Posted May 10, 2012

Each NFL team’s most promising undrafted free agent

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Assuming he’s telling the truth about the state of his hip, the Eagles could have gotten an absolute steal in running back Chris Polk. (Getty Images)

As soon as the NFL Draft ends, teams make a beeline to the phones in an effort to scoop up undrafted free agents — one more avenue coaching staffs go down to find talent.

Every year, dozens of players never make the cut. Still, you can always look at James Harrison, Tony Romo and Antonio Gates (all stars who slipped through the draft), among others. So, who might the diamonds in the rough be this year?

Arizona Cardinals — Blake DeChristopher, G, Virginia Tech: DeChristopher started for four years at Virginia Tech, but his short arms and average speed means he’ll likely have to move from tackle (where he started 14 games in 2011) to guard. Arizona drafted Senio Kelemete as an interior lineman, so DeChristopher faces an uphill battle, but he’s experienced and plays hard. Others to watch: Conrad Obi, DE, Colorado; Paul Vassallo, LB, Arizona

Atlanta Falcons — James Rodgers, WR/KR, Oregon State:  The Falcons are lacking a kick returner. Rodgers, the older brother of current Falcon running back Jacquizz Rodgers, averaged 28.7 yards per kick return in 2010 prior to a string of injuries. Others to watch: Max Gruder, LB, Pittsburgh; Louis Nzegwu, DE, Wisconsin

Baltimore Ravens — Nicolas Jean-Baptiste, DT, Baylor: About 900 pounds worth of interior D-linemen stand between Jean-Baptiste and a roster spot — Baltimore drafted DeAngelo Tyler (Round 7), re-signed Maake Kemoeatu and added Ryan McBean (who has a six-game suspension to start 2012). Jean-Baptiste is a space-eater and a natural 3-4 nose tackle. McBean’s absence may open the door. Others to watch: Charles Brown, CB, North Carolina; Chyl Quarles, S, Wake Forest

Buffalo Bills — Delano Howell, SS, Stanford: The Bills could use some depth at safety and Howell, a three-year starter for Stanford, might help. He’s not going to step in and be a Pro Bowler, but he has the size to step up and defend in the box. Others to watch: Aaron Corp, QB, Richmond; Garrick Williams, LB, Texas A&M

Carolina Panthers — Matt Reynolds, T, BYU: Reynolds’ fall out of the draft surprised quite a few people, even though the lineman will turn 26 soon. Carolina may slide Reynolds inside, but his four years of experience and terrific work ethic will earn him every opportunity to claim a roster spot. Others to watch: Jared Green, WR, Southern; Ryan Van Bergen, DE, Michigan

Chicago Bears — James Brown, T, Troy: According to ESPN’s Mel Kiper, Brown was the 54th-best prospect in the draft. He’s an aggressive blocker who should only get bigger and stronger. Given some time, Brown might be Chicago’s replacement for J’Marcus Webb at left tackle. Others to watch: Ronnie Cameron, DT, Old Dominion; Adrien Cole, LB, Louisiana Tech

Cincinnati Bengals — Rodney Stewart, RB/KR, Colorado: He had a huge year in 2010, rushing for 1,318 yards on 290 carries. He followed that up by posting 45 catches and more than 1,400 total yards in 2011. Stewart is smallish and has injury concerns, but the Bengals are far from set at running back. Others to watch: Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona State; Landon Walker, T, Clemson

Cleveland Browns — Tashaun Gipson, CB/S, Wyoming: Gipson started 41 games at corner, then slid to free safety to close his senior year. His versatility could help him stick in Cleveland, and he at one point looked like a mid-round prospect. Others to watch: Emanuel Davis, CB, East Carolina; Antwaun Reed, CB, Pittsburgh

Dallas Cowboys — Jeff Adams, T, Columbia: Adams stands 6-foot-6 and 300 pounds, so with a little bulking up, he could be an ideal left tackle candidate. He had a solid week at the East-West Shrine Game, too. The change in competition level will be one of his biggest challenges. Others to watch: Adrian Hamilton, OLB/DE, Prairie View A&M; Darrell Scott, RB, South Florida

Denver Broncos — Gerrell Robinson, WR, Arizona State: Robinson won’t necessarily jump off the screen when you watch his tape, but he was as productive as anyone last year, with 77 catches for 1,397 yards, plus a 241-yard showing vs. Boise State in the MAACO Bowl. He’s 6-3 with a 78-inch wingspan and won’t hesitate going over the middle. Think Peyton Manning can use a guy like that? Others to watch: Duke Ihenacho, SS, San Jose State; Coryell Judie, CB, Texas A&M

