Analysis of the Notable 2023 UDFA Signings

Every year, hundreds of players who hoped to hear their names called go undrafted. This is not the end of their journey, however. Many of these players will be signed by NFL teams and given a chance to make their rosters; many of them will do just that. There are actually more UDFAs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than first-round picks. The fact that there are multiple UDFAs for every first-round pick helps their chances, but the underlying point remains: you can make it in the NFL as UDFA. In the sections below, I list the notable 2023 UDFA signings accomplished by each team (in alphabetical order) along with short commentaries.

I actually feel that a UDFA is in a better position than a 7th-round pick. I know that every player wants to be drafted, but a UDFA can pick his situation instead of having it dictated to him. His contract will also be shorter by a year (3 years vs. 4 years), enabling him to hit free agency sooner and cash in if he flourishes. For all these reasons, it’s important to get to know some of the UDFAs being signed this week and over the next couple of months. These players were either expected to be drafted but passed over or players who were simply undervalued by teams and need just one opportunity to prove themselves.

I’ll stop rambling here; let’s get to the signings! If I missed anyone, please let me know in the comments! I tried to discuss at least one player for each team. This post may be updated if more notable UDFAs sign, so check back occasionally.

Arizona Cardinals

RB Emari Demercado, TCU: Kendre Miller may have been TCU’s 3rd-round RB, but it was Demercado who ran for 5.6 yards per carry in 2022. At 5’11” and 207 lbs, he’s powerfully built while also remaining shifty in the open field. He doesn’t have much receiving production, but he looked good with the ball in his hands. I can easily envision him being the primary backup to James Conner in the desert.

Atlanta Falcons

DE Ikenna Enechukwu, Rice: As a bit of a tweener, this OLB/DE hybrid had no trouble playing for the Owls. He earned 4.5 sacks and 9 or 9.5 TFLs each of his final 2 years, demonstrating remarkable consistency. A balanced rusher, Enechukwu doesn’t have a defining trade, but he does play both the pass and the run decently well. Atlanta, known for having the worst pass rush in the NFL last year, did well to take a flier here.

Baltimore Ravens

WR Dontay Demus, Maryland: One of Maryland’s 2 star receivers, Demus took a step back in production last season, earning 233 yards after posting 507 in 2021. On film though, I didn’t really see a different player, just less opportunities. At 6’3″, Demus is a solid mover, making him a potential X receiver in the NFL. His traits suggest a future starter, but Baltimore just loaded up on receivers. As a running team, the Ravens need blockers at WR, and Demus’ big frame could help him crack the roster on that front.

Buffalo Bills

G Richard Gouraige, Florida: Picking one Gator lineman clearly wasn’t sufficient. O’Cyrus Torrence, the Bills’ 2nd-round pick, now sees his left tackle teammate join him in Buffalo. Although he played well at tackle, his shorter arms likely will force him to move inside. At guard, his powerful build could enable him to be a mauler just like Torrence. The Bills made this offseason about helping Josh Allen, and they’ve done best in augmenting the offensive line.

Carolina Panthers

CB Rezjohn Wright, Oregon State: Johnson really should’ve been drafted if only because he’s a legitimate outside corner in a draft full of smaller slot guys. He was a star in the Pac-12, and he’s 6-2 with decent speed. Aside from Jaycee Horn, there are no guarantees in Carolina’s secondary. Wright could earn a starting spot early on with an impressive camp.

DT Jalen Redmond, Oklahoma: I think troublesome knees caused Redmond to fall out of the draft. It wasn’t his play. He’s a disruptive interior rusher who maintains gap discipline in the run game. I expect him to make a roster as a reserve since the defensive line is one of the Panthers’ strengths. There’s ability and upside here though.

Chicago Bears

QB Tyson Bagent, Shepherd: It’s not often that we call a UDFA from a Division II school “notable”, but this one is. Bagent was good enough that he earned an invite to the Combine. He threw for 5000 yards in 2022, and he tossed 91 TDs over the past 2 seasons. His 70% completion rate is also impressive. This is a developmental backup, but he’s an intriguing one. PJ Walker and Nathan Peterman are easily beatable on the depth chart, so we may not have seen the last of this Ram.

