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Undrafted Free Agent Spotlight

Every year following the NFL draft, teams have an opportunity to pick up “Undrafted Free Agents,” or “UDFAs.”  These are draft-eligible players who had the misfortune to be overlooked, or who simply lack the talent to cut it in the NFL.  Though finding splash players – even Hall of Fame Caliber Players – is possible after the draft (see, e.g., Kurt Warner or John Randle), the more likely outcome is that teams find hidden gems that help fill out roster needs, play on special teams, or make the practice squad.  Here is this year’s NFC North UDFA class, with a player highlighted on each team:

Chicago Bears

Adrian Bellard, OT, Texas State

Ben Braunecker, TE, Harvard

Dan Buchholz, OL, Duquesne

Taveze Calhoun, DB, Mississippi State

Don Cherry, LB, Villanova

John Kling, OL, Buffalo

Nate Meier, DE, Iowa

Darrin Peterson, WR, Liberty

Kevin Peterson, CB, Oklahoma State

Roy Robertson-Harris, DE, UTEP

Joe Sommers, TE, Wisconsin-Oshkosh

Heading into the draft, the Chicago Bears were expected to take a tight end following the loss of Martellus Bennett to Buffalo.  They did not choose a single player at that position in the draft.  However, Among the Bears 11 UDFA selections are Harvard tight end Ben Braunecker and Wisconsin-Oshkosh’s Joe Sommers.

The scouting report on Braunecker suggests that he is a mauler at 6’3″ and 250 pounds.  It sounds as though he dominated his Ivy League opponents, which leads to obvious questions: can he do the same to NFL-level talent?  In addition, it does not appear that he would have the skill set to take up much of Bennett’s impact in the passing game.

At 6’3″ and 241 pounds, Sommers was able to run a 4.66 40 yard dash at his pro day – stronger than most of his draft day competition.  While information on Sommers is a little difficult to come by, he caught 41 passes for 669 yards in 2014 before seeing his receptions drop to 25 last year.  Sommers appears to be a true flier.

It would seem the Bears mostly plan on replacing Bennett with players already in-house, or via the waiver wire in the months to come.  In the meantime, here’s Braunecker at work:

Detroit Lions

Adairius Barnes, CB, Louisiana Tech

Jace Billingsley, WR, Eastern Oregon

Quinshad Davis, WR, North Carolina

James DeLoach, DL, Georgia

Chase Farris, OL, Ohio State

Adam Fuehne, TE, Southern Illinois

Deonte Gibson, DE, Northwestern

Jay Lee, WR, Baylor

Ryan Watson, DT, Purdue

Charles Washington, CB, Fresno State

Ian Wells, CB, Ohio

Cole Wick, TE, Incarnate Word

Andrew Zeller, OG, Maryland

Following the loss of Calvin Johnson to retirement, the Detroit Lions were in need of help at wide receiver.  Over the offseason they signed Marvin Jones away from the Bengals, but passed on drafting any additional help.

However, it was something of a surprise that Jay Lee of Baylor went undrafted this year, and so the Lions “moved quickly” to sign him once the draft closed.  Lee is a 6’3, 220 pound receiver who had 758 yards on 38 receptions last season, good for almost 20 yards per catch.  Described as a “speed-size prospect,” Lee was expected to be drafted in the 4th or 5th round.  He fell off everyone’s board, however, permitting the Lions to pick up a project with potential upside as they try and manage the loss of one of the franchise’s greatest players.

Lee in action:

 

Green Bay Packers

Geronimo Allison, WR, Illinois

Kentrell Brice, DB, Louisiana Tech

Beniquez Brown, LB, Mississippi State

Brandon Burks, RB, Troy

Joe Callahan, QB, Wesley College

Makinton Dorleant, CB, Northern Iowa

Brandon Gatewood, CB, Alcorn State

Reggie Gilbert, DL, Arizona

David Grinnage, TE, NC State

Josh Hawkins, CB, East Carolina

Don Jackson, RB, Nevada

Josh James, OT, Carroll (MT) College

Randall Jette, CB, UMass

Tyler Kuder, DL, Idaho State

Peter Mortell, P, Minnesota

Dennis Parks, WR, Rice

Manoa Pikula, LB, BYU

Brian Price, DT, UTSA

Devonte Robinson, WR Utah State

Demond Smith, S, Georgia Tech

Herb Waters, WR, Miami

Many saw inside linebacker as the Packers biggest need heading into 2016, and they addressed that need in part by drafting Blake Martinez out of Stanford.  Among their 21 UDFA signings, they also nabbed BYU’s Manoa Pikula.  Pikula is perhaps undersized at 6’1″ and 234 pounds, but is noted for his speed (at 4.57 40 yard dash), quick reactions to ball carriers, and middle-blitz ability.  He looks capable of adding versatility to the Packers team with measurables that fit well for special teams.  Pikula’s highlight package does not display much by way of coverage skills, though his speed and size suggest that, with appropriate training, he may be valuable on third downs.

Minnesota Vikings

Keith Baxter, DB, Marshall

Kyle Carter, TE, Penn State

Theiren Cockran, DL, Minnesota

Jake Ganus, LB, Georgia

Marken Michel, WR, Massachusetts

Denzell Perine, DE, Florida Atlantic

Jhurrell Pressley, RB, New Mexico

Eric Rawls, DB, Kentucky State

Brandon Ross, RB, Maryland

Joel Stave, QB, Wisconsin

Finally, the Minnesota Vikings picked up 10 players on the UDFA market, including Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave.  With Teddy Bridgewater and Shaun Hill on the roster, it is exceedingly unlikely that Stave will make the team.  However, some Wisconsin quarterbacks have been surprisingly resilient at holding positions at the NFL level despite marginal college showings,  including Brooks Bollinger (6 seasons, including two with the Vikings) and Jim Sorgi (7 seasons backing up Peyton Manning in Indianapolis).  While they did not have stellar careers, there are worse ways to earn a living.

That said, we need to have a quick discussion about Stave.  He’s awful.  Possibly the worst starting quarterback at Wisconsin since my mind entered the preoperational stage.  Stave can barely throw a football in a general forward direction, let alone with accuracy, and at the NFL level lacks the athleticism to be a running threat.  He’s like Tim Tebow without the body, belief, or leadership qualities exhibited by ESPN’s greatest love.  Sure, there is really no risk to the signing.  Nevertheless, this lines up as yet another foray into Wisconsin unlikely to achieve much of anything for Minnesota other than disappointment.  By all means, sign him to the 53-man roster.

 

You get no Stave highlights.  There are none.