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Analysis of Notable 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. As Field Yates of ESPN recently pointed out, there are more UDFAs in the Pro Football Hall of Fame than first-round picks. Obviously, 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 fact, I 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. In the sections below, I list the notable UDFA signings accomplished by each team (in alphabetical order) along with short commentaries. If I missed anyone, please let me know in the comments!

Arizona Cardinals:
RB Ronnie Rivers, Fresno State: Rivers is the Cardinal UDFA with the best shot at making the roster, as he ideally complements starter James Conner. Rivers holds Bulldog records for several RB receiving categories, and he happens to be replacing a receiving back in the departed Chase Edmonds.

Atlanta Falcons:
OT Tyler Vrabel, Boston College: This one is mostly interesting because of the last name. Tyler is the son of Titans coach Mike Vrabel, who has stated that he did not want to coach his own son. Thus, it makes sense that the All-ACC honorable mention would go to the team of his dad’s former OC (Arthur Smith).

Baltimore Ravens:
WR Slade Bolden, Alabama: I’m honestly surprised he didn’t sign with New England. Seems like the type of gritty slot WR that Bill Belichick has loved over the years. Baltimore probably wanted him more due to his blocking ability; he’s both willing and able. He’ll be able to make some plays when Lamar Jackson scrambles, but he has to produce as a blocker and on special teams because the Ravens run their offense through the running game.
WR Emeka Emezie, North Carolina State: Emezie is a tall receiver at 6’3″, which is good because he doesn’t generate a ton of separation. He wins on contested catches with physicality.
LB Diego Fagot, Navy: Staying close to home, Fagot joints a hard-nosed Baltimore defense that’s a perfect fit for him. In college, he always flew around the ball and was in on seemingly every play. That attitude will help him earn playing time on both defense and special teams.

Buffalo Bills:
TE Jalen Wydermyer, Texas A&M: He might be the biggest name on this list. Several months ago, Wydermyer was the #1 TE on most draft boards, and he was expected to be gone by the end of round 2. However, my concerns about him were well-founded: for all his athletic ability, he doesn’t produce very much. However, you knew a team would take a shot on his 6’5″, 255-lb frame. Dawson Knox and OJ Howard will likely see the most playing time, but Wydermyer will have the preseason to make his case.

Carolina Panthers:
WR Charleston Rambo, Miami: The former Sooner transferred to Miami a year ago and greatly benefitted once QB Tyler Van Dyke took over. Rambo set career highs with 79 catches for 1172 yards. At 6’1″, he’s plenty tall, and though his 4.57-second 40 might seem slow, it’s the same number Antonio Brown ran. He has a real shot at becoming the #3 receiver for Carolina.

Chicago Bears:
LB Jack Sanborn, Wisconsin: A highly intelligent defender who doesn’t wow you with his athleticism, Sanborn made a career-high 89 tackles in 2021. His route to making the team probably runs through special teams. Jim Leonhard trusted him with a lot of autonomous decisions, so he won’t have trouble with alignments.
RB Master Teague III, Ohio State: Teague was a big name at OSU, but in their loaded backfield, a phenom back overshadowed him each season, limiting his playing time. He is viewed as a power back, but he ran a 4.4 40 at his pro day. It’s within reason to expect that he can become the backup to David Montgomery, with Khalil Herbert playing on passing downs.

Cincinnati Bengals:
G/C Ben Brown, Mississippi: Brown has good size but went undrafted due to a bicep injury. As has been well documented, Joe Burrow was sacked an ungodly number of times. Three linemen were signed in free agency and another was drafted, but you can never have too many. Brown’s positional versatility could see him beat out a few other players for a roster spot.

Cleveland Browns:
WR Isaiah Weston, Northern Iowa: The Browns clearly need receivers despite adding Amari Cooper, and they did draft one. However, that pick (Michael Woods) is an average prospect. Weston’s measurables are not average. At 6’4″ with 4.42 speed, he looks like a poor man’s Christian Watson. Oddly, Weston has trouble with contested catches, but he has the frame to succeed with coaching. His upside is considerably higher than that of the player they drafted.

Dallas Cowboys:
C/G Alec Lindstrom, Boston College: If his last name seems familiar, it’s because his brother Chris was a first-round pick of the Falcons several years ago. An experienced player with high football IQ, he likely makes the team as a backup lineman before pushing Tyler Biadasz at center.
S Juanyeh Thomas, Georgia Tech: Thomas got some buzz early in the draft process, but he went undrafted because he offers no pass coverage ability. However, if he can learn to play a hybrid linebacker type of role, he will be an asset near the line of scrimmage on run downs.

