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Thread: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

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    Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    By Gil Brandt

    The moment the NFL draft ends, the race to sign undrafted free agents begins.

    The undrafted college free agent has been a big part of the NFL since 1950. Fourteen of these players have gone on to become Hall of Famers and countless others have made significant contributions. Despite the exhaustive scouting done on college prospects leading up to the draft, there are players who slip through the cracks -- the NFL's diamonds in the rough.

    The key is identifying players with a specific trait that leads to success at the NFL level. Most of these players lack a complete NFL-ready skill set, but they possess one or two characteristics that prove valuable on Sundays. This is a player like Cliff Harris, who went undrafted out of little-known Ouachita Baptist in 1970, but made six Pro Bowls due to his tremendous speed. Joe Jacoby wasn't great at Louisville, but had a valuable trait for offensive tackles: 35.5-inch arms. Jacoby made four Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls over a 13-year career. And then there's John Randle, who lacked the size and pure speed of conventional defensive tackles in the NFL, but made up for it with unbelievable quickness and competitiveness. Randle hit double digits in sacks in nine different seasons, made seven Pro Bowls and earned a bust in Canton in 2010.

    Through Monday, May 7, there were 459 undrafted free agents signed by NFL teams. The number of signees varies from team to team; this year, Atlanta had the most with 23, while New England had the least with four. Of these players, approximately 50-60 will be on an NFL roster for the first week of the 2012 season. (Fifty-nine made the cut in 2011.)

    I have scouted every one of these players. Based on this knowledge, I've provided my top 11 undrafted free-agent hauls by teams this offseason. These rankings are not particularly predicated on the players' college production, but rather on specific traits that lead to production on the NFL level. Every undrafted free agent represents a calculated, low-risk gamble. These are the teams playing their cards best.

    1) St. Louis Rams
    Key signees: Matt Daniels, S, Duke; Rodney McLeod, DB, Virginia; Scott Smith, DE, Texas Tech; Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LB, Washington State.

    I especially like Daniels because of his intelligence and production as a four-year starter at Duke. He displays NFL-caliber speed and reaction skills as a safety. Although Duke isn't much of an NFL factory, Daniels showcased special talent in his collegiate career. McLeod played safety at Virginia, but can transition to corner due to his speed and quickness. Hoffman-Ellis has the unrelenting competitiveness to be a great special teamer in the pros.

    2) Atlanta Falcons
    Key signees: Louis Nzegwu, DE/OLB, Wisconson; Micanor Regis, DT, Miami; Ray Kibble, DL, Kansas State.

    All three of these players have special traits that could lead to success at the NFL level, but the most notable player is Nzegwu. He projects as a pass-rush specialist, due to excellent speed -- as evidenced by his 4.55 40 at the Wisconsin pro day -- and a great first step. He's not an every down player, but has the quickness to get to the passer. His game is somewhat reminiscent of Colts sackmeister Robert Mathis, who was a fifth-round pick out of Alabama A&M back in 2003.

    3) Denver Broncos
    Key signees: Jamie Blatnick, DE, Oklahoma State; Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas; Elliot Coffey, LB, Baylor.

    Blatnick can be a very good pass rusher. Surprising he wasn't drafted, because he showed a penchant for disrupting action in the backfield, recording 13.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks as a senior. He's gifted with quickness and overall athleticism and seemed to play his best against the best competition (including nine tackles and two sacks at Texas last October).
    Draft Grades & Team Holes analysts Bucky Brooks and Chad Reuter graded the draft classes for each team from the 2012 NFL Draft, and analyst Elliot Harrison addressed what holes remain.

    4) Cincinnati Bengals
    Key signees: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State; Emmanuel Lamur, DB/LB, Kansas State; Julian Miller, DL, West Virginia.

    Burfict let his weight get out of hand and he has a difficult time taking to coaching (as evidenced by his tendency to freelance within a defense, as opposed to just sticking to his assignments). But this is a guy who's worth taking a chance on because he has the competitiveness to be successful at the position. When he's in shape and properly motivated, he's been dominant. Lamur played safety at Kansas State, but I imagine he may be converted to linebacker. He's big, fast (by NFL linebacker standards) and ultra-competitive, with fine ability to make plays in space. He could become a solid contributor on special teams immediately.

    5) Miami Dolphins
    Key signees: Jacquies Smith, DL, Missouri; Cameron Collins, LB, Oregon State; Shelly Lyons, LB, Arizona State.

    Smith has the speed and quickness that you're looking for in a pass rusher. At 6-foot-2 7/8 and 252 pounds, he posted an impressive 4.59 40-yard dash. The Dolphins are currently reaping the benefits of another speedy pass rusher who was overlooked coming out of college: Cameron Wake. Collins has the competitiveness and size to surprise people at the NFL level. This guy definitely has NFL measurables.

