Sep 24, 2016; Waco, TX, USA; Baylor Bears wide receiver Ishmael Zamora (8) runs after the catch by Oklahoma State Cowboys linebacker Devante Averette (40) during the second half at McLane Stadium. Baylor won 35-24. Mandatory Credit: Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports
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As the 2017 group of undrafted free agents following the 2017 NFL Draft gear up to compete for a spot, which player from each team has the best chance to make the 53-man roster?
The 253 selections in the 2017 NFL Draft are all in the past now. Those players will be competing for both time on the field and for roster spots. Meanwhile, they’ll also have competition from guys who didn’t have their name called on Thursday, Friday or Saturday. The undrafted free agents signings went in a hurry with most of them being set before Saturday subsided.
One of the marks of a successful franchise is finding value and potential in the form of undrafted free agents. Yes, you have to do well in the NFL Draft, but mining talent after the fact is equally as vital. Just look at a player like Malcolm Butler, the No. 1 cornerback for the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. He fell out of the draft, but is obviously a key contributor and one of many examples.
So, with undrafted free agents now being signed and ready to prove themselves in camp, the question is which ones should teams keep an eye on. Looking at team needs and what they did (or didn’t do) in the 2017 NFL Draft, in addition to talent, here is one undrafted free agent from each team who can make the 53-man roster.
Nov 12, 2016; Austin, TX, USA; (Editors note: Caption correction) West Virginia wide receiver Daikiel Shorts, Jr., (6) avoids a tackle by Texas Longhorns cornerback John Bonney (24) during the first quarter at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brendan Maloney-USA TODAY Sports
Buffalo Bills: Daikiel Shorts, WR – West Virginia
One thing that the Bills did well was making sure that Tyrod Taylor has weapons to work with in the passing game. That was clearly a focus in the 2017 NFL Draft. I think they maintain that focus and like the quickness and pass-catching that Shorts can bring to their roster. He’s not a game-breaker, but he could be a nice threat in the flats with solid speed.
Miami Dolphins: Matt Haack, P – Arizona State
The group of undrafted free agents frankly isn’t all that inspiring. Thus, I’m going with an uninspired pick for who they keep in the fold. You don’t bring in a punter unless you really like hm as an undrafted free agent. Thus, I wouldn’t be shocked if Haack is coming out and booting it for the Fins this year.
New England Patriots: David Jones, S – Richmond
If there’s one thing that’s certain about the Patriots, it’s the fact that they’re not going to let keeping talent around get in the way of need. They don’t have a need at safety immediately or for the foreseeable future. However, they also recognize the value of depth and talent and Jones would provide that. He has great size and an uncanny ability to make plays on the ball in the open field. There are holes, particularly in run support. With that being said, he’s got the talent and potential that I don’t the Pats let go.
New York Jets: Connor Harris, LB – Lindenwood
I truly though that Connor Harris would get drafted. Yes, he was playing against subpar competition at Lindenwood, but when you see a player with the instincts, tackling and production that Harris put up, it’s hard to ignore that the possibility that he might just be a damn good football player. The Jets are definitely rebuilding their defense right now. As such, Harris will have a chance to show up in workouts and put his talents on display. If he does that the level I think he’s capable of, he could make the roster and see the field quite a bit in 2017.
Okay, so this might be cheating slightly. Though the Cowboys are bringing in nearly a dozen undrafted free agents under contract, Mathis technically isn’t one of them. However, the Cowboys did invite the edge rusher to their rookie minicamp for what is ostensibly a tryout. While there’s no guarantee he’s even with the team beyond that minicamp, my bet would be that he is. Moreover, he’ll make the 53-man roster.
Before Mathis’ senior year was cut short by a foot injury, he was putting together one of the most impressive seasons from a pass rusher in the country. Considering he was breaking out after mediocre impact in previous years, teams decided to pass on him. If he can show the combination of speed and power off the edge that he did when healthy in his tryout, he might not just make the roster, but could join Taco Charlton in boosting the desperate pass rush of Dallas.
New York Giants: Jarron Jones, DL – Notre Dame
When Jones was good at Notre Dame, he was dominant. The issue with him was a combination of effort and consistency. However, he’s an exceptional athlete for a man his size, which allows him great versatility up front. The Giants addressed the defensive front depth in the draft, but Jones could show up and really carve out a situational role right away if he’s motivated.
