Sunday, May 05, 2013

The best NFL undrafted free agents


(L-R) Lawrence Okoye, Tyler Bray and Murphy Holloway Legitimate prospects fall through the cracks each and every year.

Philadelphia, PA - Undrafted doesn't necessarily mean unwanted in the NFL.

Despite the resources every organization pours into player personnel, the NFL Draft is only seven rounds long and legitimate prospects fall through the cracks each and every year.

Heck, Pro Football Hall of Famers like Warren Moon and John Randle weren't selected in the draft when it was a 12-round process. And Moon and Randle are among a group of 15 undrafted free agents who are enshrined in Canton compared to just 13 former No. 1 overall picks and eight Heisman Trophy winners.

Current stars like Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, Houston running back Arian Foster and New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz were all also overlooked before developing into Pro Bowl-caliber players.

So, here's a look an one undrafted player from each NFL team who could end up contributing down the road:

Arizona Cardinals: Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma - Jefferson was once considered the reincarnation of Roy Williams in Norman, ranked as the fourth-best safety nationally in his recruiting class. His promising career probably peaked a little too soon at OU and he spent his final two years battling nagging injuries. When healthy, Jefferson is a complete safety who could push a nondescript group in the desert led by Rashad Johnson and free agent signee Yeremiah Bell.

Atlanta Falcons: Nick Clancy, LB, Boston College - The Eagles weren't all that successful in 2012 and perhaps that's why Clancy was overlooked. BC finished a dismal 2-10, but the senior linebacker was the leader of a defense which competed despite difficult circumstances. A poor 4.93-second 40-yard dash and the fact that Clancy wasn't a full-time starter until last season also hurt him, but he's an instinctive 'backer who could fit in on special teams early while bolstering a position the Falcons have little depth in.

Baltimore Ravens: Murphy Holloway, TE, Ole Miss - Everyone is always looking for next Antonio Gates, a basketball standout who developed into a Hall of Fame-caliber tight end in San Diego. The Ravens need a third tight end and the 6-foot-6 Holloway has intriguing physical skills. He was a star at Ole Miss on the basketball court, averaging 14.5 points and 9.7 rebounds for the Rebels, who advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.

Buffalo Bills: Da'Rick Rogers, WR, Tennessee Tech - There is little doubt the former Tennessee wide receiver has NFL-level talent. In fact, according to Bills general manager Buddy Nix, Buffalo would have had a first- or second-round grade on the enigmatic receiver if it was just about "football ability." Off-the-field issues, including at least three positive drug tests, ended Rogers' career at Rocky Top and forced him to finish at Tennessee Tech. The Bills are desperately looking for a complement to Stevie Johnson and drafted USC's Robert Woods and Texas' Marquise Goodwin, but Rogers has as many if not more physical gifts than those two second-day players.

Carolina Panthers: Robert Lester, S, Alabama - Lester is another player who probably peaked a little too early while at Alabama, snaring eight interceptions as a sophomore before finishing up with six over his final two seasons with the Crimson Tide. Lester has NFL-caliber size and length with solid ball skills, but he isn't the speediest guy in the world and often takes bad angles to the ball. That said, he was a draftable prospect and the Panthers aren't exactly loaded at safety.

Chicago Bears: C.J. Wilson, CB, North Carolina State - A three-year starter at the college level, Wilson is raw and was suspended for the first four games of 2012 for disciplinary reasons, but he was clocked twice at 4.34 seconds in the 40 at his pro day. The Bears love Wilson's athleticism and need depth at the cornerback position.

Cincinnati Bengals: Onterio McCalebb, CB, Auburn - McCalebb was a dynamic offensive weapon for Auburn but is making the move to cornerback at the pro level. That's all white noise, though. McCalebb's true calling may be kick returner, where his long speed could be a difference maker in tilting the field for the Bengals.

Cleveland Browns: Braxston Cave, OC, Notre Dame - Cave was perhaps the third- best center in this draft class and probably a better prospect leaving South Bend than John Sullivan, who has developed into one of the NFL's best over the past two seasons. Cave is also versatile enough to contribute at guard, giving him a better opportunity to stick.

Dallas Cowboys: Brandon Magee, LB, Arizona State - The Cowboys obviously think Magee is this year's Vontaze Burfict, another Sun Devil who started 14 games for Cincinnati in 2012 and finished with a team-leading 127 tackles after going undrafted. Magee, who received a $70,000 first-year guarantee from the Cowboys to sign, is an instinctive linebacker who needs to improve his physicality and take on blockers a little more.

Denver Broncos: Aaron Hester, CB, UCLA - Hester, a four-year starter at UCLA, is the type of long and lengthy corner teams are attracted to these days. He's a solid athlete who needs to do a better job tracking the ball when it is in the air.

Detroit Lions: Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA - Fauria is the nephew of former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, who played 13 NFL seasons. Joseph started his college career at Notre Dame but transferred to UCLA, and his 6-foot-7 frame helped him develop into one of the top red zone threats in the nation. The Lions need depth behind Brandon Pettigrew so Fauria should get his shot.

Green Bay Packers: Jake Stoneburner, TE, Ohio State - Stoneburner is a versatile player who has spent time at wide receiver, fullback and tight end. He has solid receiving skills and looks like a possible replacement for Tom Crabtree, who signed with Tampa Bay in free agency.

Houston Texans: Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame - The Texans aren't exactly starving for help at running back with Foster in his prime, but Wood is the type of back who excels in Houston's blocking scheme, a plant his foot, one- cut kind of guy who was pretty productive for a solid program.

