Once the draft ends, the process begins for undrafted free agents. Teams put in countless amount of hours studying prospects from all over the country. So if a player doesn’t hear their name called on draft day that doesn’t mean the journey is over. Every year a team adds at least three UDFA’s to their roster and there’s guys that end up exceeding expectations. UDFA’s currently in the NFL that have developed into contributors or starters over the years: Robby Anderson, Philip Lindsay, Shaquil Barrett, Cory Littleton, Matt Brieda, La’el Collins, Austin Ekeler, Anthony Harris, Andrew Norwell, Rodney McLoed, Jack Doyle, Cole Beasley, Malcolm Butler, Adam Thielen and Chris Harris Jr.
Over 300 players enter the draft year in and year out. Due to the high number of draft eligible players and the extensive work it takes to scout prospects, there’s always guys that slip through the cracks. This year there was an abnormally large amount of quality undrafted free agents due to this being a loaded draft class. The Covid-19 outbreak causing a nationwide shutdown prevented a number of prospects from having pro days. That played a part in some prospects going undrafted because they were unable to showcase their athleticism in a workout. Below we’re going to talk about some UDFA’s with the potential to have long careers.
Bryce Huff, DE, Jets
Huff was a projected mid-rounder so seeing him go undrafted was surprising. The Jets must have felt the same way because out of all the undrafted free agents that they signed, Huff received the most guaranteed money. In 2019, Huff racked up 64 total pressures which ranked 4th in the nation. He added 15.5 TFL’s and 6.5 sacks to that total. Look for him to make the roster and have an immediate impact as a pass rusher.
Javon Leake, RB, Giants
Leake is a dangerous returner. In 2019, Leake averaged 26.8 yards per kickoff return with two touchdowns. His disappointing 40 yard dash time played a big part in him being undrafted. He ran a disappointing 4.65 but when you turn on the film you see just how explosive Leake really is:
Giants UDFA RB Javon Leake out of Maryland
6’0 215 lbs
2019: 736 yards 7.2 YPC 8 TD
-Great at finding the hole and springing it for a big play
-only 145 career carries so lots of tread
I like Leake to battle with Gallman for RB3. pic.twitter.com/w7ZqAmxTX4
— Bobby Skinner (@BobbySkinner_) May 6, 2020
As you can see, Leake clearly has breakaway speed. Over his career he averaged 7.9 yards per carry on 145 carries. The lack of carries could help him in the long run since RB is such a physical position. The New York Giants have little depth after Saquon Barkley. Therefore, Leake has a good chance at being one of the undrafted free agents that makes the roster. If he can develop as a pass catcher then there’s a possibility that he carves out a small role in the offense.
Francis Bernard, LB, Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys signed one of the best groups of undrafted free agents. Bernard is an instinctive LB. Last season with the Utah Utes, Bernard anchored one of the top defenses in the country. He plays well in coverage and makes smart plays. There are concerns regarding his athleticism and that’s one of the things that led to him not being selected in the draft. The Cowboys have three solid starting LB’s in Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee and Leighton Vander Esch, but after that things get murky. The lack of depth presents a great opportunity for Bernard to make the roster. He should be able to find a role on special teams early on and could potentially develop into a starter down the road.
Ahmad Wagner, TE, Bears
At 6’5, 240 pounds and a former college basketball player at The University of Iowa, Wagner possesses rare physical traits for his size which makes him an intriguing prospect. In 2018, Wager ended up transferring to the University of Kentucky to pursue a football career. Unfortunately the Wildcats ran a run heavy scheme on offense so Wagner didn’t produce much statistically. But he was able to flash his potential on plays like this:
— Wildcat Hub 🏈 (@WildcatHub) September 4, 2019
As you can see in the video above, Wagner’s speed is solid for a guy who’s 6’5 240. But it’s his size and strength that stand out when DB’s are trying to bring him down in the open field. Wagner is a developmental prospect with high upside. He won’t contribute early on but he has the tools to develop into a contributor in a flex TE role.
James Robinson, RB, Jaguars
With it being well known news that Leonard Fournette likely won’t be in Jacksonville after the 2020 season, many projected them to select a RB. That wasn’t the case though as they opted to focus on other areas of need. However, they did address the RB position by signing Illinois State running-back James Robinson as an UDFA. Robinson is a bowling ball type RB who runs with a low center of gravity and bounces off tacklers. He runs with toughness and displayed some workhorse ability while in college with over 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in the 2018 and 2019 seasons combined. Robinson should make this roster and could see a lot of playing time if the Jaguars decide to move on from Fournette at some point in the season.
