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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Undrafted free agents are the wild cards capable of making NFL training camps more entertaining than they arguably have any right to be.
The top players who weren’t among the 250-plus selected in April’s draft hit the open market and were able to field offers before going to teams of their choosing. That alone makes them interesting because, if they chose wisely, they have already put themselves in the best possible position to make the final rosters.
In fact, it isn’t uncommon to hear that late-round prospects would rather slip into undrafted free agency.
But not all undrafted free agents are the same. Some simply have better chances than others. A mixture of upside, athletic ability, draftable traits—perhaps they fell off the board for other reasons—and better depth-chart positioning make some stand out.
The following prospects boast a combination of those factors and are thus the most likely to make the final rosters by the end of training camps.
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It was a bit of a surprise to see former University at Buffalo quarterback Tyree Jackson fall out of the draft.
Passers who check in at 6’7″ and 249 pounds don’t come around often. Jackson also has some high-upside traits such as a huge arm with plenty of velocity, though it was clear he was a developmental prospect who would need a few years, largely because of his accuracy.
He landed in a smooth spot with the Buffalo Bills, though. He won’t have any pressure to break into actual playing time thanks to the presence of second-year signal-caller Josh Allen as the starter. He can sit back and focus on the long-term picture while also serving as a capable fit in the team’s offense should Allen get hurt.
In the shorter term, Jackson shouldn’t have any problems beating out a journeyman like Matt Barkley for a spot or at least convincing the Bills they need to roster three quarterbacks.
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Gary Landers/Associated Press
Stanley Morgan was another shocker of a late-draft slide.
Normally, a depth chart as stacked as the Cincinnati Bengals’ at wideout would disqualify Morgan from a list like this—but he is that talented.
Morgan, 6’0″ and 205 pounds, was Nebraska’s all-time leader in catches and yards at 189 and 2,747, respectively, not to mention his 22 touchdowns. He might not have ideal size, but he fights for every catch all over the field.
The Bengals don’t have a ton of wiggle room for someone to break into the rotation, not with A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, John Ross and Alex Erickson atop the depth chart. Projects like Josh Malone and Auden Tate will provide Morgan some serious competition too.
But Morgan’s talent and the fact that Green and Boyd are entering contract years should mean he makes the final roster.
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David Zalubowski/Associated Press
It almost seemed counterintuitive for Brett Rypien to pick the Denver Broncos.
After all, the team punched the reset button under center, trading with the Baltimore Ravens for veteran Joe Flacco, re-signing Kevin Hogan for one year and drafting Missouri’s Drew Lock in the second round.
Even so, Rypien has a better chance than one might expect. He is more than a capable-looking backup with 49 starts in four years at Boise State, and he did so in a pro-style offense.
During the draft process, NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein put it best:
“What has a chance to save him is his football intelligence, accuracy and consistency. He stepped right in as a freshman and proved he could not only survive, but thrive and grow. A troubling number of interceptions were due to lack of arm strength so he needs to find a timing-based passing game in order to find a home as a back-end backup.”
Given Flacco’s age (34), the fact that Hogan is a career 59.4 percent passer and Denver’s shoddy recent history at finding quarterbacks, Rypien to the Broncos is quietly a better idea than it seems. If he can get down the timing of the offense, he’ll stick and perhaps climb the chart in the coming years.
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Jim Mone/Associated Press
Jake Browning is an experienced college starter who didn’t seem to have enough upside to come off the board but could still stick for a long time based on the application of his talents and resume.
Browning started 53 games for the Washington Huskies and reeled in a Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year award in 2016. That he slipped into the undrafted realm wasn’t the best sign, but it isn’t a disqualifier from making an NFL roster.
It seems Browning and his reps targeted the Minnesota Vikings. His competition behind Kirk Cousins is Kyle Sloter and Sean Mannion. The former has played only in the preseason, and the latter has attempted just 53 passes since entering the league in 2015.