Denver Broncos:
OLB Christopher Allen, Alabama: Allen likely had a decent grade from teams based purely on ability. He has juice as a pass rusher and nice instincts. Injuries are what hurt him. He tore his ACL in 2018 and broke his foot last year, which really cost him a chance to influence scouts. If he is full-go during camp, don’t be surprised if he impresses.

Detroit Lions:
WR Kalil Pimpleton, Central Michigan: Pimpleton is a dynamic playmaker who the Chippewas used as a receiver, runner, and returner. He has speed but not size, coming at at 5’8″. Staying close to home with the Lions, Pimpleton should be able to make the roster on special teams while trying to carve out a slot receiver role.

Green Bay Packers:
RB Tyler Goodson, Iowa: Goodson is a speedy receiving back who ran for 1151 yards in his final season. He is not super effective between the tackles, but he can complement Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon effectively on third downs and maybe as a returner.
RB BJ Baylor, Oregon State: A solid all-around back, Baylor is going to have a tough time making the Packers because he is a bit too much like the guys ahead of him on the depth chart, but his running style lends itself well to showing out in the preseason, at which point another team could grab him.

Houston Texans:
WR Drew Estrada, Baylor: The Texans have a weak WR group beyond Brandin Cooks, so UDFAs at that position will have a good opportunity to make the roster. Estrada doesn’t have the highest upside, but he’s a reliable underneath pass catcher who could be a good outlet for Davis Mills, a bit like Hunter Renfrow in Las Vegas.

Indianapolis Colts:
RB D’vonte Price, Florida International: After his blistering 4.38-second 40 time, it seemed like Price would get drafted. He’s a very strong runner, but does not add much value as a pass-catcher. It seems peculiar that he’d sign with a team that possesses Jonathan Taylor, but he should be able to become the primary backup.
RB CJ Verdell, Oregon: Verdell was the forgotten man in this year’s RB class after missing most of last season with an injury. His skill should not be forgotten. He’s a speed back with excellent hands, making him an ideal 3rd-down complement for Taylor. However, Nyheim Hines is paid very well to fill that role, so Verdell might be doing it for another team.
QB Jack Coan, Notre Dame: Coan was an above-average college starter who played with good intelligence. He profiles as a game manager who could win the #2 job over Sam Ehlinger.
LB JoJo Domann, Nebraska: A 6-year starter for the Cornhuskers, Domann amassed over 200 tackles in his college career. His toughness and instinctive playmaking were expected to get him drafted, but the Colts are a nice landing spot since he can play alongside Darius Leonard.

Jacksonville Jaguars:
QB EJ Perry, Brown: Perry attracted scouts’ attention more by throwing to other position groups at the combine than through his own workout. Aside from the obvious intelligence of an Ivy League QB, Perry is a decent rhythm passer who doesn’t try to do too much. He clearly won’t challenge Trevor Lawrence, but perhaps CJ Beathard?
K Andrew Mevis, Iowa State: Mevis is the clear top UDFA kicker in this class after the other high-end kickers were all drafted. After going 20/23 on field goals in 2021, he enters camp as the likely winner in a battle with incumbent Matthew Wright.

Kansas City Chiefs:
WR Justyn Ross, Clemson: Ross has the talent of a first-round receiver, but injuries caused his draft stock to implode. Congenital fusion of his neck and spine cost him a full season, and his pre-draft process was marred by a foot injury. With Tyreek Hill gone, the only thing standing in Ross’s way is health. His ability would suggest a starring role.
RB Jerrion Ealy, Mississippi: Though his teammate Snoop Conner was drafted, Ealy is the better back. He is a speedy player who is dangerous as a receiver out of the backfield. KC appears to have soured a bit on Clyde Edwards-Helaire, so Ealy might have a shot to earn a role here.
QB Dustin Crum, Kent State: I would have spent a 7th-round flier on Crum. He only played in the MAC, but he produced as both a passer and a runner. He doesn’t always win pretty, but he gets the job done. If the Chiefs carry a 3rd QB with Patrick Mahomes and Chad Henne, Crum should be the guy.

Las Vegas Raiders:
LB Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Notre Dame: If his name rings a bell, it’s because he happens to be Tua’s cousin. Unlike many other players on this list, Tagovailoa-Amosa has excellent size at 6’2″ and 270 lbs. He’ll likely shift to DE for the Raiders, though his path to playing time is a bit blocked there. He also comes with a lot of experience, so he should be able to hit the ground running.

