Matt Scott, Kevin Reddick headline this year’s best UDFA signings
At the 2012 NFL Draft, every team passed over Vontaze Burfict, hesitant of his resume dotted with red flags, and the linebacker was pushed into free agency. However the Cincinnati Bengals decided to give him a chance, and Burfict went on to start 14 games last season, racking up a team-high 127 tackles.
Wes Welker, Arian Foster, Antonio Gates, James Harrison and Bart Scott also took the undrafted free agent (UDFA) route into the NFL, only to carve out long careers.
Which of this year’s UDFAs have the best chance to make an impact for their new teams? Here are 12 with a shot:
• Keith Pough, LB, Howard — Buffalo Bills: The Bills’ post-draft pickup WR Da’Rick Rogers, a very talented but problematic wide receiver, will garner the most attention going forward. But don’t overlook the potential for Pough to make an impact in Buffalo, too.
The 6-foot-2 linebacker set an FCS record with 71 tackles for loss in his career. Buffalo’s not particularly deep at that spot on the field either, despite the addition of second-round pick Kiko Alonso. Pough has a great shot to make the roster, and he could pay off down the line if he does.
• Ray Graham, RB, Pittsburgh; Dennis Johnson, RB, Arkansas; George Winn, RB, Cincinnati; Cierre Wood, RB, Notre Dame — Houston Texans: Pick your favorite running back of the group. With Arian Foster occasionally struggling with injuries and little depth behind No. 2 back Ben Tate, the Texans got busy addressing that position after the draft.
In doing so, they signed four of the best (maybe the four best) available running backs. At least one or two should stick around, meaning this position battle will be one to watch come training camp.
• Matt Scott, QB, Arizona — Jacksonville Jaguars: A direct product of the Great Quarterback Draft Slide of 2013 was that some viable talents at that position made it to free agency. Tennessee’s Tyler Bray (signed by Kansas City) might have the highest upside and Tulane’s Ryan Griffen (New Orleans) could compete to be Drew Brees’ backup.
It’s Scott, though, who’s in the best situation, behind only embattled starter Blaine Gabbert and veteran backup Chad Henne in Jacksonville. He should hang around as the Jaguars’ third quarterback, and the window of opportunity is there for Scott to carve out playing time.
• Braxston Cave, C, Notre Dame — Cleveland Browns: Centers generated only minimal interest in the draft as a whole, so seeing Cave slide through all seven rounds is not a shock. He might not mind too much, considering that he found a decent landing spot in Cleveland. A strong training camp would help Cave earn the job as Alex Mack’s backup, and he could add another serviceable body at guard, too.
• Kevin Reddick, LB, North Carolina — New Orleans Saints: The Saints actually added a couple of interesting prospects at linebacker in Reddick and Stanford’s Chase Thomas. A move from a 4-3 base defense to the 3-4 left New Orleans in need of some depth at the linebacker position, and those two rookies might provide assistance.
Reddick had 275 tackles during his four-year career at North Carolina, plus 18.5 tackles for loss last season. That ability to find the ball should at least make Reddick a valuable special-teams player.
• Tony Jefferson, S, Oklahoma — Arizona Cardinals: Jefferson turned pro after his junior season despite a couple of shaky outings — notably, in a 50-49 win over West Virginia (after which Jefferson tweeted an apology for his poor play) and in a bowl loss to Texas A&M. However he still looked to have the game to earn a draft selection. And keep an eye on this: Jefferson might wind up scrapping with Tyrann Mathieu for time at safety.
• Joseph Fauria, TE, UCLA — Detroit Lions: It’s pretty interesting what the Lions did at tight end over the past week. First, they drafted the bulky Michael Williams, who’s a better blocker than either of the top two tight ends on Detroit’s roster (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler); then, they picked up Fauria, who may have better hands than either of those guys. Fauria’s essentially a bulked-up receiver — he doesn’t block well — but in Detroit’s wide-open passing attack, he could make for a sleeper.
• Mark Harrison, WR, Rutgers — Chicago Bears: Harrison is 6-foot-3 with a 38.5-inch vertical and a sub-4.5 40 time. He also made just 107 catches over four years at Rutgers, then reportedly trashed his hotel room at the combine, along with DeAndre Hopkins (Harrison has denied that report).
In a lot of ways, Harrison is the prototypical UDFA — a talented, high-upside player with issues on his way to the NFL. Because of those positives, Harrison could crack the Bears’ roster as a red-zone threat.
• Xavier Nixon, OT, Florida — Washington Redskins: Like Harrison, Nixon never really put it all together in college. He entered Florida as a five-star, top-rated recruit and started 33 games in his career. But the 6-foot-6 tackle was inconsistent to the extreme, and his dominant flashes were merely a tease of what he might have been. His physical tools remain undeniable, however, so if the Redskins can coax the every-down effort out of Nixon that Florida never could, this signing could go down as one of the best.
• Kwame Geathers, DT, Georgia — San Diego Chargers: The Chargers could use another option behind Cam Thomas at nose tackle in their 3-4, and Geathers meets the criteria. He’s 6-foot-5, 342 pounds and filled that role at Georgia. He may not provide more than a run-stuffer up front … but the Chargers may not ask much of him beyond that.
• Adrian Bushell, CB, Louisville — Oakland Raiders: This is more proof that the Raiders might actually know what they’re doing these days. Bushell hopped around in college, from Florida to the JUCO ranks and finally to Louisville. He’s undersized at 5-foot-9, but he played well at that final stop and has the athletic ability to contribute for the Raiders. Given the overhaul on Oakland’s defense this offseason, Bushell battling for time as a nickel corner is not out of the question.
• Luke Marquardt, OT, Azusa Pacific — San Francisco 49ers: A bit of a poor man’s Lane Johnson, Marquardt was a high school quarterback and was recruited as a tight end before shifting to tackle. He stands 6-8 and 315 — a combination that’s especially appealing because Marquardt could pile on some pounds. Marquardt will need plenty of time to develop, but the 49ers have the luxury of waiting.
And speaking of needing time to develop … San Francisco also nabbed England native Lawrence Okoye, a former Olympian with no football experience. There’s no telling how that might turn out.