Detroit Lions — Kellen Moore, QB, Boise State: As far as players contributing in 2012, using Moore is the doomsday scenario for Detroit, because it would mean injuries to Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill. This could be a great fit, though, if Moore develops as a backup. Others to watch: Rodney Austin, G, Elon; Patrick Edwards, WR, Houston

Green Bay Packers — Don Barclay, G/T, West Virginia: Perhaps not surprisingly, the Packers added several offensive linemen in their UDFA class. Barclay might have the best outlook of any of them — he played left tackle in college but likely sets up for a slide inside in the NFL. Packers fans would love his motor. Others to watch: Jaymes Brooks, G/C,  Virginia Tech; Dale Moss, WR, South Dakota State

Houston Texans — Dwight Jones, WR, North Carolina: Jones told a Houston radio station that he was “the next Andre Johnson.” Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but the 6-3 Jones, like Johnson, does have good size and can go over top of defenders for catches. He has to get much, much better as a route-runner to make an impact. Others to watch: Shawn Loiseau, LB, Merrimack; Logan Brock, TE, TCU

Indianapolis Colts — Antonio Fenelus, CB, Wisconsin: The Colts added several DBs after the draft, including Fenelus, who plays bigger than his 5-8 3/8 size and posted a 4.51 40 time at Wisconsin’s Pro Day. He may never be a great one-on-one corner, but he can contribute on special teams and nickel packages. Others to watch: Steven Baker, T, East Carolina; Cameron Chism, CB, Maryland

Jacksonville Jaguars — Mike Brewster, C, Ohio State: Brewster started 49 straight games for Ohio State, so it’s a little surprising that he didn’t hear his name called at Radio City. He isn’t as refined as you might expect from someone with that kind of experience, but he won’t back away from anyone. Others to watch: Jarrett Boykin, WR, Virginia Tech; Julian Stanford, OLB/DE, Memphis

Kansas City Chiefs — Neiko Thorpe, CB/S, Auburn: The Chiefs need safeties, so Thorpe and Tysyn Hartman will get their cracks. There are questions about Thorpe’s character, and he can get lost on film, but he also had 102 tackles in 2011 playing an SEC schedule. That’s gotta count for something. Others to watch: Dexter Heyman, LB, Louisville; Cam Holland, G/C, North Carolina

Miami Dolphins — Jeff Fuller, WR, Texas A&M: Don’t believe me about Fuller’s potential? Maybe you’ll listen to Peter King, who wrote this week that Fuller is “absolutely an NFL-caliber receiver” if he can solve his issues with drops. Oh, and Fuller was Ryan Tannehill’s top option at A&M. Others to watch: Kelcie McCray, S, Arkansas State; Kevyn Scott, CB, Syracuse

Minnesota Vikings — Tyler Nielsen, LB, Iowa: I’m always in favor of teams adding Iowa players because, for the most part, they play smart and hard. Nielsen fits the mold as a scrappy linebacker, who could lend support to Minnesota inside and out. Others to watch: Chase Baker, DT, Boise State; Quentin Saulsberry, C/G, Mississippi State

New England Patriots — Brandon Bolden, RB, Ole Miss: The Patriots signed BenJarvus Green-Ellis as an undrafted player out of Mississippi in 2008, and that paid off well. Bolden could be their next find — he runs hard and can go between the tackles, though injury and character concerns follow him. Others to watch: Marcus Forsten, DT, Miami; Markus Zusevics, G/T, Iowa

New Orleans Saints — Johnny Thomas, S, Oklahoma State: Thomas is an athletic player who could slot in at either free safety or strong safety, so he’s of value for the Saints given Roman Harper’s and Malcolm Jenkins’ inconsistencies. He’s not a great tackler, but he will make some plays. Others to watch: Braylon Broughton, DE, TCU; A.J. Davis, CB, Jacksonville State

New York Giants — Joe Martinek, FB/RB, Rutgers: This is one of the more intriguing UDFA connections in my book, with a local boy heading over to the Meadowlands. Martinek is an overachiever, all-heart type of guy who will do whatever he’s asked. Don’t be surprised if he somehow finds his way onto the Giants’ roster. Others to watch: Janzen Jackson, CB, McNeese State; Julian Talley, WR, Massachusetts