Indianapolis Colts: Sheldon Price, CB, UCLA - Some had Price pegged as a third-round pick and like his teammate Hester, Price has the height and length that are en vogue in the NFL right now. Previous knee issues may have scared some teams off, but Price looks like a prototypical outside corner who has the long arms to press and knock away passes down the field.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Matt Scott, QB. Arizona - The only competition David Caldwell brought in for embattled incumbents Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne was undrafted read-option threat Scott along with Aaron Rodgers' far less talented kid brother, Jordan Rodgers of Vandy. Scott needs to improve his accuracy but has the arm strength and mobility to be a dual threat QB option.

Kansas City Chiefs: Tyler Bray, QB, Tennessee - Bray has as much talent as any quarterback in this draft, but the intangibles were lacking with the Volunteers. If his head is on straight, and granted that's a big if, it's not hard to argue that Bray has more going for him moving forward than the lone signal-caller selected in the first round, E.J. Manuel.

Miami Dolphins: Alonzo Highsmith, LB, Arkansas - The son of former NFL running back (and current Green Bay Packers scouting executive) Alonzo Highsmith, the Arkansas product is probably never going to be an NFL linebacker, but in a game which is becoming more specialized by the day, Highsmith figures to fit in as a standout special teams player like a Heath Farwell.

Minnesota Vikings: Zach Line, RB, SMU - The Vikings hardly need another running back with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart on hand, but Line is an interesting fullback/halfback hybrid, a one-cut runner who could be a load as a situational or goal line option.

New England Patriots: Cory Grissom, DT, South Florida - Stephen Neal was a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Cal State-Bakersfield before turning to the NFL and becoming a more-than-competent right guard who lasted nearly a decade in Foxboro. Grissom isn't nearly as decorated as a grappler, but he was a star high school wrester and may have the hand skills and leverage to help on the interior of the defensive line.

New Orleans Saints: Chase Thomas, LB, Stanford - Thomas is quite simply the best undrafted player in this year's pool. Speed is the reason teams passed over Thomas again and again, but he is just as instinctive as Manti Te'o and his ability to key and diagnose before others will almost assuredly help him develop into an NFL starter down the line.

New York Giants: Marcus Davis, WR, Virginia Tech - Davis was a draftable commodity who lacked consistency at the college level, although he did record 51 catches for 953 yards in 2012, his first year as a full-time starter with the Hokies. Davis is a raw route runner who has the size/speed ratio which will make a team wait on him.

New York Jets: Mike Shanahan, WR/TE, Pittsburgh - Shanahan is another hybrid type who projects as a weapon from the slot or in the red zone. The All-Big East second-team honoree doesn't have the speed to play on the outside but should be a tough matchup for any linebacker or corner inside because of his 6-5 frame.

Oakland Raiders: Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville - Bushell started his college career at Florida, so you know he has some raw skills. A 2011 and 2012 All- Big East selection, Bushell plays with confidence and has the versatility to play both inside and outside the numbers.

Philadelphia Eagles: Brad Wing, P, LSU - The Eagles brought in Donnie Jones to be their punter this season, but it might not be a bad idea to keep Wing around on the practice squad. The Australian punter has the natural ability to deaden the ball inside the 10 and almost assuredly will be punting in the NFL at some point.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Anthony Rashad White, DT, Michigan State - White is a strong wide body with thick arms and legs, best-suited as a two-down anchor type in the middle of the defensive line.

San Diego Chargers: Kwame Geathers, NT, Georgia - A monster of a man who actually carries about 350 pounds pretty well, Geathers is another potential two-down run-stuffer who can hold the point of attack. He has a long way to go, but if Geathers learns to play with more leverage at the pro level, he could be an elite run-stopper.

San Francisco 49ers: Lawrence Okoye - Okoye was a British Olympian as a discus thrower and also has experience as a rugby player. The 6-5, 310-pound Okoye worked out at the Super Regional Combine in Dallas and opened many eyes by running a mind-blowing 4.78 40-yard dash. He will be looked at as a defensive lineman and San Francisco certainly needs depth there.

Seattle Seahawks: Ray Polk. FS, Colorado - Yeah, the Seahawks secondary is already loaded, but Polk has the kind of speed which can allow a defense to drop the other safety down into the box and give a single-high look without hitting the panic button. On the downside, Polk isn't the most intimidating safety and hasn't shown a ton of ball skills.

St. Louis Rams: Jonathan Stewart, ILB, Texas A&M - A tall inside linebacker, Stewart isn't all that instinctive, but he will aggressively attack the football when he does diagnose where it's going. Stewart is also a smart player who has the ability to get his teammates lined up correctly pre-snap.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Deveron Carr, CB, Arizona State - The Bucs gave Carr a $15,000 signing bonus, so they think a lot of him. He spent two months in Florida preparing for the Sun Devils' pro day, lowered his body fat and added about eight pounds of muscle. Carr also ran 4.39 and 4.40 40s, so he already has showed the will and work ethic to succeed.

Tennessee Titans: Tom Wort, ILB, Oklahoma - Wort is undersized for the middle, but he keys and diagnoses well, is very quick in space and closes well. He also has an innate feel in zone coverage. The Titans need help at linebacker and Wort should be able to contribute on special teams.

Washington Redskins: Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida - Nixon certainly has the requisite length and athleticism to be a starting tackle in the NFL but has never shown much consistency. It seems like Nixon relies a little too much on his reach and occasionally will whiff against top-tier pass rushers. With sound and patient coaching, however, Nixon could end up being a steal for the 'Skins.

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