Philadelphia Eagles: Corey Clement, RB – Wisconsin
With talk that they might use a premium pick on a running back, the Eagles instead used a mid-rounder on essentially a Darren Sproles replacement in Donnel Pumphrey. However, that still leaves a little bit to be desired for the backfield as a whole. Thus, adding a big power back like Corey Clement would be a nice complement to the group when they need short-yardage and goal-line work.
Washington Redskins: Zach Pascal, WR – Old Dominion
The Redskins lost both Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, though they signed Terrelle Pryor. After the converted quarterback, though, Washington is relying on unproven commodities in guys like Josh Doctson (missed last season with injuries) and Jamison Crowder (nice moments in slot with little consistency). They also added an athletic monster in Robert Davis on Day 3, but may look for more competition in the group, which Pascal can provide. He has nice size and was a production machine for ODU. He could be a good body to add to the group.
Sep 1, 2016; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Utah Utes wide receiver Tim Patrick (12) runs in for a touchdown after a reception in the fourth quarter against the Southern Utah Thunderbirds at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports
Baltimore Ravens: Tim Patrick, WR – Utah
Whoever was the one making the call to not draft offensive players for the Ravens should be fired on the spot. Their defense is good and will get better with the players they have. However, their defense isn’t the reason that they missed the playoffs a year ago. It was an anemic offense devoid of any meaningful weapons. And that unit is even more depleted in 2017 after Steve Smith’s retirement. Thus, they could add a rangy wide receiver like Tim Patrick to the 53-man when it’s all said and done.
Cincinnati Bengals: Brandon Bell, LB – Penn State
Bell was a nice linebacker for Penn State a year ago, though not a flashy player. He’s not an exceptional athlete and won’t be changing the look of the unit from Day 1 if he were to make the 53-man roster in Cincinnati. However, for a linebacker unit that would be served well by putting more depth and competition on the roster, Bell is a guy and competitor that will do that for the Bengals.
Cleveland Browns: Jamal Marcus, DE – Akron
Marcus is a player that wasn’t on the national radar throughout the college season and really through much of the draft process. Turn on his tape, though, and it’s possible the only reason why is because people didn’t watch it. He has a great ability coming off the edge with the frame to potentially move down to an end in the Browns 3-4. Though it’s not an immediate need by any stretch, Marcus has the talent to slot right into the role.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Scott Orndoff, TE – Pittsburgh
As was the case with the Dolphins and will be with several other teams, the Steelers haul of undrafted free agents isn’t particularly impressive. Looking at their needs and the list, though, Orndoff is the best blend of need and potential NFL talent. He’s a nice blocker with reliable hands, though not a game-breaker athletically by any stretch. Actually, that sounds a lot like almost every Steelers tight end. So yeah, he’ll definitely be a good fit in the Steel City.
Dec 21, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Wyoming Cowboys wide receiver Tanner Gentry (4) dives unto the end zone for a touchdown during the second half against the Brigham Young Cougars at Qualcomm Stadium. BYU won 24-21. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears: Tanner Gentry, WR – Wyoming
So, the Bears draft class is kind of gross, all things considered. While I get the purpose of thinking long-term, it looks like they may have been thinking a little too long-term. They mortgaged a lot of capital to trade up one spot for Mitchell Trubisky, and then took several guys who won’t be seeing the field much — or at least doing so effectively — anytime soon. Thus, adding a potential receiving weapon for both Mike Glennon and Trubisky like the reliable Gentry would be a nice move.
Detroit Lions: Michael Rector, WR – Stanford
Perhaps my least favorite selection from the Lions throughout the draft was taking wide receiver Kenny Golladay in the mid rounds when he was a late-round pick at best. Thus, I would say they’ll look for more depth at the position. Michael Rector was a reliable target for Stanford, though outshined by the star of Christian McCaffrey. He could be a nice depth option and No. 4
Green Bay Packers: Donatello Brown, DB – Valdosta State
Early in the draft, the rightful focus of the Packers was on addressing the defense — the secondary in particular with Josh Jones and Kevin King coming to Green Bay. However, the position group as a whole was so thin coming into the 2017 NFL Draft, they could stand to bring in depth with upside. Donatello Brown is that and has the versatility to be something fun in that defensive backfield. He’s a ball of clay waiting to be molded and Dom Capers may want to do so.
