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:
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:
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.
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.