessee Titans: DL Naquan Jones
The Tennessee Titans spent the offseason overhauling a defense that was disappointing in 2020. While they added key pieces, the Titans are still lacking depth along the interior of their defensive line at the start of training camp.
One potential in-house remedy for these woes could come in the form of undrafted free agent Naquan Jones. The former Michigan State nose tackle measured in at 6'3" and tipped the scales at 340 pounds during his college days but slimmed down to 313 pounds to prepare for the draft.
The weight loss likely won't help Jones develop into much more than a run-stuffer, but it adds to his potential and intrigue as he begins his NFL journey.
There hasn't been much chatter about his early performances at Tennessee's training camp, but Titans reporter Jim Wyatt posted a short clip of the defensive tackle moving well in a solo drill.
If the 23-year-old can continue working on his consistency and technique, he has the size and upper body strength to be a force in the pros. The Titans would benefit greatly from a motivated and improving Jones as a rotational piece in their defensive line.
Washington Football Team: RB Jarret Patterson
The Washington Football Team has been searching for consistency at the running back position for years but hasn't found it despite using a litany of early and mid-round picks on guys such as Derrius Guice, Bryce Love, Samaje Perine and Matt Jones over the last half-decade or so. The team went back to the well again in 2021, snagging Memphis back Antonio Gibson with the No. 66 overall selection.
While Gibson has plenty of promise, Jaret Patterson—an undrafted rookie—could end up being the RB turning the most heads during training camp. The former Buffalo star stands at a mere 5'8", but his production was undeniable with the Bulls. He smashed records during his collegiate career, including tying an all-time NCAA mark with eight touchdowns in a single game. He finished his three seasons with 3,884 yards and 52 rushing touchdowns on 636 carries.
At rookie camp, WFT head coach Ron Rivera acknowledged that Patterson is better than his slight stature might suggest: "Yeah he's small but he's explosive, he's dynamic, he's stout. He looks like a football player."
With comparisons being made to Darren Sproles, the former NFL running back who achieved plenty in his career despite measuring up at just 5'6", Patterson appears to have a bright future ahead.