How the college free agents fell out of the 200-plus selections is secondary in intrigue to their journeys now that they are deep in competitions for scarce roster openings. More important are the athletic traits, collegiate production, early returns and roster fit in terms of need.
The following undrafted free agents are the best of that classification on each NFL roster during training camp thanks to a mixture of those factors. Those that set them apart from their fellow undrafted teammates give them the best chances of making the final roster too, if not latching on elsewhere.
Iowa State’s Brian Peavy fell out of the draft for a slew of reasons, though athletic numbers and size were a big part of it.
Peavy will stand once again at the forefront of the measurements vs. production discussion in camp with the Arizona Cardinals. He graded out at 90.3 at Pro Football Focus last year, ranking fourth among corners.
Something will have to give, though the right schematic fit always helps. Listed at 5’9″, Peavy will be targeted for mismatches when he’s on the field. But with the Cardinals, he could at least carve out a role as an underneath zone player who gets aggressive.
Starting four years in college doesn’t hurt, which only adds to the idea Peavy is the best undrafted player in the desert.
The last thing the Atlanta Falcons really needed was another promising receiver, but they’re getting it with Virginia’s Olamide Zaccheaus.
Zaccheaus is only 5’8″, yet the rest of his numbers speak to upside. Eagles Wire’s Andrew DiCecco captured some of his pro-day numbers: “The former St. Joseph Prep product produced a 35.5-inch vertical, with 40 times ranging from high 4.4s-low 4.5.”
The athleticism, not height, showed up in college when Zaccheaus posted 93 catches with nine touchdowns over 13 games as a senior.
As he did in college, Zaccheaus has a chance to exploit mismatches in certain packages and shake free over the middle—traits the Falcons won’t be able to ignore regardless of his draft status.
Gerald Willis III is one of the exceptions to the rule when it comes to reasons for falling out of the draft.
Character concerns dropped the Miami defensive lineman out of the selections. He was a top-80 prospect on Mel Kiper Jr.’s big board, to cite one of many examples. It is no wonder the Baltimore Ravens paid up bigto get him as a free agent, throwing down a $10,000 signing bonus atop a $50,000 base.
It’s not hard to see why. A 6’2″, 302-pound force of a one-gapper with big upside tells the story of Willis. He wasn’t always consistent, but his wins were show-stealing material.The Ravens are comfortable rolling the dice for good on-field reason, and there is little doubt that aspect alone will get him on the final 53.
Tyree Jackson, the 2018 MAC Offensive Player of the Year, fell out of the draft and landed in a quality long-term environment with the Buffalo Bills.
That makes it sound like he won’t have a hard time making the final roster, which is probably true. Jackson stands at 6’7″ and has a booming arm. Accuracy concerns, which may be correctable, and decision-making issues are the big talking points that held him back.
His physical traits, not to mention 49 career passing touchdowns and 16 more as a rusher, are big marks in the positive column that should convince the Bills to roster three quarterbacks in 2019. Jackson might not dethrone Matt Barkley for the right to back up Josh Allen, but his traits are rare enough to keep in town.
The fact that another team is almost assured to steal Jackson off the practice squad if the Bills try to sneak him through says it all.Notice a trend? Elijah Holyfield is another fun example of the production-versus-everything-else debate.
Holyfield put up 1,018 yards and seven touchdowns while averaging 6.4 yards per tote last season at Georgia. But his checking in at 5’10” and 217 pounds with a 4.78-second time in the 40-yard dash seemed to scare teams away.
Not that the Carolina Panthers will complain. Coach Ron Rivera told ESPN’s David Newton: “You really see the explosiveness between the tackles; you see his ability to run between the hashes. I know he didn’t run a good 40 time, but when you put the tape on … it was pretty impressive.”
Holyfield is also one of the players who worked with quarterback Cam Newton before camp, so the talent is apparent to those who look at the whole picture.The Chicago Bears represented a case of the “rich get richer” in undrafted free agency thanks to the addition of receiver Emanuel Hall.
Hall fell in the draft due to his nagging injury woes, which at one point had him as a PUP candidate before Bears training camp thanks to surgery for a sports hernia. Still, a 6’2″ frame and superb deep-field play helped him average north of 23 yards per catch over his final two seasons at Missouri.
Austin Gayle at Pro Football Focus added context: “Hall finished the 2018 season ranked second in yards per route run (4.14) and fourth in passer rating when targeted (141.8), and he did so with the second-highest average depth of target (20.3) of any draft-eligible FBS wide receiver.”
Hall helped quarterback Drew Lock shine at Missouri, and it could eventually be the same story for Mitchell Trubisky in Chicago, as the medical side of things seems like the only major hurdle.
An overabundance of NFL talent at the skill positions and a need for defenders had to play a big role in the way so many quality wideouts and running backs fell out of the draft.
Stanley Morgan is another good example. The Nebraska product leads the program in all-time catches at 189. Ditto for yardage at 2,747. Physically, a 6’0″ receiver might seem a bit small, but the production speaks volumes about his potential in the right situation.
Given the above, it’s easy to figure out why Morgan chose the Bengals despite a loaded wideout depth chart there. The system is receiver-friendly, and there is also a chance to learn from guys such as A.J. Green. Morgan would’ve likely appeared on this list regardless of the team he chose, though.