K Andre Szmyt, Syracuse: Szmyt was a star as a freshman, converting 88.2% of his FGs and 100% of his PATs. The accuracy has dropped in the years since, but he still has a strong leg. I’m not sure he’s a threat to Eddy Pineiro, but he could try and showcase his talents for other teams during the preseason.

Cincinnati Bengals

OT/G Jaxson Kirkland, Washington: Kirkland played 6 years of college football, as an ankle injury forced him to return for the 2022 season. He performed well during his final season, keeping Michael Penix upright and opening rushing lanes. Based on Washington’s spread offense, Kirkland likely fits best in a zone blocking scheme, which the Bengals employ. Cincy needed to add depth to the line after injuries derailed their progress last season. I think this is another good piece.

Cleveland Browns

EDGE Lonnie Phelps, Kansas: A Miami OH transfer, Phelps broke out for Kansas in 2022, earning 11.5 TFLs and 7 sacks. So why did he go undrafted? At 244 lbs, he’s not large enough to be an NFL DE. I’d argue that teams need to be more creative. A 4.55-s 40 and a 1.62-s 10-yard split are crazy Combine numbers. You find a place for such an athlete, and if he continues to be this good, that place may be on the other side of the line opposite Myles Garrett.

Dallas Cowboys

FB Hunter Luepke, North Dakota State: Is an FCS fullback really notable? I debated that fact until I saw that his UDFA contract included $200K guaranteed. That’s a MASSIVE sum for an undrafted player. The Cowboys clearly plan to deploy him as a power back with Tony Pollard not sturdy enough to handle a full load. Perhaps more appealing is the fact that he’s been compared to Kyle Juszczyk, Kyle Shanahan’s elite FB in SF. This could be fun to watch.

EDGE Isaiah Land, Florida A&M: Though the FCS competition wasn’t good, Land opened eyes in 2021 when he posted an absurd 19 sacks. A 6’4″ athlete who runs a 4.62-s 40, his athleticism was worth a flier in round 7. Nobody took him though, and Dallas scooped him up. I doubt there’s room in the starting lineup on this talented defense. However, teams stockpile edge rushers. Land could have a chance to make the roster and play in pass rushing situations.

Denver Broncos

EDGE Thomas Incoom, Central Michigan: Incoom just needs to make the roster. His athleticism is excellent, but his technique needs work. A former D2 transfer, he earned 11.5 sacks at CMU last season. He wins at the line in both the pass and run games through his talent. At the NFL level, Incoom must harness that talent and develop pass rushing moves and instincts. That will take time, but Denver might be rewarded if they’re patient.

Detroit Lions

WR Keytaon Thompson, Virginia: Thompson is a really interesting prospect. The 6’4″ physical specimen started out as a QB. At Virginia, his official position became “football player” as the team tried to use him creatively. The gimmicks didn’t work, and he converted to WR. He had some decent production, but he didn’t know the position well yet. I’m curious to see what the Lions do with him because he is a special athlete.

RB Mohamed Ibrahim, Minnesota: Minnesota’s all-time leading rusher received a $100K signing bonus, so Detroit is expecting him to contribute despite spending a 1st-round pick on Jahmyr Gibbs and signing David Montgomery in free agency. Ibrahim is a bruiser back that has dealt with injuries, so it’s questionable whether he can carry the load. He obviously won’t have to here, which makes him a likely goal-line back to replace Jamaal Williams.

S Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame: Joseph was a star at Northwestern. Notre Dame wanted him badly, and it seemed like he’d push his stock toward the first round. That didn’t materialize. His pass defense and instincts are very good. However, his tackling is abysmal, making him useless in the running game. I wonder if those poor tackling can be coached out of him. If so, you might see the NW version of Joseph, and that would be great for Detroit.

Green Bay Packers

WR Duece Watts, Tulane: Speed concerns are surely what led to Watts going undrafted. His size and hands drew no complaints. At 6’2″, he can box out smaller DBs and make contested catches. He also produces in the red zone, catching 8 TDs this past season. GB seems to be throwing darts at WRs all across their draft board to see what sticks. Why not Watts? He’s at least different from the others the team has acquired.