Los Angeles Chargers:
RB Leddie Brown, West Virginia: Brown was badly hurt by his poor 4.64-second 40 time. Still, he was a productive player for the Mountaineers, exceeding 1000 yards on the ground in 2021 while also providing value as a pass catcher. The team’s drafting of Zamir White likely limits his chances of making the roster, but there are 31 other teams.

Los Angeles Rams:
P/K Cameron Dicker, Texas: Dicker the kicker played both specialist roles for the Longhorns but was primarily known as a kicker. However, punting is his path to the NFL, and that’s where the Rams listed him. Matt Gay is the reigning Pro Bowl kicker for the NFL, while the freshly-signed Riley Dixon is his only competition as a punter.

Miami Dolphins:
DB Verone McKinley III, Oregon: This is one of my favorite UDFAs BY FAR. I had a 4th-round grade on McKinley in spite of his small frame. At 5’10” and 190 lbs, he probably won’t match up well with tight ends or extra large WRs. However, he will be excellent against slot receivers or as a free safety due to his sound technique and nose for the football. Every time I watched him play, it seemed like he’d intercept a pass. Reuniting with former Oregon teammate Jevon Holland doesn’t hurt either.
OT Kellen Diesch, Arizona State: One of two Sun Devil linemen who surprisingly went undrafted, Diesch’s main weakness is that he isn’t a good run blocker. However, his pass blocking skills are strong, which is exactly what Tua Tagovailoa needs.

Minnesota Vikings:
K Gabe Brkic, Oklahoma: Vikings kicker Greg Joseph did pretty well for them last year, but Brkic was signed to a 3-year deal. This suggests that he has a real shot at supplanting Joseph should the incumbent encounter a rough patch. Brkic has hit from 56 yards and was 159/160 on PATs during his career.

New England Patriots:
QB D’Eriq King, Miami: Don’t let the QB tag fool you. King is going to try to follow the Julian Edelman path to the NFL by switching from QB to WR and playing for Bill Belichick. This signing wouldn’t be super notable if not for that history, as King is a small player who is often injured.
DT LaBryan Ray, Alabama: Bill Belichick loves his Alabama players. Ray was a former 5-star recruit who played very well for Alabama when he was on the field, even lining up on the edge at times. However, he was not on the field very often. If Ray can put his defensive woes behind him, he’ll be a quality reserve for his former teammate Christian Barmore.

New Orleans Saints:
S Smoke Monday, Auburn: As a player with good size and speed who also plays special teams, Monday seems like the type of prospect who could make a roster. He is effective in run support, which well help contrast him with the Saints’ two big-money safeties, Tyrann Mathieu and Marcus Maye, both of whom are free safety coverage types.
LB Nephi Sewell, Utah: Though he’s undersized (5’11”) and not super fast (4.67 40), he does bring good bloodlines to the NFL as the brother of Lions tackle Penei Sewell. Nephi is not nearly as strong as Penei though, so he’ll need to improve his coverage skills to make a roster.
RB Abram Smith, Baylor: It shocked me that Smith wasn’t selected on day 3 of the draft. After playing linebacker the previous year, Smith ran for 1601 yards and 12 touchdowns as a senior. Despite the position change, the trait that stuck out most to me was his field vision. Knowing when to cut and finding holes are innate, not taught. With only Alvin Kamara a lock to make the team at RB, Smith could easily become the #2 back that provides the thunder to Kamara’s lightning.

New York Giants:
DB Yusuf Corker, Kentucky: This is a big strong safety type that played pretty well in the rugged SEC. His his are a bit tight, so he struggles a bit in coverage, but he plays the run well and can contribute in zone defenses.

New York Jets:
LB DQ Thomas, Middle Tennessee: This signing sticks out due to the guarantees the team handed him, which reportedly exceeded $130,000. That suggests a player who they expect to contribute. Thomas had good numbers at MTSU, with 20.5 career sacks. The Jets could use assistance at all linebacker spots, so I agree with their assessment that Thomas will be a very useful player for them.