    6) Dallas Cowboys
    Key signees: Ronald Leary, OG, Memphis; Saalim Hakim, WR, Tarleton State; Charley Hughlett, long snapper, Central Florida.

    Leary could immediately start at guard, as the Cowboys continue to transition along the offensive line. There are questions about his longevity due to a nagging knee ailment, but this guy is an absolute house at 6-3, 315 pounds and plays with plenty of power. Saalim Hakim is the younger brother of former NFL wideout Az-Zahir Hakim and he offers a similar game with great speed and unbelievable quickness. He lacks experience at a high level, but this is a guy who makes everyone else on the field look slow.

    7) Houston Texans
    Key signees: Eddie Pleasant, DB, Oregon; Greg Williams, OLB, Pittsburgh.

    Pleasant played safety at Oregon -- a program that places a ton of responsibilities on its safeties -- but his speed and quickness should allow him to convert to corner in the NFL. He could be an immediate contributor on special teams, but would also be ready to fill in for injured players. His competitiveness jumps off game tape.

    8) Indianapolis Colts
    Key signees: Steven Baker, OT, East Carolina; Hayworth Hicks, OG, Iowa State.

    Baker lacks extensive game experience, but his length at 6-8 makes him a very enticing tackle prospect. In fact, Baker was an extremely hot commodity right after the draft, receiving one of the largest undrafted rookie signing bonuses at $15,000. He reminds me a little of Jason Peters, who went undrafted out of Arkansas in 2004. There are probably 100 more proven line prospects coming out of college than Baker, but you don't find too many bodies like this.
    Lombardi: Best value picks
    The best players are drafted in Round 1, but value can be found anywhere. Michael Lombardi presents his top 12 value picks. More ...

    9) San Francisco *****
    Key signees: Joe Holland, LB, Purdue; Michael Thomas, DB, Stanford; Garrett Celek, TE, Michigan State.

    Holland exhibited fantastic speed for a linebacker at the Purdue pro day, posting a 4.48 40-yard dash and 6.5 three-cone drill -- which tells you about his exceptional change of direction. He also posted 22 reps on the bench press. As a fabulous all-around athlete, Holland can become an stalwart on special teams in the NFL. Harbaugh knows Thomas well from his time as Stanford's head coach. He played safety with the Cardinal, but could become a corner in the NFL. At Stanford's pro day, Thomas ran a freakishly quick 3.99 short shuttle.

    10) Minnesota Vikings
    Key signees: Derrick Coleman, RB, UCLA; Tydreke Powell, DT North Carolina; Terrell Resonno, DL, Missouri.

    Coleman is extremely hard of hearing, but that didn't stop him from making his mark at UCLA, where he scored 11 rushing touchdowns as a senior. He's big at 230 pounds, but has home run-hitting ability, as evidenced by his 4.56 40 at UCLA's pro day. He's also adept at catching balls out of the backfield. Minnesota is a great place for Coleman, as the Vikings clearly like big backs with Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. Meanwhile, Powell is yet another defensive line prospect out of North Carolina. The 311-pounder is a force on the interior and could develop into a nice run stopper with inside-pressure capability.

    11) Seattle Seahawks
    Key signees: Monte Taylor, DE, Cincinnati; Lavasier Tuinei, WR, Oregon; Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington.

    Taylor is a pass-rushing specialist who only played on throwing downs at Cincinnati. He's a very raw talent who could really blossom with NFL coaching due to his natural burst off the edge. This is a high-ceiling project worth investing some time and energy on. Tuinei is a specimen at wide receiver, standing 6-4, 220 pounds and posting a 4.53 40 time. He did not benefit from Oregon's run-based offense/uneven quarterback play -- upside galore for Seattle. With his big body, the Seahawks could make this guy into a third tight end, creating mismatches all over the field. Kearse offers enticing speed that can stretch out a defense.
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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    WOW! Some love for our RAMS as numero uno on this list! Thanks Gil!

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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    I've heard nothing but nut-swinging love for Daniels from multiple sources ever since he signed. It begs the question: what is it that kept this kid from being drafted?
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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison View Post
    I've heard nothing but nut-swinging love for Daniels from multiple sources ever since he signed. It begs the question: what is it that kept this kid from being drafted?
    And there's certainly no stronger love than, "nut-swinging love."
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    Quote Originally Posted by HUbison View Post
    I've heard nothing but nut-swinging love for Daniels from multiple sources ever since he signed. It begs the question: what is it that kept this kid from being drafted?
    Probably hung out wit Jenkins.
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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    Quote Originally Posted by VegasRam View Post
    Probably hung out wit Jenkins.
    That's a good one, Sin City.