Houston Texans

EDGE Ali Gaye, LSU: Gaye is a rather large DE at 6’6″ and 250 lbs. That size translates to power, but he didn’t produce a lot in the sack department. His 2.5 sacks in 2022 set a career high. He does, however, play the run very well. This is a nice landing spot because the Texans are desperate for playmakers. If Gaye works on his technique, he has the tools to be a productive edge rusher. That starts with lowering his pad level and timing up snaps better.

RB Xazavian Valladay, Arizona State: Considered by many to be the top UDFA RB, Valladay certainly has production. He finished his college career with three 1000-yard seasons, including each of his last two. He also demonstrated some receiving ability this year, with 37 catches for 287 yards. Houston did not take an RB in the draft proper, and they gave Valladay $175K guaranteed. Expect him to be Dameon Pierce’s primary backup and change of pace option.

Indianapolis Colts

G Emil Ekiyor Jr, Alabama: Ekiyor is an experienced guard with championship pedigree, having started the past 3 seasons for the Tide. Most Alabama linemen are stout, and Ekiyor is no exception. He wasn’t expected to go undrafted. The Indianapolis native decided to sign with his hometown team, and they’re better for it. Outside of Quenton Nelson, the Colts’ line was a mess. The right guard spot could be Ekiyor’s for the taking.

Jacksonville Jaguars

DB Kaleb Hayes, BYU: Hayes caused scouts to take a second look at his tape when he ran a blazing unofficial 4.31-s 40 at his pro day. I did so as well. He has fairly good size at 5’11”, and I like his coverage technique. Hayes seems to fight through the receiver to brake up passes, earning 19 PBUs in his final 2 college seasons. My one concern is his lack of ball production: 0 INTs in 4 years. The Jaguars need secondary help, so if they are fine with good coverage but little turnover potential, they might like Hayes.

Kansas City Chiefs

LB Isaiah Moore, NC State: A torn ACL in 2021 kept Moore from entering the 2022 draft. I’m happy to report that he seemed as good as new in 2022. Proficient in both the run and pass games, Moore earned 82 tackles (15 for loss) and 3 sacks last season. He doesn’t offer a ton in coverage, but as a downhill blitzing LB, he can be dangerous. Slightly undersized at 6’2″, he still tackles with power. At this point, KC is just adding depth for another Super Bowl run, and this signing should make DC Steve Spagnuolo happy.

Las Vegas Raiders

G McClendon Curtis, UT-Chattanooga: Follow the money if you want to figure out which UDFAs are important. Curtis took home a whopping $210K guaranteed, more than some 7th-round picks. They did so for good reason: some scouts had Curtis rated as high as a 3rd rounder, and the team badly needs help on the offensive line. Curtis feels like a lock to make this roster, and starting isn’t out of the question.

Los Angeles Chargers

DT Jerrod Clark, Coastal Carolina: One more highly paid UDFA, Clark is getting $105K guaranteed. I wondered why the Bolts didn’t address their run defense during the draft, but they may have done so here. Clark is a monster nose tackle at 6’4″ and 340 lbs. However, he has proven to be more than a run stuffer. His good hand use makes him a strong pass disruptor as well, and he can develop that part of his game more while he eats double teams in the middle of the Chargers’ defense.

Los Angeles Rams

K Christopher Dunn, NC State: Like Cameron Dicker last year, the Rams are signing a UDFA kicker. This time though, they’re signing the reigning Lou Groza Award winner, and they actually need a kicker. Matt Gay left for Indianapolis, leaving the Rams with 0 kickers on their roster. Now, Dunn will compete for the starting job, and he’s likely to win that battle. He is a career 100% PAT converter, and he had an absurd 96.6% FG rate in 2022.

Miami Dolphins

P Michael Turk, Oklahoma: For those wondering, this Turk is the nephew of former NFL punter Matt Turk, who played a few years for Miami. Considered one of the top punters in college football, Turk has an uphill battle to unseat Jake Bailey. The former Patriot didn’t have a great year last season, but the Dolphins guaranteed him almost $1M. In a fair battle, I believe Turk would win. In this case though, he might be showcasing his talents for other teams.