Philadelphia Eagles:
QB Carson Strong, Nevada: Strong going undrafted was a stunner. At 6’4″, he has prototypical size for the position, and he has very good arm talent (perhaps not elite, but he can make all the throws). He also produced very well at Nevada in spite of a knee injury. It turns out that this knee injury sunk his stock. Instead of being picked by the 4th round at the latest, he tumbled out of the draft altogether. The Eagles likely won’t retain Gardner Minshew beyond this year, and Jalen Hurts is no sure thing, so this landing spot could work out well for Strong.
CB Josh Jobe, Alabama: This is a cautionary tale about a player returning to school after he receives a 2nd-round grade from evaluators. Jobe clearly wanted to become a first rounder, but that backfired as a result of inconsistency and a toe injury. He has good size and speed, so if the Eagles can coach him into playing with better discipline, he could fill the spot across from Darius Slay.
RB Kennedy Brooks, Oklahoma: Running backs seem to be really cheap to acquire these days. Brooks is a guy who broke SIXTY tackles in 2021 alone, yet still went undrafted. After a bad shoulder injury his freshman year, Brooks produced at a high level in spite of the other talent in the Sooner backfield. He’s not a burner, but he’s surprisingly elusive and could spell Miles Sanders effectively.

Pittsburgh Steelers:
OLB Tyree Johnson, Texas A&M: Johnson comes in with a lot of experience and decent production. He will likely have to earn a spot as a special teamer and reserve defender because the Steelers’ front 7 is loaded.

San Francisco 49ers:
C Dohnovan West, Arizona State: West was highly coveted by the Niners and for good reason. He’s a strong run blocker who can also play either guard spot. Versatile linemen without serious red flags don’t usually go undrafted. He’ll need to play guard this year before potentially taking over for C Alex Mack in the future.
WR Tay Martin, Oklahoma State: After backing up Tylan Wallace, Martin got regular playing time in 2021 and took advantage. His specialties relate to contested catches and red zone production. With Deebo Samuel unhappy, Martin could squeeze out a bit of playing time as a rookie.

Seattle Seahawks:
QB Levi Lewis, Louisiana: Lewis helped put ULL on the map and likely contributed to Billy Napier getting the Florida job. He has decent arm talent and is a dual-threat QB, but he is very undersized. However, he fits the profile of a Seahawk backup QB, so he might be able to crack the roster with the least-settled QB depth chart in the league.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
WR Jerreth Sterns, Western Kentucky: While QB Bailey Zappe was putting up comical numbers in the Hilltoppers’ air-raid offense, Sterns was the guy on the receiving end. He led the NCAA with a whopping 150 receptions for 1902 yards and 17 TDs. He’s only 5’9″, but that level of production cannot possibly be a fluke. He’ll have a chance to earn Tom Brady’s trust, most likely in the slot.
LB Olakunle Fatukasi, Rutgers: Another undersized LB whose brother is a current NFL player. His elder sibling, Folorunso, recently signed a lucrative deal with the Jaguars. Olakunle has less natural talent, but he has an equal amount of heart and competitiveness. That should help him stick as a special teamer with the chance to earn more snaps from Todd Bowles.

Tennessee Titans:
WR Reggie Roberson Jr., Southern Methodist: I actually thought Roberson was about the same player as his teammate Danny Gray, who went in the 3rd round, except for a slight speed gap (Roberson has more short-area quickness). Thus, Roberson shouldn’t have trouble cracking a WR corps that isn’t very deep after the departure of AJ Brown.
K Caleb Shudak, Iowa: Shudak is just below Andrew Mevis in terms of UDFA kickers, though Shudak is more effective beyond 50 yards, as evidenced by his 4/6 success rate in 2021. His competition should be easier as well, as Randy Bullock has not been particularly reliable for the Titans or Bengals in recent seasons.
DT Haskell Garrett, Ohio State: I’m not sure what happened here. Garrett was a projected mid-round pick, and I have not seen any reports of an injury or character concerns. He lacks elite power, but he’s incredibly polished in terms of his move set and wins with technique. Where he lacks strength, he gains quickness; his first step is quite good for an interior lineman. Lining up alongside Jeffery Simmons should give Garrett ample 1-on-1 opportunities.

Washington Commanders:
OL Tyrese Robinson, Oklahoma: The Sooners have been a factory for offensive linemen recently, so it was only natural for one to go unnoticed. However, that guy happens to be a 3-year starter with experience at both tackle and guard. Like a lot of UDFAs, he’s undersized for his position, but he’s strong at the point of attack, which is exactly how I could’ve described Brandon Scherff, who departed in free agency.
QB Cole Kelly, SE Louisiana: Kelly really put himself on the map with his performance at the combine, especially when he threw to other position groups during their drills. The former FCS player of the year has excellent height at 6’7″, but he brings a surprising amount of mobility. With his big arm, he could become an intriguing project with room for growth.


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