Provided Browning likes and executes the Vikings’ system well, he shouldn’t have a problem winning the backup gig. Minnesota’s long-term outlook isn’t 100 percent clear, as Cousins (age 31 in August) is only under contract through 2020. The balanced look in Minnesota should permit a steady developmental process for Browning as opposed to hinging everything on the quarterback alone.
Keep in mind another factor: Trying to stash players like Rypien and Browning on the practice squads probably won’t work given the valuation of the position leaguewide. If Browning shows flashes in training camp, the Vikings aren’t likely to risk losing him on waivers.
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John Raoux/Associated Press
Saivion Smith was one of the more interesting prospects during the draft process.
He was all over the place during his collegiate journey, starting as a reserve at LSU before going to JUCO and then landing on coach Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide and tallying three interceptions in 2018.
His resume never felt like it was enough, but it’s hard to complain about a big defensive back with coverage skills. Smith hit the combine at 6’1″ and 199 pounds and has huge 33¼-inch arms. Onlookers weren’t thrilled with some of his drills, but NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported Smith was fighting through an ankle issue.
Either way, Smith to the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t much of a surprise. He’s a natural fit there and can use his frame to his advantage in a scheme wherein he’ll be turned loose to play aggressively at the line. Upside alone should have him making the final roster, and the Jaguars have to consider the fact that their depth chart might take a major hit soon if they can’t work out a long-term future with superstar Jalen Ramsey, who’s signed through 2020.
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Beau Benzschawel won the Detroit Lions sweepstakes, and those Lions won the Benzschawel sweepstakes.
According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Benzschawel had more than 20 offers once he hit undrafted free agency, so unless he bombs, he’ll stick on the final roster.
And Benzschawel made the right choice because the Lions desperately need the help.
The 6’6″, 309-pound rookie started 49 consecutive games for the Wisconsin Badgers, who are known for churning out pro linemen, and he was first-team All-Big Ten two years in a row.
The Detroit offensive line allowed 41 sacks in 2018 (tied for 17th-most in the NFL), and the Lions are crossing their fingers that Taylor Decker bounces back and perhaps that Frank Ragnow would benefit from a move inside.
At worst, Benzschawel will stick as a guy who isn’t active often as a rookie. But he has long-term starter potential in this situation, which is why the Lions won’t let him walk.
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Gerald Herbert/Associated Press
Devine Ozigbo was one of the more notable names who ended up going undrafted.
The Nebraska running back was snubbed throughout the draft process, not even getting a combine invite. That was odd, considering he finally broke free of a committee in 2018 and rushed for 1,082 yards and 12 scores on an average of seven yards per carry.
Maybe teams pigeonholed Ozigbo as a battering ram because of his 5’11”, 222-pound frame. But his quick feet and good testing numbers at his pro day hint at something more, which reinforced by what an NFC scout told NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein.
“I had him alive as a triangle prospect [height, weight, speed] who we might look at as an undrafted [free agent], but he really helped himself with how explosive he was and how hard he ran [in 2018],” the scout said.
Ozigbo landed with the Saints for a good reason—the team lost Mark Ingram II this offseason. This isn’t to suggest the rookie will climb into a role in which he spells Alvin Kamara right away. But he has more upside than Javorius Allen, a career 3.7 yards-per-carry rusher who turns 28 next month, and the ho-hum presence of 29-year-old veteran Latavius Murray.
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Darron Cummings/Associated Press
Lost in all the drama surrounding the Oakland Raiders this offseason was the fact that they slyly added Te’Von Coney in undrafted free agency.
Yet another “small” linebacker, Coney was a stud in coverage at Notre Dame, where he started his last three years, had seven sacks overall and led the team in tackling two years in a row. A 6’1″, 234-pound frame isn’t too small for an off-ball linebacker these days, to say the least.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, the Raiders have been tripping over themselves as they try to patch up a bad linebacker unit, even adding veterans like Brandon Marshall and Vontaze Burfict whom nobody else seemed to want.
Provided Coney’s coverage skills translate quickly, it’s easy to see him excelling on special teams as a rookie after making the final roster. And it’s worth taking into account that he seems to have a better chance than most on this list to become an eventual starter down the road.