Minnesota Vikings

EDGE Andre Carter II, Army: When Carter turned heads a with a 15.5-sack season in 2021, he looked like he’d be the highest-drafted player from a military school in ages. The second round seemed like a safe bet. Fast forward a year, and much changed. He earned just 3.5 sacks in 2022 while dealing with injuries. The pre-draft testing process was never going to be kind to him. He couldn’t work out and bulk up in the same way as other prospects because of his Army requirements. All of these factors led to him falling out of the draft entirely.

This is my longest commentary because no other UDFA has as much potential upside. Or the same pay, as Carter’s $340K guaranteed is one of highest sums for any UDFA in NFL history. Once Minnesota gets Carter into the weight room, he’ll be more durable, which in turn might enable him to become more consistent. The Vikings are also getting an intelligent kid with outstanding character. I might rank this as my favorite post-draft signing made by any team.

K Jack Podlesny, Georgia: Like last year, Minnesota is bringing in a kicker to compete with Greg Joseph. Unlike last year, Joseph is not coming off his best campaign. He was re-signed, but making 87% of his PATs and 78.8% of his FGs did not guarantee him the job. Like Joseph, Podlesny has a limited leg. His range tops out around 52 yards. However, if his accuracy is better than Joseph, he’d be the likely winner of a camp battle due to his cheaper contract.

LB Ivan Pace Jr, Cincinnati: Minnesota might have found their Eric Kendricks and/or Anthony Barr replacement. Pace’s issue, like many UDFAs, is his size. At just 5’10”, he’s rather compact. However, he did produce for the Bearcats, earning 9 sacks and 20.5 TFLs in 2022 after 3 years with Miami OH. This kid FLIES across the field, and effort is never lacking. He might simply refuse to be denied a roster spot, and Minnesota would be better for it.

New England Patriots

QB Malik Cunningham, Louisville: Often viewed as “Lamar Jackson Lite”, Cunningham also went to Louisville and became a dual-threat QB. He’s only a 62.6% passer though, and he had just 1568 yards passing last year. However, he never had less than 450 rushing yards in a season. At 6’1″ and possessing plenty of speed, Cunningham could be the next college QB the Patriots try to convert to a WR. It went great for Julian Edelman but not well for Danny Etling or D’Eriq King. Supposedly, Cunningham is open to playing WR, which would greatly increase his chances of making the roster.

New Orleans Saints

TE Joel Wilson, Central Michigan: For 3 years at CMU, Wilson did next to nothing. Then, he suddenly caught 700 yards worth of passes over the next 2 seasons, with 6 TDs each year. That leap in production, coupled with his 6’4″, 250-lb frame and athleticism, had teams high on the former Chippewa. Not only did the Saints not draft a tight end, they actually traded Adam Trautman away. There’s a reserve TE spot available here behind Juwan Johnson, and it’s Wilson’s to lose.

LB Anfernee Orji, Vanderbilt: A converted safety, Orji switched to LB in 2021. The change had a great effect on him. He was more in his element against the run, racking up 198 tackles with 19.5 for loss over the past 2 seasons. However, with his safety experience, he also has good instincts in coverage. His overall package was enough to obtain $226K guaranteed. For now, he’ll likely be a reserve. Demario Davis is an excellent player to learn from though; Orji’s career might be better for it.

New York Giants

WR Bryce Ford-Wheaton, West Virginia: I talked about Ford-Wheaton in my Combine Winners article, but I guess he didn’t end up winning after all. Inconsistent hands and mediocre route running led to his UDFA status, but there’s no denying his athleticism. At 6’3″ and 221 lbs, this man should not be able to run a 4.38-s 40 or post a vertical jump of 41 inches. With 675 yards and 7 TDs in 2022, there’s production to go along with the frame. Given New York’s WR need, I love this signing.

EDGE Habakkuk Baldonado, Pittsburgh: This long (6’5″), powerful (260 lbs) edge rusher would have been a higher pick if he entered the 2021 draft. That season, he broke out with 9 sacks and 12 TFLs. Injuries marred his 2022 campaign and likely made him go undrafted. This seems foolish to me; someone with this type of upside is worth a flier in the 7th round at the very least. The strength of the Giants’ defensive line is on the interior, so Baldonado could carve out a role in subpackages fairly early.