Luq Barcoo, CB, Jaguars
A former WR and CB at Grossmont Community college, Barcoo committed fully to the CB position once he transferred to San Diego State in 2018. Standing at 6’1 he has great length and doesn’t shy away from tackling. Coming from a small school in San Diego State, Barcoo was overlooked by the NFL Combine and didn’t receive an invite despite being an AP third team all american. In 2019, Barcoo displayed great instincts and ball skills by recording nine interceptions and 16 pass break-ups. Here’s an example of his ball skills.
Barcoo’s WR hands are evident in the link above. He has a light frame at 180 pounds and he’ll most likely have trouble guarding the bigger WR’s. With that being said, Barcoo still has the talent to develop into a starting CB. With the Jaguars secondary being led by a rookie in CJ Henderson, chances are Barcoo gets a shot at some heavy playing time as a rookie.
Marquez Callaway, WR, Saints
Callaway was a victim of inconsistent QB play while at Tennessee. Callaway going undrafted was a bit surprising because he has good speed and creates well after the catch. He also has good size at 6’1, 205 pounds and he’s a good returner. Ran three punts back for TD’s while in college. Callaway averaged 20 yards per catch in 2019 so he has the ability to stretch defenses vertically which is something that Saints coach Sean Payton likes to do. Once you get past Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, there aren’t any real threats at WR for the Saints. It’s not a position of strength for the Saints so it wouldn’t surprise me if Callaway made this roster and challenged Tre’Quan Smith for WR3 reps. Callaway could serve as a long term option alongside Thomas if he can refine his route running.
De’Jon Harris, LB, Patriots
Harris’ height (5’11) along with an average combine performance is what caused teams to overlook him on draft day. The Patriots made him a priority by making him the highest paid from their group of undrafted free agents. Harris may lack size but he’s a thumper. A big hitter who makes the correct reads when attacking downhill in run support. The Patriots are one of the most friendly organizations when it comes to UDFA’s so Harris landed in a good spot. He’ll battle fellow UDFA LB Kyahva Tezino for a roster spot but I like his chances. If Harris makes the squad he’ll be a depth piece early on but he’s skilled enough in run support to develop into a early down ILB.
Alex Taylor, OT, Browns
Taylor is a huge player at 6’8, 308 pounds. He’s a former basketball player with long arms. Taylor possesses good agility and has the frame to put on more weight, which will be necessary. Being that Taylor is a former basketball player, he’s very raw technique wise. He will need a season or two of good coaching in order for him to reach his ceiling. Luckily for Taylor, the Browns have one of the better offensive line coaches in the NFL in Bill Callahan. Taylor possesses all the athletic traits of a starting tackle. He just needs to improve on his technique and bulk up.
Tyshun Render, OLB, Dolphins
Back in March, Render made headlines by being in a photo with Bill Belichick in the pouring rain. On that day, Belichick skipped the combine in order to attend Render’s workout.
At 6’4, 256 pounds, Render is a disruptive, physical specimen. A quick twitch athlete who shows good burst, agility and strength. He deflects passes, makes plays in the backfield and puts pressure on the QB. Render has the makings of a quality edge rusher. All he needs is the right coaching to round out his game. The Dolphins don’t have any pass rushers who measure up to Render physically. If he makes the roster, Brian Flores will definitely fine-tune his game.
Hunter Bryant, TE, Lions
A first team all American in 2019, Bryant going undrafted shocked many because he was looked at as a top 5 TE prospect in this class. Knee injuries in his first two collegiate seasons raised red flags but Bryant still should’ve been drafted. The Lions have TJ Hockenson and Jesse James in the TE room so they aren’t lacking talent. Bryant plays more like a big slot WR in a TE’s body. Brings something different to the table for the lions at the TE position. He was regarded by many as the best UDFA available once the draft ended. So he’ll most likely make the roster.
Josh Pearson, WR, Buccaneers
Josh Pearson was one of the best wide receivers at the FCS level in the last two seasons. While at Jacksonville State, in 2018 and 2019 combined, Pearson grabbed 30 TD’s and had over 2,000 receiving yards. Pearson put his athletic traits on full display during his pro day.
Pearson tested well in all of the categories in the above graphic. He picked a tough roster to crack because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a nice WR room. Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and the addition of sleeper WR Tyler Johnson in the 2020 draft makes for a good trio at WR. There’s nothing set in stone after those three though and that’s where Pearson could fit in at. It’ll take a good showing in training camp and preseason but Pearson has the talent to crack the roster. He’s a redzone threat at the worst but has the potential to develop into a starting WR.