Minnesota Vikings: Aviante Collins, OL – TCU
Many Vikings fans seem to believe that signing Mike Remmers along with Riley Reiff fixes their issues at offensive tackle. Reiff does — Remmers not quite so much. He’s a passable veteran, certainly and that’s more than what they had a year ago. However, they need someone for the long-term at a higher level and Collins could be that player. He had a nice career in the Big 12 at TCU and has nice size and athleticism at the position. With technique work, there’s real promise here.
Dec 17, 2016; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Diego State Aztecs safety Malik Smith (12) celebrates during the 25th Las Vegas Bowl against the San Diego State Aztecs at Sam Boyd Stadium. San Diego State defeated Houston 34-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Houston Texans: Malik Smith, CB – San Diego State
With the departure of A.J. Bouye in free agency, I was certain that the Houston Texans would add depth at cornerback in the 2017 NFL Draft. Instead, they went another route and traded capital to move up for Deshaun Watson. What’s more, they looked at the offensive line and elsewhere. With that being said, the Texans can add a high-upside depth player like Malik Smith, who was part of a good secondary at San Diego State. He’s noting spectacular, but has the traits to be serviceable if given time to work.
Indianapolis Colts: Deyshawn Boyd, OL – Cincinnati
Overall, Chris Ballard proved he’s worth his salt in the 2017 NFL Draft. With that said, he neglected one very important area of need for this Colts team: the offensive line. Andrew Luck has been dealing with injuries in recent seasons and a big part of that can be traced to the ineffective unit protecting him. With they said, they can add some more depth there with a versatile interior player like Deyshawn Boyd. He’s far from exceptional, but that’s apt for the line already in place as well.
The Jaguars probably don’t have an immediate use for Carroll Phillips other than simply filling depth in case of injury. However, that can be said of most of the players that they’re bringing in through undrafted free agency. Thus, we look at the players and see who has the most talent and upside, which happens to be Phillips among those heading to Jacksonville.
Tennessee Titans: Roderick Henderson, NT – Alabama State
It was clear that the Titans placed tremendous value upon getting speed on their roster in the 2017 NFL Draft. With that goal, and really overall, they succeeded over the three days in Philly. However, that focus led to them letting some needs take a backseat. One such need is on the defensive front, where they could use depth. They signed Sylvester Williams as a free agent this offseason, but he’s been lackluster of late. Thus, a talented athlete with massive upside like Henderson could have great value moving forward and even now.
Oct 1, 2016; Baton Rouge, LA, USA; LSU Tigers wide receiver Travin Dural (83) runs past Missouri Tigers defensive back John Gibson (5) during the first half of a game at Tiger Stadium. LSU defeated Missouri 42-7. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports
Atlanta Falcons: Deron Washington, S – Pittsburg State
That the Falcons didn’t add a safety in this draft remains questionable. Keanu Neal looked the part of a budding star last season, but an upgrade from — or at least depth behind — Ricardo Allen is required. Deron Washington would likely be depth, but he’s an athlete with great size and untapped potential due to playing in D-IAA in college. He’d be a project, but one worth investing in.
Carolina Panthers: Bryan Cox, DE – Florida
The Panthers most certainly didn’t neglect depth at defensive end in the draft. With a need for youth at the position, they traded up in the middle of the third round and nabbed Daeshon Hall. There’s no such thing as too much depth, though, and a player like Bryan Cox could help provide them that. Cox had big moments throughout his career on a stout defense, but slipped out of the draft due to mediocre measurables and inconsistency. He can play, though, and would be quality depth for an undrafted free agent.
New Orleans Saints: Travin Dural, WR – LSU
One of the things that I was surprised the Saints chose not to do in the draft was add receiving weapons in the wake of Brandin Cooks’ departure. However, they still have the chance to add a wideout with upside in a guy like Travin Dural. Though he’s not a speedy guy like Cooks, he has a nice frame and perhaps untapped potential after working with subpar quarterbacks at LSU.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Paul Magloire, S/LB – Arizona
Needing a safety coming into the 2017 NFL Draft, the Buccaneers got a nice one in Justin Evans that, though he has his flaws, could be a very nice player with some development. Overall, though, Tampa didn’t place a large focus on defense. That’s why a hybrid type safety like Paul Magloire could potentially be of value — especially under a defensive coordinator like Mike Smith that loves to mix up sub-packages with relative frequency.