New York Jets

RB Travis Dye, USC: Dye might be a jack of all trades but master of none. Still, you like that in a backup running back, as versatility helps a player make the roster. Hurting his chance is that the team drafted Israel Abanikanda, but there is still room for a 3rd back. Dye was highly productive in college, but his best year came in 2021 when he had 1271 yards rushing, 16 TDs and 402 yards receiving. Still, he averaged 6 yards per carry or more in every season but his freshman campaign. I’m higher on Dye than scouts seem to be, but I think he’ll perform well enough to make this roster.

WR Jason Brownlee, Southern Mississippi: I know Mel Kiper was stumping for this guy late in the draft, and I get why. As a 6’3″ receiver, a 4.59-s 40 isn’t all that bad. Then there’s the production, which increased every year and culminated with 891 yards and 8 TDs in 2022. Though he’s not explosive after the catch, Brownlee brings in 50/50 balls and can be a very good possession receiver. After striking out on Odell Beckham, this isn’t a terrible consolation prize.

Philadelphia Eagles

WR Jadon Haselwood, Arkansas: When NFL.com compares a guy to AJ Green, I take notice. After review, I wouldn’t say the two are very close, but I do like Haselwood. Another bigger WR with speed concerns (6’3″ with a 4.66-s 40), Haselwood earned 702 yards in 2022 while playing in the tough SEC. Level of competition isn’t a concern, and he offers a size element not possessed by most of the Eagles’ reserves. I like his chances of making the roster as a 4th or 5th WR, except…

WR Joseph Ngata, Clemson: …this guy might be able to nab that spot too. A former 5-star recruit, Ngata never really lived up to that status, but he did spend 2022 as the #1 option for the Tigers. Despite bad QB play, Ngata managed to earn a career-high 526 receiving yards. Oddly though, this 6’3″ player only caught 6 TDs in 4 years. He doesn’t do very well with contested catches, but it feels more like a technique issue than an athletic one. One of these two UDFA WRs should make the roster, but likely not both.

CB Mekhi Garner, LSU: You probably knew at least one LSU DB was going to make this list. It’s just a factory over there! I list him as a CB, which is what he played in college, but 4.55-s 40 likely foreshadows a shift to safety. He has plenty of size at 6’2″, and after transferring from ULL, he held his own in the SEC. Philly still has a need at safety, so this is one of Garner’s better potential landing spots.

CB Eli Ricks, Alabama: A former LSU DB who transferred to Alabama, Ricks had a rocky college career. His freshman season was outstanding, but his sophomore campaign wasn’t as strong. He transferred before 2022 but had another middling year. Formerly pegged as a potential 1st-round pick, there’s clearly talent to work with here. It’ll be up to the Eagles to get that out of him within a few months.

Pittsburgh Steelers

EDGE David Perales, Fresno State: I discussed Perales at length as part of my Week 11 Takeaways, but nobody with draft pick influence seems to have read it. Improving both his sack and TFL totals each year, Perales peaked with 16 TFLs and 11.5 sacks in 2022. Slightly undersized at 6’3″ and 246 lbs, he still should have been selected by day 3. I think he could be an immediate contributor as a designated pass rusher. He has a relentless motor and produces time and time again. Ultimate sleeper here.

San Francisco 49ers

LB/FB Jack Colletto, Oregon State: One two-way player (Derek Parish) made it into the 7th round, but the more productive Colletto did not. It does not surprise me one bit that the team employing Kyle Juszczyk in a “joker” role would also nab Colletto as a UDFA. Initially a QB, passing didn’t work out well for Colletto, but he turned out to be a good runner and tackler. Partly a gadget player, I think he’ll instantly become a core special teams player. That should allow him to make the roster while Kyle Shanahan experiments with him in different roles.