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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    One guy that Gil didn't put on our list is the corner from EKU. Jeremy something. Anyway, my wife goes there and wondered if anyone had made the NFL from it. Of course, there happens to be an UDFA who the Rams signed right as she asked the question.

    Anyway, the kid was a finalist for the D1-AA defensive player of the year and has a penchant for returning kicks and INT's for touchdowns. Could be a diamond in the rough...
    I believe!

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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    Given the Rams severe lack of depth some of these guys might actually make the team.

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    Re: Which teams corralled the best undrafted free agents?

    T. Bob Hebert G LSU
    Michael Hay G Syracuse
    Joe Long T Wayne State
    Sammy Brown LB Houston

    Here are the four the I'm watching all have interesting stories.

    I think we may have found steal with Brown...

    Sammy Brown

    By Nick Wagoner
    Undrafted free agent linebacker Sammy Brown put up huge numbers in his senior season but went undrafted. Now, he's looking to show why that was a mistake for the teams that passed.

    On statistics alone, one would think that linebacker Sammy Brown was drafted in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft.

    After all, the final numbers he posted in his senior year at Houston are nothing short of eye popping. On his way to first-team All Conference USA honors, Brown racked up a nation-leading 30 tackles for loss to go with 13.5 sacks in a season that might have garnered Heisman Trophy consideration had he played for a more nationally recognized program.

    Yet there Brown sat during draft weekend, hoping to hear his name called but ultimately waiting for his phone to ring in the moments after the draft to sign on as an undrafted free agent.

    “I was surprised but I can’t do anything about it now,” Brown said. “It’s the teams’ decision and I just couldn’t help it. That’s their choice.”

    So how is it that a player so supremely productive on a team that narrowly missed a BCS bowl berth can go almost completely unrecognized? It certainly wasn’t for lack of production.

    And while Brown’s workout numbers weren’t off the charts, they were also far from being a disappointment, either. He measured in at 6’2, 243 pounds and ran the 40-yard dash in a respectable 4.63 seconds to go along with a 37-inch vertical leap and 20 reps in the 225-pound bench press.

    The feedback Brown got on why he didn’t get drafted made some sense to him in one case but was a bit puzzling in another.

    “They said I was too small for my 3-4 position and they thought I couldn’t cover,” Brown said. “And they also said I didn’t play hard enough on every play.”

    On the first count, Brown could see the logic. Although his size would certainly qualify him just fine as a 4-3 outside linebacker like he’ll be for the Rams – he’s working this weekend on the strong side – he played almost exclusively as a pass rusher off the edge for the Cougars.

    While Brown clearly had success in that role for Houston, it also made him a bit of a one trick pony and left 4-3 teams wondering if he could make the transition to a role that would ask him to cover on a semi-regular basis in the NFL.

    “I can pass cover,” Brown said. “People might think I can’t but I can pass cover, I can definitely cover people. I just want to learn the playbook and show people what I can do.
    It will be fine. In junior college, I played a 3-3-5 like a stack outside linebacker so I’m used to it. It’s just getting back to going with lateral movements instead of going straightforward.”

    Brown can certainly do things to alleviate any concerns about his pass coverage skills but he is even more intent on proving people who questioned his effort wrong. Those questions left him scratching his head in light of the production he was able to come up with when he was supposedly not playing as hard as he should.

    “I see everybody else who was supposedly playing hard every play with five tackles for loss, two sacks and stuff like that,” Brown said. “But they said I didn’t play hard every play and I had 30 tackles for loss and 95 tackles but it is what it is. I am going to come in here and try to be the best player I can be, go hard every play and whatever happens, happens.”

    As if that motivation might not be enough for him, Brown said he regularly thinks about his mother who passed away and trying to do everything he can to honor her.

    “We were close,” Brown said. “I was kind of bad when I was little but when she passed, it was like losing my world. After that, I just wanted to be the best at every sport I played so I could make her proud.”

    If Brown is able to show some of the same pass rush skills he had in college and provide evidence that he can make the adjustment to outside linebacker in a 4-3 defense, he might just have hit the jackpot in terms of opportunity.

    The Rams have room for a number of linebackers to compete for and potentially land roster spots at outside linebacker. In fact, when the draft ended, Brown had numerous offers from teams around the league and narrowed the choices down to Oakland and St. Louis.

    Ultimately, Brown passed on some bigger signing bonuses elsewhere to come to the Rams where he felt like the chances of making the roster were much greater.

    “I feel like I can come in here and play,” Brown said. “Hopefully the coaches will like me and I can just go out there and help this team any way I can.”

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