UDFA’s – Who Might Be Worth A Stash
Every year a couple of guys fall through the cracks. The NFL Draft is an imperfect, if dramatic, way of selecting future stars and despite teams spending more and more time, money and effort on scouting, background checks and analytics, they still miss.
Wes Walker made five pro-bowls with the Patriots and Broncos. He was signed after the draft by the San Diego Chargers as most scouts thought he was too small to make an impact. Priest Holmes was one of the leagues most dynamic running backs early this century after breaking the Ravens roster as a free agent – he was the first undrafted player to lead the NFL in rushing. 4 time pro-bowl selection Arian Foster was the 2nd. Foster stunned the league on week 1 of the 2010 season when he suddenly rushed for 231 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Colts. More recently Corey Clement, Philip Lindsay and Gus Edwards have had significant impacts in the league. Last season Preston Williams emerged as the Dolphins WR2 despite being passed over on draft day.
Spotting these guys can be a challenge – there are about 300 undrafted free agents signed every year, so start by looking for a few hints, immediately after the draft look for players who’ve fallen into a favourable position. A speed receiver on a team with who don’t have any speed, a running back who immediately slots in as the third guy in the depth chart. Then have a look at guys who teams have spent money on – not all undrafted free agents are created equal, guys who get a big signing bonus will generally enter camp with a slight edge. Take great care on guys with character concerns – making it as a UDFA is a tough climb that guys with attitude and discipline challenges rarely manage. Finally, as training camp gets underway pay attention to team beat writers – you’ll get a lot of meaningless QB accuracy information but occasionally you’ll hear the low roster guys that teams are excited about. Anyone who did this with The Bronocs a couple of years back knew that Philip Lindsay was emerging during the summer and picked him up.
Who, then, are some of the more interesting names in this year’s class:
James Robinson (Jaguars): Jacksonville are somewhat barren at the running back position. Behind Leonard Fournette there is a gaping chasm of opportunity for a free agent running back and it’s a hole that Illinois State’s James Robinson will hope to sneak into.
The knock on Robinson coming out was a lack of top end physical traits but he’s earned praise for his vision and ability to find gaps, with some seasoning and time he may find a path to snaps in year one. If he can translate his successful college production – he had 4,444 rushing yards and 42 rushing touchdowns – he may very well carve out a productive role in Duval.
JJ Taylor (Patriots): The diminutive Taylor looks like a great pickup for New England. The Arizona graduate has a number of things going in his favour. He has kick return ability, a much overlooked factor for a UDFA’s chances of making the roster. Despite his size he’s shown a lot of toughness with a surprising willingness to run between the tackles. The desire will give him a chance to stick with a team that values culture above all else.
His size obviously works against him, he might just be too small for the next level, but he’s a fun player for a team that values special teams very highly. Worth stashing.
Hunter Bryant (Lions): Washington’s Bryant dropping out of the draft was something of a surprise in a weak tight-end class. He’s has a significant injury history at the college level but plays with impressive athleticism and with a limited number of rookie options at the position he’s worth a look.
The Lions spent an extremely high pick on TJ Hockenson and will be looking for a big bounce back from the Iowa man but with only Jesse James behind him there is a path for Bryant if he can stay healthy.
Quartney Davis: (Vikings): Despite adding LSU’s Justin Jefferson in the 1st round the Vikings are still light on receiving options going into the 2020 season. They did spend a 5th round pick on Miami’s KJ Osborn but the receivers room looks wide open for a UDFA like Davis to make an impact.
In the immediate aftermath of the draft it appeared Davis was going to sign for the Dallas Cowboys but the Vikings ability to convince the Texas A&M to redirect to Minnesota suggests they done a good job of convincing him that he’d have a chance to compete. Davis received praise in the pre-draft process for his route running and his hands. He joins a team with a strong record in recent years of developing undrafted and late round receivers – Adam Thielen and Bisi Johnson being the best examples.
Michael Warren (Eagles): Coming out of the draft I couldn’t be higher on Eagles second year running back Miles Sanders, he’s the undisputed lead back in Philly and could be on course to a break out season.
Behind Sanders though, things are murky. Boston Scott emerged at the end of last season a viable number two but if he sticks as the back-up the Eagles will have a significant need for a bigger back. Cincinnati’s Michael Warren will have a chance to be that guy. Going into the draft he was expected to be a late round pick but amid the disappointment of not being picked is a definite opportunity in Philadelphia.
Despite a porous o-line, Warren produced back to back 1000 yard seasons for the Bearcats and ended his college career with an average of over 5 yards a carry and 34 touchdowns. He will get excellent coaching from Duce Staley and has a viable path to make the final roster if he delivers in the pre-season.