Seattle Seahawks

QB Holton Ahlers, East Carolina: This QB intrigues me not because of any upside (it’s limited) or the fact that he’s a lefty. Ahlers just strikes me as the kind of solid player that can enjoy a 10-year career as a backup. He comes with 5 years of starting experience, and he just finished his best season with 3708 yards, a 67.2% completion rate, and a 28-5 TD-INT ratio. Cutting his INT total in half year over year is a very encouraging sign. Ahlers is the opposite of Drew Lock, Seattle’s current backup, and I mean that in a good way.

WR Matt Landers, Arkansas: Another Combine star from my pre-draft article, Landers didn’t find the best landing spot. Seattle spent a first-round pick on a WR and is 3-deep with stars at the position. His only hope is to make the roster as a reserve, but it’s more likely that he latches onto a practice squad and winds up elsewhere. A 6’5″ WR with a 4.37-s 40 should never go undrafted, and I don’t have a reason why nobody took him. He even had SEC production, with 901 yards and 8 TDs in 2022. Seattle has a tough WR room to crack, but this is the top UDFA WR I’ve seen in recent years, so anything is possible.

CB Arquon Bush, Cincinnati: Bush gets to join his former Bearcat teammate (Coby Bryant) in Seattle! Though limited athletically, Bush has stellar instincts and 5 years of experience. He was a key member of the 2021 CFP version of Cincinnati and played alongside Sauce Gardner that year. Teams picked on Bush to avoid throwing at Gardner, and he played well, earning 9 career INTs. The Seahawks are known for their late-round CB gems. Could this be another?

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

RB Sean Tucker, Syracuse: It’s not hyperbole to say that Tucker single-handedly carried the Syracuse offense. With little passing effectiveness, the Orange ran everything through Tucker, and he rewarded them with over 2500 yards rushing and 23 TDs over 2021 and 2022. He also flashed in the receiving game. However, his pass blocking could limit his playing time, as he’s not very developed in that area. Tampa is starved for RB talent though. Just holding onto the ball could vault Tucker over Ke’Shawn Vaughn.

WR Taye Barber, TCU: Unlike the last few WRs we’ve discussed, Barber is a slot guy at 5’9″. He was consistently productive for the Horned Frogs, earning 613 yards and 5 TDs in 2022. With twin towers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin on the outside, there’s room for a slot player in TB. I think Barber has some athletic limitations that may keep him as a reserve, but he should have a reasonable shot to make the roster.

WR Rakim Jarrett, Maryland: The other half of Maryland’s WR duo, Jarrett also had a better 2021 than 2022. He is a former 5-star recruit who stands 6 feet tall and has good speed to generate separation. His weakness is his route running. Once he gets the ball though, he’s a YAC monster. As Tampa is in a rebuild, the team can afford to be patient while developing Jarrett if they so choose.

WR Kade Warner, Kansas State: The son of Hall of Fame QB Kurt Warner is getting a chance. After 4 largely wasted years, Warner caught 5 TDs in 2022 to go with his 456 yards. This signing is mostly notable because of his last name. Truthfully, only one of these 3 WRs may make the Buccaneers’ roster. If I had to bet on one, it would be Jarrett, but you never know.

Tennessee Titans

OT John Ojukwu, Boise State: I’m not sure how a guy who allowed 0 sacks at tackle in the FBS goes undrafted. Ojukwu is 6’5″ and has 34-inch arms, so he possesses the proper size to play LT. Sheer athleticism allowed him to dominate at Boise State, and that won’t work in the NFL. However, these traits usually earn a guy a day 3 selection. Coaching will help Ojukwu lower his pad level and use his hands better. The Titans are rebuilding, and Ojukwu and Jaelyn Duncan are really intriguing sleepers who could develop into starters.

Washington Commanders

QB Tim DeMorat, Fordham: I’ll be honest: I had a hard time finding someone notable for Washington. Their UDFA haul did not impress me. Therefore, I thought I’d end with a prospect that’s just interesting. Washington eschewed QBs in the draft, giving Sam Howell a vote of confidence. They did, however, sign an FCS star at the position. DeMorat shattered records with the Rams, throwing for 4891 yards, 56 TDs, and 10 INTs in 2022 while completing 65.3% of his passes. He has good size at 6’4″ and 220 lbs, but he played at a lower level of competition. This is a true shot in the dark, but Kurt Warner and Tony Romo will tell you that a shot is all it takes.

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