New York Jets — Marcus Dowtin, LB, North Alabama: Dowtin was en route to a stellar career at Georgia before he was charged with second-degree assault and released from his scholarship. He was dominant at D-II North Alabama and, if he has put his off-field issues behind him, has a chance to contribute to an NFL defense. Others to watch: Brian Linthicum, TE, Michigan State; D’Anton Lynn, CB, Penn State

Oakland Raiders — Derek Carrier, WR, Beloit (Wis.): It’s a long jump from Division III to the NFL, but the 6-3, extremely athletic Carrier could make it. He ran a 4.51 40 and put up a 38-inch vertical leap at Wisconsin’s Pro Day. It’s possible Oakland gives him a shot at tight end, where he’d be a very difficult matchup for linebackers and safeties. Others to watch: Kaelin Burnett, DE/OLB, Nevada; Lucas Nix, G/T, Pittsburgh

Philadelphia Eagles — Chris Polk, RB, Washington: One of the no-brainers on this list, Polk plummeted from a potential Day 2 pick to out of the draft, as rumors of a degenerative hip injury swirled (Polk denied them). Polk did have a shoulder injury in 2011, but still rushed for more than 1,400 yards and put up 4,000-plus yards in his career. He’s also a terrific receiver out of the backfield. Others to watch: Aaron Pflugrad, WR, Arizona State; Philip Thomas, S, Syracuse

Pittsburgh Steelers — Brandon Lindsey, DE/OLB, Pittsburgh: Lindsey played his collegiate home games at Heinz Field, so this should be a comfortable transition for him. He doesn’t do a ton of things well, but he can get to the quarterback, which makes him a nice fit for the Steelers’ 3-4. Others to watch: Robert Golden, CB, Arizona; Marquis Maze, RB/WR, Alabama

San Diego Chargers — Christian Tupou, DT, USC: He had a bad combine, but he’s one of those guys who comes off better in games than on the practice field. Tupou, 6-2 and 289 pounds, might be hard-pressed to play nose tackle in the NFL, and yet, he could add depth at multiple spots. Others to watch: Sean Cattouse, S, Cal; Philip Payne, WR, UNLV

San Francisco 49ers — Chris Owusu, WR, Stanford: In Owusu, the 49ers are getting a wide receiver with explosive, big-play potential (4.33 40, 40 1/2-inch vertical), but also one who suffered three concussions in a 13-month span. If Owusu can stay healthy, he could be a terrific addition. Others to watch: Joe Holland, LB, Purdue; Matt Masifilo, DE/DT, Stanford

Seattle Seahawks — Jermaine Kearse, WR, Washington: We’re kind of on a run of guys catching on with their local teams. Seattle fans ought to be well-aware of Kearse after a strong career at Washington. He has good size and will go over the middle — valuable traits for a team searching for WR help. Others to watch: Rishaw Johnson, G, California (Pa.); DeShawn Shead, DE, Portland State

St. Louis Rams — Matt Daniels, S, Duke: Daniels won’t wow anyone in one-on-one coverage, but he is very sturdy against the run and is the type of guy coaches like to have in the locker room. Others to watch: Alex Hoffman-Ellis, LB, Washington State; Joe Long, OT, Wayne State (Mich.)

Tampa Bay Buccaneers — Leonard Johnson, CB, Iowa State: Johnson was a four-year starter in the Big 12, so he saw more than his fair share of NFL-quality receivers. That experience, combined with Johnson’s ability to locate and drive on the ball, could have him playing in Tampa Bay’s nickel package early. Others to watch: Bradley Sowell, T, Ole Miss; Quenton Washington, CB, South Florida

Tennessee Titans – DaJohn Harris, DT, USC: I love this pickup for the Titans. Harris was inconsistent at USC, but in small spurts showed off some serious upside. If the Titans put him on the field a few snaps a game, they might find something here. Others to watch: George Bias, G/T, Stephen F. Austin; William Vlachos, C, Alabama

Washington Redskins — Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina: The Redskins added a ton of receivers this offseason, so it’s hard to find a spot for an inconsistent undrafted guy like Lewis. The ex-East Carolina star will open some eyes this summer, though, because he has good size and will make some exciting plays. Others to watch: D.J. Holt, LB, Cal; Chase Minnifield, CB, Virginia

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