Oct 1, 2016; Atlanta, GA, USA; Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets wide receiver Brad Stewart (83) runs the ball around Miami Hurricanes defensive back Jamal Carter Sr. (6) during the fourth quarter of the game at Bobby Dodd Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports
Denver Broncos: Jamal Carter, S – Miami (FL)
If we’re being honest, the Broncos aren’t bringing too much in as far as undrafted free agents that seems like an obvious fit. Thus, it’s best to just look at the most talented guy and assume he can shine enough to earn a special teams role or something. That guy in their group is Carter, a nice athlete with the potential to develop if he can become a more sure tackler.
Kansas City Chiefs: Ashton Lampkin, CB – Oklahoma State
For the most part, the Chiefs didn’t have any pressing need outside of quarterback for the future. Hence why they were comfortable giving up the capital necessary to move up 17 spots in the first round. With that being said, they could’ve stood to add depth behind Marcus Peters at cornerback. They didn’t, though, leaving them to look at undrafted free agents as possibly their best option. Lampkin isn’t spectacular by any stretch, but he could be a serviceable developmental corner.
Los Angeles Chargers: Artavis Scott, WR – Clemson
They took one Clemson receiver in the first round, so why not take his teammate on as an undrafted free agent? Mike Williams was taken by the Chargers at No. 7 overall in the NFL Draft. However, the depleted and oft-injured receiving corps could use a bit more depth and Scott is a player with the hands and discipline to get drafted. He didn’t, so the Bolts might get him on the cheap.
Oakland Raiders: Ishmael Zamora, WR – Baylor
The reasons why Ishmael Zamora wasn’t drafted are obvious. Prior to the 2016 season at Baylor, the wideout was caught on video and charged for beating his dog with a belt. He served community service, was suspended and slipped out of the draft because of it. However, at 6-3.5 and 224 pounds with nice speed for his size, he has the potential to be a dangerous NFL wide receiver. He’d be a great fit for Derek Carr and the Raiders offense and, though they’ll have to monitor the red flags, he has the tools to be dynamic on the field.
Nov 24, 2016; College Station, TX, USA; Texas A&M Aggies quarterback Trevor Knight (8) prepares to throw the ball during the first quarter against the LSU Tigers at Kyle Field. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Cardinals: Trevor Knight, QB – Texas A&M
It felt like analysts were expecting the Arizona Cardinals to draft a quarterback every time that they were on the clock. Alas, they left Philly without one. But with Drew Stanton behind the aging Carson Palmer, I’d bet they try to add depth at the position with a guy like Knight. He’s more of an athlete than a true quarterback, but Bruce Arians loves that mold in a young player and could enjoy the talents of Knight on his roster.
Los Angeles Rams: Aarion Penton, CB – Missouri
While there were plenty, the Rams had one of the more curious overall drafts of any team in the league. Most notably, they didn’t do anything to try and add talent at cornerback talent opposite of Trumaine Johnson. Outside of the franchise-tagged corner, they’re thin at the position. Penton isn’t exceptional, but has the talent to have been a late-round selection. He’ll make the roster.
San Francisco 49ers: Lorenzo Jerome, S – Saint Francis (PA)
There are bigger positional needs that could potentially be addressed by the free agents that they’re bringing into camp. Specifically, seeing former Baylor wide receiver KD Cannon add speed and talent to that unit wouldn’t be a shock. However, I’ve championed Lorenzo Jerome throughout the draft process and I’m sticking to my guns. His athletic testing his bad, but his football IQ and playmaking on tape is undeniable. Once he gets into camp, he’s going to impress and add talent to the 49ers rebuilding roster.
You can make the excuse that the Seahawks don’t value offensive linemen a million times over. That doesn’t change the fact that not doing so is a mistake. They continued to mine talent on the defensive side of the ball, which is great to keep that unit humming as a strength. However, the look at what Russell Wilson had to endure last year and not try and fix that up front is criminal. Thus, they’ll try and create some depth by keeping Roos on the roster.